6 October 2007

The Beauty Myth - Paris is a Bitch

A woman I once knew shared her personal conviction with me: "Most beautiful women are mean, selfish and shallow."

That took me by surprise. I fell into total disagreement. A lot of people I like and who I believe are very kind and not at all shallow are also quite beautiful in my eyes. I don't believe that appearance determines a person's character. In fact it would seem to me, to be the other way around, since kind people over time will appear to me to increase in their outer beauty. I personally think that the more I like someone, the more their appearance seems pleasing. But I do agree that some people do have more of a physical pull to begin with...perhaps that is what she meant when she spoke of 'beautiful women'.

But her statement seemed very callous to me. So I objected. But she claimed that she had met a lot of women who were mean, selfish and shallow and who were also very beautiful. So her experiences were the opposite of mine. Casting aside each of our experiences with beautiful people which I believe would lead us into frequency heuristics rather than true scientific evidence, I want to think about her statement.

Just because someone's appearance conforms to a particular culture's highly mediated expectation of beauty or just because their hip to waist ratio reaches a particular number, it does not follow that this person is necessarily selfish, mean or shallow. In fact that kind of statement - that beauty equates with meanness and shallowness -is one of the most shallow perceptions that I have ever encountered. Not only is it shallow but it is tainted with jealousy especially if the person making this claim happens to not fall within the standards of beauty marketed by society (which was the case). This statement could also be engendered by much bitterness. Bitterness, perhaps, at not having the advantages which psychologists assert is afforded by beauty, whether in employment, classrooms or courtroom situations. There is indeed much evidence that beautiful people are assumed by others to be "good" or more talented and that beautiful people also earn more on average.

But is it necessarily valid to assume that the beautiful person is automatically the shallow one? Or should the society which so readily embraces beauty in all its forms be labelled as shallow instead? And shouldn't her bitterness be directed at this society which is so easily persuaded by beauty? But then, exactly how shallow, is this society whose behavior has deep biological roots aimed at the survival of healthy species...one must wonder.

Either way, returning to this vile statement, I would argue that society which constantly supports and promotes certain forms of beauty is shallow as a whole...not the beautiful individuals who are merely objects of myth and conformity. To adopt a stance solely against beautiful people would seem unjustified and illogical. But it makes perfect sense that someone would adopt this stance if they felt undervalued, or insecure or jealous and wanted to adopt a strategic opinion in order to feel better about themselves in some way.

It's a little sick really. Instead of building prejudices about others, this person could feel better about themselves in myriads of ways. They could choose to go to the gym, they could modify their appearance, improve their interpersonal skills, learn something new and just feel great about the relationships that they do have.
But to do nothing to change one's feelings of inadequacy and to instead attack what one perceives as "the opposition" is simply very mean and petty. So, I've been thinking about that statement and about the person who said this. I often think their low perception of themselves caused them to interpret the worst in others. They saw arrogance where there is aloofness or shyness, self-conceit where there is simply healthy confidence...

As an aside, I think of the many Ugly Bettys in this world who, after years of hiding and being ill at ease in public, were persuaded to transform themselves into gorgeous butterflies after absorbing society's hints of beauty. Now of course, they seem to have it all. But how much they would have suffered in their youth...
Would it be fair to assert that such a person who had once been rejected and teased for their dorkiness, braces etc... and who now in their butterfly form appeared cold, reserved and cautious in their relationships was necessarily mean and shallow?

How shallow it would be to dismiss the fact that those who are beautiful (just because magazines and movies tell us over and over again that they are) have never felt and never feel hurt and are always those that hurt others instead. Are we perhaps too blinded by appearances to see their emotional scars?

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