Thursday, March 27, 2014

who run the world?

i posted this article by Lindy West on facebook the other day. i could have just left it at that, except that i'm me and i just couldn't stop thinking about it. because i've been thinking about it for a while now, this question of what beauty means. 

people roll their eyes at me when i identify myself as a feminist. there's a certain stigma attached to the term--for whatever reason. but there are a lot of reasons and ways to be a feminist. for me, it boils down to something simple: women should feel good about being women.

i know a lot of guys--a lot of good guys--who don't seem to understand why i'm so up in arms when they call one girl out of a dozen the pretty/gorgeous/beautiful/attractive one. they cannot see how damaging it is to use beauty as a distinguishing feature. they could be describing one girl in a room full of girls, and say "oh, she's the pretty one." as if that's enough to differentiate--as if that's an acceptable differentiation. and it's not. and i don't bring this up to say woe is me, i should have been one of the pretty ones: it's that there shouldn't be a distinction.

and maybe that's outrageous. you might clamor and wail and say, "shelby, beauty is a real thing. some people are just more physically attractive than others! it can't be helped!" to that i offer a kind but firm hell to the no.

when you call one girl pretty and the other just nice, you admit there is a scale. and when anyone is put against a scale, it's no longer about what they can offer, it's about how they measure up. we are constantly evaluating each other, ranking one another against some undisclosed measurement of value and worth. and that's just sad. growing up, i always felt like i had to compensate for not being pretty enough. because i was never one of the pretty girls. it's a fact; that just wasn't one of my defining characteristics. and i have a lifetime of anecdotal proof attesting to that. a lifetime of being told i look beautiful, never that i just am.

how sad to grow up in a world obsessed with beauty and feel like you never fit in.

but the honest truth is no one is "ugly"--how can they be? when beauty is a construct built around mankind's ever-changing whims, how could we ever believe that beauty is tangible? beauty is arbitrary. more than that, it's complicated. i echo that article when Lindy West complains, "and, anyway, when did sexual attraction become the sole metric for physical beauty? is a sunset 'ugly' just because you don't want to f* it? what about a waterfall? a horse? ireland? a song?"

we give beauty too much power.

it's more than a ranking, a rating, a scale, a measurement. and, don't worry; i'm not naive enough to think attraction isn't a real thing. but we should all be evolved enough to recognize that attractiveness cannot and should not be based on or justified by some standardization of beauty. we should learn to recognize the attractiveness about everyone. the personalities. the colored lives. the human tendencies. that's what should be talked about. like lindy west says,
i hope that when [we meet] someone new, [we will] seek out what's beautiful about them, what they're good at, where they shine; not shun them for the things that make them different, not see nonconformity as a character flaw.
we are trained to view each other and ourselves in negative ways. and when women turn on women; when our conversations revolve around guys and thigh gaps and oh my gosh did you see her dress?, we build a complicated train of thought that perpetuates the world's limited construct of beauty. likewise, when we buy into this idea of there being an ideal attractiveness; when we weigh in to set each other against this scale of beauty; when we focus on the superficial, the physical, and discount the richness of diversity and the complexity of personality--then we begin to doubt ourselves and dilute the very things that make us interesting, that add color and diversity to an otherwise dull world.

there was an article in glamour last month that i really loved (trust me, i was surprised too). it's called "The 'Not Good Enough' Trap" which, as you all know, i feel strongly about.
we have to make a change now, to let go of the 'ideals' we've been taught to achieve, and to stop being ruled by fear. fear of enjoying our food...or of skipping the gym. and these fears aren't limited to weight; we also fear not being interesting enough or witty or funny or intelligent or strong enough. ...we have learned, or at least i have learned, to be afraid of being imperfect--and of being human.
but we are enough. and that's what feminism is about for me--making women realize, and men recognize, that we are enough. that we are different, we are individuals, but we are powerful. and we are more than some skewed dictate on beauty, some warped sense of value.

we are more than our dress size, our crooked teeth, our double chins, our acne, our cankles. infinitely more. we don't have to hate those impressively perfect people on the cover of vogue just like we don't have to hate ourselves in the horrific dressing room lights during swimsuit season. different sizes, shapes, colors, quirks, qualities--that's normal. and we need to embrace the normal rather than shut it out, believe in it over something as shallow as beauty. to bring it full circle, i think lindy west sums it up perfectly:
this isn't about culling conventionally attractive people from your tv screens. it's not about telling you who you 'can' and 'can't' find attractive. it's about decoupling women's value from their desirability, and embracing the idea that people are more complicated than that. you are more complicated than that.
isn't that beautiful?

...i mean, in a totally non-sexual way.

so be better than merely beautiful. aim for far more than physically attractive. every day, look in the mirror and tell yourself how awesome you are. replace the negative with positive. fill the void of insecurity with positive affirmations and reaffirmations. tell yourself you're beautiful. until you're no longer looking at muffin tops, uneven breasts, crooked noses, or bony knees; until, instead, you're just looking at you. be yourself--embrace that--because that is enough. 


  1. *finger snaps in the air* Preach!

    If we as women allowed ourselves and those around us to accept the many facets of the beauty that is inherently ours simply because we are women, even just human, then how much more joy would we feel? Would we share? That's the world I want to live in. One where we celebrate our individuality for each of our own unique beautiful qualities.

  2. Beauty is a construct based entirely on childhood impressions, influences and role models.