It is a fact of life that almost all women are insecure about their appearance, present company included.
It seems to have become another accepted fact of life that the way to solve for this insidious problem is to constantly tell all women that they are beautiful.
I’d like to disabuse you of this notion.
The other day someone– someone that I KNOW cares about me very much– told me I’m gorgeous. This is theoretically a good thing, right? Because in order to feel empowered and confident, I just need to be reminded that I am a beautiful, strong, young woman, right?
Wrong. Here’s the effect (**I would just like to note here that the following is entirely my responsibility to deal with and I am not all blaming my friend, just describing the effect of this kind of statement in general**). Aside from a brief and unhealthy rush, I immediately delve into a rabbit hole of self-consciousness. I haven’t been able to afford a haircut in six months and it shows. I need a haircut. I haven’t been able to dress as I like while I’m nursing and that shows. I haven’t kept up my appearance much since becoming a mom. People in NYC are so freaking attractive I could never keep up.
Etc., etc., etc.
What’s the problem? THIS is where the self-consciousness about appearance originates. No, it’s not primarily from looking at airbrushed, photoshopped creations on the glossy pages of Vogue. If I see another real
beauty campaign I am going to scream; all they do is confirm that looks matter, even if the ideal gains 15 pounds. I don’t think as many people actually get confused between sexual beauty and fashion/ art as we assume. Look at any of the most successful supermodels of the day. Cara Delevigne, for example, is this new up and coming British IT girl with remarkably bushy eyebrows. Or Kate Moss, a model who is so skinny that you feel like handing her a hamburger, not taking to her bed. Fashion designers have a certain look they are trying to achieve and it’s not typically conventional beauty. I believe we hugely over-estimate these influences instead of looking closer to home for the root of the problem.
So where does this self-conscious come from? It stems from the fact that we talk about beauty and appearance incessantly. People are constantly making little “good” or “bad” comments about looks, clothing, weight, etc. What most people fail to realize is even a compliment is a thinly veiled negative message.
Ever wonder why beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Because that’s the definition of beauty. It has nothing to do with me, or you, or anyone else. It is entirely a superficial gratification on the part of the beholder. So if you tell a piece of art, say a famous painting, that it is beautiful, do you then think it feels empowered and confident? Ridiculous. Because after that, what do you do with it? Nail it to the wall in your living room. You use it. That’s the sole purpose of beauty: to be consumed.
By the way, this comment doesn’t become any better or more productive if you add, “You’re beautiful on the outside AND the inside.” Honestly, what the hell does this even mean? A) My outward appearance has literally nothing to do with who I am as a person. What do I look like? A demure, twelve year old Indian girl. Not a very apt description of me. B) Beautiful on the inside? What, like I’m a ‘nice’ person? Equally inaccurate description. I’m a firecracker.
I anticipate a lot of people reading this angrily thinking to themselves, “But being attractiveness does matter! People treat you differently! This has been proven in a million studies. Attractive people are more likely to get hired, more likely to get help when they need and all that.”
To which I say: yes! Exactly! Brava! NOW we have identified the real problem. People get treated like they are worth more or less based on their appearance. THAT is the problem. So the real solution is to treat everyone like a human being and just not make a fuss about how anyone looks. No one needs to be convinced that they’re beautiful. The fact is that not everyone is. And the fact is that it shouldn’t matter.
We’re all worthwhile and THAT is the over-arching truth that can afford to be repeated.
And so no one gets the idea that I am washing my hands of this problem, I, too, make all kinds of little comments that I’d like to curb in the future. Oh, that dress is so cute! You look so nice today! Gee whiz. How about can I get a, “Woman, you are nuts and I love ya”?