The old saying goes “beauty is only skin deep;” however, one could argue that the importance of beauty is deeply rooted in our culture, a social currency much like gold within a superficial society that judges harshly and often. Our perception of what is beautiful influences not only what we are attracted to but how we are treated and, more importantly, how we treat others. While there are body positivity movements shaking the foundation of our Barbie doll culture, we cannot ignore that within a society with impossible standards of perfection, to be pretty is to be privileged.
Beauty isn’t everything, but it sure fucking helps. I pride myself on my intelligence and unparalleled sense of humor, but when I walk out of the house looking homeless, I am treated noticeably different. And no, I am not treated differently because I feel differently; I am treated differently because my skin is blotchy and I’m not wearing eyebrows, so I appear continually apathetic. I am treated like a second class citizen because, whether or not we want to admit it, how we look initially matters, unfortunately. I am in no way worth less because I’m not wearing makeup, but I’m almost certainly going to hear “Are you sick?” more often than usual. Contrary to Beyoncé’s beliefs, girls do not run the world—pretty girls do.
I want to clarify: Privilege does not imply that everyone else is sentenced to a mediocre life of hardship. It only means that some may find that life has a few less barriers. We all have ways in which we are privileged and ways that we are oppressed, for lack of a better term. Some face oppression due to their socioeconomic status, some due to their race or immigration status, some due to their sexual orientation, and some because their aesthetics differ from what society deems beautiful.
Truth be told, looks are not everything. There are many incredible humans that have achieved more than most could hope for, like people that have graduated from Harvard or hiked the Pacific Crest Trail after age 30, but let us not pretend that graduating Harvard while looking like Gal Gadot doesn’t come with a few added perks.
While, as both a feminist and a human being, I agree that our society’s emphasis on looks is shallow, I do not feel that I have the right to discredit another women’s experience. I agree that we should love ourselves as we are, but I also acknowledge that societal pressure is a bitch. We have all struggled with insecurities at some point, and they were never cured by someone saying, “You’re a beautiful person. Who cares what other people think?” The answer: almost everyone. We are social beings, and to pretend we are not impacted by outside feedback is ridiculous. I believe that women should feel free to change what they dislike without criticism from privileged women that look like they could be on the cover of Vogue.
No one struggling with weight wants to hear a skinny woman tell them to “just love yourself.”
No aging women feeling insecure about her skin or body wants to hear from a twenty-something-year-old about the importance of aging gracefully.
No women struggling with her changing body after pregnancy wants to hear “You’ll bounce back, just cut your carbs!” from a person with abs, a tight ass, and boobs that aren’t lactating through their lululemon sports bra.
If you are privileged enough to love your body the way it is, then congratulations! You have beat the unreasonable beauty standards set in motion by the patriarchy and Sephora — you have won. But understand that others are not made for the cover of Sports Illustrated and have the right to do what they wish to feel okay about themselves without scrutiny.
I personally am not a huge fan of breast implants. Having small breasts myself, I never understood the need or purpose of breast augmentation, and if one of my partners ever suggested it, I promptly pointed them toward a woman with cleavage. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty proud of these A cups, and for that reason, I get to shut up when it comes to another woman’s decision to change her body. I do not know what it is like to wake up every day, look into the mirror, and dislike what I see, so I do not get to judge.
If a woman wants to wear makeup to cover her acne scars or get Botox to slow down the effects of raising screaming children and working 40+ hours a week or get a tummy tuck after having said screaming children, it’s not our place to demonize them. We protest when men in positions of power tell us what to do with our bodies, but then some of our own gather after yoga class to make ugly, holier than thou remarks about the woman that got liposuction for her 40th birthday. As feminists, we are here to support each other, not burn each other at the stake.
Should we as human beings be reduced to simply how we appear? Of course not. Is the media to blame for setting such an unreasonably high bar of perfection? Almost certainly. Does focusing on appearance create issues, such as depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders? Undoubtedly. But we would be foolish to pretend that beauty does not matter and insensitive to discount the experiences of individuals struggling with what beauty means to them.
They say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so shouldn’t each one of us be given the freedom to decide how we wish to appear? Changing hair color, wearing makeup, dieting — none of which mean that we hate ourselves, only that we all love ourselves differently. And so before we sit on our thrones of self-love and tell others to just accept themselves as they are, we must recognize our privilege and understand that each one of us has the right to feel okay in our own skin.
For those that wake up flawless, completely natural, and smelling of lavender, we salute you, but some of us need some concealer and mascara to feel sassy and we should not have to apologize to the self-righteous powers that be. Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline, and maybe it’s none of our damn business what another woman does to feel beautiful. Before shoving our unsolicited self-confidence down the throats of other women, we should first check our privilege.