As I recently wrote, there’s something totally liberating about giving up on disingenuous things. There’s a freedom in surrendering to the truth about ourselves. Being only one person, we can’t be a writer, scientist, adrenaline-junky, botanist, chef, broadcaster, truck driver, actor, entrepreneur and home decorator. We aren’t all thrifty, charismatic, athletic, introspective, organized, detail-oriented, funny and so on (sidenote–people who happen to be all of those things also happen to be annoying). Our differences enable each of us to focus on truer parts of ourselves, and enjoy the things we like and are good at. We discover our likes and abandon our dislikes; we realize our strengths and discard our weaknesses. Typically there is nothing tragic about this process. In fact it’s a critical, enjoyable part of creating our identities.
Unfortunately for women, there is one characteristic that we absolutely cannot dismiss from our identity, whether we actually have it or not. And that is beauty.
Beauty plagues women. We can’t shake it off. It’s our brand. It’s not that we are all beautiful, or that anyone thinks we are. It’s that whether we are beautiful or not is a key part of who we are. As members of the female gender, each of us are unavoidably labeled “pretty,” “cute enough,” “beautiful,” “hot,” “chunky,” “homely,” or even an actual numerical rank, “She’s an 8.”
Like our own first name (a word we’ve heard over and over throughout our lives) we’ve allowed the concept of beauty to be such a crucial part of our identities that we don’t even notice its perpetual association with us . It’s everywhere. It’s in the way we talk about ourselves, and the way we talk about each other, it’s in the hundreds of products we use, it’s in the cartoons we see as children, it’s in commercials, on TV shows, movies, magazines, in every song we hear, and unfortunately, it’s a big factor in our self-confidence, no matter our other character traits. And the crazy thing is 99% of the time we hardly notice how bizarre it is that men don’t have the same beauty fixation assigned to them.
Sure being an attractive male is something we talk about universally. They aren’t exempt. No doubt about it. But if a man isn’t attractive, that’s ok. He’s allowed to not have his appearance be a defining trait in his life. No one expects him to really do anything about it other than accept it…and not think about it too much. If he were to think about it too much, that would actually be unattractive. He can be any number of other things: funny, smart, interesting, nice, creative, quirky, whatever. Without an asterisk. We say, “Have you met my friend Craig? He’s really funny.” Full stop. A woman who is funny, smart, interesting, nice, creative or quirky is also allowed to be those things, but not without the asterisk. They are funny and one of the following: pretty, sort of pretty, not that cute, chunky, etc. (By the way, this asterisk concept doesn’t only apply in dating conversations where mentioning a physical rank seems appropriate and relevant. This could literally be any conversation in any context.) Admittedly, when someone at work asked me if I had met our new (female) director, I responded that I had, and included my initial impression including her level of attractiveness. It was then that I realized we have a problem.
If a woman naturally isn’t anything special to look at, we don’t accept it. We expect her to put some effort into it. Makeup, clothes, diet and hair styling at a minimum. Special creams, treatments, waxing, manicures, fake eyelashes, hair extensions, tanner, teeth whitening, makeup contouring, and hair dye are very acceptable, commonly used efforts. Surgical enhancements are not frowned upon. A woman who isn’t beautiful, and does nothing about it is lazy. Socially awkward almost. What would a future employer think about a woman interviewing for a job if she showed up without makeup? Is this someone they can trust to do a thorough job? She clearly doesn’t do a thorough job on her face.
An unattractive man may offer a self-deprecating joke about his appearance, and we laugh with him without feeling guilty. We know it’s not that big of a deal for him to just be an average looking guy. If a woman jokes about her appearance, we immediately go into rescue reassurance mode. We mention her redeeming physical traits, or we offer help with a makeover, or new clothing suggestions. What would we do without the hundreds of magazine articles that teach us how to constantly improve our beauty?
We can’t just let a woman not be beautiful. It’s too important to who she is. Beauty is the crowning identifier a woman can hope to have. After all, haven’t we all heard, “Every woman deserves to feel beautiful”? Why doesn’t every man deserve to feel handsome?
I’d say it’s because they collectively decided:
“We don’t care enough.”
Sure they’d all probably like to be handsome guys, but they certainly aren’t going to go to any inconvenient measures to make it happen. They won’t let someone carve them up, let alone wear shoes that hurt their feet, or spend countless hours and dollars in daily “handsomeness routines!” No way! I mean honestly can you imagine if the roles were reversed and men were bombarded with the daily messages women get about the way they look? I created the following to demonstrate just how bizarre that would be:
Putting men in this context is laughable. What is entirely routine for women is completely ridiculous for men. Seeing the stark contrast reminds me of the feeling when the A/C unit finally turns off and you realize just how noisy it’s been all along, and never even noticed. The noise of beauty for women is so loud and perpetual we don’t even notice it anymore.
If being attractive isn’t such a critical part of a man’s identity, why are women so deeply tied to the need for beauty? In most species, it’s the male that’s adorned in the brighter colors, performing elaborate tricks to draw attention and compete with other males for a female mate.
Ladies, how did we let this happen to us?? Why are we the only ones to miss the memo here? In nearly every species, including humans, males seem more anxious to mate. If women collectively decided to stop caring so much about their appearance, I feel very confident men would still anxiously pursue them, and the human race would continue to multiply and replenish the earth.
Think of the possibilities women! It’s not too hard to imagine, just take a look at a nearby male. Dressed comfortably no doubt, took all of 20 minutes to shower and look exactly as he does right now. Of course I’m not suggesting a global and complete leveling of the playing field is possible, I’m afraid we’re too far gone for that. How can we overcome a thousands-of-years-old, established identity so deeply associated and ingrained into our gender? I also recognize our own sense of self-preservation shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of a movement. I’ll still wear makeup at my next job interview because I understand there’s a real danger in screwing up that first impression, but please believe I’ll go right back to my two days a week of mascara routine. Also, if beauty is your passion, go for it! I know a few women with that level of interest and passion. And they should be true to that part of themselves! But the majority of women find beauty concerns more of a stress than a pleasure. So why should all women be obligated to be beautiful if we aren’t beautiful, or spend time working on being beautiful if it’s not really enjoyable to us? I’m also not suggesting we stop dressing to the trends, showering, exercising, getting haircuts, or generally taking care of our appearance (men don’t get to do that either).
What I’m suggesting is we cut back our beauty cares. By a whole lot. Let’s focus on health rather than perfection. Let’s stop letting such a small, fleeting portion of our lives take over the rest of it. Let’s stop caring about how unattractive another woman looks. Let’s give naturally and exceptionally beautiful women the proper attention and credit they deserve– it’s a part of what makes them special. Let’s accept ourselves as we are (especially if we have a mediocre appearance). Let’s use the saved time to focus on the truer parts of ourselves, not the parts that wash off at night, or will become irrelevant when we turn 50, but parts that make us special and happy and useful. I really think if we can do this, the world will become much much more beautiful.