Hot or Not?

by Sam Romano

I was at Quizno's the other day (mmm...toasty) enjoying my honey bourbon chicken sandwich when I witnessed a little exchange between two perfect strangers. A man in his mid- to late-twenties sat near the window eating his lunch while watching all the passersby. He looked just like all the other boys I went to high school with, like he had just stepped out of a J. Crew catalogue. Another man was walking down the street. He, on the other hand, looked completely grubby to the point where one might suspect he was homeless though I don't think he was. He'd obviously had a hard life. Walking in the opposite direction was a very pretty woman. Tall and blonde, she was dressed impeccably and had perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect everything.

Sitting a table or two behind, I immediately saw J. Crew begin ogling this woman, his eyes following her as she walked past the long window. Mr. Grubby started eyeing her too as he walked down the street, and when they passed, he quickly turned to look her up and down from the back. He stopped dead in his tracks, eyes firmly locked onto her ass. J. Crew's gaze was also directed straight at her derriere, and when Mr. Grubby finally stopped ogling her, he turned to J. Crew, and the two exchanged a knowing smile and nod of the head as they each went about their business. Two completely different men from two completely different lifestyles, yet they shared a common bond: a pretty woman's ass. It made me hate both of them immediately.

I couldn't quite explain what had raised my ire over that scene. Was it the pure objectification of this unsuspecting woman? Was it the invasion of her privacy? I didn't know, but I felt this overwhelming urge to walk up to J. Crew and tell him he's a pig. Of course I didn't because much like my sandwich, I'm a chicken. So instead, I finished my lunch and walked out, wondering if he was staring at my ass too. And then I suddenly knew why I was all incensed. I knew in my heart that he wasn't ogling my ass. And that made me mad.

It's not that I walk around hoping random men stare at various body parts in the creepy sort of way J. Crew and Mr. Grubby were eyeing her. Being a bit on the top-heavy side, I've had my share of men stare at my chest in that "got milk?" sort of way while carrying on conversations. (Hey, my nickname in junior high was Mt. Everest for a reason, folks.) But I wondered if I ever get looked at like that by complete strangers, in a way that shows on some level I am desirable to the opposite sex despite all of my physical imperfections. I feared the worst.

A couple of days later, I was walking down the street with my friends Jen and Meg from work. Jen, like the random blonde, is also very pretty as is Meg though in a much different, less traditional way. We were standing in line at Dominick's, which is located across the street from a local television station, one that carries that wretched show Elimidate. A random man walked up to Jen, eyeing her in exactly the same way J.Crew and Mr. Grubby eyed the pretty blonde, and he handed her a card for the show, telling her that if she were interested in auditioning for the show, they could always use someone as "hot" as her. Meg and I exchanged horrified glances, and Jen, who was equally horrified, begged off saying, "Thanks, but my boyfriend would disapprove."

Again, I felt instant hatred for this man. We sniggered at his audacity. Jen, of course, was insulted that all he saw in her was a pretty face when in fact she's so much more. So I asked, "Would you rather be considered hot or smart?" Both Jen and Meg resoundingly agreed that smart was the way to go. As Jen put it, "Being hot is a state of mind. Being smart...well, either you are or you aren't."

I found myself torn by the question. On the one hand, the bra-burning feminist in me values intelligence above all else. I've surrounded myself with highly intelligent friends who constantly feed my curiosity and challenge me to be as well read and informed as they are. Many times, I feel as though I'm failing miserably, but I know that in the end, I can whip out references to relatively obscure books or authors or musicians or artists with enough dexterity to fake it. And I have a full arsenal of five-dollar words at the ready, which always helps one appear intelligent (assuming you're using them appropriately). And I've always held fast to the notion that if you can't carry on a reasonably intelligent conversation with someone, then what's the point? Looks fade. Brains are forever, or at least until you're old and senile and would rather discuss your hemorrhoids instead of that great book you just read.

But another part of me, my insecure side, has always longed to be considered hot. Maybe it's because I've never been the proverbial hot girl before. Even at my thinnest and most attractive, I did not garner the attentions of the menfolk. Too shy and self-conscious, I've always faded into the background. I constantly find myself comparing my looks to other girls', and I have always thought I've fallen well short of the "hot" mark. My pudgy middle, my boney ankles, my less-than-perfect skin, my hairy arms, my Play-Doh nose, my flabby thighs--I take mental notes of it all whenever I look in a mirror. When one of the pretty people is nearby, all of those flaws rush to my consciousness in a flood of inadequacy. And I retreat.

My friends and family all assure me that all of my flaws are noticeable only to me. I wonder if Jen is right. Am I not hot because I don't think I am? Do others sense that I feel inadequate in the looks department, which in turn causes them to think just that? Past boyfriends have said I'm hot. I usually scoff at the suggestion, my cynicism taking over and telling me that a boy will say just about anything when the possibility of getting laid is involved.

And really, even if my exes have been truthful, what would it take for me to think of myself as such? An extreme makeover? Surely when all of my most glaring, fatal physical flaws are fixed, I could find others to replace them. Even if I woke up tomorrow suddenly looking like Cindy Crawford, I suspect my brain would still seek out even the smallest imperfections and magnify them to epic proportions.

It's a very Descartian thing to think that being hot is a state of mind. If I think it, then it is. But could the same be said for intelligence? If I think I'm smart, does it necessarily make it so? I've met plenty of people proclaiming their intelligence and have found them to be vapid, empty-headed poseurs. On the flipside, one just needs to tune into an episode of Jerry Springer to see people who think they're hot but seem to fall short of the mark.

What does it really mean to be intelligent? Does it simply mean having an education? I know plenty of people from school who are brilliant in the classroom but who are lucky if they can cross the street without becoming roadkill. Is intelligence as subjective as looks? I may be a genius compared to someone who reads little but a total moron compared to a MENSA grad. Accordingly, what does it mean to be "hot?" Do you look and dress a certain way? Surely I look and feel more attractive when I'm glammed up for a night on the town as opposed to when I'm lounging around in a pair of old sweats sans makeup.

Do you carry yourself in a certain way? I would say yes to that as well. When I was with any of my exes, even the evil ones, I've always felt a bit more confident in myself and the way I look. Just knowing there's at least one man out there who thinks I'm attractive is a HUGE ego boost. And I've found that when I'm with someone, other men have shown more interest in me. Maybe it's just Fate being tricksy. Maybe it's being marked as another man's territory that attracts likeminded menfolk. Kinda like on Animal Plant, where my suitor has claimed me through ritual peeing only to attract other, more aggressive males who want cover his scent with their own urinations and claim me as the prize. I think I need a shower now...

There was an awful show on a couple of years ago, Hot or Not? Its whole premise was to find the hottest man and woman in the country. (I sheepishly admit to having watched an episode or two. It was purely out of boredom and a lack of cable TV at the time. Really!) What I found really funny was that all of the people on the show were attractive. So basically, from a pool of people who are all proverbially hot, the audience was asked to accept the judges' vision of what hot is through laser pointers and other such nonsense. But I'm sure that for every person who agreed with the judges' choices, there were just as many who would have chosen someone else. And really, does anyone care what a washed-up Lorenzo Lamas thinks in that regard anyway?

Karen and I find ourselves in a constant debate with the rest of our friends over Benicio del Toro. We believe that Benicio a la Traffic is hot hot hot. Our other friends disagree, saying he looks like the victim of a severe allergic reaction and have dubbed him "Puffy." Me personally, I'd do Benicio any time of the day, allergic reactions and all. So Puffy, if you're reading this, call me. I am not averse to random water retention. We've all been there. I don't judge...

I think it's all subjective. The trick is finding someone who shares your subjectivity. Maybe the pretty blonde walking down the street was J. Crew's female version of my Benicio. Maybe there are men out there who don't mind me being puffy. And just maybe, there are in fact boys out there checking out my ass. Lord knows it's hard to miss!