‘Shallow’ often an unfair description

This is part five (and the last) of a terrific dialogue that began with the question, “Can a man look past his wife’s weight gain and regain intimacy with her?” My mailbox has been pounded with some of the most intelligent and moving letters I’ve ever received.

It has been fascinating kicking around the idea of “shallow.” I’m convinced we often use the accusation as a defense, rather than an accurate description of someone. For example, I often help people (more often women) construct the “List of Non-Negotiables” after a disappointing break-up. The list helps her defend herself against betraying herself and repeating past mistakes: “Has to have a college degree … Must have a job … Can’t be an addict …” Does this list make her shallow? (Gee, ma’am, there are lots of great guys out there with only a GED!)

Would you think someone shallow who concludes they don’t/can’t make erotic connections to certain racial groups? How about a man who says, “I’m just not attracted to petite women”? Heck, I have a friend who only wants to date Republicans! Now that’s shallow! (OK, I’m just mad because she won’t have dinner with me.)

Why does attention to weight bring the accusation of “shallow,” but not education levels or job status? It’s a defense, that’s why.

The legitimate criticism of “shallow” has to do with the inability or unwillingness to see past what we like to look at to the deeper wholeness of a human being. But we abuse the idea of shallow by applying it to someone just because they have an aesthetic preference for Y instead of Z.

Next, I was flat out moved by the number of folks (men!) who wrote to express real sorrow about no longer being physically attracted to overweight mates, yet still loving them deeply and desiring to “reconnect.” These people weren’t shallow, but neither did they give in to the silliness of “looks don’t matter.” It was an honor to hear these stories of committed love.

I was surprised by the number of women who wrote to say, “Yeah, what about women with overweight husbands!” Actually, if you reverse the genders, you get more similarities than differences. Women are not wired as visually as men, neuro-sexually speaking, and they aren’t acculturated with the same unrealistic and cruelly narrow standards for what constitutes “good looking.” But women do have eyes, and they enjoy using them. Women can be and often are just as disappointed (and unattracted) when a husband gives up on fitness and vitality (read: gets fat) as when a wife gives up.

True love requires confrontation as often as it requires acceptance. It is inappropriate to “look past” self-destructive behavior. Great marriages are made of spouses who, when appropriate, say to their mates, “Behavior X is not OK. It constitutes shoddy marital practice and equivocal marital commitment. No, I won’t look past it. I won’t tolerate it. Fix it.”

And last, I greatly admire the women who wrote such intelligent and moving letters simultaneously accepting men as men yet wrapping the sorority in encouragement and advocacy against a culture whose messages to women are so toxic.

“When a woman stops looking into the mirror that is a man’s face, things get better. She needs her own mirror. She needs to delight in being beautiful in herself. For herself. Then the men will come. I guarantee it.” — S.P, Evergreen, Colo.

“People have forgotten (or been misled) from witnessing the wholeness of beauty that includes heart, confidence and truth. The synergy of such a combination is a substance that cannot be identified. It simply ‘is’ for all its glory. It causes us to cherish and grow old with someone whose outer beauty was intended to be fleeting.” — G.C., Houston.

“And I just thought of another thing that never fails to tick me off. When I go in for my annual gyno appointment, I am accosted with pictures, ads, brochures, pamphlets, etc., offering me ways to improve or redefine my body. I find it irritating and even unethical to visit a physician’s office and be subjected to this crap. I don’t know where this is all heading. I guess the bright side for you is that you’ll have even more therapy clients.” — A.P., Greenville, S.C.

“Have you read ‘Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery,’ by Alex Kuczynski? Get this quote: ‘Admitting you’ve had the latest wrinkle filler is no longer a mark of shame; on the contrary, it is a status symbol in the mind of the 21st century consumer who believes that self-maintenance is a deeply moral obligation.’ ” — L.M., Tempe, Ariz.

My readers rock.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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