For women in our western culture, the concept of beauty is extremely prevalent. Marketing is always geared toward improving it, and billions of dollars are spent every year trying to achieve it. What happens when one is physically beautiful to our standards? Is it all roses and rainbows?
I have amazingly gorgeous friends (outside AND IN, I must say), and I have seen how their beauty has affected them negatively at times.
If a beautiful woman who is very smart and dedicated gets a promotion, jealousy among her peers almost always stems from her physical appearance. Hard work and qualifications will be looked over and some will believe she only got the job because the boss thinks she’s pretty. Others may even insinuate that she’s flirting or worse with the boss to have achieved the position. This is a form of misogyny (hatred or dislike of women or girls). Instead of immediately attributing her promotion to her looks, let’s try to first think about what qualified her for the position. Putting in lots of overtime? Her degree? Her ability to make tough decisions? Challenge yourself.
What about the girl considered to be the most gorgeous girl in the whole school? Do you think she had many female friends? Other girls who got to know her loved her and saw that she was kind and funny. Those who judged her by her appearance only labeled her a “bitch” and “slut” without even knowing any concrete information about her. Have you ever done this to someone? Think about why you assumed hateful things about someone you didn’t even really know. These kind of misinformed conclusions contribute to setting women back every day. As women, we need to help each other rise up and not play a part in this kind of misogyny. If women put women down, who is there to make the changes that we need?
Here is some personal experience that I have been encountering lately. I work as a social worker with women. I work out in the community and at times attend things where there are men and women present. I feel silly even having to say this – but because of the lines we have drawn for women in society I will add this disclaimer – I do not dress provocatively in any way, I wear minimal makeup and often times wear a ponytail when I am at work. In fact, I layer my clothing often wearing sweaters that drape past my bum and I never show cleavage. While working, as a clearly marked professional in the community (I wear a brightly colored lanyard with my ID card and carry a giant folder), these are some things I have been told by men or I have heard men say as I walk by/sit in the room.
“Where are you going?” (This has been said to me as I walk by men on different occasions, in a tone that let’s me know I may not be capable to making my own decision to leave.)
“It’s a good thing when the pretty girl is here. Get’s the men’s motors running on a cold day.”
“Has anyone ever told you you have amazing eyelashes?” (Flattered…BUT I AM WORKING! Would you say that to your doctor?….if she’s a woman, they actually might say that to their doctor!)
“I wanna work with her.” (Said in a suggestive tone.)
These are the things spoken. There are also things unspoken that make me uncomfortable, like unsolicited stares or awkward closeness. While waiting in a room the other day, the woman I was with got up for a smoke, and a man came and sat right next to me when there were plenty of other chairs. I politely said, “Oh, she’s coming right back.” He replied, “Well when she comes back I’ll move.” Then he proceeded to try to pick me up with a cocky attitude. I was slightly backed into a corner because I was working and had to maintain a professional attitude that would not reflect back poorly on my employer, but I also needed to assert myself to let this man know it was inappropriate to be acting like that. I think there is a better way to handle this situation, but I always feel intimidated when things like this happen so I maintained appropriate conversation while being abrupt and a bit standoffish. I did not give him eye contact, either. Unfortunately, this probably conveyed to him that he had power over me, but I was also not trying to excite/escalate this already bold individual. One day, I hope that I am able to state confidently, “I am working. It’s inappropriate for us to be conversing. I would appreciate you sitting somewhere else.” I think part of the reason I didn’t do this is because I knew that he would have a cocky response and it may have made the situation worse, or drawn attention to it, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid as an employee.
Another side to the beauty dilemma that is often overlooked, is when we compliment other women on something physical. It feels good when a friend notices a new haircut or weight-loss we’ve worked hard for, but I can’t help but feel this contributes to putting too much emphasis on women’s appearances. If a friend notices weight loss, she also probably notices weight gain. The pressure on women to achieve positive comments from others about our appearances is always there. Think about another way to compliment your friend. A friend who lost weight: The phrase, “You look healthy,” (which is better than “You look like you lost weight”) could be improved by changing the word “look” which implies appearance. Instead, say “You seem happy,” or, “Wow. You have a light about you today. Whats’ new?” Let your friend begin the conversation about her weight if that is what she wants. The important thing is that you are saying you notice something positive about her but you are letting her steer the conversation.
It’s a touchy subject. My goal with this post is to create awareness. Be conscious of what you say to others and how you phrase it. Words are so powerful; use them for good, not evil.