We’ve all thought it, whether we want to admit it or not. We’ve certainly heard it, mostly in defense for a friend whose ex has moved onto another girl. But to encourage and believe that someone “is not that pretty” is everything that’s fueling a society of shame, which is down-right ugly.
I’m finishing up Dr. Renee Engeln’s book, “Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women” and prematurely giving my report on what I’ve learned. (I’ve got a couple chapters left, which is more than enough content to digest thus far). In her approach to study and educate women on cultural beauty ideals, Engeln strikes a cord while playing into a story I know all too well: that beauty standards are not only unrealistic, they are harmful to our physical and mental well-being.
“Beauty Sick” outlines the objectification of women in media and the psychological affects from online dating to cat-calling. What I distinguished from her case stories were not just how men and media perceive women, but how women perceive women.
It’s clear that comparison is killing the confidence amongst individuals in our digital age, yet it’s also allowing men- and women -to devalue someone’s worth by putting their appearance on a spectrum. For example, when I overhear the sentence: “she’s hot but…” in a public setting, it takes everything in my being not to interject with: “she’s hot but she’s also has a full-time job while earning her master’s degree and still makes it to the gym twice a week.” But I never do, so I’m saying this now.
It’s one thing to hear a man depict a woman based on her physical traits to justify wether or not she is worthy of dating. This is why I don’t use dating apps. Not only do I come off as either too bitchy or too desperate, (‘playing it cool’ is a foreign concept to me) I am in constant awareness that men are swiping my profile based on two-dimensional photos, all to decide if they want to proceed in a multi-dimensional woman. (I also realize on apps that confident women come off as cocky, but I’d rather have balls than engage in a conversation with a man who does not).
The comparison game between me and the other contestants puts me in a competitive state – a game of wonderment of how I stack against other profiles. The same feeling arises in a social setting. You know, those IRL moments of human connection. I’ll look around the room to see who has a wedding band, and make judgements on who to approach and how. When the unusual woman walks up to what I would assume to be her husband, given the proper jewelry, the thought, “she’s not even that pretty” slips up. It’s a judgement. It’s not a nice one. But it’s a thought that pops up before I tell myself, “what does that matter anyway?”
After such judgments come to mind, I combat them. I observe the couple, I ask questions. I get to know the wife and before I ever let that judgement manifest into words, and I make a new judgement: “She’s fucking cool”.
We all make judgements. It’s part of our human nature, it’s how we protect ourselves from danger and make decisions every day. But to take a judgement on someone’s appearance and label them as worthy or not is dehumanizing. It’s a low blow and it’s a reflection of the commentator’s own insecurity.
So how do we cure beauty sickness? How do we give power back to the men and women who have been called anything but beautiful? How can we inspire our culture to achieve personal goals outside the vanity of likes and followers?
My suggestion is small, as the solution is vast. A way I’ve been able to accept my own beauty is to seek it in others. To look people in their eyes, to ask questions, and to find something to compliment on. Every single person on this earth was put here for a reason, as our creator makes no mistakes. By seeing people as people, we stop caring about their hair color. By seeing people as people, we see a little bit of them in ourselves. And if we see all people as beautiful, then there will be nothing left to cover up, nothing left to filter.
You are beautiful, and I love you.