We live in a society where beauty is demanded of women. There’s a beauty industry making billions of dollars by convincing women that they’re all ugly and unacceptable unless they buy this or that magical beauty product. A lot of us are sick of it, sick of hating ourselves, but we don’t know what to do about it.
When the subject of beauty is brought up, many women will acknowledge that beauty hurts but then say things like:
“But inner beauty is what counts”
Define inner beauty. I posit that “inner beauty” is really about doing femininity harder to make up for not being decorative enough. And by femininity I mean displaying the personality traits considered feminine, such as kindness and empathy. Since femininity is a set of behaviors that convey acceptance of women’s inferior status, and it would not exist in a truly just society, and because it’s not really possible to overcome looks-based prejudice with kindness and empathy and subservience, this is not a solution.
“Beauty is subjective”
Attraction may be subjective, but beauty really isn’t. We know what the rules are (thin, white, blonde, tanned, symmetrical face, long hair, big boobs, correct hip/waist ratio, etc). We know if we deviate from them and by how much by the way other people treat us. There’s nothing subjective about our social status. No matter how hard we try to tell ourselves that there are different interpretations of beauty, only one interpretation leads to social acceptance and approval.
“Let’s expand the definition of beauty to include everyone! All women are beautiful!”
This will not work, because beauty is a social construct built to be exclusionary. To have an elite class of rich people, there needs to be a massive underclass of poor people. To have an elite class based on beauty, there needs to be a massive underclass of ugly/plain/average people. Calling everybody beautiful will not eliminate looks-based discrimination any more than calling everybody rich is going to eliminate poverty.
When the beauty standard goalposts shift a little and seem to be letting a few formerly excluded people in, all that means is that there’ll be more women to objectify and sexualize. That’s nothing to celebrate.
So what can we do?
Beauty is a brutal hierarchy and to end its dominion over us, we must dismantle it. We can start by seperating the concept of beauty from value. We can say that not all women may be beautiful but all women have value. We can stop expecting beauty from ourselves and from each other. That doesn’t mean we have to stop beauty practices altogether if it’s required for things like employment, but we need to recognize that these beauty practices are not politically neutral and do not liberate us. We can stop consciously judging any woman by her looks. (Unconsciously is harder but it will come with practice.) We can stop fat-shaming. And we can educate ourselves about the oppressive social framework that uses beauty to control women and we can combine our forces to resist it.