It would seem that some of us win the dating lottery, while others win the genetics lottery. Last week a radio contest in the UK awarded the dubious honour of ‘Punching Above His Weight Champion’ to a contestant whose alleged hideousness, in comparison to his fiancé’s hotness, offended all the relevant societal norms.
This is just fluff, of course – a stunt (that the winner entered voluntarily, I should add, but without his partner's knowledge) that will soon be forgotten. But what does it say about how much we rely on appearance as a measure of character? Nothing is uglier than a preoccupation with beauty, and yet this idea of punching above one's weight is so pervasive in our culture that it has even made its way into modern day fairytales like Beauty & the Geek, providing endorsement-by-stealth to a young and impressionable audience that the most important thing attaining an approximation of current beauty norms, regardless of one’s intellectual credentials or awesome facial hair.
From a feminist perspective, it reinforces the idea that the most valuable thing a woman has to trade on is her looks, when these under-punching men are also being judged in relation to her beauty. There’s something deeply odd about the idea that you can somehow waste your ‘beauty currency’ by being with someone deemed by others as less attractive than you. Conversely, when a woman is deemed less physically attractive than her male partner she is seen as an outlier, an aberration – with a great personality, sense of humour or sexual repertoire to compensate (surely we’d all like a little from columns A, B, C and D?). Think about the backlash Girls received when Hannah spent a weekend with a handsome doctor played by Patrick Wilson. Even Wilson's wife was so repulsed by the vitriol (some TV critics even suggested the entire episode occurred in a dream) that she took to Twitter to silence the haters. Rather than congratulate Hannah for winning this prized male, we questioned, criticised and pick it apart. There must be something wrong with him, we say. What is he thinking? Don't get me started on the ugliness of rumours that Hugh Jackman must be gay because his wife is older than him and therefore doesn't fit our beauty ideals. And absolutely don't get me started on the Hollywood double standard that allows Adam Sandler to sleep with Sports Illustrated model Brooklyn Decker but raises its eyebrows at anyone over a size zero and age 30 going at it with George Clooney.
What makes us so uncomfortable then about two people choosing to be together regardless of the symmetry of their features? Are we really so shallow as to value people and their relationships in this way, and is it so unbelievable that some people have different ideas of what constitutes beauty? For all of our sakes, I hope not.
This brings us to incongruous flipside of the ‘punching above your weight’ coin. Time again we respond in overwhelming numbers via women’s magazine quizzes that a sense of humour or kind heart are more important to us than looks. So are we lying to ourselves, each other, and the men in our lives? Of course the Punching Above His Weight Champion has had the last laugh – he and his fiancé are using the holiday he won, for a few minutes of public shaming and beauty-myth conformity, as their honeymoon. I hope they have a brilliant time and parade their love for all to see – and it’ll be up to us onlookers to see it for what is truly is, rather than assume he must be rich, or worse still, that there’s something wrong with her.