I’m eternally grateful for being woken up to the insane myth of societal beauty standards. Over the past year, I’ve immersed myself in learning — or better yet, unlearning— about the history of beauty standards, the patriarchal mood swings that dictate what is beautiful and acceptable, the toxicity of diet culture and the ways in which we are held down by our obsession with appearance. It’s a total scam. I’m speaking as a woman, of course, but this whole beauty/attractiveness scam hurts men too. It also must be noted that I’m speaking from a place of extreme privilege— I’m white, thin, able-bodied, gender-conforming and generally beauty-standard-conforming too. People with bodies that don’t carry this privilege face prejudice and violence as a daily experience.
In case you are also fed up with this bullshit and with feeling as thought your looks are the most important thing about you, allow me to share a few starter resources to dismantling this shit idea of beauty.
One quick, readable primer I found is Beyond Beautiful by Anuschka Rees. She tackles constantly-changing beauty standards, female grooming expectations, oppressive beauty routines, uncomfortable clothes, Instagram woes, the myth of “strong is the new skinny”, pesky body shamers and all of the other things that hold us back.
“After years of being bombarded with societal messages about the importance of beauty, our self-worth barometers have started to overvalue one factor: our appearance. For many of us, how we feel about the way we look has become the deciding factor for how we feel about ourselves, our worth as a person, our life, everything. When we think we look good, we have confidence for days, but when we think we look bad, we feel defeated, and none of our other accomplishments matter.”
Rees brings some truth about loving our bodies… which is to say, cool if you do but it’s also okay if you don’t. We are all so much more than our bodies and we can still nourish and appreciate and respect our bodies even if we don’t love our cellulite or acne or belly. There! I said it. I don’t look at my stretch marks and think, “Oh what beautiful life-giving badges of courage and motherhood,” but I am trying to look at them and… not care much at all. To not think they are beautiful, not think they are disgusting and certainly not to think that they in any way define me or my worth.
“Obviously, the advice to love our body comes from a well-meaning place. But it's also misleading because it keeps women stuck on their mirror image by reinforcing the idea that their physical form is the gatekeeper to happiness. Yes, you should strive to cultivate respect and compassion for yourself, as a human being, and your body (including the way it looks) is a part of that. But if your goal is to be happy and feel confident, understanding that you are more than your body is miles more valuable than writing love letters to your individual body parts.”
Another article that caught my eye was “The Best Skin-Care Trick Is Being Rich” by Amanda Mull for The Atlantic. Because, yeah, it’s true.
Rich people can buy beauty, and not just in the form of obvious plastic surgery, but in all of the small and secret ways that money can buy you better skin and nutrition and time to spend on those things.
Finally, this piece from NPR’s Code Switch “Is Beauty In The Eyes Of The Colonizer?” by Leah Donnella drives home the innate connnection between white supremacy and societal beauty standards.
“Think about why that person is beautiful. Is it because of their perfectly white teeth? Their thick, shiny hair? The fact that their features conform perfectly to Western beauty norms?”
Donnella goes onto note that in our society, “beauty is a facet of power.” It’s not just about self-care or self-love, the perception of beauty and attractiveness and unlock spaces and opportunities while systematically denying that access to others. She notes, that “the body positivity movement and the fat-acceptance movements have also consistently pushed back on the idea that thin, young, white, able-bodied women are the epitome of beauty — or that beauty should be a precondition for respect to begin with.”
So, team, let’s stop chasing beauty so feverishly, yeah? Let’s stop skipping the pool party because we hate our bodies in bathing suits, let’s stop piling on makeup when we’d rather be fresh-faced, let’s stop thinking we have to conform to one specific, though ever-changing, ideal of beauty. Let’s unchain ourselves from that myth and reclaim our time. Choose which parts of beauty are fun for you or a creative outlet - maybe it’s your hair or nails or makeup or clothes - but then dump that beauty crap that doesn’t spark joy. And leave your good books, podcasts and Instagram accounts here so I can add to my anti-beauty-standard rant.
Next up: chasing skinny…