Sunday, January 25, 2009

Oh Really?

Last Thursday's new episode of "The Office", if you haven't seen it, had an interesting secondary side story. While Michael and Dwight were out of the office on the main A story mission, the rest of the office engaged in an episode-long debate to determine if multiple Academy Award winning actress and former Karate Kid Hillary Swank was "hot". It was an interesting debate with notable points being brought up by both sides (Kevin distinguishing whether someone is "hot" with whether he would have sex with them or not, an elaborate overhead presentation analyzing the structure of her face by Oscar, a spirited personal speech in defense by Stanley).

For me, her body of work, her sense of style, her attitude, and her obvious Oscar hardware places her strictly in the category of handsome women. Thus, as a handsome woman, she can never be considered within the traditional definition of "hot". That is to not say she's unattractive; she's just beyond categorization within those traditional boundaries of female ascetics. Can she grace fashion magazines? Sure. Can she be admired for her style and grace? Absolutely. Can the average man rub one out to a naked picture of her? It doesn't seem impossible. But is she traditionally hot? Most definitely not.

Now that my two cents on that issue have been given, it brings us to the other interesting thing about that episode. During my brief flirtation with full time work after college, I put in some time as a glorified temp at a Korean Human Resources firm. It was essentially like "The Office", except Korean, and totally devoid of all humor or enjoyment. Being an all Korean office environment, the TV water cooler talk would more often then not center around the only two shows on prime time network television featuring Korean actors: "Lost"(Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim) and "Grey's Anatomy" (Sandra Oh). One day, the discussion of Sandra Oh came down to whether she was attractive and the response was similarly polarizing. Roughly half the office found her to be a fine, attractive Korean woman, while the other claimed manly features and general horseface-ness (a few nationalistic souls found her unattractive for not looking Korean enough). This decisive split is also mirrored among discussion with my friends. I would imagine any place where humans congregate a similar conflict would arise.

What's my opinion on the matter? It's a complicated answer that is beyond just immediately playing the handsome woman card. There is an obvious line where a woman is handsome and where a woman is just unattractive by traditional female standards. Sandra Oh, precariously straddles that line. In my opinion she appears to be at times an attractive woman trapped in a handsome woman's body. In terms of the style and attitude that constitute handsomeness in a woman, she doesn't have it. She carries herself on like a traditionally attractive woman, rather than with the classy, dignified air of a true handsome woman (of course six years of "Arli$$" will rob anyone of their class and dignity). However in some cases like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Sideways", she can truly take on a the role of an empowered handsome woman that actually exudes attraction. If I had to make a call right now, figuring in my exposure to all her previous work(including seeing her topless in the stripper epic "Dancing at the Blue Iguana"), I'll lean to attractive handsome woman; but of a more non-traditional handsome woman mold.

Where do you stand?

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