The Second Thing About Boulder Is

Everybody is distressingly attractive. I mean, attractive according to mainstream beauty standards (but which I will hereafter refer to as just “attractive”).

The writerly side of me has been a little bit fascinated, and the adolescent side of me has been pretty self-conscious for a month and a half. Meanwhile, the sociological side of me has been pondering: how exactly does this happen to a city? Do communities of attractive people tend to gravitate towards each other, unconsciously excluding less-beautiful people? Or does the population here simply live a certain type of lifestyle (outdoorsy, physically active) that creates a fitter, tanner populace?

Chautauqua Park - Image via Wikipedia

I was keeping this observation under wraps, not wanting to seem judgmental, until I browsed through the Boulder Craigslist job listings the other day and found that 75% of the “gigs” are in fact “modeling gigs.” Coincidence? I think not.

Then, I was at the farmers market buying some delicious Noosa yogurt, when I overheard the woman next to me asking whether it was low-fat.  (….No, lady, it’s um, actually yogurt. You’re not shoppin’ at Whole Foods here)

A friend of mine who was born and raised here talks about her parents generation having all moved out here in the 70′s and 80′s, looking for a healthier life and healthier community. Fair enough– that explains the homogeneity of the populace. It also explains why there are no old people here…

In Which She Gets A Bit Critical

But the crucial thing to realize about a population of attractive people is that it is directly related to how wealthy that population is. Where I’m from (the area somewhere between the South and Appalachia), people are not mainstream attractive, because they can’t afford to be. They don’t have access to healthy diets, so obesity is rampant; the unavailability of health care means that it’s not unusual to see people with missing teeth, bad teeth, deformities and skin cancer… the list goes on.

In academic discussions, we refer to this as “marking” bodies with poverty: it’s the way that a person’s economic status becomes literally visible in his or her appearance. Structures in our society, like health care or welfare, contribute to this visible distinction between poor and rich by preventing poor people from achieving standards of beauty (which, from healthy food to well-tailored clothing to teeth whitening, require money).

Don’t get me wrong– I’m not saying that any person or institution is doing this on purpose. But keeping these economic distinctions visible does benefit those in power, because it discourages interaction between different economic classes. Think about it– when was the last time that you had small talk with a person that clearly looked below your economic status? And as a result, there is a serious lack of empathy (and activism) in general for the experience of poverty… and therefore little change.

Two years ago, I almost titled this blog “Blogging for Dialogue” because I wanted to write about the importance of healthy dialogue across differences– especially in the hearing, and the telling, of stories. Clearly I went for a vaguer theme (um, fruit), but this sort of thing is still on my mind.

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3 Responses to “The Second Thing About Boulder Is”


  1. 1 GrannyKass July 13, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    I’ve been singled out as a “poor” person due to my manner of dress on more than one occasion. I know what you are saying in this entry to be true because of the experiences I’ve had. There is much relavence in what you are saying and I highly agree with you.

    I’ve been to Colorado and yes it seems that only young, healthy, athletic people live there and yesssss, if you differ from them you can definately be pegged as an outsider and not worthy of attention even in the thrifty stores!

    Kudos for the discussion.

  2. 2 Naomi July 14, 2010 at 1:28 am

    I lived in Boulder and loved it. I’m dumpy and middle-aged now, and was when I lived there, but just a bit less middle-aged! However, despite your observations – which are very true – there is something rather inspiring about a community which strives toward health. The fact that you can be outdoors and active very close to town is wonderful. There is also culture, and good health care.

    Another thing to consider about Boulder is that it has the U of Colorado there, so this creates an abnormally high youthful population. This occurs in many towns with colleges. Places which come to mind are places I know, such as Santa Barbara, Ft. Collins, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Chico. People in school are generally going to be more health just because of their age. While this is not true of every area with a college, it does still possibly skew the stats on population.

    As well, different parts of Colorado are not all like Boulder. The Western slope is different, and there are different types to be found there. In the smaller towns, you will find poorer people; on the reservations in the 4 Corners area, people are often quite obviously impoverished, and it is visible by their appearance – skin, clothing, hair, teeth.

    Right now, my brother is living with us – he has no teeth, a fungal lung infection for which we are awaiting medication choices after a culture of his sputum (luckily it is not infectious), and he looks like hell, even though he is 2 years younger than me, because of his life choices: smoking, drugs, drinking, and an unwillingness to take responsibility for his health. He is not crazy or bipolar – but he is totally unattractive, and if he hadn’t been ordered to bathe, he wouldn’t. And, he is living here in an expensive SoCal area . . .

    Good insights and thoughts – but I also think that Boulder was one of the most lovely environments to live in, work in, and enjoy – though sadly, I was working 24/7 with only 4 hours off on Friday afternoons before I went back on call!

  3. 3 Cole July 17, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying reading about my move to Boulder. I really value hearing the voices of other people who have lived here!

    And I totally agree with you that it’s a good thing for communities to strive for health. It just depends on how you define health– especially when it turns into a competition for who has the shiniest bike. But I certainly appreciate how active everybody is here– and the fact that I can use a bike instead of a car!

    Good point about the collegiate population– although, my hometown of Charlottesville, VA has the University of Virginia there, and there’s still a much higher population of older and elderly folks.

    I hear you about the other towns in Colorado. I knew before living here that Boulder was one of the wealthiest cities in the state. I’m looking forward to exploring the other areas more, especially because I started this blog partly out of a passion for how rural communities are mistreated and mis-represented! We went up in the mountains the other week for dinner, and those little towns make me feel at home, somehow.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. You’re certainly right that there’s not always a direct connection between wealth and beauty– it’s certainly a generalization, not a hard-and-fast rule. But I do wish you and him all the best in pursuing health in your newer community.


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