Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The beautiful junkie

In the mood for random, partially connected thoughts today, so here goes. Hopefully I can reply to posts once I get to work.

I have noticed something going on here, and I don't know if it is true, or if it is an illusion, one of those tricks of the light your brain plays on you. I suspect strongly that it is.

But what I seem to notice is this.

A surprising proportion of the young women who come to see me are classically beautiful.

Now, this isn't going to be me getting into some horribly confessorial minefield of "my inappropriate feelings for patients", because that's another entry, and probably not a very scandalous one. And I say "beautiful", rather than "attractive", or "pleasant" or "sexy", or "engaging conversationalists" - I mean people who are often none of those last few things, but who have that high cheekboned, symmetrically featured, fine chiseled look that gets on the cover of Vogue.

The thing that makes Miss China and Miss Jamaica and Miss Sweden look more like each other than they do like their countrywomen.

The thing that distorts the way a person is seen the way a vast planet distorts space, the thing that when someone has it, makes their most insipid jokes funny, their meanest insights profound, their otherwise viciously self-indulgent behaviour at worst quirky... even if they've got all the brains and personality of a Bratz doll.

(I should point out that there is no shortage of unattractive intravenous drug users. And I am in no way suggesting that injecting amphetamines or heroin make you beautiful, because it does precisely the opposite. A lot of people fall on and off our programme, and each time they come back on they get another photographic ID, and the photos all get stuck in the front of the folder. And you can see someone age ten years in five, or five in two).

But today I saw three remarkably Voguelike* young women in a row - high cheekbones, slim, fine-features accentuated by make-up, dressed in fashionable clothes - and I wondered if I was starting to see a pattern. If there was something about beauty (in that narrow sense) that makes you susceptible to drugs?

This would seem deeply counter-intuitive. As everyone knows, beauty makes life easier for you. Babies stare longer at classically beautiful faces than at those who won't get in Vogue. Classically beautiful children do better at school than do ugly ones - almost as if aspiring parents would be better off getting a nose job and breast implants for their kids than after school coaching.

I vaguely recall that beautiful people earn more, get better sex and get it sooner, are less likely to be convicted of a crime... given a choice between smart, strong, rich and beautiful, I reckon a fair few people would want to be beautiful.

But if there is a relationship between beauty and heroin (and I am in no way saying there is, I'm just looking at the idea), maybe it's got something to do with that.

Maybe it's got something to do with never experiencing the denial of happiness.

Maybe it's got something to do with always being able to walk through walls, never really having anything that was inaccessible to you

And maybe it's got something to do with always being wanted, always being looked at, always getting that intoxicating, almost narcotic "I'm important and wonderful and wise" thing played across the screen in some subconscious theatre in your head.

Your pupils widen when you see something beautiful, almost as if your eyes want to accept the beautiful person, drink them in, soak yourself in them. But in the slow euphoria of heroin, the pupils are tiny, shut right down, almost blind - as if nothing outside the self really matters at all.

Anyway, not a fully worked out idea yet, and probably no real objective phenomenon exists - it's much more likely that, like everyone else, I am noticing the beautiful and ignoring the merely wise or brave or good.

I don't know. Insert answer here, anyone.

Thanks for listening,
John

*Vogueons? Resistance is, after all, useless.

16 Comments:

Blogger Chade said...

The problem I find with beauty, like with all human aspirations, and with the beautiful is that they attempt to gloss over, powder up, gently apply, overcompensate, for their failings. like all human beings we are inherently flawed. These beautiful people attempt to avoid that reveal like everyone else and become trapped in the same cage of us all. That of self-loathing about something (I'm pretty sure everybody has one point upon with the can't escape. For me, it's my constant change of character depending upon who I communicate with.)
It comes as no suprise to me that the beautiful are just as prone to the ills of the world, particuarly those of drugs. These are status symbols (drugs, beauty) and no-one notices a problem until your staus falls.
During my University days I knew many a beautiful and drug addled woman, who are now not so well off, not so beautiful. It's a shame, but that's the way of the world. Beauty fades, the body corrupts. Sad, but true.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

I'd bet money (I don't have any, so lots of luck trying to collect) that the crux of the issue of beauty is not as much the distorting lens of other people's regard, but the inevitable destruction of the beautiful person's biggest asset. A smart person will learn more, someone with skills (except athletic) can plan on improving them and honing them for some time. A beautiful woman (or man) will not improve with time (at least by Hollywood standards) after age 25 or 30. No matter what, the person's biggest asset is already in the half life. I think it's better to be attractive but not gorgeous. You know you have to work on your assets, and your personality and brains are assets as much as your looks. So you're not as vulnerable. JMHO.

1:03 PM  
Blogger Tournee Du Chat Noir said...

I too have noticed this among my patients - in fact I think I have remarked on it to you. I think your point about never having experienced the denial of happiness is one reason; I also wonder if it is because a young, slim, beautiful girl is at high risk of becoming prey for predatory men. The sort of guys who inject them with "just a taste", get them hooked and then pimp them. Or even just that they are attractive to guys who primarily value appearances (and it's strange how so many of these beautiful girls have such UGLY boyfriends!), so end up in dysfunctional relationships which perpetuate their drug use. There may also be other reasons... and of course if their appearance has made most things in life easy for them, they won't have the internal resources to control or cease their habit because they aren't used to having to struggle to get anything. That's without the whole instant-gratification dynamic that is set up in every drug user, no matter what they look like...

ChatNoir

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Camilla said...

My apologies in advance for the bluntness of this response to your post. It touched something of a raw nerve in me.

I don't know. There's something about your thoughts on this beautiful/drug taking connection that is jarring for me. I'm not really comfortable with some of the assumptions you're making, for example:

Maybe it's got something to do with never experiencing the denial of happiness.

Maybe it's got something to do with always being able to walk through walls, never really having anything that was inaccessible to you

And maybe it's got something to do with always being wanted, always being looked at, always getting that intoxicating, almost narcotic "I'm important and wonderful and wise" thing played across the screen in some subconscious theatre in your head.


This is too big a leap to make, in my opinion. Beauty isn't necessarily a passport to an easy life. The media would have us think it so, but it isn't.

I remember a friend once talking to me about another friend (who was classically gorgeous, etc.) and commenting bitterly on how perfect life was for the Princesses of the world. Well, she didn't know that said Princess was crying on my shoulder nearly every day about her failing relationship, financial worries and her child's illness. She also didn't know about Princess's family-of-origin background of alcoholic rage and eating disorders.

What I'm trying to say in a roundabout and rather nervous way is that beautiful people don't always (or even often) have it easier than "ugly" people.

The thing that distorts the way a person is seen the way a vast planet distorts space, the thing that when someone has it, makes their most insipid jokes funny, their meanest insights profound, their otherwise viciously self-indulgent behaviour at worst quirky... even if they've got all the brains and personality of a Bratz doll.

This is exactly the point I'm trying to make. Who would willingly choose to be seen in such a way? To have others' perceptions of your humanness distorted by the fact of your perfect cheekbones? To have people want to hang around with you only because you're gorgeous and cool, making you in effect no more than an exclusive and much-admired handbag?

If there is a connection between beauty and drug use, maybe it's because the beautiful people are unconsciously trying to smash through the perception that their lives are easy, to convince others that they have more depth than just their perfect skin. Who knows? I'm not beautiful (well, not in that way) so I don't have those particular issues. But I don't think it's (necessarily) because they've failed to develop enough backbone to resist addiction.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Or the pretty ones might be more likely to have caught the interest of dad or step-dad at a younger age*?
This perhaps distorting any moral compass they may have had....

Lets see of my good-looking "specials"
1) IQ80, 2 gorgeous looking kids one of each sex, the 5 y.o. boy started shitting himself again when dad turned up on the scene. Dad would take mum's antidepressants away from her and she knows that without them she'll have to use speed again. She had a couple of step-dads like her in that special way, the second one only got caught when she got busted "turning tricks" at about 11.
2) Queen Manipulatrix - street smart, probable ADHD** tried everything, 4 kids to 3 different fathers, the oldest now 10 generally looks after the youngest, 18 months old. She was a regular with dad age 4 to about 15 when she left home.
3) Ms Success Story - A really together late 20's. Always had bad boyfriends, 3 yo kid, father not long been released from jail. When I first saw her her face was really bad with scratches and acne (from the speed mostly), but now scrubs up quite well (in that classical sense you eloquent lot refer to...). No incest but Dad is ex-military (special services type), PTSD, aggro and a very very short fuse. Ms Success has finally worked out how to avoid the trap of bad boyfriends and has found true happiness with her girlfriend.

So - 3/3 it seems to me....

BennyXVI


* to quote that smooth writing SOB BJ -
"I vaguely recall that beautiful people earn more, get better sex and get it
sooner
, are less likely to be convicted of a crime... given a choice
between smart, strong, rich and beautiful, I reckon a fair few people
would want to be beautiful. "

** No offence implied nor intended my Foilest!

10:17 PM  
Blogger Prom said...

Or maybe you just notice the pretty ones more so that they take up a larger part of your impression of who's in trouble than the ugly ones? Have you actually done the cold hard statistics? Is there a larger proportion of the drug population that are pretty than in the non-drug population? It seems you are looking for an explanation for something that isn't even a proper observation at this point.

1:21 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Your eminence: No offense. Lots of ADHD people are damn annoying. Since I choose to be aware of my impulses, I have a bit more hope of controlling things (it helps, I think, that I write about stuff and why I think I might be doing things).

Camilla (somehow, at this point in the conversation, I'm assuming that you are totally babelicious, but correct me if I'm wrong): I'm assuming you have not had the experience of invisibility or humiliation that comes with being homely or ugly or just unconventionally attractive, which is probably an error on my part. Certainly, motives are suspect when one is beautiful, but one has the luxury of choice. And the responsibility, which is a burden.

Certainly, I can tell when I am looking my best by how people, and particularly men, treat me. I can see this starting with the Foilkid (who is several orders of magnitude more attractive than I am: she will be one of these classically beautiful, heart-stopping young women) and worry about the effect it will have on her. Of course, the beauty is an asset. It's better (in terms of life advantages: earning power, choice of mate, etc) to be good looking than ugly. And that's unfair. It's also, sadly, true. I worry that Foilkid will not develop her sharp mind and her empathy (both definite assets) because people simply do things for her to see her smile. I would have killed for that sort of power when younger, but now I'm glad I didn't have it then. I probably didn't make any sense.

Prom: I bet they just see the beautiful junkies, and the totally homely ones are invisible. However, given the predatory nature of some (most?) male sexuality, it might be that beauty's downside as a result of the corresponding predation is a real negative. How would we ethically conduct an experiment on this?

5:20 AM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

Hail,
Starting at seven, don't know that I'll get a lot of responses written. Got a story accepted for an anthology the other day, too, woo hoo.

Right: I think it's a good idea about the transience of beauty, and to be honest it's something I hadn't thought a lot about. Makes sense (although I remember one irritable client telling me teenagers had to look sweet and be able to run fast because otherwise their long-suffering middle-aged relatives would kill them before their thirteenth birthday).

And the predatory men thing is definitely true - as Sarah knows, young women without Hep C are "fast-tracked" by our service because their is a a high risk that they will get Hep C from their older, infected boyfriends 'helping' them inject.

Cam': Actually, I'm a bit ambiguous about some of what I wrote. Too many generalisations, as you pointed out. I think beauty can make things worse as well as better, make you more alone as well as make you closer to people, but... I do think the nett effect is beneficial. I think for every beautiful girl wondering if they'd love her if she ws ugly, there's ten ugly girls wishing a lot harder that they were beautriful. There isn't a market in products to make you look like Dawn French.

I do sympathise with the "but your life is perfect, how can you be having troubles?" thing, I think we see a fair bit of it at work.

And like Benedict says, I was lazy in thinking that getting sex earlier as an unambiguously good thing, when things are different for the beautiful one who is 'having sex had with them'.

Prom, I'm sure this is much more likely to be a subjective than an objective phenomena. The problems with doing any kind of research in this area are obvious, but apparently people do it.

I think the simplest experiment, and the one we do every day, is the one FW talks about. The sheer uncomfortableness of being inappropriately dressed, let alone malodorous, conversationally inept or ugly, suggests that being pretty, while not a guaranteed (cake)walk in the park, is something more of us envy than pity.

Anyway, start at seven. Thanks a lot for listening.

John

7:11 AM  
Blogger Prom said...

Maybe I didn't communicate this correctly. I'm not taking issue with beauty being something that is better to have.

I'm taking issue with your observation that more beauties end up on drugs proportionally than uglies.

I just think that beauties tend to be noticed more (for both good and bad intents) where ever they end up than do the merely normal looking.

Beauty occupies more or our thought than does the average joe/jill. I suspect we are more saddened when beauty fails (morally or otherwise) than when average or ugly fails. We notice it more and think it more wrong somehow.

I think the one thing that can be said about beauty is that it gets more attention. As Bennie pointed out, that can either be a good or a bad thing.

As Foil said, ugly or even average, is mostly invisible.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Prom, of course you are right, when I tried to think of the 3 less beautiful gals I have seen who have dependence issues I tried to formulate how I would write about them and found a nubbin of discomfort in exposing the ?disability. I suspect it is easoer to be (to oneself) more genuine discussing positive features....

Anyway lets see
1) Mrs Mithridates - horrid pock marks up and down her arms, groin, abdomen (she had infected caput medusa veins), scaley face, but a rapier wit which I used to enjoy the fencing with (usually about getting more take away doses). The pock marks were from one of her hobbies which was to inject temazepam capsules, they contain a thick goo which readily sclerosis veins and leaves nasty sores and caustic burns. (you shoulda seen Mr Mithridates...)
2) ...

nah, it's bed time methinks

Benedict XVI

11:14 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Holy Benny: Thank god you mentioned ugly junkies. I was getting the feeling that no-one had ever tried to get me hooked because I'm homely (and not because I'm obviously no pushover, most of the time).

1:35 AM  
Blogger Chade said...

One really only has to walk the streets of any city on earth to see the ugliness of the junkie. In fact in the mad christmas spirit this morning I have seen several on my short walk to work from the train station.
The junkie is an ugly thing in general, and a tragic one. I guess the more photogenic the destruction the more society takes notice. For example, just take a look at how the last decades wars have become more palatable since the images sent via the media became closer to the Summer Action flicks.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Camilla said...

Chade: Remember "heroin chic" in the 90s? Ghastly idea, to make drug taking fashionable.

Foilwoman: I'm not babelicious at all (by fashion standards) - far from it. And I've had my fair share of invisibility and humiliation (as probably most chubby, glasses-wearing kids in school will attest to - thank the gods those days are far behind). I was just pointing out that, although beautiful people may find some parts of life easier because of their attractiveness, it doesn't mean that they have things easier in general. There are plenty of gorgeous people who struggle with a bad self-image, for example.

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Danny said...

I dunno Doc. I'm goddamn gorgeous and hey - it hasn't held me back any.

Seriously - beauty is like anything. It's skin deep. Some of the most attractive people I've known are some of the most seriously fucked up idiots on the planet. One person I knew is making her way around the world on her looks - hey - she bled me dry over a three year period until I said enough. Eventually though she'll grow old and be alone, whereas I'll grow old (if I'm lucky) and be surrounded by people who actually do care about me.

To me, that's the true beauty. Looks are superficial at best.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Prom said...

"To me, that's the true beauty. Looks are superficial at best."

So you're saying that an ugly girl could'a bled you dry for 3 years too?

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Danny said...

Not anymore, but yep, a fairly ordinary looking girl drained me for quite a while.

But that says more about my own character than anything else. I generally believe the best about everyone, and when the prove me wrong I give them the benefit of the doubt. It's one of the reasons why I don't have a large circle of chums - I simply don't trust easily anymore.

8:02 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home