July 05, 2014
Not Everyone Is Beautiful
This blog was originally posted here and was written by Nathan Biberdorf Every two or three days, I see an article or blog post or forwarded inspirational quote about beauty. It’s usually something affirming like “You are beautiful, whether you know it or not.” “We are all beautiful.” “Everyone is beautiful to somebody.” It’s cheerful stuff. It builds the self-esteem, makes people feel valued, and spreads joy and happiness across the internet. It’s also bullshit. And you know it’s bullshit, because you really wanted to laugh at that video. Everyone is not beautiful. Some people have tumors the size of a second head growing out of their ears. Some people have skin like the Michelin man. Some people lose fingers, legs, or eyes in horrific assembly-line machine accidents. People have warts and blemishes and hair loss and dead teeth and lazy eyes and cleft palates and third nipples and unibrows. There are plenty of people that are not physically appealing to look at, the primary and most widely used meaning of the word “beautiful”. So why do we use the word as a catch-all for any sort of positive attribute? Nobody says, “Everybody is a good listener.” Nobody says, “Everyone is athletic to somebody.” Nobody says, “You are an amazing writer, whether you know it or not.” I keep waiting, but they never say it. Beauty is the only trait that everyone gets free access to. Why? Because we have created a culture that values beauty above all other innate traits…for women, at least. Men are generally valued by their success, which is seen solely as a result of talent and hard work, despite how much it depends on luck and knowing the right people. But women are pretty much a one-note instrument. Society says, you’re hot, or you’re not. Your looks affect your choice of mate, the friends you have, and even your job. And this factor that will affect every part of your life is something you have virtually no control over. This, of course, is a horrible thing to say, and society knows better. It knows that saying this acknowledges that this is an unfair and unreasonable way to run things. So it reassures you that Because if everyone is beautiful or everyone can be beautiful or everyone is beautiful to someone, it’s okay to base a civilization around it. And we have based a civilization around it. Movies, television, and music thrive on the young and attractive. Fashion and cosmetics industries thrive off your lowered self-esteem, selling you product after product promising to make you beautiful and valuable to society. Pornography generates billions of dollars a year selling you a sexual experience with people that are, in terms of looks, permanently out of your league. And these industries aren’t going to do anything to jeopardize that. They’ll act like it, sure. American Eagle promises not to Photoshop their models…by being sure to hire people who are naturally photogenic. Yes, the real you is sexy…if, you know, you’re born that way. Or Dove will use their Real Beauty campaign to widen the narrow standards of beauty by showcasing models with a diverse range of body types. Lots of diversity there. So what can we do to overthrow the system once and for all? … … Honestly, nothing. You and I can’t take on corporations and multibillion-dollar industries on our own. They’ve stacked the deck against us in more ways than we can count, and will counteract every move we make. When you’re playing a game where the rules are unfair and everything’s bent in someone else’s favor, it’s time to stop playing. Let go of “beautiful”. Not everyone can be beautiful, just like not everyone can climb Everest or play saxophone or become a millionaire. I know what you mean when you say “Everyone is beautiful.” You mean that everyone is valuable, everyone has worth, everyone has good qualities that make them someone to be loved. And if we could reclaim the word and make it mean that, I’d say go for it. But the fact is, we don’t own the word. The world owns the word, and to the world, “beauty” is physical attractiveness and nothing more. To use “beautiful” in our wider, deeper, more important meaning only confuses the issue. It sends our young women horrible mixed messages, telling them that everyone is beautiful, and sending them into despair when the boys flock after someone with a thinner waistline and a wider bust. It’s semantics. That’s all the issue is, down at the roots. But semantics hurt more than we realize. So let’s try to step past them. I want to tell you something, whoever you are. I don’t know if you’re beautiful, funny, smart, friendly, musical, caring, diligent, athletic, or anything else about you. All I know is this: You are valuable. You are important. You are interesting. You are worth loving. So forget about “beautiful”. It’s become an ugly word anyway.