The “Truth” About Beauty

Warning: Lots of snark ahead. Every so often I just can’t contain myself and stuff like this happens… enjoy! (This was posted a  month ago, but I just found it today so bear with me.)

So a few months back I applied for an internship at Psychology Today and never heard back. I was slightly bummed out about this (but not really, considering the awesome internship I was accepted for) up until today… now I am just relieved not to be associated with an organization that would actually give this misogynistic piece of  hack-journalism masquerading as something of value a platform. (Not only was this posted online, but it was apparently a cover article in the magazine.)

“Welcome to Uglytopia—the world reimagined as a place where it’s the content of a woman’s character, not her pushup bra, that puts her on the cover of Maxim.”

Welcome to Psychology Today – psychology reimagined as a field where where the regurgitation of misogynistic bullshit, not real research, gets you a platform! Now, let me teach you how this great new world works…

Women in this world get into relationships with people (MEN, STRAIGHT MEN!) because they find us hot… being interesting, funny, enjoyable to spend time with, and a good person doesn’t get you onto the cover of Maxim so clearly those qualities don’t matter.

“It just doesn’t seem fair to us that some people come into life with certain advantages—whether it’s a movie star chin or a multimillion-dollar shipbuilding inheritance. Maybe we need affirmative action for ugly people; make George Clooney rotate in some homely women between all his gorgeous girlfriends. While we wish things were different, we’d best accept the ugly reality: No man will turn his head to ogle a woman because she looks like the type to buy a turkey sandwich for a homeless man or read to the blind.”

Science doesn’t matter so much here, but for the benefit of the feminists I’m going to to to say some science-y things to add validity to my argument. Doesn’t matter if I contradict myself halfway through (there really are universal standards of beauty… but what is considered beautiful changes across cultures, depending on access to resources.)

“The features men evolved to go for in women—youth, clear skin, a symmetrical face and body, feminine facial features, an hourglass figure—are those indicating that a woman would be a healthy, fertile candidate to pass on a man’s genes.

These preferences span borders, cultures, and generations, meaning yes, there really are universal standards of beauty. And while Western women do struggle to be slim, the truth is, women in all cultures eat (or don’t) to appeal to “the male gaze.” The body size that’s idealized in a particular culture appears to correspond to the availability of food. In cultures like ours, where you can’t go five miles without passing a 7-Eleven and food is sold by the pallet-load at warehouse grocery stores, thin women are in. In cultures where food is scarce (like in Sahara-adjacent hoods), blubber is beautiful, and women appeal to men by stuffing themselves until they’re slim like Jabba the Hut.”

My point is that standards of beauty are just a universal thing, and also that what’s hardest to maintain in a culture is what is considered beautiful. This isn’t sexist at all, even though women are the only ones expected to do whatever is more difficult in that culture to be hot. Also, I didn’t contradict myself at all even though changing beauty standards, based on resources, means that what is beautiful isn’t universal at all…. oh fuck it, science is hard lets get back to the misogyny!

Time to ask ourselves the most important question of all: what about the menz!?

“And, just like women who aren’t very attractive, men who make very little money or are chronically out of work tend to have a really hard time finding partners. There is some male grumbling about this. Yet, while feminist journalists deforest North America publishing articles urging women to bow out of the beauty arms race and “Learn to love that woman in the mirror!”, nobody gets into the ridiculous position of advising men to “Learn to love that unemployed guy sprawled on the couch!””

See? Men are forced every day to work and make money and cultivate skills so that they can be considered datable. Its only fair that women should have to spend hours of time and massive amounts of money on looking hot because buying makeup, and expensive haircuts, and going to the gym constantly, and counting calories, and shopping for the perfect outfits, and styling our hair, and doing our make-up, and on and on… all of these things provide so much personal satisfaction and stimulation. Whereas having a career that you enjoy, and making money, and interacting with other people, and just generally being a productive human being is just so dull and such a chore.

These two things are totally comparable, especially since the only thing we expect out of women in relationships is beauty… its not like we expect them to also have jobs or maintain the household/children/pets (or both) as well!

“Now, before you brand me a traitor to my gender, let me say that I’m all for women having the vote, and I think a woman with a mustache should make the same money as a man with a mustache. But you don’t help that woman by advising her, “No need to wax that lip fringe or work off that beer belly!” (Because the road to female empowerment is…looking just like a hairy old man?)”

Look at that moustache & beer belly!

Hairy old men are the road to female empowerment ladies and gentlemen… or you know, its not. Is it possible that women who have “let themselves go” don’t all look like this? I haven’t shaved in quite a few weeks (it was No-Shave November… oh, and I just didn’t feel like it) and I haven’t worn makeup in two years, plus I’ve been way too busy to head to the gym for awhile… so, when do I grow my penis and my beard?

Moreover, even if some women do end up looking just like a hairy old man who the hell cares? If they are happy with the way they look, shouldn’t that be enough? Shouldn’t they be free to focus on whatever they want to? Isn’t that what empowerment is really about… being comfortable with who you are and doing the things you love? (Or is it about getting a man? I always forget…)

“But take The Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf: She contends that standards of beauty are a plot to keep women politically, economically, and sexually subjugated to men—apparently by keeping them too busy curling their eyelashes to have time for political action and too weak from dieting to stand up for what they want in bed. Wolf and her feminist sob sisters bleat about the horror of women being pushed to conform to “Western standards of beauty”—as if eyebrow plucking and getting highlights are the real hardships compared to the walk in the park of footbinding and clitoridectomy.”

Actually, that’s more or less exactly what Naomi Wolf has written about… I suppose some things about Psychology-Today reality and the real reality are the same!  Naomi is totally right, when potential employers, potential dates, potential friends… everyone, really, is judging you primarily on how you look (a fact that the author of this piece admits a few lines down) it’s pretty damn hard to get ahead in life if you haven’t been blessed with the genetic gift of natural hotness. Women need to shave, paint, trim, and style pretty much every inch of our bodies in order for them to be socially acceptable; meanwhile men are considered acceptable in a much less maintained state (hairy legs, no makeup, hair kept short and easy to style, clothing typically simple, etc.) and even if they don’t fit into the ideal image of male attractiveness, they are much less likely to be penalized for it in the dating world or in terms of employment. That seems like oppression to me.

When you add in the fact that women also have to worry about the “message” that their appearance is sending (“Is this shirt too revealing for work?” “Will someone think I am ‘asking for it’ if I wear this skirt?”) so dressing in a way that looks attractive AND appropriate is difficult, well… you can see how this whole being-attractive business can suck up a lot of time/energy/resources.   (For men, its easy: wear whatever you want to casual scenarios, khakis or dress pants with a button-down if its semi formal, and a suit and tie if its super formal… no need to worry about hem lines, neck lines, print, color, cut… just throw it on and go!)

Is it any wonder that men are the ones who have the advantage here? I mean, clearly this doesn’t suck anywhere near as much as foot-binding or clitoridectomies… but it does all come from the same place: kyriarchy. The difference is that Western women have more freedom than the women in the societies who deal with atrocities like foot-binding, but more freedom doesn’t mean total equality.

Moving on, as promised, here’s the admission that looks are what matter for getting women dates, jobs, and more!

“Looks matter a great deal. The more attractive the woman is, the wider her pool of romantic partners and range of opportunities in her work and day-to-day life. We all know this, and numerous studies confirm it—it’s just heresy to say so.”

Check out the classy images that came with the article! They're even headless to remind us that our brains are NOT what matters!

My question: why is it that the women who want to be judged by who they are, not how they look, are the problem? Why is it wrong to work towards a society where we focus on people’s hearts rather than the bodies they happen to be contained within? Lets try a thought experiment here: “Height matters a great deal. The taller the person is, the wider her pool of romantic partners and range of opportunities in her work and day-to-day life. We all know this, and numerous studies confirm it—it’s just heresy to say so.” This is also true, but that doesn’t mean that its fair for people to be judged off of something that is largely based in genetics and has nothing to do with their ability to do a job or be a good friend/partner.

But whatever, we get it: try hard to be beautiful ladies, because the sooner you accept that your future depends on your sexiness, the sooner you’ll start succeeding! Fine.

Oh, but that’s not all! Also… don’t try too hard or else you’ll just look desperate, and old, and dumb!

“At the other extreme are women who go around resembling porn-ready painted dolls. Note to the menopausal painted doll: Troweled on makeup doesn’t make you look younger; it makes you look like an aging drag queen.” (Bonus round: queerphobia! What exactly is wrong with drag queens?)

Likewise, being 50 and trying to look 25 through plastic surgery usually succeeds in making a woman look 45 and fembot-scary—an object of pity instead of an object of desire. Plastic surgery you can easily spot is usually a sign—either of really bad work or of somebody who’s gone way over the top with it, probably because she’s trying to fill some void in her life with silicone, Juvederm, and implanted butt cutlets. There are women who just want to fix that one nagging imperfection. For others, plastic surgery is like potato chips, as in, “Betcha can’t eat just one.”

“Once women start seeing wrinkles and crow’s feet, the desperation to look like they were born yesterday often makes them act like it, too. Women want to believe there’s such a thing as “hope in a jar”—and there is: hope from the CEO selling the jars that you and millions of others will buy him a new yacht and a chateau in the south of France.”

Speaking of France, lets change gears for a second and talk about France… since most of the Psychology Today readers aren’t French and, thus, will just have to accept whatever this article says as true.

“Perhaps because feminism never seeped into mainstream culture in France like it did here, they generally have a healthier and more realistic relationship with beauty, accepting it as the conduit to love, sex, relationships, and increased opportunities.”

Translation: French women all accept that they will be judged primarily on their looks. This doesn’t bother them because there are no feminists in France. I know this because the stereotypes tell me so!

Also, women need to remember what matters: pleasing (heterosexual) men…

“To understand what it takes to be beautiful, we need to be very clear about what being beautiful means—being sexually appealing to men.”

Once you snag that wonderful (heterosexual) man you have to make sure you never look anything less than hot, because god-forbid he see what you really look like in *gasp* sweats or worse if you *gasp* GAIN a few pounds… well, he could leave and his cheating would be all your fault because everyone knows that “for better or for worse” only counts if you’re still exactly as hot as you were the day you walked down the aisle.

Too many women try to get away with a bait-and-switch approach to appearance upkeep. If you spend three hours a day in the gym while you’re dating a guy, don’t think that you can walk down the aisle and say “I do…and, guess what…now I don’t anymore!” A woman needs to come up with a workable routine for maintaining her looks throughout her lifetime and avoid rationalizing slacking off— while she’s seeking a man and after she has one. Yeah, you might have to put five or ten extra minutes into prettying up just to hang around the house. And, sure, you might be more “comfortable” in big sloppy sweats, but how “comfortable” will you be if he leaves you for a woman who cares enough to look hot for him?

Finally, the end…

“So, ladies, read lots of books, develop your mind and your character, exercise the rights the heroes of the women’s movement fought for us to have, and strive to become somebody who makes a difference in the world. And, pssst…while you’re doing all of that, don’t forget to wear lipgloss.”

So ladies, remember: its not enough to be smart, accomplished, funny, entertaining, kindhearted, approachable… etc. If you don’t take the time to groom yourself in a manner acceptable to the author of this piece (and all of the heterosexual men she apparently speaks for) well, then it all doesn’t mean very much, now does it?

*********

To be serious for a second: I have no problem with makeup, heels, cute clothes, shaving, plucking, waxing… even plastic surgery. I do have  a problem with living in a society that tells women there is only one ideal look (slim, light-skinned, made-up, expensively dressed, etc.) and that meeting that image is of the utmost importance because their lives will be awesome if only they are acceptably hot.That message is dangerous and inescapable. That message can destroy women’s lives and it is not okay. That’s the message that, for years, made dressing myself a fraught and harrowing experience (instead of something fun!), kept me from going after my dreams (because I wasn’t pretty/skinny/stylish enough), and contributed in a major way to the depression that followed me to high school.

Thank goodness that I wound up in a high school (with uniforms) where my teachers and my friends emphasized the importance of my intelligence, my kind heart, my ability to write… all of the talents I did possess. Its not that they made it seem like being attractive was bad (as this article seems to think feminists do) they just helped me see that it wasn’t everything and that there were so many more important, awesome things about me that I could develop and feel good about.

It breaks my heart that there are so many girls out there who don’t believe this positive message, even when it is given to them by really well-meaning people. It breaks my heart, but it doesn’t shock me because when I was just getting this message from my (wonderful) family, it didn’t make an impact because the peers who I interacted with at school every day, the media, and the rest of the world was telling me that if only I was prettier, life would be better. The only thing that worked was being immersed in a more positive, holistic message: at school AND at home… but that immersion was expensive (as private school tends to be) and most girls cannot find/afford that environment. Thus, the only real solution to the epidemic of low self-esteem, honestly, is changing our culture.

Now I, personally, have balance. I can live in a world that bombards me with bullshit about my body because I have an awesome safety-net of positive thought in myself, in my friends, in my family, and online. I can chase after my dreams without caring about how I look while doing it and, at the same time, I can finally enjoy shpping because it is something I do for FUN and not because my future depends on how this skirt fits. Not everyone has this though because not everyone has been as lucky as I am in their experiences.

This is why I make fun of articles like the one above… in the hope that some teenage girl (or grown woman) who feels like CRAP because no matter what she does she doesn’t fit that beauty ideal will see what I wrote and realize that there is so much more to life than being pretty, and living life without worrying about how you look is pretty damn awesome. So if you’re out there: know that this is the truth, not the Psychology Today bullshit, and know that there are always people out there (like me) who will find you awesome for who you are, not how you look.

4 thoughts on “The “Truth” About Beauty

  1. What a pity, really, isn’t it?
    I grew up in shame of my sex and in defiance of my socially predetermined gender. Then adolescence ends, BC is on, acne goes away, lose pounds, and suddenly I go from guy to guy like an easy rider with really ugly aggression: I’m violent, manipulative and satisfied over whoever fell for me. If I were a man, or if men weren’t so ashamed to say ‘I’ve been abused’, I’d have LOTS of trouble, especially social.

    Now I’m with a loving boyfriend who was the first to say ‘yeah you look great with hairy legs / why do you need to wax, it’s just taking money and time off of you and it painful / you should eat whatever you like’ AND THIS IS THE FUCKING HEALTHY

    assholes (male & female) who just insist on that definition of female worthiness ‘either you’re hot or you’re wasted trash’ – I don’t give a damn anymore and I keep myself away from them, also it saddens me that I was affected by this mentality for some time in my life.
    This ‘golden beautiful’ mentality sickens me.

  2. Every winter (fuck it, every second that I’m not currently swimming in a pool) I look like a hairy old man.

    “Women need to shave, paint, trim, and style pretty much every inch of our bodies in order for them to be socially acceptable”. -> I had a professor challenge me once to come up with a single female body part that we weren’t expected to modify. We waited a few minutes and couldn’t come up with a single one!

    “Also… don’t try too hard or else you’ll just look desperate, and old, and dumb” -> It’s just white-christian-upper class-cis-het-men deciding these arbitrary norms for women to maintain the status quo and their power over people who are women. They subjugate us by creating a self-defeating and distracting obsession over something as subjective and mostly uncontrollable as our appearance; and creating hatred and resentment for ourselves when we depart for even a second from their FALSE NORMS and DELIBERATELY UNATTAINABLE ideals. Then they divide us by creating a hierarchy based on lookism, where you’re really damned if you do and damned if you don’t (e.g. telling us that we’re not satisfactory because of physical imperfections, then ridiculing and belittling us when we “try too hard” or obsess over our appearance).

    Just like changing the messages you were surrounded with into positive and affirming ones helped you to move past this, I believe that’s the best way to work towards a societal solution as well. Yes it is the most impactful if it comes from the top, but sometimes the best way to be empowered is to take it upon yourself to be empowered! We need to tell people – people of all genders, but specifically ones socialized as women – that they are worth more than the sum of their physical parts.

  3. Oh, I got so worked up being vicariously upset at this article, I forgot to thank you for the post :). It made me feel better to see it so thoroughly, systematically, and sarcastically ripped apart.

  4. Pingback: Do friends reinforce harmful appearance norms? | It Starts With Me.

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