I have a theory that at least once every five years, an unforgettable summer takes place in the life of a single woman. This year I celebrated one of those Fun Summers: work was great, love was good, and every weekend I was surrounded by the type of friends who magnetize invitations to the next club or party. At the end of summer I considered naming a Facebook photo album, “All My Friends Are Tall & Blond” to honor the women whose laughs, legs and love for life are irresistible to guys; and as far as I’ve always discerned, irresistible to other women too.
Some folks refer to this type of female as The Hot Friend — the friend whose exterior appeal actually matches how gorgeous she is inside so well that you’re not even tempted to hold her looks against her. At bars and concerts, crowds of guys part down the middle to make room for my friend Ashley. My old co-worker, Faye, wore a sequined miniskirt to her own birthday party, exercising sure footing as men stopped dead in their tracks in the East Village to watch her walk by. We all need an Ashley and a Faye.
There’s a recent study that’s getting loads of buzz because it examined competitive cattiness among women … and basically found nothing new. A psychologist asked a short-dressed woman to pose as a student and enter a college classroom, and the research team recorded classmates’ reactions to her look. Essentially the result was that the guys gawked while most of the women stared in disapproval or murmured negative commentary like, “What the f— is that?” and “This is a school, not a nightclub.” The goal of this aggression against the confederate is purportedly to “make the rival feel badly about herself and thus less likely to compete [for a male mate],” and it sounds as though she was ostracized so fiercely (and such a convincing actress) that even the research team who conducted the study developed a prejudice against her.
The psychologist who headed the study, Tracy Vaillancourt of Canada’s University of Ottawa, says that since Darwin’s days, we’ve held a belief that sexual competition between women is biological. On a mammalian level, she asserts, we’re all trying to nab a guy who might fertilize our eggs and help us produce babies. But critics of the study suggest that the findings do little to further our modern-day relationships: really? Women still develop instant hostility toward one another because we’re all fighting for a man? Guys sit around gob-gaped over the threatening female as our claws come out to attack her?
I disagree, and I believe that most women I encounter are a good deal more progressive than this. It’s not that we’re all knock-outs (although, I suppose I do gravitate to friends who take care of themselves and take reasonable pride in their appearance). Instead, I think we’re finding our worth beneath the surface (and I’m seeing more and more men learning to see our worth beneath what’s skin-deep, too). We women are accomplishing goals through career and hobbies, we’re entering personal relationships in a discerning state and just generally finding authentic, healthy ways to build ourselves up. The basic tendency to dislike the competition might still exist, but a conscious aim to operate as a quality person — which I perceive most of us try to be — will bring a woman to overcome that.
In junior high, two of my friends — both naturally skilled flirts who were popular with the fellas — were overheard in a discussion about whether to invite me to a Friday night football game because, as one of them was quoted saying, “Boys don’t like Krissy.” When a friend relayed their conversation to me and I asked them if they’d really gossiped me so hurtfully, they admitted that yep, the guys at school pretty much thought I was invisible. I cried for a minute — So I’m 14 and I’m not a 10, rub salt on it why don’t you? — then made a decision: I’d observe what those two friends were doing differently than I was and learn from their behavior. I started taking note of the coy way they smiled, how they touched guys’ arms in conversation and basically how much they liked themselves.
Fortunately we all went on to mature both interpersonally and physically. When I came home the summer after freshman year of college, suddenly the boys I grew up with finally noticed me (definitely noticed me). Almost 13 years later, not having been born with tall, blond or naturally thin genes is still something I find myself having to work around. But instead of shrinking in the company of my friends who are inarguably, utterly gorgeous, I draw nearer to them. By association, if they look good, I look good too.
Part of that is because if a guy turns to check out bombshell Faye and I’m standing next to her, that means he’s also glancing in my direction. If he stops to watch Faye walk and I’m walking with her, chances are better that he’s going to notice me than if I were alone or in the company of someone who stands out less.
Also, some social psychologists have found that women possess natural mirroring behaviors. That means if Faye’s facing me to tell a story and she’s in a stance that calls attention to her neck, or her hips, or some other area that gets guys’ attention, I’m likely to adopt that same captivating stance. Chances are also good that I’ll throw my head back and laugh like she does, I’ll mirror her expressive smile and follow her out on the dancefloor or otherwise position myself in interactive situations with men more than I would if I were with a less confident friend.
Plus, it’s so simple: when we’re looking at something beautiful, it makes us feel good; and when we feel good, our energy is more magnetic. Just absorbing the aesthetic of Ashley’s face helps me to radiate a positive affect that other people (read: guys) are more likely to trip over their own feet to move closer to. Likewise, when we’re in the presence of a friend who’s comfortable in her skin, it makes us more relaxed in our own. Self-consciousness puts everyone on edge and makes them scatter, while self-assurance puts others at ease and invites them in.
So I don’t think it’s automatic that, as one headline suggested, “Short Skirts Magically Turn Women Into Bitches.” I refuse to buy into this ugly assertion that feeling threatened by another woman’s beauty is just a natural, inevitable part of the female experience. Are you kidding? Being associated with a Hot Friend just makes each of us look hotter.
May I suggest: next time you meet a woman whose looks could challenge you in some way, have courage and find a reason to engage her in conversation. “I love your dress” typically kicks things off without effort, or “How do you know the hosts of this party?” is easy. Even if you don’t learn something from the way she carries herself — which you very well could — at least you’ve upped your own chances of turning heads just by standing next to her. Plus, hey: it’s always nice to meet a new friend.
And if you have a Hot Friend you adore, celebrate her by copying this and posting to her Facebook, Twitter or an email:
You’re My Hot Friend: http://www.howaboutwe.com/date-report/2148-if-you-look-good-i-look-good-how-your-hot-friends-makes-you-more-attractive
[photo credit: Flickr, Kathy McGraw]