The romance industry conflates finding love with looking a certain way, and it’s hard even for the strongest of us not to internalize messages about the way we look. And worse, these messages are normalized. Just think of things people say when they are getting ready to date someone: ‘He’s cute,’ ‘He’s short,’ ‘He’s kind of chubby,’ ‘He’s tall and fine.’ Or men: ‘I prefer slender girls,’ ‘I’m not really into fat girls,’ ‘I prefer Asian chicks,’ and on and on. It is completely acceptable to say the most appalling things about the way people look when it comes to dating, and if someone is called out for it, their opinion becomes a matter of ‘preference.’
What gets ignored in calling this level of categorization ‘just preference’ is a history and culture of mainstream advertising that impacts our psychology, causing us to actually want to respond to certain things over others. It’s hardly a coincidence that people are attracted to images of femininity that have been beaten into their psyches….We are taught to prefer certain things over others, and when we repeatedly see the same exaggerated images of femininity and masculinity, we internalize a specific standard of beauty and begin to strive for it unconsciously. Considering the exaggerated nature of these kinds of images, preference is not really a ‘preference’; it is more like a culturally sanctioned fetish.