Welcome to another journey on a fool’s errand with Alana! In today’s episode, we will explore pathological preoccupations with physical beauty, distrust of machines, and why you should never ever tell children they are unattractive because it will make them very annoying grown-ups. Hop in!
So though it’s been a few years since applications that claim to rate your attractiveness with SCIENCE became all the rage, I am the dead last to know about anything trendy. For example, I discovered that Taylor Swift has the best celebrity cat (Meredith) only in the last week and I still don’t know what a normcore is.
So it was only recently that I spent a hand-wringing night downloading a handful of 2012-era apps and uploading pictures of myself to see if my attractiveness could be quantified, measured, and cruelly spat out as a number like my SAT score or my blood pressure. You know, because what the world really needs more of is female pain.
I was motivated in this endeavor by another kind of science. There are approximately three gadrillion studies that confirm that humans are blissfully lacking in self-awareness. Time and time again, people overestimate how good they are in bed, how much more moral they are than others, and even what tax bracket they fall into. So my crippling preoccupation with being self-aware means that I’m constantly lowballing my attractiveness, my moral compass, and my sexual prowess in an effort not to be the one that doesn’t know. I thought that having a number assigned to my face would contribute to this self-awareness, that it would put to rest lingering doubts or moments of uncharacteristic confidence.
So I got started with a charming app called The Ugly Meter that churns out insults or compliments in the style of “Your Mom” jokes from 1996, except not nearly as clever as the ones my friends and I came up with while watching "Beavis and Butthead" and eating Flaming Hot Cheetos in days of yore. It also cruelly makes you use a photo taken within the application instead of picking your best from the Camera Roll. Everyone knows that the little switch-the-camera-around-to-face-you function is actually just a funhouse mirror that adds the advanced stages of leprosy to otherwise attractive people. I used two pictures because of the scientific method, sample sizes, something something, control group, I was high in science class, don’t judge me.
So in the same 15-minute period using the same camera and not undergoing any substantial cosmetic surgery, I was told that I’m ultra ugly and super hot. All I did was take my hair down and face some natural light. Thanks, algorithm. And I actually preferred my appearance in the “ugly” picture, so assumed this was made by a crap scientist with vinegard-soaked teabags and goulash for brains.
The next one I tried, Vanity, was $3.99! I’ve never paid more than $0.99 for an app so I was expecting a full-service evaluation with recommended make-up tips to accentuate my best features or something. But no, it just gave me an 8.3. You know, a number I was totally looking for earlier and was now totally dissatisfied by. Instead of being happy with my solid score, I just put in a bunch of celebrity faces to see if the app agreed with me on their beauty and when it couldn’t get a thing right, I refused to believe it.
My money would have been better spent paying four different handsome strangers a dollar to tell me something they liked about my face. Or buying a Kombucha. Or four songs by the criminally underrated 90s band Go West on iTunes. But alas.
Then I turned to Anaface, whose name I hated from the get-go because it reminded me of the frighteninging world of intentional starvation on pro-ana sites. I was also certain that this one would be dead wrong with the actual number but knew that it gave specific details about why you got the score you did. You see, someone used this particular platform to rank the attractiveness of all the members of One Direction, and Zayn Malik came in last and Harry Styles came in fourth. Everyone with two eyes (or even one, if it’s their good one) knows that Zayn and Harry are the captain and first mate of the Dreamboat Express. To say otherwise is scandal, nay, BLASPHEMY. But I put the picture in anyway because what people with low opinions of their self-esteem really need is a cold evaluation of their symmetry. And there it was.
A very good number score of 8.7 and a list of precisely what gave it to me. And instead of being stoked on my great horizontal symmetry and some other ratios I had never thought about, I returned to my initial distrust due to its failed evaluation of One Direction hotness. I have a lot of bad things to say about my face but almost none to say about my nose. Apparently it is too wide for the width of my face. My mouth is also too wide and I fucking love that thing and not just because I am always saying hilarious shit with it and putting popsicles in it.
Even when an application with no vested interest in making me feel good about myself said I looked good -- even close to ideal in some aspects -- I distrusted it. I dismissed the methods, questioned the values upon which it was based, and didn’t once reconsider the harshness with which I treat myself based on it. I also didn’t suddenly get self-conscious about my mouth width or my nose. I felt precisely the same way as I did before I blew a handful of digital dollar bills at companies capitalizing on the strange cohabitation of vanity and masochism so prevalent in many of us.
I’m often reminded that thoughts aren’t facts when it comes to how I feel about myself. But thoughts don’t have to be facts to feel real. Negative feelings, whether they are irrational or misguided or anything else that female feelings are dismissed as, are still felt as acutely as ones rooted in reality. An algorithm rating me highly doesn’t reverse the time at 15 an adult that I loved said, “You’re not nearly pretty enough to be as mean as you are” or when a romantic partner called me “pretty dec-looking.” That stuff burns harder than objective observations heal or other kindnesses comfort.
And because I'm so inclined to trust the negative over the positive, being told over and over again doesn’t work. There’s a hole in the bottom of my heart that is plugged precariously by a compliment I believe momentarily and then slips out under the stress of my distrust. I rarely verbalize these feelings as I know it is utterly obnoxious and ultimately futile. Seeing attempts to correct these feelings or just accept them fail over and over again is frustrating.
On the upside, however, One Direction’s hit song “What Makes You Beautiful” makes clear that the thing that makes a girl beautiful is the very troubling and upsetting claim that NOT KNOWING IT is super hot, so they’ll think I’m a babe. And according to Anaface, I’d be dating down if I took any of them.