I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now, however, a picture I recently saw finally gave me the push I needed to actually get down to it.
This was not that picture:
It was however, a picture very similar. Adalia Rose, the little girl in this photo, was contrasted up next to a picture of a model, the caption beneath it reading something along the lines of “Like if you think this girl is just as pretty as this model.”
Readers, Adalia Rose is not beautiful.
And that’s okay.
Adalia suffers from a rare disease known as “progeria”, essentially causing victims to age extremely rapidly. As a result, the six-year-old’s physical condition is that of someone in their late 80s. Again, I don’t think Adalia (or any 80-year-olds for that matter) is pretty.
Look, before I’m burnt at the stake- hear me out.
I know some of you most be sputtering in disbelief at the gall of me to say this little girl is ugly. “Sure she’s got a disease that’s made her age prematurely, but it’s what’s inside that matters. It’s what’s inside that makes you beautiful.”
That’s the problem: “Beautiful.”
It’s message society tries to drill into our skulls every single day. Beauty is the be-all, and end-all for women, though men are increasingly becoming a target as well.
Rather than combating this cultural obsession with being beautiful or attractive, traits like honesty, bravery, intelligence are themselves touted as being “inner-beauty” or “real beauty.”
The simple fact of the matter is that that is a false representation. It’s not fair to those traits, or the concept of “beauty”, or, well, anyone.
Let me break it down.
I. Intelligence Is Not Beautiful
Intelligence is intelligence. To try to dress it (or courage, or strength, or wisdom, or any other trait) up as beauty is degrading to those traits. Claiming intelligence is “inner-beauty” is to put it on par with “outer-beauty.”
I don’t think that’s right.
The scientific advances produced from within Marie Curie’s fivehead have done more to advance humanity than every supermodel on this earth put together.
Again, we can’t seriously pretend that all these traits which have done so much to shape the course of history are just different forms of attractiveness. It’s psychotic to try to reduce them to that degree of superficiality- which brings us to my next sound point.
II. Beautiful is not Intelligent
This reduction of a person’s inner quality- and it is a reduction- serves only to reinforce the already existing (and unhealthy) worship of attractiveness. If intelligence is on par with having a super model’s body then, inversely, having a supermodel’s body is on par with intelligence. It’s not.
These things cannot be valued equally. That we even try to pretend that they’re both parts of the same equation is, well, crazy.
III. Big Is Not Beautiful
It just isn’t. And this isn’t some debate about the changing nature of what we view attractiveness as– this is just a simple fact. The kind of woman idealized in Rubenesque art would be vulnerable to high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, heart issues and all the other health issues we associate with being overweight because that’s what they were. Overweight.
I’ve covered this at greater length before, but to summarize again trying to play off a health issue overwhelmingly related to lifestyle choices as somehow being “just a different kind of beauty” is outrightly deceitful. The “big is beautiful” motto touted by the body positive movement is just as unhealthy as the drive to be anorexic. Attempting to justify weight issues (at either end of the spectrum) with claims of “internal beauty” is somewhere between delusional and negligent.
IV. Confidence Isn’t Beauty
I’d like to devote an entire post to this issue somewhere down the line, but for now, let’s just focus on the problem of false perception.
Your physicality shouldn’t define you, but it is part of you- having a false or no understanding of where you stand physically isn’t any healthier than having a false understanding of where you stand intellectually or morally. “Know Thyself” is a motto attributed commonly to the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, and it’s just as valid today as it was nearly two and a half millennia ago.
Not understanding yourself- including where you stand on the ugly to pretty scale- does affect you. I see plenty of people on a daily basis dressed totally inappropriately who still wonder why they’re not getting taken seriously, or getting hired, or so on and so forth. Bad self-esteem and inflated self-esteem are two sides of the same coin, is I guess what I’m trying to say.
V. Illusion Isn’t Beautiful
One of the responses to photo of Adalia Rose was written to counter some of the legitimately malicious things that were being said about her. “What difference does it make to you,” it read, “if this little girl is told she’s pretty for what time she has?” That’s a tough philosophical question, considering the tragic fact that most progeria victims don’t make it past the age of 14, but it’s not one we’re going to be dealing with here. One way or another, the whole “beautiful lie” issue doesn’t make for a good model in daily life. We wouldn’t tell someone who’s weak that he’s strong, and we wouldn’t tell someone of average intelligence that she’s a genius- why would we make an exception for beauty? And it’s not just that it’s dishonest- it’s condescending. I’m not going to tell someone who fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down that they’re pretty just to stroke their egos.
Am I alone in thinking that you can live life without being stunning?
I don’t think your functioning in this world should be predicated on you being lied to constantly.
VI. Beauty Isn’t The Point
Perhaps most importantly in this whole problem is the treatment of beauty as the end-goal of everything. It harkens back to a time when women were meant to be seen and not heard. We keep on saying “inner-beauty” because, at the end of the day, that’s all that supposedly matters.
I submit that your sex appeal, stemming from any quality, external or internal, is still not the point of it all.
So what is?
Frankly, your moral fiber is.
If you’re pretty- fine. If you’re not- fine. Either way, it’s not the end of the world. Being strong, being smart, being tough, being talented, being eloquent- these need to be treated not as a means to end but as the end themselves. I keep on repeating it because it needs to be repeated- honesty is not some accessory to make you appealing. The purpose of courage is not to make you pretty- it’s to stand up for what’s right in the face of everything.
I don’t expect people to stop looking as good as they can- I don’t have a problem with it either. But it’s not the point. We have got to, if nothing else, put a dent in this vicious whirlpool of blatant lies we’re told (and tell) on a daily basis. Some honesty people, some accurate self-perception is all I’m asking for.
Even if the reflection aint pretty, at least it’s real.
It’s okay to be ugly.
Awesome. Spot-on. I was going to comment on how sexual and romantic attractiveness still depend on things like confidence and intelligence, but you did acknowledge it very briefly, and it doesn’t bear repeating.
So here’s a devil’s advocate anyway: I think sexual and romantic attractiveness are as important as moral fiber, if not more so. From a Darwinian standpoint, I am absolutely right. Sexual attractiveness (maybe a healthy mix of confidence, a bit of intelligence, and a good deal of outer beauty) is essential to your chances of propagation. What good is your moral fiber if you have not propagated? You have no new generation to pass on that outstanding moral fiber, so it dies with you. Too bad. You weren’t sexy enough.
Fortunately, moral fiber is not passed on genetically.
Here’s another thought: Big IS beautiful sometimes: to some people, to some cultures. You make several good points about the health side of “the kind of women in Rubenesque art”, all true and good. But you’re equating physiological health with outer beauty. Doesn’t this go against the whole point of this article?
Not really- the principal behind the issue remains unchanged- it’s the unquestioning acceptance of big (or skinny, or whatever) as “beautiful” that’s the issue. I don’t have any issue with the whole “eye of the beholder” deal- I just think there’s a difference between having a type, and the blind, mindless attempt to justify an unhealthy lifestyle (fat OR thin) as “beautiful, because it’s what’s inside that REALLY counts”.
Kat linked to this post on fb… and I commented there. She asked me to go ahead and add my comment here as well.
i disagree because:
1. beauty is NOT an objective evaluation… there is something to the cliche: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. perhaps a safer topic… dog breeds – some look at a poodle and see a ridiculous animal. my grandparents see their poodle as nothing less than a gorgeous dog. maybe it is different for guys – but when i look at my kids, i think they are amazingly attractive and i know i’m biased as their mama. i do think we can equate attractive to beautiful… and there are lots of qualities in another person that can draw us towards them.
2. i’ve watched too many older men proclaim how beautiful they still find their brides after decades of marriage. no… their physical eyes don’t lie to them – they see the wrinkles, the rolls, the sags, etc… they see the imperfections – crooked teeth, uneven eyes, scars… and those “imperfections” often tell pieces of their shared story. and stories filled with evidence of God’s hand are nothing less than miraculous and beautiful.
3. this is a very limited definition of beauty – do we say something isn’t beautiful because majestic is a better word for someone else? exotic to joe from mid-michigan is totally different from exotic to mohammadou from sudan. God is beautiful and every human has been created in His image… there is, therefore, beauty in every person. The beauty we see in others are reflections of their Creator.
on the other hand, i do recognize that we do a disservice when we trivialize beauty and label everything as beautiful or only recognize a particular brand of beauty [i.e. runway model] as worthy of respect, mention and recognition.
1. I’m not stating that there exists a single ideal form of beauty out there- differing tastes do indeed exist. I prefer savory, other like sweet stuff. That said, no one enjoys the taste of car oil. Limits do exist on attractiveness as a simple fact of nature.
Still, this post wasn’t really about that.
2. These men you reference aren’t thinking to themselves “Those are some attractive wrinkles”- they’re talking specifically about there wives. The old folks aren’t sitting in rocking chairs hooting at random octogenarians hobbling by on walkers.
3. THIS is more what my post was written to combat. We can argue that everything is created and therefore everything is “significant”, but we can’t claim that everything is created and therefore everything is “beautiful”. That equates “significance” with “beauty”, which is the problem in the first place.
To summarize, I’m not arguing that we don’t all have different tastes in beauty- but rather that beauty should be treated as the be-all, end-all- as it so often is.
1. Actually, in some weird cases, there probably are people out there that enjoy the taste of car oil. (Oh the things one sees on “educational channels” late at night.)
2. Have you been in nursing homes before? Granted, I haven’t been in one in years (since my grandmother passed away when I was a teenager)… but you have this one wrong. Fact is there are old folks that do sit around in their chairs hooting, cat calling, and whistling at women their age going by on walkers. *LOL*
And BTW, from what I read in your article, you seem to be putting weight in a category of lifestyle created. Yes a majority of those who are obese are so because of eating habits, but let’s not forget genetics, medical issues (some cancer and heart medications will balloon you up no matter how little you eat,) and other issues. I’m not arguing that being overweight (or under-weight) is beautiful or not.. I’m just saying that it’s not all the fault of the person.
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