Doctor Who and the Plea for Unconventional Beauty

[Warning, this post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episode “The Lodger.”]

I am going to say right now that “The Lodger” was one of the most enjoyable episodes of Doctor Who in a long time, especially for Matt Smith lovers. We got to see the Eleventh Doctor play football (soccer for those of us who are two weeks behind on episodes), come out of the shower, talk to a cat, and generally do good for fan service everywhere.

Fan service win!

So in general I loved it, but there’s something that’s been bothering me for a long time. Why does this dude,

Oh Craig...

end up with this chick?

Craig and Sophie

Don’t misunderstand me. There’s something really sweet and charming about Craig. He’s funny, he’s kind. I might even date him. But they’re not exactly the same level of conventional hotness.

"Are you really going out with him?"

Please don’t think of me as shallow. I actually really like this pairing, because these couples exist in the real world, where attraction isn’t just based on looks as society has constructed them. (While most television tends to have a surplus population of gorgeous people falling in love with more gorgeous people and having adorable children.)

There are so many different kinds of beauty. And not all of us are attracted to the same people. On television, this fact usually tends to fall in favor of the overweight nerdy guy getting the hot chick, but hardly ever the other way around.

Sheldon is dubious of this development.

In fact, we don’t see many overweight women at all, and when we do, they’re often used as gimmicks, a factor of the show that must be talked about. Fatness is part of the basic premise.

The protagonist of the Lifetime dramedy Drop Dead Diva is a supermodel who dies and wakes up in a plus-size lawyer’s body. Sitcom gold right there. In this case, the snooty model’s larger than average body is the “situation” or complication that the comedy comes from. What exactly is wrong with a show about a fat girl finding herself, rather than a skinny girl learning to treat others like human beings as a result of being forced to live in a less privileged position? Oh, speaking of fat girls finding themselves, there’s Huge, an ABC Family show about a fat camp. The show is sweet and rather kind to its fat protagonist, but again, it’s a show about fatness. Shows like Glee and The Practice fight the good fight in terms of having their fat characters not be defined by their weight, but it’s not very often that we ignore the weight of these characters completely.

Overweight men show up in TV and film a lot, from Kevin James in King of Queens to Russell Crowe in the new Robin Hood. [I am using overweight in the BMI sense here. Russell Crowe is still sexy, and Kevin James is adorable. But their physicians would have to give them a talking too about exercise based on their BMI, despite Crowe being an action star.] James gets an ultra hot wife (Leah Remini) and Crowe saves England (well kind of, it’s a prequel so it’s gonna be in peril again soon enough.) Their personhood comes before their weight, and no one tells Robin Hood he shouldn’t expect to date Maid Marian because he’s heavy. Yet we view this pairing as exciting and improbable:

Lauren and Puck

When we see an overweight actress on screen, we have to talk about it. It’s an important part of the story. But overweight actors are often just dudes: dads, husbands, lovable nerds. Why is this?

Even within our own time, male beauty is a complicated issue, closely tied with psychology.

This cover is not doctored. That is Nick Nolte. "Sensitive?" Sensitive?

Big noses, small eyes, large heads, even wrinkles can add to a guy’s handsome quotient, especially if he’s talented. (Yes handsome quotient is a term. Shut up!)

I'm sorry for saying you have a big nose, Adrien. It's a beautiful nose. Beautiful!

Oh Angel, you sexy sexy Neanderthal.

When wrinkles are sexy, we call them "crags."

Hey, even Matt Smith’s a little unconventionally attractive, but something about his acting (and the role he’s playing) makes him simply irresistible.

Actually it's probably the bow tie.

This is what I like to call “psychological attraction.” It’s when a turn-on is based on behavior or talent, rather than a physical attribute. There’s a lot of funny looking men in the entertainment industry, and some of them are even referred to as sex symbols. But what about funny looking female sex symbols?

To quote AskMen.com, (which I presume is a place that actually asks some sort of men some sort of questions before making really offensive conclusions):

A man can compensate for his aesthetic shortcomings by simply employing some of his other worthy traits.  Unfortunately for women, the gift does not apply to both genders. It’s a double standard we’re fairly comfortable with.

Why does this happen? Why are hot chicks having sex with, dating, and marrying men who are so much less (conventionally) attractive than them (both on screen and off)? The short gender essentialist answer is that women are attracted to power and status while men are attracted to physical beauty. The gender essentialists justify this with evolution: men are protectors built for polyamory and can accumulate mates to enhance their status within homosocial communities, while women have to nest so they want someone to provide for them, regardless of attractiveness. If we follow this line of reasoning, trophy spouses really are trophies. They are a way of showing off to your peers, demonstrating and enhancing your status.

Problem is, in the real world, lots of women don’t want relationships at all, and get off on providing for themselves, so they don’t require a powerful mate to protect them. Lots of men want to “be domestic,” to play house, to raise children, so they’re not as interested in showing up the other guys at work.

The punchline to this whole leggy blond with aging mogul thing is that we know that men are attracted to a much wider survey of beauty than Hollywood and the fashion world are presenting. “Chubby chasers,” fetishists, etc. it’s all good with me, but it’s not all vanilla sex with leggy blonds. Different strokes for different folks, right? The mistresses of various high-profile men look nothing like their wives. That is either one, because we like variety, or two, because choosing a wife while in the public eye is not as simple as who turns you on. It’s about who ups your status. (Frankly, it’s probably a little of both.)

So I’m going to argue that these generalizations about hot women and successful men are false statements based on hegemony, not based on individuals pursuing their own romantic happiness. Hegemony refers to the prevailing view in a culture that dominates all the other views to the point that we start to doubt those views and accept things as they are, not based on facts, but just the “fact” that “things have always been that way.” Fat girls aren’t pretty, so powerful or attractive men don’t get involved with them. That’s the story the media keeps telling us, but is the media depicting reality or just the reality our society has decided to present? It’s certainly true that making fun of fat people is one of the most acceptable forms of abuse. Yet fat dudes sometimes get rewarded for their suffering with pretty thin chicks and their female equivalents…Well, they get shows about trying to lose weight.

One of the primary ways that we receive hegemony is through culture, both pop and high. This has been true ever since humans began telling myths, the stories that often illustrate the ideals and worldview of the culture they come from, the narratives that manufacture and support hegemony. And our myths are filled with disparate courtships that benefit men, dating back to the marriage of differently abled craftsman Hephaestus and the sex god herself Aphrodite.

Our culture’s myths come from a lot of places, but one of the primary ones is genre television and comics, the sci-fi and fantasy stories that a lot of us grew up with.

Victim blaming and rape culture begin at home, guys. Also, that's your daughter.

And in these genre stories we tend to see a lot of hot chicks ending up with nerds. (As my friend Dannel reminded me, to serve the target audience.) But here’s the thing: girl geeks are on the rise, both in terms of professions and culture, and it’s time hegemony caught up with the real world, where brilliant female scientists don’t all look like Dr. Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough.

Stand back. I'm going to try science!

And you know what? Some of them still get their James Bonds in spite, or even because they don’t look like Denise Richards.

I mean come on, Doctor Who, things have gotten better since the era of hot chick companions with no bras who scream and run away. You’ve had a few highly visible unconventionally beautiful women in recent years, most recently comedy writer and actress Myrra Syal, who appeared in “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood” two-parter, and was once rumored to be on the BBC’s short list for the role of Eleventh Doctor him or herself…

Gorgeous and funny! And Ethnic! And Female! That's just a BBC quadruple-win!

And Doctor Who‘s universe is so vast that you can really go anywhere, so why not show us a couple somewhere in time and space where the woman is less conventionally beautiful than the man?

Don’t get me wrong, Doctor Who still gets major points for feminism. Just check out the [adorably funny looking] hottie and his female director.

I want her job.

But we can always do better. So help the geek girls out a bit, geek guys. Tell us we’re beautiful too. Even if we don’t look like Amy Pond.

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5 thoughts on “Doctor Who and the Plea for Unconventional Beauty

  1. Fandom Wank (which is an entertaining way to stay educated on both fandom and how not to behave on the Internet) recently covered a kerfluffle in the Supernatural fandom in which fans discovered pictures of Misha Collins and his wife’s renewal of vows and — after enjoying the pictures of Misha in a wedding dress, which, okay, that really is awesome — started tearing apart his intelligent, polyamorous, “not very pretty” wife.

    People make me bang my head on a wall sometimes.

    I think Doctor Who, and the BBC in general, do a somewhat better job than American TV with having leading ladies who wouldn’t make it past Wacky Best Friend status in an American rom-com. Catherine Tate as Donna Noble in DW snagged some hot guys (although she never kept them — thanks, Rusty); Even Myles as Gwen Cooper is kinda funny-lookin’ but everyone wants to sleep with her; Shirley Henderson in “ShakespeaRe-Told: Taming of the Shrew” is short, square-jawed, and scowling, and still sexy as hell in her scene with Rufus Sewell the morning after their wedding night. Part of it comes down to different cultural standards of beauty, you know?

    So I guess my point is: Word. This should happen more often.

    (PS: Obligatory “Glasses do not equal nerdy and ugly, THANKS HOLLYWOOD” comment.)

  2. Its due to the fact that women have depths and decide who they find attractive based on physical attributes plus personality plus talent plus confidence plus individuality plus powerfulness plus charm wherease men have shallows and decide who they find attractive based on physical attributes plus…. well that’s all really. I’m deeply ashamed to be a man. Still…. fun though!

    • We all have shallows Jon, and we all have depths. And sometimes we don’t get to decide where to swim. Plenty of women stay in the shallow end too. I hope, since you live in the UK, you haven’t been subjected to “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”? Thanks for reading!

  3. Ok as far a movies go the Nerd/Fat guy can get the girl, sure. But being the Fat guy who all the girls want to talk to, party with and hang out with is not great when they make it clear that “You’re not my type” or “I like you as a friend” then drool over the fit, muscle-man jerk. Even the fat and “unconventional” looking girls do it to us fat and ugly guys. Why eat hot dogs when you can have Prime Rib? In Hollywood different rules apply, I mean no man in the real world wants to date a 50 year old woman with a face like a wax figure who thinks she looks 30. Well I don’t anyway, when my wife is 50 I want her to look 50 because thats how old I’ll look too. As far as I care Hollywood can have the fantasy, I found the reality.

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