“Sadly, she’s no longer a ten,” Donald Trump remarked last week, referring to what sounds like the declining skills of an aging show dog. Oh wait, no, he was not commenting on the field of talent in the upcoming Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show but rather assessing the physical appeal of supermodel Heidi Klum, moments after assuring the New York Times that he “finds women to be amazing” but has a tendency to “go too far.” I’ll say.
Trump’s comments were not well-received, I’m happy to say. Klum responded in expert fashion, literally shrugging off his claim and galvanizing support from the Internet in the process.
Although I’m glad to see people challenging Trump’s insult, I think there is a problem with the fact that the collective response to the claim that Klum is not a ten was “Yes, she is!” Media outlets and Twitter users posted pictures of her with captions such as “Sorry, Donald Trump: Heidi Klum is Still a Ten.” Klum herself eventually stated, “In my book, every woman is a ten.” Certainly, Heidi Klum is a very beautiful woman, but I don’t agree that she’s a ten. I don’t believe that she’s a nine, or a twelve, or a six hundred because I don’t believe that female (or male) beauty falls neatly on a numerical scale. And to the extent that it does, I don’t think that ranking people according to their physical appeal is a practice we should be encouraging. As widespread as it is, the infamous ten-point scale of ranking women is absurd, demeaning, and downright silly, and I have no shortage of reasons for thinking so.
First of all, I’m not sure there is any notion that is so completely antithetical to beauty than the desire to measure it. Beauty is not something we measure or consume; it is something we bask in, something we experience. Far from being too fixated on beauty, the ten-point approach to appreciating beauty utterly misses the point.
Moreover, I’m not really convinced that measuring beauty is even possible. Cutting up a painting and studying its pieces won’t yield an explanation as to why it is so captivating. And trying to weigh the beauty of a flower against the beauty of a mountain against the beauty of the ocean is a fool’s errand. Likewise, trying to find a scientifically reliable explanation of a woman’s physical beauty by breaking her down into her constituent parts is nonsensical.
And of course, the notion of assessing human beauty from a purely physical standpoint makes little sense as well. The truth is that there is no purely physical scale of human beauty because human beauty is not purely physical. The notion that you can separate the beauty of the soul from the beauty of the body is, in my opinion, impossible.
But there is a bigger issue here. The problem with the ten-point scale is not simply that beauty resists measurement but also because people do. If people were merely the sum of their parts, then you could theoretically rank them according to a set of objective criteria. But we are not. Sure, when you go shopping for a car, you may have a list of preferences prepared in order to help you select the best car for your needs. But people are not cars, and to approach them as such is demeaning and profoundly stupid.
The way I see it, nothing can “make” women into objects. Attempting to do so makes you ill-equipped to appreciate women or their beauty. This is why I view Donald Trump as more pitiable than Heidi Klum in this instance. The twelve-inch ruler he is using to appreciate her value is not restricting her but rather failing him. It makes me think of a child attempting to measure the depth of the ocean with a wooden stick he found on the beach. He may have a scientifically consistent approach, marching to the same spot, holding the stick upright, observing as the watermark rises and falls with the tide, yet he is utterly unaware of the depths he cannot reach or measure.
Ranks and scales might be good for finding a candidate to perform a specific task or for determining who is the fastest runner, but as a method of actually evaluating someone in any real sense, a ranking system will always fall short. In which case, the only reason that you would give any credence to one is if you weren’t actually interested in the person as a person.
And if that’s the case, I can’t stop you.
If you want to stand on the shore with your wooden stick, you are free to do so, but don’t pretend that you know anything about the ocean’s depth. Likewise, if you choose to judge me only by the smoothness of my skin and the size of my breasts, that is your prerogative, but it doesn’t make me any less valuable. In my view, it makes your system of measuring value stupid and unworthy of my consideration.
This, I think, is the most important point regarding the infamous scale: not how wrong it is but how little it means. Yes, it’s inherently sexist (who’s rating Trump?), and that’s a big problem. But, contrary to popular belief, the problem is not that the ten-point scale holds women to a standard that is unrealistically high, but offensively low. Far from expecting too much, they expect far too little.
Of course I like the idea of appearing attractive to the opposite sex. But before that, I want to be happy, and in order to be happy, I want to be virtuous, well-educated, intellectually stimulated, and healthy—and if those qualities make me attractive as well, then so be it. But I will not sacrifice my happiness in order to rank higher on someone’s back-of-the-envelope assessment of my looks. Being attractive is good; it’s just not the highest good. Not anywhere close. And focusing on it as though it is will not a happy woman make.
That’s why in reality, and as Heidi Klum seems to intuitively understand, the proper response to Donald Trump is not a scoff but a shrug. Because the ten-point scale, if it means anything, just doesn’t mean much.