Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pretty is Popular

"Pretty is popular". I really think that's the crux of the truth about beauty, and I think it's something that bothers a lot of people - especially those who are less or not pretty, but also some pretty people too. Arguments go around about how pretty people are always used in the media, on television, in the movies, on the covers of magazines, but the issue becomes especially heated when we talk about feminism and sexuality. Some women are concerned that they are being judged primarily or solely for their prettiness, or sexual attractiveness, while their other merits are being ignored. And they complain that feeding into the "pretty is popular" culture just encourages that.

Is that reason to disparage, or even discard, the "pretty is popular" culture? Can such a thing even be done, or is it an inevitable part of human nature? Would undermining the popularity of prettiness even have the effect intended - to boost women's perceived value (by men, presumably) in all areas other than physical beauty? These are all questions that need to be asked and considered. Personally, I think it's futile to rail against the popularity of prettiness. And personally, the quality of prettiness brings me more joy than frustration. Granted, I am not female. However, I do have an unusual amount (for a male) of envy towards pretty girls, as I'd love to be one. Nevertheless, I don't view prettiness as a thorn in my side - it's the ray of sunshine that gets me through life.

Are women judged for their physical beauty to a greater extent than men? I think that's the important issue, that determines whether this is just a human nature thing, or if it's also a feminist/gender issue. And I'm willing to believe this is the case. Maybe because of years of patriarchal tradition, where men have been judged for their competence, while women have been seen as little more than wives and mothers (yet, though wives may be prized for their attractiveness, is it not true that a mother's good qualities are derived from skills of competence?). Assuming this is the case, the next question is, does our emphasis on the physical attractiveness of women significantly overshadow their other merits? In other words, are we judging pretty women just for their prettiness, and are we judging less pretty women harshly in spite of their other positive qualities and competencies?

I think, largely, it's a matter of image. I think the real amount to which women are judged solely on their appearance is small. I think men have an instinctual reaction to women, that could be described as vain, but I don't think it's a deep-seated commitment to valuing women solely for their appearance. I think men are perfectly capable of judging women on their other positive qualities and competencies. But I think it's very easy to point out instances of the "pretty is popular" culture as if they were indications of an underlying "unpretty is useless" attitude. Of course pretty women are going to draw attention. Of course they are well utilized as the visual image of a company or campaign - after all, isn't that what physical beauty is good for? Does this fact necessarily imply that unpretty women with other talents aren't going to be appreciated and utilized for other parts of the company or campaign? Frankly, I don't think so. But it's so very easy to feel like that's what's going on.

I'm not going to argue that women have equal opportunities compared to men. I just don't have the experience/data/knowledge to make that judgment. There is no part of me that wants to obstruct women's struggle for more and better opportunities in this world, and to be taken seriously, and judged adequately, and all of those things. I just don't want those things to be gained at the cost of beauty and sexuality. And I don't believe that it is necessary that beauty and sexuality be sacrificed for those goals to be attained. I think men could probably stand to be a bit more sensitive about women's feelings regarding being judged for their appearance, but I don't see what purpose it serves to undermine men's specific appreciation for the attractiveness of a female. It's something we must come to terms with, not try to defeat.

Just because a man tells some girl, "I like you because you're pretty", does not mean that he's also telling you, "I don't like you because you're not pretty." Don't fall into the trap of thinking that.

Also, if you complain about not being valued for your prettiness, you're giving off the impression that's the only merit you, as a woman, could possibly have. Emphasize your other merits. Being obsessed with prettiness (or the lack thereof) only plays into and contributes to the stereotypes you're railing against.

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