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March 28, 2008

Rachel Sweet

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Here's a 1981 clip of Rachel Sweet:

Lordy, did I find Rachel Sweet entertaining. The mocking feistiness. The big-personality-in-a-tiny-body. The belter's voice. The glamorpuss bursting through a plain-Jane framework ...

A quick word of explanation: Growing up in Akron, Ohio, Rachel Sweet was one of those kids who was a born performer. (As I like to ask: Can anyone come up with a good scientific reason why these people should be among us? Yet they keep turning up, generation after generation ...) As a kid Rachel took part in competitions; she toured with Mickey Rooney; she sang jingles. At 12, she opened in Vegas for Bill Cosby; at 13, she released her first single.

As a pint-sized solo performer, she started out doing country music, but country didn't catch fire for her. At the time -- the late '70s -- there was a punk-rock moment happening in Akron; it was similar to the moments that Seattle and Portland experienced during the grunge years. Rachel laid down some tracks with local punk musicians and placed a couple of them on a Stiff Records compilation of the Akron Sound. (Really-truly, there was something called "the Akron Sound." Isn't that great? All regions should develop their own pop-music sound.) These tracks landed her a contract with Stiff, and "Fool Around," Rachel's first album, was released in 1978.


Rachel was all of 15 years old. "B-A-B-Y" was everyone's favorite song on the disc:

Beyond the fun of the music and of Rachel's look and performances, there were worries. Stiff Records -- and Rachel herself -- were obviously marketing Rachel as a little sexpot. Given her age, were we being subjected to (gasp) kiddie porn?

In its way, the scandal echo'd another from a few years earlier. Tanya Tucker was 13 at the time of "Delta Dawn" and "What's Your Mama's Name?", and was a mere 14 when she recorded "Would You Lay With Me?" And of course the Rachel Sweet scandal prefigured a later one: Britney Spears, who was a relatively old lady of 18 at the time that "Baby One More Time" was released.

When you watch these performances you can't help wondering, "Where did all this sexual oomph and erotic knowingness in such a young girl come from?" Me? Well, having known what it's like to have a headful of naughty thoughts since the age of 12, I wasn't exactly looking hard for an answer. Besides: Girls, eh? They're gonna act out. They just are. (I grew up with a sexy and popular older sister. By the time I was 14, I was pretty familiar with the whole blonde, buxom, cheerleading thing.) But more responsible people than I couldn't help fretting: "Is it an indictment of our society 1) that these girls exist and 2) that we should enjoy watching and listening to them?"

Despite a lot of sympathetic press and a devoted fanbase, Rachel Sweet wound up having a nice but limited career as a performer. She left Stiff for bigger labels and released a few more records -- none of them sold very well. She toured for a few years. She had one mainstream hit, singing "Everlasting Love" with Rex Smith -- I'm still trying to forgive her for that one myself.

And that was pretty much it. She released her last record in 1982, stopped touring, and dropped out from music to get a degree from Columbia. Since retiring from performing, Rachel has appeared on Comedy Central, has done some singing for John Waters movies (in "Cry-Baby" and "Hairspray"), and has worked backstage at sitcoms and other TV shows.

What turned me into a Rachel Sweet fan -- and what makes me smile at the memory of her still -- wasn't her records. Though I liked her jailbait image and found some of the tracks catchy enough, I found the discs generally overproduced, square, and non-punk.

What turned me into a fan was seeing her perform. Live, Rachel Sweet was a revelation: funny, dynamic, free, energized by the audience ... I've seen Elvis, Jagger, and James Brown live, but I've never seen a performer with more juicy crotch-awareness than Rachel Sweet. (She made her microphone cord a very happy man indeed.) Rachel Sweet wasn't just an amusing Lolita, in other words. She was a fireball -- one of those performers who come to full life only when mixing it up with a live audience.

I also found Rachel Sweet very sexy. That performing energy, that humor, that lustiness ... It spoke to me. Which makes me want to revisit a recent rant: Back in the '70s, it was OK to find quirky girls sexy. In fact, in certain circles it wasn't just commonplace but cool to cultivate one's taste in unconventionally-pretty girls.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm embarrassed by the way guys today seem ashamed to assert that they dig, in a sexual sense, anything but the most Photoshopped kinds of girl-looks. (For instance, Maxim recently named Sarah Jessica Parker the "unsexiest woman alive." I've always had an itch for SJP myself.) This seems to me wussy and narcissistic behavior, unbecoming a man with any sense of adventure, let alone any real enthusiasm about women. Besides, how dreary it is that the erotic quest is no longer an open, searching, and experimental one. Instead, it seems to have become a search for the right plastic fantasy.

Having blurted all that out, I've left myself wondering: Who, these days, is a well-known quirky girl performer I find sexy? Hmm, what a fun game ... Let's see, just to get started: Selma Blair, Lisa Kudrow, Sandra Oh, Elodie Bouchez ... None of them are raving beauties in the Pam Anderson mode. But all of them are, as far as I'm concerned, appealing, talented, fun to watch, and very hot. I'd much rather spend a lazy weekend with Selma, Lisa, Sandra, or Elodie than with a Maxim girl.

Which leads me to some thoughts about Rachel Sweet's type. And it's fun that she does have a type, isn't it? In any case, I'm a big fan of types. So far as I'm concerned, Rachel qualifies as pure showbiz: brassy, with tons of energy, a big voice, and the pizazz and will to hit the back row of the theater fullforce. She is going to entertain you, goddamit.

If Madonna a few years later revived the gold-digger archetype, Rachel Sweet was another character out of '30s musicals -- a wised-up Broadway baby: shrewd and worldly, yet genuinely silly and sweet too. I love the girls in those musicals, don't you? I can see Rachel as a chorus girl in a Busby Berkeley movie. That pleasant but nothing-special face that is at the same time a perfect canvas for expressions and emotions. The semi-camp way of sneering lustily. The way her utilitarian figure play-acts at being glam. The physical givens are fine, if familiar. But the spirit is a knockout.

It's funny that Rachel Sweet was in punk rock at all, in fact. She was far more Bette Midler than Chryssie Hynde. The white clown eyes, the cartoon-sexy mouth, her comically insolent way of flinging back her hair, the power in her pelvis that she can never forget ... No question about it, she'd have been at home in an installment of "The Ziegfield Follies," or playing Ginger Rogers' best friend, showing up in the background of movie after movie until she became a star in her own right.

Back in the day, I talked to Rachel Sweet once. (Despite the way it looms large in pop music history, the punk scene of the late '70s was actually quite small. If you had a press pass, it was easy to arrange face time with well-known performers.) I told Rachel about my theory that she wasn't punk at all, that she was really a musical-comedy kind of gal. She giggled and admitted it flat-out. So I asked her why she'd taken to rock and roll instead of to the form that would have seemed to suit her more naturally. Her response: "Well, there's a lot to be said for being welcomed among your peers."

Semi-related: I wrote a posting about the postpunk group Gang of Four. Here's Bobby Shred's excellent and loving Rachel Sweet Tribute Page -- I lifted much of the information in this posting from it. Back here I linked to a clip of Brenda Lee, whom Rachel Sweet resembles in her physical diminutiveness, her spunk, and her knockout talent.

Dudez: Which quirky contemporary female performers do you find hot?



UPDATE: Irina uses some cute videoclips to illustrate the diff between beautiful and hot. Talk about a convincing contrast ...

posted by Michael at March 28, 2008


Total agreement here about the tiresome addiction to "perfection". What a yawn. Can't go all the way to SJP, though. The Onion nailed it for her: "Sarah Jessica Parker: From Horseface to Household Name".

Sweet is a type all right, in fact the girl in the next cube from me was cut from the same cloth, much reducing my productivity. Any girl that short with hair that long is halfway there.

I know this is maybe too geeky to admit, but I had a huge thing for this bit character from the Star Trek pilot - - her character was even named Yeoman Colt (get on and RIDE!!!). She was described as having "unusually strong female drives", hehe. Even at age 12 I knew what they meant. But then, that was the 60s, a special time for female hotness on film to me.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on March 28, 2008 3:22 PM

It's too painful looking at the young Tanya Tucker. Christ! Raw sex.

Posted by: ricpic on March 28, 2008 3:25 PM

I completely and totally agree. I often find conventional "Hotness" boring and fake.
Todd-Love Redheads always. They don't have to be perfect..just not ugly.
Sexy can be 90% personality and self awareness. I spent 17 years in the bar business picking out the alternative hot. I was seldom mistaken.

Posted by: Former Alpha on March 28, 2008 3:41 PM

The divine Charlotte Gainsbourg. I find Maggie Gyllenhaal very charming and certainly agree with you on Blair, Bouchez, & Oh. She's probably in her 60s now, but when she was a younger woman, I found Anjelica Huston and as she put it, her "conflicting jutting bones", to be very alluring. I wonder if a woman who looked like her & with her talent could make it show business today - most of these young American starlets have the same bland prettiness.

That's one thing I like about SJP's & Sandra Oh's (who also made that silly list) success in show business - it's encouraging that their appeal & comedic/dramatic talents have been rewarded with "leading lady", successful careers (not the "pathetic dateless best friend to conventionally hot main actress" roles) despite the amazingly high levels of vitriol they receive for their looks - some of these articles seem to be saying, "You don't look like a Maxim cover girl - why are you on my screen in a starring role?"

Posted by: liam on March 28, 2008 3:41 PM

I feel like we should start a movement ... An anti-inanity-in-women movement, or something like that. Bring back the personality and quirks!

Todd -- That *is* a cute Star Trek girl, very '60s, almost like Mimsy Farmer. You couldn't even find SJP cute back in the "LA Story" days? I lost interest in her with "Sex and the City," but that's probably because of the show itself. Lordy, I work among women like that, I don't want to watch them at the end of the day.

Ricpic -- No kidding. Gauche, squirmy ... Great '70s pants and hair. Plus a nice illustration of how sexy non-perfect teeth can be. I love the way her feet stay nailed to the floor during "Delta Dawn." She'd like to move but she can't. Struggle, girl! Barrooo.

Former Alpha -- Redheads? Smart choice! Couldn't agree more about spotting girls who really like their lovin' too. Often the very prettiest don't really have the knack, it seemed to me. It was as though their interest and participation ended when they finished putting on their makeup. As a former bartender you must have some great tales to tell and lessons to impart.

Liam -- Charlotte and Maggie, excellent choices. I've got "Sherry Baby" waiting for me on the DVD stack. Is it a treat? The French have always cultivated a semi-porno appreciation for quirk, personality, oddness, and gaucheness -- there's always some new young coltish girl who they've decided to find fascinating ...

Posted by: MIchael Blowhard on March 28, 2008 4:01 PM

Paris is not beautiful, but neither is Shakira (who is "hot").

It also seems a little disingenous to compare a 5'8" 95lb woman with a 5'2 106lb woman when talking about "hotness." Being that tall and that stick-thin is bound to come off as graceless (possible exception: ballerinas). On the other hand, being short and of a reasonable childbearing weight means you can do all kinds of jutting and strutting and it won't look nearly as awkward.

Posted by: Cin on March 28, 2008 4:25 PM

I have a copy of that Akron compilation (on blue vinyl!) -- highly recommend it if one can find it. Very eclectic, yet each band had its own unique style.

Featuring: Jane Aire & The Belvederes, The Bizarros, Chi Pig, Idiots Convention, Rubber City Rebels, Rachel Sweet, Sniper, Terraplane, Tin Huey, and The Waitresses.

Posted by: lordsomber on March 28, 2008 4:45 PM

There are so many more women whose appeal is beyond the plastic Photoshop ideal. Among actors there are:
Cate Blanchette, Toni Collette, Jennifer Connelly, Minnie Driver, Gena Davis, Mira Furlan, Veronica Hamel, Mariska Hargitay, Evangeline Lilly, Julianne Moore, Mary Louise Parker, Amanda Peet, Diana Rigg, Susan Sarandon, Susanna Thompson, Emily Watson, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Winslet.

Musicians: Feist, St. Vincent, Nora Jones, Grace Potter, Nellie Furtado.

The list could go on and on.

Posted by: Chris White on March 28, 2008 5:07 PM

The comparison is difficult, I agree, too many other competing variables. It's not the prettiness of their faces on the 1-10 scale or the curviness of their bodies. It's like the attitude. And I think men should know what I'm saying here more than I can even understand it.

As for quirky not plastic girls, I'll tell you a lot of men are into that. I am not photogenic, and my looks are unconventional, but I get way more attention in real life that you'd imagine from just seeing my photo or even a video. I think this goes for most girls. My friends who have interesting, outgoing personalities just look prettier. They are really loved by a niche of men- particularly very smart men. But if they spent all their time fretting that they don't look like a Maxim model, I doubt they'd be as admired.

For example, who do you think is better looking- Hillary or Haylee (sp?) Duff? I think conventionally, Hillary. But I've seen Haylee in real life next to her sister. No comparison off screen, Haylee wins hands down- looks and personality.

Posted by: irina on March 28, 2008 5:30 PM

Cin -- You're a tough audience! Still, it's pretty clear that Shakira is able to inhabit her hips a whole lot more than Paris can, isn't it?

Lordsomber -- Blue vinyl? The Akron Sound? That's got to be a serious collectible. (But do you still have an LP turntable?)

Chris -- That's a great list, and sign me up to second it. But I notice that maybe 2/3 of the gals on it are from what we might think of today as "previous generations" -- they're gals who emerged during eras when tastes were different, and maybe more open than they are today. Even Jennifer Connelly, youngish as she may seem, really made her rep back in the '80s. That's prehistory. I'm thinking more of gals who have emerged since, say, 2000.

Irina -- Fun comment. I think of it as "spirit" myself. It isn't just what the meat and bone and flesh of a girl are like, it's what you see shining through them. It's how a girl inhabits what she has. As for the Duffs ... Er, I'm not sure I know who they are.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 28, 2008 6:18 PM

Speaking of Jennifer Connelly ... As I often enjoy doing ... Has anyone else noticed that "Some Girls" an early movie of hers, is now on DVD? It's worth a look -- half teen comedy, half Euro art film.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 28, 2008 6:22 PM

I had a huge crush on Bunty Bailey, the girl in the A-Ha video, back in the 80's. I thought she was Norwegian...



Posted by: Scott on March 28, 2008 6:30 PM

As a general rule, I think saying someone is "hot" or "sexy" are essentially saying they are fertile. Beauty is partially that, but it's not entirely so.

And, yes, there's definitely a charisma component that you can see in looking at someone like Shakira, who presents herself as confident and vibrant and acts that way, against someone like Paris whose acts are often calculated to be outrageous, but whose mannerisms are generally kind of distant and timid. Of course, these are media-filtered reactions, but with Paris it seems like there's no "there" there - Outside of her incestuous world of gossip and paparazzi it's like she's a non-person.

One example that comes to mind is Jewel Staite - Pictures show her as pretty, but not truly exceptional. And she'll never really be suited for the sort of sexed-up treatment the media likes to give actresses. But on television or film, her presence, body language, voice really adds something that a picture wouldn't convey.

Posted by: Cin on March 28, 2008 6:33 PM

Michael, I know you asked the guys, but what about Saffron Burrows. She made her first movie in the 90s. If you want someone really young, what about Olivia Thilby or Ellen Page? Tina Fey is an obvious pick. Maybe Gina Gershon?

Posted by: Cheryl on March 28, 2008 7:03 PM

Man, I haven't thought of Rachel Sweeet in 20 years.

I heard her on the radio somewhere in the midwest one summer when I stole the family car to drive across the country. I may have gotten as far as Akron before running out of money. I remember sleeping broke in this big 78 Oldsmobile and listening to "Who Does Lisa Like?"

Summer in the 70s.

Posted by: Mort Todtman on March 28, 2008 10:26 PM

One of the young actresses of today who has always impressed me is Mischa Barton. I suspect she doesn't have all that much personality in real life, and may not even be an especially good actress, but somehow she manages to convey a kind of haunted, soulful beauty in her photos - although you couldn't possibly call her, "unconventionally" beautiful, but she doesn't convey the pneumatic, artificial sexiness of many of today's "hot babes". (See here for a photo.)

Posted by: alias clio on March 28, 2008 11:53 PM

Alias Clio: I couldn't disagree more about Mischa Barton; she's anorexically skinny, and her ribcage is visible in bikini pics. Blech! That 'haunted' look is hunger; she's fricking starving to death!

End of rant.

Posted by: Will S. on March 29, 2008 1:36 AM

Well, MB, age differentials being what they are, I guess one person's "young" is another's "middle aged".

How about Zooey Deschnel, Natalie Portman, and Audrey Tautou?

Posted by: Chris White on March 29, 2008 7:51 AM

My favorite memory of Rachel Sweet was an article about her in "Creem" magazine in the late 70's; the article featured B&W picture of her in full-on performing mode in the middle of the page, and the caption writer had supplied a great one: "Look out, Little Miss Dynamite - here comes Baby Three Mile Island!"

Posted by: James Boelter on March 29, 2008 9:30 AM

Have to agree with Maxim on Sarah Jessica Parker. Michael, what are you thinking?

Posted by: Thursday on March 29, 2008 1:33 PM

Thursday, Michael's tastes are in part a sign of changing fashions in what both men and women consider beautiful. One major difference has been the triumph of what you evo-psych people call "neoteny" in the faces of female actresses and models, as the predominant ideal of beauty. We'll grant that a certain percent of men has probably always preferred women with features as babylike as possible, but it's only quite recently that this has become the standard throughout the "beauty industry". As a result, since the late 1980s or so, anyone who doesn't have those features seems not merely unconventionally pretty, but positively unattractive.

It's a pity, because that's the kind of beauty that really doesn't wear well: a snub nose looks adorable on a teen, but rather silly on a woman in her 40s.

I doubt that SJP would ever have been regarded as a regular beauty, but in the 1970s, she would certainly have ranked as cute in my high school. Cher, whose features were never "neotenous", and who once had a hooked nose and slightly crooked teeth, was seen as a beauty then, as was Jerri Hall, who was a sort of deluxe version of SJP, with somewhat more regular features. Go back a little further in time and the women ranked as beauties had quite un-childlike faces, even when they were very young: Lisa Fonssagrives, Suzie Parker, Babe Paley, even the 19/20-year-old Lauren Bacall in her first films.

Men always underestimate just how much fashions (in beauty, I mean, not in clothes so much) influence their perception of what is beautiful.

Posted by: alias clio on March 29, 2008 3:23 PM

Clio, some of us are quite familiar with the beauties of the past. Fashion comes and goes, but a good eye, especially one honed by looking at lots of old films and photographs, will always see through fashion. I suspect what is at work here is just Michael's complete horndoggedness, a male affliction which frequently consumes all standards. Some of the others he lists are pretty iffy too. Lisa Kudrow sexy? Come on. A pretty good comic actress and hardly repulsive, but lets get real. Sandra Oh?

As for your examples, well I always thought the young Cher was hot and so was Jerry Hall, not to mention Lauren Bacall. But why not throw in Cyd Charisse and Ava Gardner or so many others. Besides I'm not sure that babyfacedness is so completely dominant that we cannot appreciate any other form of beauty. Does the world's current top model, Gisele Bundchen, with her magnificently big schnozz, have a babyface? Does Franka Potente, one of_my_favourite actresses. Still, even with the most generous allowances for changing tastes, there is just no way arround the fact that SJP is just plug ugly, not to mention really annoying.

My vote for unconventionally sexy actress is Juliette Landau whose lisp considerably enlivened Season 2 of Buffy for me. And how about Harriet Andersson in some of those old Bergman films. And among classical singers lets not forget Maria Callas.

Posted by: Thursday on March 29, 2008 5:20 PM

Quirky contemporary performers who are hot, hmmm...

Natalie Portman about 8 - 10 years ago.

Shakira when she first became popular but before Laundry Service.

Winona Ryder from Heathers to Edward Scissorhands (maybe a bit after).

Alicia Silverstone was pretty quirky (and darn cute) in Clueless -- quirky against the background of her peers in the movie.

Those Israeli girls who became YouTube stars with their Pixies cover. Ah, remember them?

One common factor here is that they're young, almost always under 25, and averaging in the "college student" age range. Many things that are "quirky" among females this age either degrade chemically over time, so that they're absent among older females (ability to be "mock-feisty" as you put it), or they can persist but become annoying and boring among older females.

For instance, when you see an 18 y.o. wearing quirky clothes that she made herself, bragging about how she listens to bands that no one else even knows about, that can be somewhat charming -- "Aw, how cute! I remember being that clueless and naive too!" But if she were 28, these traits would already be annoying, and by the time the female was 38 or older, you'd want to tell her off to her face not to be such a smug and immature asshole.

Posted by: agnostic on March 29, 2008 7:41 PM

Alias Clio - It seems kind of funny what you say with regard to SJP, since I would assume most men find her at least "moderately attractive." My interpretation of Maxim's proclamation is she's singled out as the "unsexiest woman alive" is precisely because of the way the media/fashion industry routinely trumpets her as some sort of paragon of feminity when her gifts are merely modest.

Granted: Maxim is part of the media/fashion industry, so it's not a neutral party. But underlying message I take is - "Reality check to the fashion industry. Despite the self-reinforcing world where you believe you can reshape mens desires as you see fit, we really just aren't that attracted to SJP, and trying to foist her on us is going to get some backlash."

Posted by: Cin on March 29, 2008 7:49 PM

SJP's got a nice lean body, not skinny/anorexic lean, but strong looking, almost like!

I don't share Thursday or Maxim's disdain for her, though. There was a scene in Sex and the City where Big, recovering from heart surgery, was greeted at his door by SJP done up as a candystriper. She looked damn good, I tell you, damn good.

Mary Louise Parker is adorable and very attractive, but I wouldn't quite rate her as "hot". Hotness to me is the thing some women have that used to be described as "radiating sex" (Chevalier described the great courtesan la Belle Otero that way), and while I have a crush on MJP, she does doesn't radiate sex, as far as my otherwise adoring eyes can tell.

My problem with contemporary performers is that they lack something essential to being truly hot. A woman radiates sex when she fully inhabits her body; she is most carnal when she is most incarnated. But bodies today are problematic (for both genders, but it's women we're talking about here). They are obstacles to perfection, they put on fat, they age, they do all sorts of messy, carnal things. Female performers today are at the ice-cold heart of a culture that really hates the body, the female body in particular, all curvey and warm and wet and wooly, all hormones and heat. So through starvation, ascetic exercise regimens and disfiguring plastic surgery, female performers turn themselves into something sexless, android-like, she-bots without the she. It's the only way today's sick culture will accept them. How many female performers have been victims of our woman-hating culture? Well, take Jennifer Connelly for instance. She was once a voluptuous woman, totally embodied and completely female. Now...?

If there are female performers today who really are hot, they're going against some very powerful anti-sex anti-body cultural forces. The hotter they are, the more they'll be attacked, and the sooner they'll get beaten down into doing what our culture tells hot women they should be doing: starving themselves to death.

Posted by: PatrickH on March 29, 2008 8:32 PM

Hasn't SJP attracted several men like JFK,Jr. & Ferris Bueller, who presumably have many options & their pick of the litter? She may not be to your tastes, but plenty of men have found her sexy.

Posted by: yt on March 29, 2008 11:08 PM

I suppose I'm the weirdo, but for me the "hot or not" question is about 95% subjective. It's all about whether I find a gal intriguing, exciting, alluring. Whether or not there's some general consensus about the gal ... I dunno, I don't much care, although in a pinch I'm willing to admit that some chix are hot even if they don't do much for me personally. But that isn't a discussion that interests me much. I suppose there are general, loose sorts of rules about who's hot -- most guys probably aren't going to find disease-riddled gals hot, for instance. But I'd want to allow for the possibility that some guys might. Some guys -- chubby chasers -- find very overweight gals hot. As far as they're concerned, chubby is what's hot.

I can resign myself to the idea that "beautiful" has a semi-objective existence. I mean, vast stretches of people can agree that Monica Bellucci is beautiful, for instance. But as for whether she's hot or not -- well, isn't that an almost strictly personal matter? Chubby chasers probably have no interest in her.

(Parallel case in the arts is the contrast between "this is a great movie" and "I enjoyed it." "This is a great movie" is a function of consensus -- large numbers of people over time have come to agree that this movie is one of the greats. As for my own feelings about it and reactions to it ... Well, they're up to me. I may or may not like it. An example in my case would be "Potemkin." It's generally considered one of the greats, and that's OK with me, not that my opinion should matter. But I've never enjoyed it or liked it personally. I'm not going to assert my personal reaction as a way of assailing the historical consensus -- saying "I don't like it" doesn't mean "I don't think it should be considered one of the greats." Anyway, to my way of thinking, beautiful is like great -- a lot of people can agree on it, and the judgement seems to stick over some span of time. But "hot" is like "I liked it". Really it's my business.)

Anyway, part of the fun for me about all this is asserting the "I find so-and-so hot" question as more important than the "the editors of Maxim want us to agree that Maxim Babe #182 is hot." In other words: I don't really care what the editors of Maxim decide is hot. Instead, this girl -- in my case, one example would be Sarah Jessica Parker, at least pre-Sex in the City -- is what I find hot.

Put 'em on the defensive. Don't let 'em lead. Keep taking 'em by surprise. Besides, it's a lot more fun listening to your inner stirrings than to the babblings of taste-nazis.

It's also ... I dunno, more adventurous and rewarding. What does that girl have that might be fascinating? Why does that other girl make me feel that way? And how about this third one? I don't normally go for that type, but we always seem to find a nice unforced rhythm when we spend time together ... Appreciate 'em for what they are, instead of judging them as lacking for what they aren't. Etc, etc.

Life becomes much richer and more interesting that way, no? Well, it does for me.

Incidentally, my own interpretation as to what the editors of Maxim are up to by declaring SJP unsexy is that they're trying to stir readers up, get some coverage for their magazine -- they're just trying to make some kind of impact. I often think Maxim (which I look at once a year on a plane flight) is pretty funny, btw.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 29, 2008 11:17 PM

Here's the Onion bit:

I also like this snippet from Family Guy:

Brian: The FCC are censoring anything that might be viewed as unpleasant.

Peter: What the hell? They let Sarah Jessica Parker's face on TV and she looks like a foot.

Seriously, the problem with saying you think someone is hot in Michael's sense is that almost all women, at least those in reasonable shape, have some sexually attractive features. Their genes wouldn't have made it this far if they didn't. So, in that sense, who isn't "hot," if only in some bare minimum way?

But surely we expect more from our movie and TV stars. Is Parker more worthy of notice than any average non-obese woman you run into everyday at the office? Why would you pay 10 bucks to see her onscreen when you can find someone more attractive and interesting for free just by getting out of the house? Walk down to the local mall on a Saturday afternoon to watch the girls go shopping and you'll find dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women far more worthy of your attention.

On a more general point, if an artist or performer doesn't deliver something more than what is available through the ordinary experience of walking down the street, then they are probably not worth bothering with at all.

Posted by: Thursday on March 30, 2008 1:12 AM

Parker also bottoms out the list over at the ratings site, where she gets beat handily by the likes of Hillary Clinton. If forced to make a choice, I'd have to go with Hillary too.

Posted by: Thursday on March 30, 2008 1:26 AM

Thursday, you're strange. Very few women that I see (of course, I'm one of them too), in malls and other public places, strike me as being worthy of a second glance. Most of them are utterly blank and uninteresting - mall dolls with too much makeup and not enough clothes. (That's excluding the ones who are too fat, or sloppy, or otherwise indifferent to their apperance.) All you've done with your last two posts is convince me that your taste is conventional.

p.s. Catherine Zeta Jones - who has no cheekbone hollows and is not blonde - would have been considered rather plain in the late 1970s...when the haute-WASP ideal (see Karen Graham and Lisa Taylor) was dominant.

Posted by: alias clio on March 30, 2008 2:18 AM

I've always found Patricia Heaton attractive (at least when she was on "Everybody Loves Raymond"). In my own personal life I tend to appreciate women with a little personality and not just conventionally good looks.

Posted by: Daniel on March 30, 2008 2:59 AM

I will never understand why guys are always getting into this same type of argument, where one will say that he finds X woman sexy and the other will then argue that no, they do not & cannot.

So Michael (and as was mentioned above, John Kennedy Jr and Matthew Broderick) apparently thought/think of Sarah Jessica Parker as being sexy. And Thursday, Todd, and Maxim do not.

Which only shows that people's "what's sexy" button are sometimes pushed by different things. Arguing with someone that they are not turned on by what they are turned on by seems like a very pointless activity. It also never fails to surprise me how often men are unable to accept or believe other men's physical preferences when they differ significantly from their own. It happens. Viva la difference, mileage will vary, and all that.

Posted by: Jack on March 30, 2008 3:06 AM

I totally agree with your premise in this posting, but looking at this (NSFW)
I must joyously disagree about Elodie Bouchez not being Maxim material (I hadn't heard of her, thanks!). Maybe depends on how thoroughly she's made up? And how young she was when photographed, of course.

Regarding the neoteny thing, I expect (for better or worse) it won't go completely out of fashion if for no other reason than computer-generated actresses are inevitable. If you think the live actresses of today are corporealy abnormal, wait till Hollywood is doing realistic renditions of the "neoteny ideal." Like the mom in Pixar's "The Incredibles" (early in the film, as Elastigirl). Or the "Umemaro" videos (thanks to Roissy for mentioning a link that led to one) which, although they have a ways to go before looking like actual (albeit stylized) people, are rapidly approaching that level.
There is a (very NSFW, don't say I didn't warn you) sample video clip on this page by clicking on the button below the illustration labeled "Try Free Demo."

Posted by: Yakking Guy on March 30, 2008 4:09 AM

p.s. Sorry Thursday. That last comment sounds both grumpier and ruder than I meant it to. I'm staying up too late. Insomnia.

Posted by: alias clio on March 30, 2008 9:01 AM

Yes, the bland blondes are out in force, but look a little harder. They aren't the only women who like to shop.

Besides even they tend to be sexier than Parker, which is standard of comparison I was using.

Posted by: Thursday on March 30, 2008 10:15 AM

Agnostic has this post on girlwatching at the mall ...

Posted by: Thursday on March 30, 2008 10:21 AM

Sorry to Michael and Clio. I'm probably a bit grumpier than I need to be too.

Posted by: Thursday on March 30, 2008 11:43 AM

Are you sure you aren't reacting to SJP as she appeared in Sex and the City, Thursday? If you see her in films in which she is the designated sex object, including the one where she was cast as Steve Martin's bimbo girlfriend (can't remember the name; was it called L.A. Story?), or in The First Wives Club, you can see what a charming, quirky comedienne she can be, and you might see why some men find her attractive.

Posted by: alias clio on March 30, 2008 12:06 PM

Heads up. Amy Diamond. Anglo-Swedish. Completely off the US radar. Strong voice, great gap (teeth!).

Eyes peeled. Ksenia Sitnik. Belorussian JESC winner. Songs uneven. This one's very cute. Also has been known to videograph herself to youtube. These promptly get yanked. Like I said: Eyes peeled.

Posted by: bryanD on March 30, 2008 4:02 PM

I'm a bit bemused by the discussion here, for myself at least attractiveness has always been multipolar with the two main poles being looks and personality. Looks in general for men will always have a younger (under 35 being preferable), slimmer (by slimmer I mean ranging from slender to curvy, in other words not overweight) skew. Personality has much more of a spectrum.
In regards to this, I think agnostic is being a bit harsh and I think he mistakenly conflates the rather general biological predilection for youthful looks with his own predilection for the personalities most young girls have, which makes it impossible for any woman over 35 to stand a rats chance in hell in his book. Myself, on the other hand can't stand overly youthful personalities. To often petty, shallow and devoid of taste and wit. To give you one example I stopped associating with one girl because she answered her cell phone while we were having a fairly serious conversation. In her mind, talking idly to her friend about her day at the beach while cutting off the guy springing for her dinner was okay. Yes, I realize that it's against "game" rules, but I've never given a fart about such things.
Well, I digress. I don't find SJP extremely attractive, but I wouldn't throw her in with say Rosie O'Donnell or Roseanne. With her fashion tastes, if she was more erudite and witty, she could be attractive to me. Of course looks could be trumped by having a nuclear option in personality. When I was younger I wished the fictional character Daria Morgandorffer was real. Not because she was a physically attractive character, but to 18 year old me, a deadpan teenage girl who read Ibsen and watched Fellini, insulted everyone and purposefully flaunted social conventions including beauty was attractive in the extreme. To some extent it still is for me today.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 30, 2008 5:25 PM

to 18 year old me, a deadpan teenage girl who read Ibsen and watched Fellini, insulted everyone and purposefully flaunted social conventions including beauty was attractive in the extreme. To some extent it still is for me today.

This is a perfect example of girl-hating. What is the sex ratio of people who fit the above description? Why not throw in "whose favorite music is noise punk" and "who likes engineering her own assault weapons"?

C'mon man, you can chat about arty stuff and flaunt social conventions with your buddies. And she can do her girly conformist stuff with her friends. You and she just need to have "chemistry," and you know from any concert you've ever been to that belonging to the same peer group hardly does it.

You also know that the rare chick like the one above who actually does exist has a huge ego, in real life, because all of her guy friends fawn over her since she's so rare. Dude, give girly girls a chance.

Posted by: agnostic on March 30, 2008 11:26 PM

No comparison off screen, Haylee wins hands down- looks and personality.

uh, no. spoken like a woman who cannot possibly put herself in the lizardbrain of a man!

haylee is borderline ugly. hillary duff is much prettier than haylee and no amount of abstract "sexiness" or "interesting outgoing personality" will make haylee as attractive to the majority of men as her sister.

let's not get carried away with the mystical power of personality to elevate an average woman's looks into the rarefied atmosphere of hotness.

Posted by: roissy on March 31, 2008 12:23 AM


I don't make any secret of my disdain for girly-girlism.

I hate "girls". Hate their flibbertigibbitness, their shallowness, their need to be fluffed and constantly reassured. I, however, love women. Wit, feminine grace and taste mixed in with a hint of world-weariness that enhances without being completely bitter, like the tannic finish of Rhone wine. Age has nothing to do with what I mean when I say "woman" a woman can be 18, though it may be an unfortunately rare thing, and I find most of them if they do emerge, emerge in the early to mid-20s. Most females in America are content to remain girls perversely long after their outer charms have wilted. God knows there are many 40 year olds running around still acting like air-headed little twits, demanding to be told of their uniqueness and having their immense narcissism inflated by the likes of Oprah, Deepak Chopra and Dr. Phil. That is what a girl becomes if she does not become a woman.

If a girl is merely annoying, one that refuses to grow up is a monster.

Now of course, like I said before, this is completely a matter of taste on my part (if severely judgemental), and taste in personality ranges a hell of a lot more than taste in physicality. While there is a small minority of cougar lovers and chubby chasers out there, there are a plethora of people looking for many different things in personality. Some want naifs, some want surrogate mothers, yet others helpmates and some just their female converse.

Chemistry works, no doubt it's the candleflame that draws the moth near, but unless you're just looking for some physical company for awhile, it lacks for the long haul. To use a metaphore, I certainly think Gnocchi in pepper sauce paired with a fine rose wine is one of the most sublime dishes known to man, but even I would get bored going to a resturant that served only that and nothing else.

Of course, you say I'm simply quixotic, the sex ratios will not stand for it! A universal acid of human nature assaults the man who dare desire a woman into such things as (merely case examples and not particulars) Ibsen and Fellini! Perhaps I would so mourn if your comparisons held up. Certainly I would be doomed if I desired a woman who assembled assault weapons or enjoyed power tools. However there is no lack of females in the punk scene, even if they're not to my taste, and the notion that females would not like literature and art is absurd! There's no lack of classy women here and any guy in a poetry class would tell you that there's three dowdy humorless girls for every guy and a couple stunning women to the whole class (may God preserve them from the crimes against beauty committed by English departments). After all, isn't the focus on the verbal, the word, the connections of line to line and character to character the stuff women are apt to draw to by the evo-devo scheme of the world?

Now as for a huge ego, you may be right about that, but in their case it's quite justified, not like the various little turd-blossoms wrapped in identical tasteless finery who proliferate thinking they're a special little flower. Besides, as you can probably tell by now (understatment ahead), I have something of an ego myself. The sparks two huge gravitational forces makes colliding against each other is part of the fun.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 31, 2008 5:17 AM

Agnostic and Spike:

Shame on you. It's "flouted", not "flaunted". I do not normally intervene in such matters, but I expect more from both of you.

A. Sfinctre

Posted by: A. Teidt Sfinctre on March 31, 2008 11:03 AM

There is a hilarious essay over at Testosterone magazine (yes, there is a Testosterone magazine) by the resident lunatic TC Luoma, about the sexual allure of younger-than-legal-but-still-curvy-and-developed girls. He describes at very sexist, testosterone-poisoned length exactly what kind of effect a sexy young thing can have on men, including oldsters like TC. But then comes the kicker. He quotes Richard Pryor to the effect that, yes, they're trouble indeed, those nubile teen teases, but then they...speak.

At which point we men breathe a sigh of relief, sit back, detumesce and otherwise relax, and go back to reading the paper.

Saved by the voice!

Posted by: PatrickH on March 31, 2008 11:11 AM

Just what I was thinking, Mr, er, Sfinctre.

If one flaunts conventionality, I imagine one must be conventional indeed.

Posted by: alias clio on March 31, 2008 11:53 AM

I am well and truly humbled.
I plead no contest to the crime of misdemeanor mangling of the English language.

Of course one could get technical and say that for hipsters flouting conventionality is simply just the flaunting of another conventionality?

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 31, 2008 4:14 PM

Of course one could get technical and say that for hipsters flouting conventionality is simply just the flaunting of another conventionality?

You're good, Spike. You're good.

Posted by: PatrickH on March 31, 2008 5:08 PM

To get back to your original question- Stefania Sandrelli, Yes, she was in one of the best movies ever made, “The Conformist,” but was particularly great in Pietro Germi’s “Seduced and Abandoned,” and Tinto Brass’s “The Key.” When she was younger, she specialized in playing naïve, somewhat dumb female characters, but with a very edgy, coltish energy one certainly doesn’t see in for example, a Scarlett Johanson characterization.

As for other Jolie-laide ladies, how about Eva Green, but does she still count as quirky now that she’s a Bond girl? There’s also Emily Mortimer in “Young Adam."

I have one girly-girl friend. She’s in her mid30s, is a Philippa Gregory fan, and is planning her “low budget wedding”, that will now take place in Bordeaux. I tease her about such things, but it’s hard to argue about taste. From my general observation, women who are into girly girl books seem to be more interested in getting coupled and put more of an effort into it, than say, the girl who gets a thrill from reading about Emma Bovary dying.

Posted by: CC on March 31, 2008 7:25 PM

Pamela Franklin in anything she made. An actress who could do any role and was always enticing when doing so.

Posted by: Island Joe on April 3, 2008 5:21 PM

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