In Defense of Beauty

I read the Huffinton Post article by Lisa Bloom How to Talk To Little Girls today, and I had a different reaction from the women that I’ve seen link to it. The crux of the article is that instead of telling little girls that they are pretty, that we should talk to them about things that make them think. Bloom gives an example of talking to a little girl about reading. She says that we should model to little girls how a thinking woman acts.

While the article doesn’t explicitly state it, it contains one of the undercurrents in some brands of feminism that I find to be irritating: your looks and beauty are of insignificant importance compared to your brain. Now I’m all for women thinking, and hopefully this post will convince you that I am capable of it. Valuing a woman’s opinion is important and our voices need to be heard. My problem with this brand of thinking lies in the implication that if you care about beauty or your looks, or that if the first thing that you notice about a person is their looks, then you are shallow and a non-thinking person.

The fact is that appearance is the first thing that you notice about somebody. Whether or not you judge them based on it depends more on who you are than who they are. I also happen to believe that it’s important to be well groomed and well bathed and have a generally nice appearance. Your personal style and mileage may vary, but others generally appreciate not smelling you from ten feet away.

Beyond that, the notion that if you care about beauty then you are shallow rubs me the wrong way. I think that as a woman it’s important to be and feel beautiful. We’re not going to run away from our bodies just by thinking about how great our minds are. In fact, by trying to ignore our bodies and their potential beauty we are doing ourselves a great disservice by ignoring a significant part of who we are. As a woman I am made of a mind and a body, and I would like to enjoy and appreciate both to their fullest. I want people to tell me that I’m a hard worker and that I accomplish many things with my mind, but I also want to hear that I am beautiful. Even more importantly, I know that I am an intelligent, hard working, and beautiful woman. I don’t cease to think because I wear dresses, high heels, and put on makeup. It is a part of who I choose to be, the type of beautiful I want to be.

The cosmetic industry isn’t a multi-billion dollar industry because the companies are trying to destroy our souls; it’s a multi-billion dollar industry because we want to be and feel beautiful. Putting a negative stigma on beauty and pretty isn’t going to make that go away. In fact, doing that is avoiding the real issue.

The real issue isn’t that people tell little girls that they are pretty. The real issue is that people (especially women) tell little girls that they are beautiful, and then go on at great lengths about how they, the role models, are too fat, too short, have too prominent a nose, and are generally too ugly. Little girls hear that they are pretty, but grow up in an environment where the women around them constantly belittle themselves. Most adult women don’t go around telling other women they’re ugly (quite the opposite, generally), but they do go around telling anybody who will listen just how ugly they are. It’s this mindset that “I’m not pretty enough!” that causes an obsession with looks. What kind of world would it be if every little girl who was told she was pretty grew up knowing that she was a beautiful woman? If a woman is confident that she is beautiful, then all that mind space that was taken up by self-doubt and self-hate could be taken up by something more productive.

Every woman I know that posted the link to this article is beautiful. And though I’m hardly trying to defend it as causal, I’ve also heard every one of those women say horrible things about their own body and refuse to acknowledge that they are truly beautiful. Maybe instead of vilifying beauty and looks, we should look to expand our definition of beauty. Instead of looking to runway models for what is beautiful we should look at ourselves and find the beauty that is already there. I would much prefer to see movements like Mandy Nuttall’s My Beauty Campaign that is trying to get women to embrace themselves as being beautiful as they then to ignore the fact that feeling beautiful is important.

Far from never telling a girl that she is beautiful, perhaps we should tell her that we think that not only is she beautiful, but that we are, too. Instead of demonizing beauty, why don’t we demonize the ubiquitous and ugly fault-finding that women do to themselves?

What we should teach to little girls is not that it’s of all consuming importance to be beautiful, but that it is actually possible to believe that you are beautiful. That you can be beautiful without the botox, without the boob jobs, without losing those extra twenty pounds. And that you are truly beautiful when you accept your body and embrace the wonderful aspects of it. You are beautiful when the beautiful things about your personality are what shine through. You can be “hot” without being beautiful if you are mean, but true beauty comes as a combination of what is in your heart and how you feel about your body.

You can only overcome your fears by facing them, and you can only feel beautiful by embracing yourself as you are. It’s ok not to be perfect all the time. But it’s also ok to be beautiful, and to truly believe that you are.

Kyle tells me everyday that I am beautiful. This doesn’t take away the fact that I will have made it through four years of university on scholarship, it doesn’t take away my 3.84 GPA, it doesn’t change that I’m the project manager of a chemistry textbook that will be published in the fall, it doesn’t take away a single one of my talents or my positive personality traits. Hearing that I’m beautiful gives me confidence, it’s like him saying “I love you” in a different way. I choose to embrace myself as an intelligent and a beautiful woman, because I believe that I am more powerful and happier that way. In embracing myself that way, I allow others to do so as well.


9 thoughts on “In Defense of Beauty

  1. As someone who’s parents made it a point to never tell me i was pretty but to always tell me how smart i was, it wasn’t so bad. I ended up being totally obsessed with fashion by the time i was 15 and slowly growing a fabulous lipstick collection by the time i was 23.

    No, but seriously. i became a confident women for a lot of reasons, and i don’t think it was because my parents pointedly didn’t ever tell me that i was pretty. they definitely let me know that other things were more important than looks, and that was a very positive message, but i still wanted to know that i was pretty and it hurt that they didn’t say that, especially as a teenager. i knew they thought i was, but still.

    so, while i think generally the ideas that Lisa Bloom presents are good, and definitely better than most peoples’ approach to gender equality, they don’t aren’t complete fix for all problems.

    • Thanks for this, it’s nice to hear. I totally agree that beauty isn’t the most important thing, but I believe that a balance should be obtained in regards to how you feel about yourself physically and mentally. It’s good to hear that you’re a good worker and that you’re pretty.

      I think that she has good intentions, and that what she’s trying to say is good, but it’s swinging too far to the other side of the argument and missing the desired middle point.

  2. I think I liked how my wife describe this situation as a pendulum. We seem to try to over correct problems. We notice that the world is trying to push people one direction and we over push in the other. Neither one is healthy. We try so hard not to cross the line that we end of causing other problems. In this case, I don’t mind encouraging beauty in children, but when the world tries to push ‘sexy’ I am a annoyed. That, I hate seeing all the cosmetic surgery billboards on the freeway or ads on the radio. They try to make us feel like we are inadequate. Oh well, I’m glad I’m a guy.

  3. Ha ha, you got me by little bit, too.

    I love this post, though. Even though I’ve never had to deal with these issues myself, I’ve often felt that completely rejecting the beautifying nature of femininity is a mistake just as much as valuing it over every other aspect of your being.

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