We Don’t All Have To Be “Beautiful”

Good things come to those who are beautiful.

Or at least that’s what I had been led to believe. During my younger years the girls with straight hair, big breasts, perfect teeth, and clear skin had a seemingly endless crowd of boys pining after them, while I (who had none of those features) did not. In fact, I struggled to get boys to remember my name at all. Despite not being “beautiful” in my peers eyes or mine, I found a sense of purpose through track, photography, and genuine friendships. However, it took time and effort to let go of these types of insecurities.

We don’t all have to be beautiful. I am not making this statement in order to refute the existence of beauty standards, whiteness in beauty, or discrimination within the beauty industry; the purpose of this essay is to discuss why being beautiful, particularly women’s beauty, is important at all.

For centuries, the value placed on a woman’s beauty has been placed above that of her intellect and character. These constructed notions suggest that one’s physical attractiveness is one of the most important traits to maintain while also upholding heteronormative beliefs. This type of feminine beauty criteria idolizes women’s physical figure, hair style, skin color, weight, sexuality, gender expression, and style. Essentially, narrowly defining what it means to be an “acceptable woman.”

Ideas of “acceptable womanhood” begin as early as children’s books, where the heroine is swept off her feet by a handsome prince who only notices her because of her shockingly beautiful features. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid draw attention to the physical qualities of their main characters rather than their personhood. In these stories physical attractiveness is rewarded while unattractiveness is reviled, which emphasizes the idea that good things come to those who are beautiful.

Later, people are introduced to more specific ideas of beauty through magazines, television, and social media. As various media outlets become more accessible and multifaceted, digesting highly damaging ideas of beauty becomes much easier. The women on the covers of magazines and in the starring roles on popular television shows are often thin, white, clear-skinned women with straight hair and teeth; diversity of representation is few and far between. These portrayals of beauty do not stop here; they exist in comic books, advertisements, and clothing stores, which mean that these ideas eventually trickle down into everyday speech and cognition. This epidemic is problematic because it forms a “perfect” ideal that is almost impossible to achieve because it is nonexistent, especially when airbrushing and Photoshop are such common tools.

Another thing to consider: is beauty itself highly valued or are the things that beauty can bring actually the source of worth? According to a Newsweek poll, 57% of hiring managers said that qualified but unattractive candidates are likely to have a more difficult time finding a job, and 61% (majority of them men) said that it would be advantageous for a woman to wear figure-flattering clothing to work. This suggests that the pressure to be beautiful lays in what can be gained from having these qualities rather than simply having the quality itself. Mass media helps illustrate this: Snow White found love because she was beautiful, the popular girls at my school were given attention/praise for being pretty, and hiring managers are likely to hire someone who’s more traditionally physically attractive. Beauty is power.

It is worth noting that I, a thin, lighter-skinned black person without acne, now have the privilege of separating myself from my looks and placing lesser value on them. Having these kinds of features and this type of beauty is an extreme privilege. However, this does not mean that I am above the constraints that feminine beauty standards place on women. I am not immune to fetishization, racism, or heteronormativity within these cultural ideas of beauty.

Being ugly, being pretty, and being anything in between society’s perception of both is not an illustration of one’s worth or character. These beauty standards were put in place to homogenize women’s physical presentation while simultaneously dictating their value and utility. We as a society need to own up to the fact that these beauty standards are outdated, irrelevant, and confining.

Matching modern culture’s definition of beauty is not an adverse quality. Conforming to this definition of femininity is not necessarily a bad thing, either. What’s most important is expressing one’s gender and sexuality honestly. I believe that depicting oneself in the most authentic way possible is incredibly important, and if that type of expression happens to fit in with what is widely accepted, then so be it. Although, feeling pressured to look or feel a certain way is a completely valid and understandable feeling, especially considering that one type of beauty is constantly being highlighted while others are getting ignored.

This does not mean that one cannot or should not take pride in their perceived beauty, but treasuring beauty and youth as we have done for centuries is exceptionally damaging. Modern society has invested in certain models of beauty, and devaluing them will help lift the constraints of feminine beauty from billions of women worldwide.

We don’t all have to be beautiful, because fitting into this narrow description of “acceptable womanhood” is unnecessary. Contrary to what this world has led you to believe, your significance is not tied to your face, body, or physical appearance. You don’t have to be Gigi or Bella to be worth something.