What about beauty?

by Lady Di

Hey Lady,

I’ll keep this brief because I have only moments to write today, but I wanted to discuss that post on FB about beauty in connection with women’s lives. My favourite line in the whole post is as follows: “My confidence in my body will NOT depend on whether or not the majority of dudes think I’m fuckable.” I think, this gets at the heart of the issue. Until later.

Your friend,
Lady Di

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Hey, Lady!

Thanks for your note. Valentine’s Day seems like as good a time as any to talk about beauty, doesn’t it?

I think that the post you’re talking about is this one, “Why YOU are beautiful, full stop” (originally posted Feb. 11 on The Master: The Life of a Graduate Student February 11, reblogged yesterday on Feministing, and currently making the rounds on Facebook). The post itself joins in the recent chorus of critiques of the skinny woman vs. “real woman” meme that’s itself all over Facebook these days. You know the one: a photo of Marilyn (or Liz, or whoever…) juxtaposed with a photo of some modern size 2 woman, with a cutline that favours Marilyn because she’s a “real woman.” This particular post is a response to a much-Facebook-shared image of three tall, sexy, underwear-clad women, who are (according to the labels on the image) size 4-8, size 12, and size 16. The labels further characterize these sizes as “women’s ideal,” “men’s ideal,” and “national average,” respectively.

The author problematizes the image (1) for implying that it’s ok to be larger than a size 4 “because men are okay with it,” (2) for embracing other beauty ideals — such as an hourglass figure, clear skin, long hair… — even as it challenges body size ideals, (3) for excluding the many women whose weight falls above the national average, and (4) for opening up a space to critique the bodies of size 4-8 women.

The post concludes that “this photo should NOT be used as an excuse to tell any woman that she is not real or that her body is somehow offending those attempting to cultivate positive body image. A woman’s confidence in her own body should not come about comparatively–whether it’s comparing her body to the national average, to what men deem fuckable, or to what other women’s bodies look like.”

I like this blog post a lot, and also the post linked towards the end of it. And, elsewhere on Facebook, I appreciated various folks’ supplementary observations  that the women in the offending image are all white and able-bodied.

But, I yearn for the day in which we can stop debating who gets to count as beautiful — and not because we disingenuously claim that everyone is beautiful. Frankly, that’s just false. Some people just aren’t beautiful. And some people aren’t smart. And some people aren’t talented. Oh, and while I’m at it, it is not in fact the case that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. (Every convocation, the Chancellor of Our Glorious Institution opines that “What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve.” Um, no. ‘Fraid not.) Also — you are unique, but probably only trivially so. Can we please just stop lying to people about how awesome they are, and instead figure out how to treat everyone — beautiful and ugly, smart and dumb, talented and not-so-much — with care and fairness and respect for their humanity?

I totally get that beauty is such a highly-valued commodity — especially, but not exclusively, for women — that we’re kind of obliged to talk about it, and to care about how we evaluate beauty. But wouldn’t it be better if it weren’t so godawful important for women to be beautiful?

Beauty should be like left-handedness — sort of interesting when somebody has it, useful for some things, inconvenient for others — but no more.

Happy V-Day, Lady!

Your friend,

Lady Day

2 Comments to “What about beauty?”

  1. Hey Lady!

    Jocelyn the Master here. Thanks for your response to my post. I think you bring up a fair point: we need to work towards a place where we do not have to debate women’s beauty, and where we can recognize that of course we do not find everyone beautiful, but that does not make that person less valuable as a human being just because we do not see them as beautiful. And yes, the culture of individualism that we live in often promotes the idea that you can be or do whatever you want, which is obviously not true and highly problematic, because it locates failure in the individual, not in the culture. So thanks for bringing that into the conversation!

    However, I do think it’s productive to move towards a space where we recognize that everyone’s body is beautiful to someone, and continue to challenge our own assumptions about why we think a person is beautiful or not. These decisions about who we, on an individual basis, consider beautiful do not exist in a vacuum, but within a culture that is fatphobic, racist, classist, etc., etc., etc. (as I’m sure we all know).

    Thanks again for the response!

    • Thanks for dropping by, Jocelyn the Master. We loved your post; it gets so much right and was such a great conversation starter for us. I think your point that “everyone’s body is beautiful to someone” is a useful reminder (although I do think there are some outliers, and that these outliers oblige us to figure out how to value people even if no one, including themselves, sees them as beautiful…). And, of course, we agree that we need to keep challenging our assumptions about beauty in a way that attends to the problematic norms of the culture that fosters those assumptions.

      On a separate note, you may have discerned that this is a brand new blog, and that you are the first “outsider” to leave a comment. We are just thrilled to see you on our welcome mat. Hope to see you again soon!

      Lady Day

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