Prisoners of the Male Gaze: The Complications of Beauty

Beauty confers a sense of self. Associated words include youthful, vigorous, alive, sensual, fertile, attractive, and more. Don’t forget the capacity to draw the gaze of others.

The splendor of these lucky ones seems to spin the steering wheel behind our eyes toward them. This is the first quality to register on the observer, the one preceding all other human characteristics. In the old days, the watcher called such a creature “a looker.

Every internal talent informs the male of its presence later, if at all. The problem for the gorgeous one is whether anyone pays attention to all those extras. She might be brilliant, tender, empathic, funny, technically adept, generous, strong, persistent, hard-working, athletically-gifted, brave, and more.

Even when she is, the shadow cast by her physical features can make her wonder: does anyone know or care what is inside “the package” or do they just want the outside?

The gift of the allure of the flesh is double-edged. If the lovely one believes she has nothing else to win credit and attention, she is more likely to be grateful for what is offered. The world praises her for what strikes the eyes, and, for a while, little else is required.

But for anyone who is more than what can be photographed or painted, she cannot be aware of the extent of her dependence on (and imprisonment within) the pretty picture she presents.

While beauty lasted, many of my female patients couldn’t be sure whether the deepest level of their qualities broke through their dazzle. Reassurance from their lover or a friend or a therapist didn’t help. If they were beautiful but unlucky in love, they wondered the cause. For some, the passage of time and the specter of fading loveliness represented an enemy.

Visible aging afforded the only way to discover if the audience cared for more than an exquisite profile. Who wanted that?

De Mura: Wisdom or Nobility. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Wikimedia Commons

A counselor works with snapshots taken days apart. Most often clients enter our field of vision once every week or two.

More obvious natural changes are recognized by those lacking such regular access. Longer periods between sightings are greater: several months or years.

Even so, sometimes I observed the youthful bloom vanish in a space smaller than one cycle of the earth around the sun. For others the gift never disappeared within the period of meetings continuing for a number of years.

Those who embraced the transformation fared best. The evidence of the passing years extended more opportunity to be valued for the human attributes they’d worked for, the entirety of their true self. Here was their essence in total, not the decorations and the frosting on top.

The few facial lines magnified the intelligence and wisdom of their appearance. The externals now told me a different story:

I know some things about the world. I am more than I used to be, not less.

For the most admirable of them, this was not an insurmountable loss. My memory of their initial impression on me blended with the current aspects of their presence.

They retained elements of their younger incarnation but added to them. Their enhanced humanity was obtained from roads they visited, the knowledge and values fashioned by experience, and the endurance now traced in the skin-deep marking of time’s hand.

My long paramount concern about the personalities of these aging but ageless beauties furnished me a perspective that made the diminution of some peripherals beside the point. From the start, I beheld all their revelations and the courage evident in so doing. Perhaps, too, the gradual decline in my own hormone-driven chemical mix made a difference.
The whole of them was, as in the best of the remainder of humanity, flawed but extraordinary.

For those who never enjoyed the mixed blessing of head-turning angelic charm, the news, I thought, was positive as well.

For a number, their physicality now met the comely ones somewhere near the middle when it came to the world’s attentional focus. These ladies were not less remarkable and had to contend in a different manner with the never bountiful male gaze.

The finest of all these women, survivors of the man’s world into which they were born, created something more than the earlier version of themselves. If the pleasing and the plain now had the confidence to be indifferent to swiveling heads or their absence, I imagine they might have taken the stage to say,

Here I am. If you wish to accept me for who I am, not what I am, welcome. For the rest of you, your attention is not required. Go in peace.


The top photo is a Nine-year-old boy’s face, Margarita Island, Venezuela, by Wilfredor.

10 thoughts on “Prisoners of the Male Gaze: The Complications of Beauty

  1. “Here I am. If you wish to accept me for who I am, not what I am, welcome. For the rest of you, your attention is not required. Go in peace.”……. YES!!!!! Truth

    Liked by 1 person

    • In a fit of anguish I chose my current therapist on her photograph. Luckily for me, she is in so many other ways the best therapist I have had, and I’ve seen many. She is smart, well-read, and kind beyond words. I have told her about how I chose her for a first session, and I still feel a bit guilty about it. She is the kind who has always turned heads and I so wish she understood how grateful I am for all of her other qualities.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suspect whatever absolution was required of you, Ricardo, has been offered. I’m pretty sure she is happy to work with as honest and self-reflective client as you. Every male I know has made similar choices, guided by what we see and how we have been programmed.


    • I am very pleased it resonated for you, Laura, someone who reveals unseen truth and beauty in photographs of both the natural and man-made world. Thank you.



    I loved the phrase: spin the steering wheel behind our eyes. You are such a wonderful writer. As always, you had such great insight to both men and women.

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. Without a doubt, this is a dilemma for those endowed with beauty who would like to be seen as much more than a pretty face. But, then again, so many of us women, especially in our youth, crave to be seen and desired by that special someone. What a pity that beauty and wisdom that comes with maturity don’t walk hand-in-hand!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have the advantage of a lived experience, something valid, Rosaliene. I think what I was attempting to do, was to take some unidentified segment of beautiful woman and point out that their nature-given advantage is often a more complex thing than is commonly believed. As you say, for both men and women can’t get to maturity without the passage of time. As we know , many of us never get there! Thanks, Rosaliene.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Those of us plain Janes would often have loved to walk in the shoes of the gorgeous ones you speak of even given the difficulties you say they have to overcome, due to their looks.

    “The problem for the gorgeous one is whether anyone pays attention to all those extras. She might be brilliant, tender, empathic, funny, technically adept, generous, strong, persistent, hard-working, athletically-gifted, brave, and more.”

    This is also the problem for the not so beautiful, maybe even moreso, since they don’t even have the extraordinary physical beauty that would precipitate that first look and that initial interest to begin with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I cannot speak categorically. Certainly, your lived experience is incontestable. I can offer you only what I was often (though not universally) told. I also heard many of those less outwardly attractive say what you said, though others did not. Thanks for your perspective.


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