The Playboy Effect: Does Youth Equal Beauty?

The Playboy Effect

Back before the Internet, Playboy Magazine was a head rush for the imagination of curious little boys. Finding a Playboy somewhere was like a high that lasted for lustful days, depending on your imagination and usage. Needless to say, it was the gateway drug for things to come in our sexual futures.

But of course Playboy Magazine offered a very top-heavy, warped version of attainable beauty and theoretical romance. Yes, those beautiful women existed–you could see they were real in the pictures (this was before Photoshop). But some of us got stuck there with the Playboy bunny as the ideal female. Rarely was there a woman in our sphere (much less interested in us) who could fulfill our reinforced fantasy of a sexy woman.

Jump-cut to today, and the concerns that free access to pornography is corrupting young boys’ minds and their expectations of sexual fulfillment. Often the pornography is sublimating the actual pursuit of a real “flesh and blood” relationship. (In the 2013 movie Don Juan, how can Scarlett Johannsen even come close to the raw punch of porn for a 19 year old?)

As an adult I know my early experience with Playboy Magazine–and seeing an unrealistic body type that was accompanied by “breast-waist-hip” measurement–has had a lingering effect on my sexual preferences.

And the current mainstream media obsession with rail-thin 19 year olds is similarly unrealistic. Even my 11-year-old daughter is considering dieting because of the images she sees in pre-teen magazines. It’s gross, what we’ve done to objectify women’s bodies, and how far we’ve distorted those images.

Yes, when I see the 20-, 30-, or 40-something beautiful yoga goddess in LuluLemons, I get an immediate hit of dopamine. But it’s not real. It’s about as real as the foldout in Playboy.

The lie of this fiction, youth=beauty, is that it produces a false sense of desire from men. At the base of our brains we are animals. We are looking for the best, healthiest opportunity to further our genes by procreating with an attractive female. And a freshly minted woman is entering the peak of her child-bearing attractiveness, according to our reptilian brains. She is IT.

But she’s not IT for me.

I’m working to understand and parse out the reality from the pornography that still runs through my mind from time to time. Stay with me for a second while I take this a step further to exemplify a point: my 11-year-old daughter is beautiful and perfect. She’s athletic. She loves brightly colored fitness clothes. In some ways she’s a mini-version of these older-generation yoginis.

But she’s not at all sexual to me. And that’s the connection I’m trying to make in my brain about these media images, and passers-by who are youthful and beautiful.

Youth and beauty help in procreation.

I’m not interested in procreating any more, nor in having a relationship with a 20-, 30-, or early 40-year-old. I’m more interested in women within a five-year range of my own age.

And if a woman really wanted a six-packed 30 year old, I would have little chance of attracting her. It’s physically impossible for me to get back to the fitness and beauty of my youth. GOOD. I don’t have to worry about that.  I’m much more interested in fitness in terms of health, blood pressure, and what it feels like to be in my skin.

And as I try to decouple my image of beauty from the mass-media obsession, I look to find beauty in all women and within the realistic construct of my own fitness. Youth and fitness are fleeting.

First you’ve got to get comfortable with yourself. Then you can start examining and reconstructing what you see as beautiful. Real-world beauty untouched by Photoshop.

John McElhenney is a single dad who lives in Austin, TX. He’s published several books of poetry and a whimsical look at social media, The Twitter Way, is forthcoming. He makes his living writing social media strategies for small businesses, and makes his heart smile playing tennis and music.

Photo: Renaud Camus; “Le Jour ni l’Heure 2419”: Félix Auvers, 1800-1833, Socrate détachant Alcibiade des charmes de la volupté, c. 1830

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