Friday, March 10, 2017

Where Do Your Characters Get Their Standards of Beauty From?

Pretty much every roleplaying game on the market has some metric for how attractive you are. Sometimes it's a catch-all category, like how Charisma is your physical appearance, your force of personality, leadership skills, and personal magnetism all rolled into one. In other games, like the newer World of Darkness, your social abilities are broken down into separate categories like Presence, Manipulation, and Resolve, with merits like Striking Looks which specifically state how attractive other people find you.

It's the spikes. Gets them every time.
As anyone with even a passing interest in other cultures knows, though, standards of beauty vary wildly from one place to another. Not only that, but they change over time, and for numerous reasons. Just try to dress yourself by the standards of beauty in the early 1900s, and see how confused you quickly become. If you start mixing in immortal bloodsuckers, inhuman races, and other elements, it can cause a huge mess.

Fortunately, it's a mess you can fix by taking a moment, and asking what your characters see as beautiful, and why they feel that way.

From Fashion to Passion, What is Your Norm?

Beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. And those beholders are shaped by the cultures they grow up in, the norms they're brought up around, the interactions they have with other people, and the lessons that are ingrained into their minds.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, the clearest example in my mind is from an old Wizards of the Coast novel. There was this scene that took place in a temple to the goddess of beauty, and her high priestess entered with all the pomp and circumstance the ritual she was performing demanded. She was everything her faith held holy, from her thick auburn hair, to her narrow waist, and flared hips. Dressed in flowing silks, with all the poise and grace of the goddess herself. She was stunning, and she left the room in awe.

All except the protagonist's ogre bodyguard, anyway. He just snorted, and shook his head at the pretty, skinny thing that would probably break under a stiff breeze.

And that pretty much sums it up.
It's important to remember, though, that standards of beauty affect everyone. For example, in ancient Greece the standard of beauty for men was to be slender, youthful, and smooth. If someone showed up looking like a bodybuilder from the late 1970s (who were at the cutting edge of attractive in their own time thanks to a social shift), they would have been seen as barbarians, and likely gawked at in the streets. And that's just differences between two human societies.

It isn't always about body type, either (though a lot of it definitely is). Standards of beauty include everything, from eye color and makeup style, to what clothes someone wears (or doesn't wear). It's about how you sound, how you act, and about whether the culture or subculture approves of your looks and actions.

It Changes How You See Your Characters, And The World

Standards of beauty don't just affect the way your character sees other people; they affect how a character views themselves. That, if nothing else, is why they're worth thinking about.

He dressed like that on purpose, after all.
Take basic assumptions about beauty, and question them. Is long hair considered attractive on men where your character comes from? What about women? What about people who shave their heads? Are tattoos seen as an expression of artistic talent, or are they seen as ugly and uncouth? Is body hair something that's embraced, despised, or something no one even pays attention to? Is having a tan a sign of vigor and youth, or does their culture view pale skin protected from the harsh sun as a status symbol? Do men wear makeup where you're from?  Is a lean physique seen as attractive, or is bulkier muscle seen as more ideal?

Once you have that lens, take a look at the world through it. Things might look different than you expected.

Now, with that said, I'll happily point out that your character's standards of beauty may not affect anything mechanical (this is a Fluff week post, after all). However, it's still an aspect of your character's mindset and worldview that deserves some examination. Whether they're a world-traveler, who's seen beauty all around the map, or a fresh-faced farmhand getting away from their home patch for the first time.

That's all for this week's Fluff post. It's a little short for such a convoluted topic, but I might come back to flesh it out further depending on comments and reaction. If you'd like to see more content like this, then head to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron of mine. Pledge at least $1 a month, and I'll even throw in some sweet swag along with my eternal gratitude. Lastly, if you haven't done so yet, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to make sure you don't miss any future updates of mine.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite example in popular media is the Scotsman from Samurai Jack. In one episode, he, a crew of sailors, and the titular Jack are all attacked by sirens, who quickly enthrall the party... except for the Scotsman. The sirens ask him why he is unaffected by their song, and he responds that, too him, their song is screechy and horrible (like "someone stepping on a bunch of cats" as he puts it), and he prefers the song of his wife (an enormous woman with uneven teeth and a gravelly voice, but hey, love is blind).

    It also shows how this aspect of one's character is more than just fluff: it shapes the way they act and are influenced by others.