If I read one more article that tells me I’m beautiful, I think I’m going to puke. Yeah, we’re all beautiful on the inside, but I’m sick of being told that we’re all beautiful on the outside too.
We’re not. Sometimes we’re not beautiful in the “woke-up-late, messy-bun-and-no-time-for-concealer” sort of way. But sometimes we’re just always not beautiful. And trying to lie to ourselves about it is demeaning, disempowering, and, frankly, a waste of time.
Before you send me hate mail, let me elaborate.
A quick Google search for the definition of the word beauty returns the following:
A combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.
With the following sub-definition:
▪ denoting something intended to make a woman more attractive.
Here’s the deal: while beauty is in the eye of the individual beholder, it’s pretty simple to make a societally-accepted generalization about what is beautiful—and therefore who isn’t. (And, re: the sub-definition, how to make “who isn’t” into a semblance of an “is”…for a fee, of course.)
I read an article the other day entitled “Not Everyone is Beautiful” in which the author cites a scientific study on attractiveness to back up the premise that “people are remarkably consistent in their determination of who is attractive and who isn’t, both within and across cultures.”
Okay, so what does that mean? It means that if you don’t fit into that slim category of “who is attractive,” that’s just it. You’re not beautiful, and tough gluten-free cookies. Or, if you refuse to accept that fact, you can re-categorize yourself at your nearest Sephora or plastic surgeon’s office.
We’re drawn to before-and-afters, transformation stories, and reruns of What Not to Wear for a reason: they're proof-positive that you aren’t beautiful as you currently are, that you must change who you are — and as long as you’re willing to shell out the money and spend your free time fixating on your appearance.
As you probably already know, this leads to a lot of angst — and a lot of time spent “fixing" ourselves — especially in our selfie-driven culture (although, who am I kidding, I’m sure this has been an issue as long as we’ve had mirrors and the impulse to profit off of other peoples’ fear of not fitting in).
But what can we do to ameliorate this angst? Clearly, if the marketing and advertising industries are spending all of their time pointing out all of the ways you aren't beautiful, and that’s making you unhappy, then the answer should be to try to convince you that you are already beautiful exactly as you are.
And so the drama begins. For every 10,000 articles in magazines about how to make yourself beautiful in a way that you aren’t, there are another 1000 blog posts about why you you should love yourself because you’re already beautiful, darn it!
For every “she’s-really-that-beautiful-even-without-makeup” profile on a supermodel, there’s an equal-and-opposite mommy blogger writing about loving herself despite the fact that she’ll never be a supermodel.
You too can be beautiful like me. You have to believe you are beautiful as you are. Change, but don’t change. Want, but don’t need.
No wonder we’re all so confused and dissatisfied with our bodies and selves!
So here’s a radical thought: what if I told you that you’re not beautiful?
Yeah. I said it.
Moreover, you don’t have to be beautiful.
You have just been absolved of 100 years of beauty advice. Of corsets and shapewear. Of cat eye tutorials on YouTube . Of trips to the European Wax Center.
You have just been absolved of mantras and journaling and exposé blog posts about the features we kind of hate but are trying to convince ourselves we love.
I’m talking about not just boycotting the “you are not beautiful enough industry”, but the “you are already beautiful” industry too.
I realize that this is a radical position, and I’m playing devil’s advocate for a reason.
While I think that business-to-consumer advertising and marketing are incredibly damaging by telling you you aren’t beautiful enough (so that they can sell you products), I think that the body-positive fake-it-till-you-make-it brand of self-love is just as maddening.
There is so much pressure on women to “feel beautiful” from both sides, that I often wonder what would happen if we stopped oppressing ourselves with the concept of beauty in general. Because it is oppressive. Any time someone tells you you have to feel a certain way but you can’t access that feeling, you begin to feel disempowered. Why can’t I believe this thing about myself that other people can believe so easily? What’s wrong with me?
The disempowerment leads to a search for empowerment — but because we are looking in all of the wrong places, we continue to feed that disempowerment spiral instead.
I know too many women who will buy any “self-love” guru’s guaranteed and testimonial-ed products or re-pin stock-photoed, anonymously attributed quotes on Pinterests in a desperate attempt to learn how to feel as beautiful as everyone tells them they have to feel, or assure themselves that a belief in their own beauty is accessible to them… but when they can’t access that feeling, they beat themselves up, spend some time dabbling in extreme self-loathing, and then go back to searching the internet for the next product, service, and hokey Instagrammed quote that will surely fix them this time.
Here is my radical proposition: what if we stopped spending so much damn time trying to lie to ourselves about how beautiful we are and started focusing on things that actually mattered?
What if we just took beauty out of the equation completely?
I’m not saying that you have to stop buying lipstick or shaving your legs, or that you have to walk out of the house unkempt, unshowered, and uncaring. I actually really love getting dressed up and doing my hair and attempting to apply makeup (although goodness knows I need help sometimes). I enjoy “feeling beautiful,” but I recognize now that I don’t need to spend all of my time worrying about whether I actually am beautiful or not.
It’s no small feat trying to fix the things we aren’t or justify the things we are. And even small feats take up a lot of time, energy, preparation, and practice. Instead of spending all of our time practicing outer beauty, we could instead be focusing on real, tangible ways of making an impact on this world, whether it’s volunteering or campaigning for a cause, building our skills or our careers, mentoring others, or learning how to improve our relationships with family and friends.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. No matter how many beauty blogs you read, you’re never going to be able to completely control what other people think of you. So that point is already moot.
What we really need to embrace is the idea that if you’re busy trying to “behold” yourself, that means you’re going to waste a lot of very valuable time evaluating yourself in the mirror.
You don’t have to be beautiful. It’s not a requirement. If you are, great, more power to you — but it shouldn’t matter either way. I know that I want more on my tombstone than “Here Lies Kaila: She Was Attractive in a Socially Acceptable Way.” So: my advice? Get away from the mirror and make a positive contribution to the world that doesn’t have to do with your looks. I guarantee that it’ll make you feel beautiful on the inside, where it counts.