You Are Not Only ‘Beautiful’

A few times, I’ve written about how important it is for us to recognize our own beauty, and I very much still believe this. But right now, I want to talk about a different sort of beauty. More specifically, inner beauty.

Because our society has a very odd relationship with women and their… well, pretty much everything. It is important for women (in particular) to reclaim their comfort in their bodies because women are consistently told that they shouldn’t think of themselves as beautiful. They’re told that they’re too fat, too thin, too tall, too masculine, they wear too much make-up, not enough make-up, they dress too provocative, they dress to conservative, etc., etc. So whenever a woman claims comfort in her own body, that is always a revolutionary act.

But at the same time, society never really tells women that they need to be any more than beautiful. I mean, yes, they very, very, very much need to be beautiful, and becoming beautiful is supposed to be a constant battle in the eyes of society, something that you can never really stop working on, but if that’s the case, then that sort of robs women of any time that can be spent on developing their character.

In fact, to a certain extent, women are somewhat dissuaded from developing their character from a very young age. I mean, think about the traditional heroes and heroines that we tend to see in simplistic storytelling aimed at children: we have the dashing prince – handsome, yes, but also noble, courageous, and intelligent. And then we have the beautiful princess, who is… beautiful. She might also be described as soft, sweet, kind, innocent, naive, etc., but most of these traits are not necessarily traits of grown women, but frequently of children, and they most certainly are not traits of any active agent. These traits are not given to the heroine so that she can charge her way through the story and really do anything, but to set her as this image of sweet, simple femininity.

And perhaps because of this, if you ask a little girl what they want to be when they grow up, many of them will include the word “beautiful” before they say anything else. Not “intelligent”. Not “courageous”. Beautiful.

And if we want to talk specifically about the trait of intelligence, some studies have shown that girls as young as six years old begin to view intelligence as a primarily male attribute.

But ‘beautiful’ continues to be assigned primarily to women.

And, of course, our obsession with being beautiful comes from society itself. We see TV and movies all the time where not traditionally attractive men are married or involved with traditionally beautiful women, like Family Guy and the Simpsons, and no one really bats an eye at this, and yet we don’t really see this represented the other way around very often. In the workplace, women are sometimes told that to get ahead, they need to present themselves as more physically attractive (though how much this really works is another issue), and some workplaces, such as restaurants, even have uniforms that are intended to show off the beauty of their female employees. So the message that all of this sends to women everywhere is that, if you want love or a career or worth, then you’d better be beautiful.

But ‘beautiful’ is not the only thing that women can be.

It is important that you are comfortable within your body, however it looks, because you are going to have to live in it for the rest of your life. But at the same time, it is also important that you are comfortable with who you are as a person, because similarly, we are going to have to be that person forever.

And we as a society tend to ignore who women are as people.

This even extends to the sort of compliments that women receive. Right from infancy, baby boys are described as “curious”, “cheerful”, and “strong”, while baby girls are described as “beautiful” and “gorgeous”.

Personally speaking, by the time I was in my teens, I had been told that I was beautiful so many times that I knew I was – to this day, I don’t really doubt it. But I hated who I was as a person, because nobody had ever told me that I was strong or intelligent or kind or brave.

And coming from that experience, I see how important it is to have a character that you are proud of.

Because no matter what your gender is, ugly is not the worst thing you can be. This world has been harmed again and again by people who are cruel or manipulative or thoughtless or vindictive, but never by someone who didn’t match their society’s definition of beauty.

People devalue having a good character by saying things like “kindness has never caught someone’s eye from across the room”, but a good character is what builds strong and lasting relationships. You don’t stay with someone long-term because they’re beautiful; you stay with them because they’re kind or intelligent or well-meaning.

Lives are build off of character. Some of our world’s greatest discoveries were made by people who were allowed to develop their intelligence. Some of our world’s most charitable acts were made by people with the strength to persevere despite great hardship. And, yes, some careers can be started from beauty, but if that’s all you are, then you really aren’t going to make it that far. You also need courage, intelligence, creativity, curiosity, passion, resilience…

So, yes, it’s important for us to tell women that they are beautiful; it really is. All women deserve the chance to feel beautiful, regardless of their size, age, race, sexual orientation, ability, or genitals. But ‘beautiful’ is not all that you are, and it is not all that we should aspire to be. It is important that we let women and girls alike know that the pretty princess of childhood stories gathers her worth, not just by being beautiful, but by following her passions, by being intelligent and loving and determined.

And part of the way that we start doing this is by changing the language that we use toward girls, including the ways that we compliment them. Because too often we focus only on what we can see when it comes to women, rather than what we feel and hear.

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Is It Important To Know You Are Beautiful?

Recently, I heard someone present the argument that it is not at all important for us to think our bodies are attractive. We don’t need to accept our weight or our stretch marks or our hair, because at the end of the day, none of that makes us us. We are not our bodies. We are not our nose or our eyes or our legs or our ass. We are more than that; we are people. We are intelligence and wit and kindness and strength. We don’t have to be beautiful, because we transcend that.

I agree with part of this argument. I agree that, yes, we are more than our bodies. That is one hundred percent, completely true – you are not at all defined by what people physically see about you. You are so much more than that.

But at the same time, I do believe that it is important that you know your body is beautiful as well.

Why? I mean, if I think that we are more than our bodies, then wouldn’t I agree that a body is mostly superficial? Meaningless? Our bodies just support us through life, they are the means through which we interact with the world and that’s it, right?

Well, yes, technically that is their purpose. But societally speaking, bodies (and female bodies in particular) have been assigned a much deeper role than that.

Essentially from birth, female bodies are discussed in terms of ‘beauty’, and too often, that beauty is connected to something else, something more insidious – worth. Saying to a little girl “oh, you’re so pretty!” is pretty much synonymous with saying, “you’re a good, worthwhile person, aren’t you?” Women are taught from a very young age to take pride from their physical bodies, and especially in their teen years, women are warned about what will happen if their physical bodies don’t match up to society’s standards.

A young girl who carries extra weight too long for it to be considered baby fat anymore is warned that she needs to lose that weight immediately, and if she doesn’t lose that weight, then the boys won’t like her. And if the boys don’t like her, then she’ll never get a boyfriend. If she never gets a boyfriend, then she’ll have to settle for the first boy with low enough standards to take her. If she settles, then she won’t be happy in her marriage. If she isn’t happy with her marriage, then she won’t be happy with her life. It doesn’t matter if any of this is true or not (and trust me, it isn’t). Many women are still told this or similar narratives while they are still too young to be able to question it.

And even if we ignore the fact that many young girls are told that their physical beauty is directly proportional to their worth, there are simply so many ways that society teaches women to hate their bodies. We have commercials telling women that their eyelashes aren’t long enough, so buy this mascara and your life will be better. We have magazines that shock and gasp at the mere prospect of a celebrity with stretch marks or cellulite. We have a movie industry that returns again and again to the same beauty standards (thin, feminine, youthful, lighter skinned, able-bodied, cis-gendered, etc.) to represent their female leads, the characters that the script decides deserves a happy ending and a good life.

So with all of this, it isn’t surprising when young girls start to hate their bodies.

And when girls hate their bodies, they sometimes start to do very dangerous things to them. For example, it is estimated that 10 million American women suffer from an eating disorder.

Or perhaps we don’t cause damage to our bodies. Perhaps we just feel ashamed of them, covering them up wherever we go, hating the idea of anyone ever getting a peek at them. Perhaps we feel a little bit like our bodies devalue us as a person – after all, we have received the message that our beauty is directly correlated with our worth, haven’t we? We feel like we can’t find love until we reach a certain size, or we need to keep a certain part of us hidden, lest our lover be less interested as a result of seeing it. We feel ugly, gross, like something nobody ever wants to see. We call ourselves names and avoid mirrors and become jealous when we see someone who better matches our idea of beauty.

At the end of the day, our bodies are just bodies, yes. They are designed to be a vessel that carries your intelligence and your kindness and your talent and everything else about you that truly makes you amazing. But at the same time, all of this still matters. Not because our bodies have any huge bearing on who we are as a person – they don’t, but because, due to the amount of importance that society has put on our bodies, they end up having a lot of influence on how we see ourselves.

And maybe you have managed to get passed all of that. Maybe you really don’t care how you look on the outside, and if you do, then that’s awesome. Good for you. But in this society, it is perfectly understandable if you haven’t. You can tell yourself, again and again, that your physicality doesn’t matter because you’re so many amazing things on the inside, but that doesn’t mean that when someone else places value on you based on your body, it won’t hurt or make you feel like less of a person.

And that, I think, is where changing our perspective on what’s beautiful comes in. You need to know that you are beautiful, no matter what you look like. You need to know that our society’s definition of beauty is incredibly limited, and at the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You need to know that your stretch marks do not devalue you, that your body hair doesn’t make you any less beautiful. Because once you know that, then you become more confident. Then it stings a little less when someone else makes a comment about your body, because you know that they’re wrong – and they are wrong. They come from a very limited, very sad perspective, and you’re so much better than all that! You are a beautiful person, and you have every right to feel like a beautiful person.

And once you gain that confidence, then it might become a bit easier for you to express all of the things that truly make you amazing. Because your body is just that – a body, and learning to love it is just one step. It’s a very important step, a step that I think needs to be made, but only because it will lead you toward accepting that you are worthwhile, that you deserve all the joys this world has to offer you. And once you know that (because it’s very true, and society is wrong to have ever made you feel otherwise), then you can feel free to be the amazing, strong, incredibly unique person that you truly are.

You Are Beautiful in Your Flaws

Dear girls who do not perfectly fit into society’s definition of beauty; girls who have belly rolls and thick thighs and jiggly chins; girls with stretch marks and cellulite; girls who don’t like their hair or their skin or the amount of hair they have on their skin:

You. Are. Beautiful.

You are. You might not think you are, but that’s only because we as a society have a very confusing idea of what beauty is.

According to society, beauty is very limiting. It is one thing, it is a certain face, a certain body, a certain hairstyle. It is black or white, you are either beautiful or you aren’t, end of story. Except, by the very nature of being limiting, it sort of winds up excluding everybody. To be beautiful, you must have Marilyn Monroe’s face, Pamela Anderson’s breasts, Jennifer Lopez’s abs, Nicki Minaj’s butt, and Miranda Kerr’s legs. This is not one woman, this is a Frankenstein amalgamation created through plastic surgery and photoshop (either that, or by winning the genetic lottery). And while there’s nothing wrong with matching society’s definition of beauty, it is important that we recognize that society’s definition of beauty is really difficult, if not impossible, to match up to.

And you are a real woman. Regardless of who you are or how you look, you are a flesh and blood human being, and that means that you’re going to have some flaws, but that doesn’t mean that you are not beautiful, and that doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve love.

I have seen so many articles and online posts praising a man (usually) because he dared to love a woman who wasn’t traditionally pretty, saying things like “what a great guy, he loved her despite the fact that she’s fat” or “how sweet, he still loves her even though she has wrinkles”. But to this, I say two things:

  1. Yes, of course he loves her: long before he met her and decided that she was “good enough” for him, she was already a beautiful human being who deserves to be loved, as we all do.
  2. Why does her physical appearance dictate whether or not her husband/lover/partner deserves praise for “putting up with her”?

It should not be surprising to us when a man declares his love for someone who doesn’t perfectly match the description of beauty that society puts out for us. We should not be awed and inspired by his bravery. Because regardless of the way that that woman looks, she should deserve love. If she is kind, caring, and intelligent, then does the relationship really merit congratulations on his part because he managed to look passed the fact that she also has a little extra body fat or cellulite? Because the way I see it, love is about so much more than physical bodies. It is about trust, happiness, and support; her dress size doesn’t have anything to do with it. It is not an obstacle in their relationship, and she is not “lucky” to have found a guy who is capable of seeing her value passed her body fat.

And she is not beautiful only because he has decided that she is. Her beauty was there long before he declared it; all you had to do was open your eyes to it.

Because beauty isn’t about a dress size or smooth skin or body proportions. It isn’t about looking better than someone else, or about being a “real woman” as opposed to a fake one. It isn’t about a single, limited definition, and it most certainly is not something that someone else gets to decide for you if you have it or you don’t. Beauty is subjective, and while society most certainly influences the way that we see beauty, you also have the power to change what you think is beautiful. You can broaden your definition of beauty to include your flaws. You can decide that it doesn’t matter what society says, all that matters is what you say.

And if someone else doesn’t see how beautiful you are, then let them get a good look of your great ass as you walk away.

Perfection Doesn’t Exist

We hear about perfection frequently – that mythical creature, that rare beast that a friend of a friend claims to have spotted in the wilds once.

We hear about the perfect couple, the one that lived to a ripe old age without experiencing one fight, who died a natural death still desperately in love.

We hear about the perfect man or woman, the one that nobody could possibly dislike, the one that was consistently patient, the one that never hurt anyone, the one that was so easy to adopt as a mother/father figure from minute one because everything they did was just so inspiring, so breathtaking.

We hear about the perfect life, the perfect body, the perfect hair, the perfect lover, the perfect skill.

And despite the fact that we hear so much about all of this, there is only one place where I, personally, have encountered it: in the pages of books, created through the words of authors who are describing people who don’t exist. On the movie screen, where everything is scripted and hours have been dedicated to make-up, hair, and airbrushing. On the cover of a magazine, where the model in question has starved herself all day to keep her belly from bloating, and then been photoshopped by experts until she no longer resembles herself.

The perfect couple has fought. Maybe often. Maybe to the point where one was convinced that they were going to leave the other, where they no longer even saw a future with their partner any longer, but they still went back because they wanted to be with them at the end of the day. The perfect couple has slept in separate beds, has hated one another at times. The perfect couple may not have even been in love by the end, but they did love each other. The only reason why they are deemed the perfect couple is because they lasted until death, and we as a society tend to focus more on the end result than the journey.

The perfect man or woman has hurt people. Maybe abused or bullied people. Maybe they were great to you, maybe they had even reached a point of maturity by the time you knew them that they were a wonderful person, but not everyone had the same experience with them. Not everyone left that man or woman thinking that they were perfect. Some people, in fact, left that person thinking that they were kind of a dick.

The perfect beauty is defined differently to different people. The perfect body is often a combination of strict diet, a dedicated workout regiment, genetics, photoshop, and plastic surgery. The perfect artist painted a terrible painting and spent years working on their craft.

And why am I saying this? Am I trying to undermine your vision of others? Trying to destroy the way you see your heroes, your idols, your parents’ relationship? No. All that I am trying to point out is that when we hold ourselves and others to the ideal of perfection, we are holding ourselves to an ideal that does not exist, and it is not fair to expect ourselves or others to be perfect.

In order to define someone or something as perfect, we are forced to ignore parts of them, whether that be something as small as their cellulite or something as dangerous as the emotions of someone who the ‘perfect person’ hurt. But whether we ignore those parts or not, those parts exist. And the fact that they exist can very well mean something liberating to all of us.

Perfection does not exist, but what that really means is that we don’t have to be perfect. We can slip up. We can be wrong. We can yell and scream and be selfish and stupid and flawed, but at the end of the day, as long as we are still willing to work on ourselves, we can still make ourselves better. We can still be there for someone and mean the world to them, even if we messed up and hurt someone else. We can still have a happy, meaningful relationship, even if we fight with our partner every now and again. We can still be beautiful, even if we don’t match society’s every last definition of what beauty is.

In fact, in some ways, it might even be healthier to escape society’s definition of perfection, because constantly forcing yourself to live up to an unrealistic standard ignores important parts of yourself. Chasing a definition of beauty that isn’t yours can put you in very uncomfortable and sometimes painful positions, and all for the payoff of shaving away your uniqueness. Not confronting your partner because you don’t want to fight builds up bitterness in your relationship.

So let’s stop upholding this non-existing idea of perfection. Let’s stop making people feel like they’re a failure if they’re human. And that doesn’t mean that we romanticize flaws instead – rather, we simply awknowledge flaws and admire the people who have them, but persevere nevertheless.

Hot or Not: Women and Competition

It was a very usual day, and I was passing the time in a very usual way – by bumming around on the internet. And while I was there, I came across a very usual post, one that I have seen variations of before and will see variations of again. This particular post used the figures of two female celebrities, Madonna and Lady Gaga, and it asked the question: which of these two women is hotter?

Now, there are many things that I could say about this post. I could say that Madonna and Lady Gaga are both intelligent business women and artists who have fought to keep themselves relevant through the changing years, and yet this post reduces them to their physical beauty. I could say that both women are much more than their appearance, and more than that, they have represented themselves as being more than mere objects whose beauty is to be judged and determined by others. But that isn’t what I’m going to say. As much as all of that is true, what I am going to discuss is the manner in which these two women were being pitted against one another as competition in beauty.

And this is not a rare occurrence for women either – sometimes very directly, such as the example of the post that outright asked whether Madonna or Lady Gaga was hotter, and sometimes more subtly, such as when people make comments like “girls who are *insert body type here* are much more attractive than girls who are *insert body type here*”. This last example gets passed around quite often. Women who are a bit larger are made to feel as though they would be more beautiful if they just lost some weight, but in attempt to validate women who are larger, the internet produced a quote that read “real men like curves, only dogs go for bones”. And body weight is not the only area through which women are pitted against one another. Women who don’t wear make-up are told that girls who do are more beautiful, while women who wear a lot of make-up are told that girls who wear natural make-up are more beautiful. And the competition doesn’t even end at physical beauty – many women, especially teenage girls, feel the need to insist that they “aren’t like other girls”, as though to say that there is something wrong with other girls while she is inherently better.

In a lot of ways, it seems as though our society has decided that there is one clear way that is ‘right’ to be a woman, but they haven’t entirely decided what that way is. Some will say that curvy women are hotter, some will say that skinny women are hotter. Some will say that feminine women, who enjoy doing their hair and nails, are better, and some will say that masculine women, who fix up trucks and live for sports, are better. Some will say that Madonna is hotter, and some will say Lady Gaga is hotter.

And you know the reason for this? The reason is that there is no one way to be beautiful.

We too often forget that. We think that we can come up with a definitive winner in this competition that all women were unwillingly entered into. Who is the hottest woman? What is the best way to be woman? But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. One person will like skinny girls, and another person will like curvier girls. One person will like girls who wear a lot of make-up, and another person will like girls who wear natural make-up. There will always be someone out there who will think you are beautiful, and there will always be someone out there who will think you are not, no matter what you do. It is impossible to please everyone, so really, why bother? The only person you have to please is yourself. So long as you are happy and you are comfortable in your own skin, the right people will be able to see that and love you for it.

So let’s stop pitting women against one another. Let’s stop saying that one woman is hotter than another because, really, she isn’t. Both women are beautiful, and they are beautiful in their own ways. And this idea that women need to be in competition with one another to be the most beautiful or gain the most men (if the woman in question wants men, that is) is only hurting us in the long run. We should be supporting one another, not tearing each other down. We should be trying to make our fellow women feel like they have value, like someone out there cares about them, because that is a much more beautiful thing to do than tearing each other down to build ourselves up.