It's so hard being beautiful
Well, in a way it is, as this letter to Tomato Nation demonstrates.
I am a mom, of a two-year-old little girl. Not to put too fine a point on it, my little girl is beautiful. Really, really beautiful. People stop us in the grocery store and make a point of telling me how beautiful she is....
So what's the problem you ask? Well the problem is, my daughter (we call her DangerGirl) is starting to pay attention to the attention. It's nothing new, people have been commenting on her appearance ever since she got over the whole newborn-prizefighter thing, but it's just recently DangerGirl's started to notice the comments.
For example, while reading a picture book, I commented, "You're so smart!" to which DangerGirl replied back, "No, I'm pretty." When I told her girls could be smart and pretty, she said, "No, smart girls are ugly." (I have no idea where she got that one.) Now when someone tells her, "You're pretty" or "You look nice," she says, "Thank you, I know."
First of all, this poor girl may not get to keep that beauty in puberty, as anyone who was a pretty child can probably tell you. And can I say I am way jealous of the nickname Danger Girl? I don't even get to be Danger Mouse, because another friend of mine was dubbed that long ago. But if she does grow up to be a beauty or even just pretty, this sort of poison is going to be with her for the rest of her life. And it's harder than you'd think, as this letter-writer to Tomato Nation points out in a follow-up.
To be blunt, it fucked with me later on. I know that I am also smart, and that in the end smarts matter way more than looks, but as I got older and people stopped being so vocal about their appreciation of my looks, it did really bad things to my self-esteem. Today I am still told I am an attractive young woman and I notice appreciative looks, but my own self-image is skewed badly. My parents (especially my mom) reinforced to me how intelligent I was, and my dad made sure that I applied myself and didn't coast on looks alone. I still somehow equate how much someone loves me or whether they want to be around me with how attractive or unattractive I feel I look. It sucks and I know it's a screwy way to look at things, but there it is.
It just goes to show that the beauty standard starts fucking with girls at a very, very young age. Hell, I think my bad attitude probably goes all the way back to when I was 6 years old and my hair turned from white blonde to brown, thereby squelching much of the admiration that comes pouring out at little blonde girls. In the end, it's for the best.
For good reasons, most of the feminist arguments against judging women by their looks tend to fall into the, "Just because someone is not thin/perfect/white, etc. doesn't mean that she should be discriminated against." Being good-looking is a privilege, and therefore concentrating too hard on how the beauty culture discriminates against those who actually fit the standard is roughly as high a priority as dealing with how the patriarchy hurts men. Nonetheless, specific acknowledgements of how those who are closer to beauty standard suffer are important. It's not just the assumption that you are empty-headed.
I'm no great beauty by any means, and there have been more than enough people in my life to tell me I'm ugly, fat, frizzy-haired, or just weird. That being said, I am thin, white, young, and not all fucked-up looking so I have an inkling of the problems that can come along with that, not the least of which being that you can't complain because then everyone thinks you don't know how good you have it. The big one is the constant dread that no one would like you but for your looks and the accompanying fear that as you age and your looks fade you will lose things like your friends, your husband/boyfriend, etc. This fear can be more pervasive than you would think--good-looking women sometimes wonder if people would even acknowledge their presence if it weren't for their looks. Or the fear that your job security depends on it, which it does in more cases than we want to admit.
And because of this, pretty women sometimes get a little frantic in their attempts to hang onto what they see as their only real asset. I remember reading somewhere that teenage girls who are rated as attractive by their peers are more likely than those who are not to develop bulemia and anorexia, something which definitely jibes with my experience. Every girl I ever knew who was prone to throwing up her food was already very thin and was desperately trying to hang onto that. My friends make fun of me for always drinking Diet Coke and I just snap at them, "How else am I supposed to keep my weight down?" It's an ugly thing, but I think instead of just treating women with these feelings like freaks we have to understand where they're coming from.
That's why I get so angry with the plastic surgery industry, because it just feeds on these anxieties. Granted, they do it to both women who know they are attractive and are desperate to hang onto it (facelifts anyone?) and women who think they aren't and want to have the access they think prettier women have. Which just goes to show that the pressure to be beautiful tortures everyone, no matter what their actual life experiences are.
Edited to add: I nearly deleted this because it's a jumbled mess. But screw it.