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.

Now It’s Time To Grow Up, And What That Means

I think that we’re all more or less aware of the sort of reactions that one gets upon graduating from university. The plethoras of “congratulations” and “I’m so proud of you’s” that one seems to get. Yet, upon my own graduation, there was one response that I received that I’ve sort of been puzzling over ever since.

“Now it’s time to get serious.”

I found this an odd sort of statement to make. I didn’t bring it up at the time, I just sort of smiled and accepted the comment, but ever since, I’ve sort of been asking myself the question, why? What does that even mean?

And don’t get me wrong, I’m aware of what was intended by it. The sentence was packed with too much cultural resonance not to: what she was saying was that now that my imaginary years of boozing, partying, and staying up passed midnight eating Cheetos out of a saucepan are behind me, it’s now time to grow up. It’s time to become what society thinks of as An Adult.

So what does that mean? I mean, I already was an adult, wasn’t I? I did what society asked me to do to qualify, I survived my eighteenth birthday, right? Doesn’t that mean that I already did the thing, four years before the comment was even made to me?

Well, no; according to society, there are a certain set of standard actions and behaviours that I need to follow in order to fully qualify as what we tend to think of as An Adult, including but not limited to: getting rid of my Mohawk and adopting a more subdued, more culturally acceptable haircut, quitting my retail job as well as my dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkien and instead going out to find a more practical way of making money, overcoming my childish trust issues and finding a husband, accepting that my biological clock must be ticking and creating a few screaming, pooping life forms of my very own, and last but not least, giving up everything in my life that gives me joy but that could be misconstrued as being ‘childish’ or ‘frivolous’.

In other words, “getting serious”.

And why would I do all of this, you might ask? Doesn’t it all sound like a horrendously boring way to live, or at the very least, like a very prescribed way of living with no personal influence from myself or my own likes, opinions, and personality? Well, yes, but it’s also the only way to be taken seriously as what society likes for all of us over a certain age to be: An Adult.

Except for the fact that, as practical as society likes to pretend capital-a Adulthood is, it isn’t really. All that capital-a Adulthood really is is another attempt from society to tell us what the appropriate way to be is, and it is a standard that is very difficult to live up to, if not impossible. After all, we all need to be happy, and sometimes the most juvenile things give us happiness. With all the constant pressure of adult life, sometimes it’s nice to just wind down with a Disney movie, or a fluffy superhero comic book. Sometimes we find that the only accurate way to express ourselves in the moment is by shaving our hair, or dying it a bright and funky colour, or by playing around with make-up that ‘isn’t practical’. Sometimes we can even build perfectly non-practical but completely fulfilling jobs from things that society tells us ‘aren’t serious’, like cosplaying, performing, writing, etc., etc. Heck, even the greatest, most respected astronaut could have began his or her studies out of a passion for Star Trek!

In fact, have you ever noticed that a lot of our ways of exploring our identity and our creativity aren’t covered under the narrow definition of how to be capital-a Adult?

So allow me a chance to decree that we should all say “screw it” to capital-a Adulthood, or anything that tries to tell us how we should and should not live our lives. We don’t need to suppress parts of ourselves or ‘get serious’ to make it in the adult world, we just need to find a way of living that makes us happy at the end of the day, regardless of what that means or how hard we have to work for it. After all, as long as we are not starving to death, we have a roof over our heads, we aren’t hurting anyone, and we are not horrendously depressed and disappointed with our lives, isn’t that enough?

What It Means to Have Privilege

Privilege comes in a wide variety of forms.

People can experience privilege in terms of race, gender, or sexual orientation. People can experience privilege if they are able-bodied, neurotypical, or cis-gendered. Chances are, every single person in our society experiences some form of privilege, for one reason or another. Privilege is not something to be ashamed of, and it is not something that makes you an inherently worse person. Privilege is only something to keep in mind.

And why am I bringing this up? Why am I saying all of this? Because privilege is something that people have begun talking about more and more often lately, and in my opinion, that should be encouraged, because it is something that we should talk about. However, there are many people who take offence to the idea of privilege, and who may even deny that it exists.

 

To illustrate this, let’s create a very common, more specific scenario: a group of people are talking about race. Ted, a white person, keeps asserting that black people are treated in this way, and that the only appropriate reaction to it is that. Sue hears this and disagrees, and so she says, “you’re speaking from a place of privilege”.

Now, there are two ways that Ted can interpret this comment. On the one hand, he can assume that Sue meant it maliciously, that she is intentionally trying to belittle his perspective and tell him that it doesn’t matter as much as a person of colour’s perspective would. On the other hand, he can see it for the comment’s most common meaning: that Ted is white. He is not black. He has never been black. He does not know what it is like to live as a black person, and therefore he has no idea what they experience and how they should feel – at least not from a first-hand experience.

This is not a moral judgement against Ted. He cannot help being born the way that he was, and even if he could, there is nothing wrong with being any race, gender, sexual orientation, level of ability, or anything to that effect. However, that being said, it is important for Ted to keep in mind that his experience is not universal.

In our society, whether we like it or not, people are treated differently from one another based on superfluous things like skin colour and genitals. These sort of things do effect our lives and our experiences. For example, a white person will not be turned away from a job based solely on judgements made about their race. A man does not have to worry about his rights to reproductive health being taken away or made more difficult to access. A straight person does not have to worry about whether or not their families will still have contact with them when they finally admit who they love, and so on and so forth. None of these are that specific person’s fault – it is all based on the society in question and what rights and abilities that society has decided a person should have access to.

However, when someone lives their life taking these sort of things for granted, it becomes too easy for them to just assume that these are things that everyone has access to, and too easy for them to forget that they don’t. And that is why it is so important that we talk about our privilege – because if we don’t talk about it, then we forget that we even have it.

But saying that you have privilege is not a moral judgement, and it does not mean that your life was constantly easy. Nobody’s life is easy, no matter how much privilege you have, and nobody is forgetting that or taking away from your hardships by reminding you of your privilege. All that they are saying is that you lack the lived experience of someone in that scenario, and in that one part of your life, things might have been a little easier for you than for another person.

So please, don’t be afraid to awknowledge your privilege. Don’t be afraid to admit that you might have it a little easier in one regard of your life than another person. Because once you can admit that, once you can accept that your experience is not universal and that other people deal with different hardships, then you can open your mind to other perspectives and learn about them, maybe even help them a little bit.

There’s nothing wrong with having privilege. We all do. The only place you can really go wrong is denying someone else their right to speak out about their own unique perspective.