I just heard on TV “Ass Like That” by Eminem, a song about how he has never “seen an ass like that” and how wonderful his viewing experience was. I found it perplexing. The concept of physical beauty only seems natural to us, but the level of obsession our culture has with people’s body parts, once you think about it and try to explain it, is actually weird. I’m not talking about desirability for mating, as animals have but don’t think about the way we do (except maybe some primates), but rather the kind of beauty with value attached to it. The kind where we talk about pieces of humans as if they were products. What do we mean when we say somebody has a “nice ass”? What does it even matter what kind of butt you have, as long as you can sit on it? What is it that allows people to deem one person or part of a person more beautiful than another?
I think the answer is capitalism. Capitalism allows us to compare incomparable things by assigning values to them. We learn to use currency through the concept of value, and we learn to view humans as commodities in the same way. We can compare apples and oranges because we can measure their prices. We can compare someone’s butt to another’s, similarly, because we can measure their worth. In addition, capitalism creates a need for advertising, which builds mental associations between bodies and products. In this way, the connection between monetary value and personal value because concrete.
Some may argue that to see some people as more desirable than others is only nature’s way of ensuring that the fittest survive. After all, why do lionesses prefer lions with long manes? I would respond that such a question conflates unrelated matters. Lions do not scorn lions without long manes. They don’t think they aren’t good enough. They don’t have a concept of “enough” or “better” or “valuable.” In other words, they do not exist within a capitalist society.