not in Primary anymore

where have all the handsome boys gone?

A young man on the internet wrote a thoughtful piece called “Where Have All the Beautiful Girls Gone?” In an effort to highlight the differences in the ways we talk about women and men, I have swapped the genders of his essay (and made no other edits) and would like to ask:

Where have all the handsome boys gone?

I look around me every day and often I ask myself this question. Where have all the handsome boys gone? I wish I knew.

Someone will rise in protest to my question. “There are handsome boys all around you,” they will say. You are right. There are some handsome boys around me. But there are a lot of just good looking boys around me. There are many boys who take great care to make sure that their physical appearance is within the world’s standards of handsomeness. But I do not subscribe to the world’s standard of handsomeness.

Handsomeness, true handsomeness, is more than skin deep. Anyone can change their appearance on the outside. It may take an hour or two in the morning to accomplish it, but pretty well everyone can do it. Real handsomeness takes a lot more effort and a lot more time. True handsomeness runs deep to the heart, soul, and mind of a man.

True handsomeness is in intelligence. A truly handsome boy will develop a keen mind. He will cultivate a mindset of awareness and the ability to think critically. He will listen to the arguments and opinions of others. He will consider their positions and evaluate them against his experience and against his own opinions. He will develop the ability to study and learn on his own. He will develop the ability to read a text, understand what is being said, understand what is not being said and why, and be able to summarize it for someone else.

True handsomeness is in modesty. There is far more to modesty than is often perceived. When I say “modesty” I mean modesty in dress, attitude, and temperament. A handsome boy dresses modestly. He respects his body and those of others. He does not use his body to get attention. An immodestly dressed boy is pleasing to the eye, but a modestly dressed boy is pleasing to the eye and to the soul. He recognizes that his body is an inestimable gift. He treats it that way and expects everyone else to treat it that way too. Modesty is also humility. It is not thinking less of himself. He understands that He has value. He understands this and doesn’t need to be reassured all the time, though there is nothing wrong with a compliment and He will receive one graciously. He thinks of others, not of himself and helps them recognize their own worth, too. And He is modest in temperament. He does not get angry easily. He feels strong emotions, but He is ever the master of them.

True handsomeness is in refinement. A handsome boy is not coarse or vulgar. He speaks well. He does not use predominantly slang or casual language. He knows courtesy and is well-mannered. He enjoys the arts, both performing and static. He enjoys athletics. He enjoys the outdoors. He has dignity, but He is not stiff. He knows when it is appropriate to be casual and have fun. He will also develop his own talents, whether in the arts, in speaking, in listening, in teaching, or in any other area. He recognizes that He has talent and He will use that in the service of others.

True handsomeness is in honesty. A handsome boy is honest with everyone around him. This does not mean that He tells everyone everything. But He will have the courage to tell those around him what they need to know. And especially He will not conceal necessary truths from those closest to him. He will recognize that secrets damage trust and trust is the foundation of every relationship from family to friends to lovers.

True handsomeness is in balance. A handsome boy does not overdo on anything. He recognizes that there is a time and a place for everything. There is a time to work and a time to relax. There is a time to be happy and a time to mourn. He learns how to manage his time. Sometimes there are things He cannot do. He recognizes this and lets go of those things. He spends the appropriate time working, but He makes certain that He takes time for the building and maintaining of meaningful relationships.

True handsomeness is in loyalty. Once a handsome boy forms a friendship, He keeps it. (I have to insert the caveat, unless the friendship/relationship is unhealthy). Once He makes a relationship with someone special, He puts forth effort to make it grow. He does not cast aside a friendship or relationship simply because today He doesn’t feel excited or happy. He does not cast it aside simply because He is afraid of what someone else will or does say about it. He does not split his heart between two or three different girls. He recognizes that marriage is meant to be a companionship, not a trio. He recognizes that He will only be happy and whole once He has given his heart to one and only one, the one who has given their heart to his. He knows the meaning of devotion and loves truly.

True handsomeness is in recognizing that He is a son of Goddess, a son of a Mother in Heaven who loves him. He loves Her and He wants to please Her. He lives his life according to Her precepts. He is not ashamed of Her or his conviction of Her gospel. He develops his spiritual side. He reads the scriptures, participates in church meetings, and attends the temple. He trusts that his Mother will answer his prayers. When He receives guidance from Her, He acts on it without doubting. He moves forward knowing that his Mother will take care of him.

This is a handsome boy. I now ask again: Where have all the handsome boys gone?

28 Responses to “where have all the handsome boys gone?”

  1. austin

    It’s interesting because all of this strikes me as great advice for guys, too, and the weirdness seems to be more from the fact that we don’t have to stress that guys should be smart. (For example: “He will consider their positions and evaluate them against his experience and against his own opinions. He will develop the ability to study and learn on his own. He will develop the ability to read a text, understand what is being said, understand what is not being said and why, and be able to summarize it for someone else.”) Or at least, we don’t feel like we have to stress that stuff to men. Maybe we should.

    Regardless, the good advice here (which yeah, is kind of all platitudes, but they’re generally good ones, I think) is entirely irrelevant to gender. So we should just encourage everyone to be good people who constantly seek to improve themselves and think about how they can get closer to godliness in every (healthy) way. In other words, everyone should be a feminist! 🙂

    • xenawarriorscientist

      Yeah, actually the weirdest part of this (aside from the objectifying language and patronizing “I know best” tone, obviously) is that we AREN’T giving this kind of advice to boys about respecting others and themselves.

      They get a lot of empowering messages but not necessarily a lot of direction about listening, emphasis on relationships, or how to use that power for others’ benefit than just their own.

      • Anonymous

        Maybe you should be giving that direction to the men. The General Authorities do in every General Priesthood Meeting.

  2. Mungagungadin

    Every time I read something like, this, it confirms I’m not crazy to notice these things. It’s real. It’s a fact. Men in the church treat and talk about women as if we are infants. It’s our reality.

    • Jen Jen

      Seriously?! You really think men in the church treat and talk about women as if we are infants? You may have felt this from a few men but that is quite the blanket statement.

      • Ziff

        I think it’s really quite common, and it comes from the top down. What do GAs convey when they tell women “You are incredible” over and over? It’s pretty clear they think the women need some reassurance, but that the most simple words will suffice to paper over the yawning gap in how seriously the church as an institution takes the contributions of women compared to men. That sure sounds like infantalizing to me.

      • Jen Jen

        Ziff, I’m really sorry you feel that way. I see it like this: Women are really hard themselves. We are constantly comparing ourselves to other women. I think a lot of women feel inadequate because things might not have turned out the way they thought it would and for some reason its their fault. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves making sure our homes are just so, the cultural hall is decorated to not look like one, we have our tablecloth and center piece for our lesson. All unnecessary. In fact we’ve gone so far that we’ve been told not to do certain things so others don’t feel pressured to do them, like big farewell meals after church for missionaries.

        Is it so wrong to be reminded how special we are? We can do things men never could. And I don’t mean just giving birth. We are truly wired differently. Joseph Smith would not have gone as far as he did without Emma. Isn’t the saying something like, “Behind every great man there stands a great woman”. They can’t do it without us and us without them!!!

    • anonymous

      Jen Jen,

      Perhaps the reason the women you are talking about feel that way (like they aren’t good enough) is because they were taught that they HAD to be perfect. I was raised by a beautiful woman who told me everyday how smart and funny and wonderful I was, and that there was nothing wrong in not wanting to sacrifice myself for everyone else’s happiness, and so I believe it. I do not worry about what so and so has to say about me, whether it is the person that seats besides me in relief society or the president of the whole church. I love me, and I respect me, and I accept me. I strive to teach my daughter to be the same way, because I don’t want her to have to rely on a group of men telling her how incredible she is for her to know it. No, I want her to be aware, even when she makes mistakes, that she is wonderful simply for being, and that she is capable of all the amazing things a person can do; NOT just all the amazing things a woman can do, but a person. In my household, we do not use the “behind all men is a great woman” quote, because we believe it to be sexist and untrue. My daughter knows that she does not have to stand behind a big strong man to be great, that she can do it on her own. Likewise, my son knows that he is not a bumbling idiot who needs a woman behind him to be great. But alas, in summary I would like to state that it seems you are happy with the way you see things, and in the end, I suppose that is the most important thing.

  3. Sister MUrphy

    Atta girl! Excellent focus. There is hope when I see people such as yourself moving the work forward. Mazel tov!

  4. Christopher Taylor

    The biggest problem I have with stuff like this is it’s completely selfish. It’s just telling someone else what they have to be for you. There’s no consideration that maybe those girls the guy is referring to don’t care about matching his definition of beauty. Maybe they want to “use slang or casual language” and don’t care if he doesn’t like it. It’s not that any of this stuff really is bad advice. Like Austin noted, it’s pretty good advice overall. But it would be absolutely wonderful advice for someone to give themselves. Don’t spend so much time telling other people how to beautiful and just worry about being beautiful yourself.

  5. Beatrice

    When I read this with male pronouns it makes me think “Woah, this is a super high bar. What kind of person can live up to all this?” It is interesting to me that when I read the original version I didn’t have quite the same reaction, but now it causes me to reflect on what we expect of women in our society. Always be gracious, never get angry, be physically attractive but don’t cross the line over to sexy. I think that in the church we put an enormous amount of pressure on women and girls to be good and we also tell them that being this way comes naturally. We often deny them the right to have weaknesses, to admit that being good isn’t easy for them, and to want to do things that they enjoy instead of constantly serving others.

    This post reminds me of the famous exchange from “Pride in Prejudice” in which Miss Bingley explains that an accomplish woman must “have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.” Mr. Darcy also adds, “All this she must possess and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.” Elizabeth wisely replies, “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any.”

    Overall, my response to this line of thinking, “I am no longer surprised that you can’t find any beautiful girls.”

    • Ziff

      “When I read this with male pronouns it makes me think “Woah, this is a super high bar. What kind of person can live up to all this?” It is interesting to me that when I read the original version I didn’t have quite the same reaction, but now it causes me to reflect on what we expect of women in our society.”

      Great point, Beatrice. Men can get away with being unattractive in particular far more easily than women can, for example.

    • Sabrina

      Those were my exact thoughts. It makes the standard perfection and people always fall short. It is a preposterous standard and harmful on the women we impose it on.

  6. Anonymous

    Excellent! Thank you for applying my advice to the guys. They need this more than the women do.

  7. Kari

    I think everyone here who has responded ought to go over to the original blog entry and post there, too. Almost all the comments over there are singing his praises.

  8. Scott Howard

    Thank you everyone for your comments on my thoughts about women. Now that I have been thoroughly reviled 😉 how about checking out my thoughts about men? Initially I was going to wait a week to publish them, but because of the huge response I have gotten and the polarized opinions about my piece, I decided to publish it today. Here is the link:
    Thank you for reading!

    • Frank Pellett

      Uh oh, Indy. . .

      I think you’re going to end up with much more flak with this addition, not less. The biggest point trying to be made (here at least) is that much of what you wrote for women should be equally applied to men. The point your second post draws out is that not all of these things are inherently desirable or possible in a single person, male or female.

      • Anonymous

        I agree. Everything I said in my first post should be applied to men. I’m not looking to slow down the flak. People will think what they will think no matter what I say.

  9. Liffey Banks

    I loved this post. Reversing the genders is such a good way of pointing out how women and men are treated so differently in our social discourse! And this example was Per.Fect. I love a good mansplaining rant turned on its head. Great job.

    Not to be a Debbie Downer, but, when talks from leaders (ie “Women Are Incredible!”) suffer from the same women-on-a-pedestal-as-long-as-they-conform-to-prescribed-gender-roles tone, there’s very little hope for the Mr. Scott Howards in our faith community. They’re only parroting what’s been modeled for them, that Yes, women exist *for* you. They should be beautiful so they’re nice for you to look at. But not too sexy as to avoid giving you immoral thoughts. And they should support you, but not compete with you, in your professional and religious life. And meanwhile they should be suuuuuper happy that their one and only valid choice is to fulfill their divine role as mothers and all of its glory (such a divine and awesome job, I wonder why men aren’t clamoring to do it too?) It’s all very convenient, and right now, it’s the model prescribed from the top.

    TL;DR, Mr. Scott Howard came by his sexism honestly.

  10. BONNIE

    Great post, and Liffey Banks, you’re brilliant. The original post made my skin crawl. The pompous “women need to please me” advice is caustic to all involved.


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