As humans, we like to look at beautiful things. We are hardwired to look at beautiful things. In fact, that is what defines aesthetic beauty: that something is pleasing to look at. So how come looking at someone because he or she is beautiful can feel so... squeamy?
A few months ago we posted our first Cute Stock Boy Bracket. It was all in good fun. Just a little drool-worthy distraction for your brain. It's interesting to see how many different kinds of cute are out there, and how one person's "come to mama" can be another person's "meh." Of course, we couldn't be sexist about it—you rightfully demanded equal ogling opportunity—so we posted a Cute Stock Girl Bracket.
But the brackets have had some Sparklers wringing their hands not over blonde v. brunette, but over whether the brackets are an example of sexual objectification. That's great! Not great that we've posted something you find objectionable, but great that SparkLife is not just a place to look at pretty faces but also a forum where we can discuss our reactions to those pretty faces.
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, to objectify is to "degrade to the status of a mere object," in other words, to treat something as nothing more than a collection of its physical properties. To appreciate is to "be grateful for (something)" or to hold it in esteem. When Dumbledore plasters a poster of Zefron on his office wall, when you check out a stranger, when your boyfriend tells you you look hot, when someone catcalls on the street, when we bracket some unsuspecting stock photography models, is that objectifying them or appreciating their physical beauty?
Is objectification any comment or valuation, positive or negative, on physical appearance? Or is it like the famous quote by Justice Potter Stewart (no relation to Harry), who said that pornography was hard to define, but "I know it when I see it?" Is there a line? If so, where is it? Are there rules? Does it matter how the viewer feels? How the other person feels? If the other person knows? Debate club is in session.