Having cake and eating it too
I’m not pretty. I’ve never been pretty. I used to wish I was, but I’ve accepted that I’m not and it’s okay. I’m happy with myself the way I am.
Last March FMH ran a guest post by a woman considering breast augmentation. The post was about her concern of living up to her feminist ideals and how this conflicted with feeling happy about her looks. The responses were fairly evenly divided between those who felt that she should go ahead with it, because ‘you only live once,’ so why spend your life dissatisfied with your looks? And those who felt that real satisfaction could only be obtained by learning to see her existing, authentic, beauty, and refusing to bolster false ideals of beauty by having surgery. Where I fall in this particular debate is beside the point.
What I found interesting about the conversation was that everyone seemed to agree that thinking oneself to be ugly was a completely unsatisfactory state of affairs. The only acceptable courses of action are to train herself to believe that she *is* already pretty, or change herself to match what she already thinks to be pretty. Accepting the fact that she doesn’t particularly like how she looks while learning to be happy with herself anyways seems implausible, unthinkable even.
We are willing to accept and ignore all sorts of shortcomings in ourselves:
I’m not athletic. I’ve never been particularly good at sports. It used to be that I wished I was athletic, but I’m realizing that it’s okay. I’m happy with myself the way I am.
I’m not musical. I’ve never been able to carry a tune. I used to dream of singing a solo, but I’ll be alright if that never happens. I’m happy with myself the way I am.
I’m not artistic. Even my handwriting has always been awful. I envied my friends who could draw, but now I’m happy enough to hang other people’s art on my walls. I’m happy with myself the way I am.
Except if a woman inserts “pretty” into that format:
I’m not ________________. I’ve never been _____________. I used to wish I was ________________, but I’ve accepted that I’m not and it’s okay. I’m happy with myself the way I am.
Suddenly it seems as if everyone will fall all over themselves to either correct her, (“but you are pretty!”) or help her out of her sorry state. This pattern reinforces one idea that is still more true than it should be: a woman’s most important trait is her looks. I think a true post-feminist world will be one where a women can be as comfortable with the fact that she isn’t pretty as she might be admitting that she can’t spell, or dance, or swim, etc. It will be a world where a woman’s looks are truly incidental.
Whether or not I actually think I’m pretty is beside the point. My point is that the overwhelming discomfort you (probably) felt while reading the opening sentence, and the powerful urge to disagree with that statement reflects a big problem. I don’t think we can convince people that their looks don’t really matter much until we stop bending over backwards trying to convince them that they really are (or can be!) beautiful.