Last night I went out in London with my husband. Sitting on the tube, I was struck yet again by how many beautiful women there are in the world. From the ruddy-faced makeup-less English rose in the bobble hat, to the older woman with gorgeous thick white hair, to the woman with coffee-colored skin and shiny bouncy curls… I honestly find it hard not to stare.
Now, I know that most people would probably not call these normal, ordinary women beautiful. Maybe they’d just rate as “pretty,” or even just “attractive.” I’ve been racking my brain for a while now trying to figure out what it is about me that makes me so much more generous in my praise of other women than most people seem to be. Is there some rule I’ve missed that only 1% of people can be called beautiful? And would we apply that same rule to beaches, or sunsets?
Maybe it’s that we think the word “beautiful” can only be applied to some very specific ideal.
Whatever the reason, I want to stop and tell these women that they’re beautiful, but they’d probably think I’m crazy. Sometimes I do stop to tell them they look great, which makes me feel great, too. I know that VERY few women think they’re beautiful, and I think that’s criminal. Many have trouble even considering themselves pretty, which astounds me. I see pretty women all around me. I see beautiful women everywhere I look. To be honest, there are only 2 types of women I find UNattractive:
- The ones who’ve given up. I don’t mean the “I don’t feel like bothering today so I put on baggy jeans” or the “I gained a lot of weight and just can’t bear to buy new clothes so I wear the same things until they fall apart” or even the “I’m getting old and don’t think I’m worth it anymore” sort of giving up. I can still see loads of potential, and even beauty, in these give-uppers. I mean the “I never felt attractive so I never tried” kind of giving up.
- The ones who are trying too hard. You know what I mean – everything is a little TOO. Too short, too tight, too bleached, too sprayed, too low, too bright, too bleached, too shiny, too big. There is nothing unplanned, spontaneous, or natural about these women. Of course many men seem to LOVE this look, but I have to wonder if they’re looking past the shiny animé packaging. What I see under these carefully constructed facades is “I never felt attractive so I laboriously invented this artificial packaging to fool people.” There’s almost nothing of the real woman left visible.
Shockingly, the world at large does not appear to agree with me. Every day, every single day, I read comments or articles tearing down STUNNINGLY beautiful women, calling them horrid names. In what universe is Jennifer Lawrence “fat”? Or Sarah Jessica Parker “ugly?” Given such a critical environment, I actually understand the motivations of the two types of women I listed above. The first have decided to opt out of the race and just sit on the sidelines watching. The second have decided to adopt an armor of all the things they’ve been told are “attractive” – big boobs, tan skin, long blonde hair, tight clothes.
When I lived in Dallas (in my mid-20′s) I had a number of people tell me that I should bleach my hair and get a tan. As in “If you did that, you’d be REALLY pretty.” This dumbfounded me for a number of reasons:
- Wasn’t I already “REALLY pretty” as a pale redhead?
- In what way would being blonde and tan be an improvement? How would being a clone of the already numerous bleached and stained Texans around me make me MORE attractive?
- Isn’t being different more interesting?
- What bothered these people about my non-conformity? Is being pale and red-headed really so strange? Even in Texas?
- What induced them to offer this advice? Did they really think “Hmm… she’s so DIFFERENT. Maybe I should inform her that society wants her to look like Barbie, so that she can make the necessary changes to conform.”
Am I completely alone in thinking these thoughts? Have we REALLY reached the point in our society where a woman cannot be considered attractive unless she conforms to some unrealistic fantasized ideal? No WONDER our daughters (not to mention our mothers and ourselves) are so messed up!
Of course, I’d like to again point out that EVEN those rare and exquisite creatures who become movie stars and supermodels get criticized for their appearance daily. I found a quote from Emily Eden (1797-1869) which I think nicely summarizes 80% of the commentary that happens on the internet:
“As she had no hope of raising herself to the rank of a beauty, her only chance was bringing others down to her own level.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL feel beautiful, in our own unique and special ways, and stop tearing each other down? (Did I just turn into a free-loving tree-hugging hippie?)
Look, I may not adhere to it, it may not be part of my DNA, but I understand the lure of conformity. Human beings are pack animals, and conformity leads to acceptance. We have an evolutionary, biological imperative to try to be like our peers. Please note that acceptance and conformity are all about our peers. It’s why everyone suddenly has to have the latest It-bag. This is the principle that drives fashion.
Where it all gets weird is when our need for conformity gets combined with our constant quest for perfection. Humans have an ingrained desire to improve, to constantly test our boundaries and stretch our abilities. This need created huts and irrigation and domesticated animals and iron and assembly lines and heart transplants and space travel and the internet. Hooray for the quest for perfection!
Obviously I don’t have a problem with turning our constant need to improve to our appearance. It’s the reason I started this blog! Constant adaptation, constant improvement, is the way we evolve… emotionally, stylistically, intellectually, and given enough time, physically.
The problem I see is when we combine these two great societal forces. When instead of conforming to our peers, we try to conform to some perfect ideal. When we decide that, in order to be accepted, we have to look like Barbie, we either give up completely, or end up looking like this:
And that’s not good for anyone.