In her interview for this project, Ariel spoke about definitions of beauty in terms of what she finds attractive. I think this is a very thought-provoking way to look at beauty, and I wonder if we have the same definitions of beauty for ourselves as we do for other people.
A few days after interviewing Ariel, I was reading an article on beauty that made my blood boil. The author also defined beauty in relation to others, albeit in an absolutely vile way. I don’t want this project to be about ranting – I want it to focus on examining, documenting and pondering, rather than on getting angry. However, after reading this article, I felt I had to say something.
The author, Amy Alkon, writes: “To understand what it takes to be beautiful, we need to be very clear about what being beautiful means – being sexually appealing to men.” (Psychology Today, December 2010, “The Truth About Beauty”)
Where to start with this? Obviously, this statement does not even take into account the fact that some of us are trying to attract women, and are not interested in attracting men at all.
More than that, though, it is defining beauty by how we look to the opposite sex. It is defining beauty not by something that we have innately in ourselves, or as a physical manifestation of who we are and what we choose to do with our lives, as Ariel so aptly defines it, but by how attractive we are to men.
While Ariel uses attractiveness as a launch pad to discuss various aspects of beauty and queerness, the author of the Psychology Today article uses it to argue that, if we are not attractive to men, we are not beautiful.
From a feminist perspective, isn’t the idea that I am supposed to be making myself beautiful so that I can attract a man supremely insulting? Isn’t that one of the very ideas that we are supposed to be liberated from? I don’t have a problem with dolling ourselves up to look sexy and attractive. However, I believe that beauty comes from confidence, from a desire to express your beauty and unique qualities. If that attracts a mate, great, but our ability to attract a mate does not determine whether or not we are beautiful.
How much money, time and energy have women spent on “making ourselves beautiful” so that we can attract a man? I know that there are a couple of beauty salons around the world that are a lot richer because I thought I needed no pubic or leg hair, cleaner and darker eyebrows and lighter, shorter, silkier hair in order to attract a man. I’m sure this goes for many other salons that all of you have gone to.
But there’s another point: I wasn’t just doing these things to attract men. I was doing them because I considered myself to be ugly. I thought I could only achieve a modicum of beauty by waxing and plucking and cutting and tinting. I did all this not just because I wanted to attract men, but because I was insecure about myself, because I did not consider myself beautiful without doing these things – and, even afterward, I was only marginally happier with myself. I still struggle to not feel this way, but at least I can recognise these feelings and work towards greater self-acceptance.
Therefore, while Ariel started an interesting discussion on definitions of beauty and attraction, the author of that horrid Psychology Today article just perpetuated the myth that women are only beautiful if we can attract a male mate. However, that definition only leads to failure, because if our definitions of beauty are shaped solely in terms of how men view us, we will never be good enough for ourselves and we will never define beauty on our own terms.