About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The double-edged blade of beauty

Beautiful people are sometimes beset by problems that are unique to their class, such as not being taken seriously, or that their genuine accomplishments are called into doubt because others suspect them to be a product of their physical attractiveness rather than their competences. As usual, women suffer from this issue far more than men do.

On the other hand, attractive people are also very privileged; or rather, it's better to say that beautiful people cannot truly appreciate what it means to be unattractive. People who don't conform to whatever beauty standards that rule the day are definitely aware of their own status, women moreso than men, because sadly, women are judged by their appearances much more often and more critically than men.

However, I've also noted a peculiar form of resentment from some feminists - or should I say, self-proclaimed feminists - towards people who do conform to those standards, either by choice or by lucky accident. I know that it's a favourite pastime of anti-feminists to gloat about how feminists are supposedly ugly and jealous, so I want to be very careful here.

Popular internet statements like "real women have curves", or the distant sort of pity that some commenters feel with girls and women who participate in beauty pageants always have a condescending note to them. It doesn't feel all that different from slut-shaming to me.

If it gets brought up that people actually choose to participate in things like beauty pageants, that argument is dismissed as a defense of patriarchy, but it's the same as dismissing statements from muslim women that they chose to wear a headscarf as an uncritical acceptance of a harmful value system. The same subject rears its head about sexuality. Some argue, for instance, that BDSM often replicates harmful patriarchal power structures in a sexual relationship.

Here we get to an interesting point in the discussion, because at what point do we start separating external pressure from internal motivations, or internalized cultural tropes from genuine desire? We can't. No matter how much we try to understand ourselves as well as others, this is a distinction that's not as clear-cut or straightforward as some appear to think.

So what do we do? If someone says that it's their choice to do X and they are not harming anyone in the process, then I give them the benefit of doubt. Always. To me, it only becomes problematic if there are genuine reasons to doubt their free will. The choice itself becomes an issue if an alternative would be met with ridicule or violence.

Here I reconnect again with the original theme of my post. The vast majority of women has felt this ridicule: laughed at for - supposedly - being overweight, made to feel inferior for having a small bosom or simply feeling totally burnt out by putting effort into looking good and still failing to meet an impossible physical standard.

It is easy to see people who do meet those demands as standard-bearers of it. Sometimes they are. I have no doubt that there are cover models who feel less-fortunate women are beneath them, in a way that male athletes look down on boys with a skinny frame or that some devout headscarf-wearers believe that those who don't wear it are not pious.

But as long as we don't get an impression from people who want to live up to that standard or happen to align with it that they actually want to enforce it, let's give them the benefit of doubt instead of turning potential allies into enemies.