I’m no fan of Donald Trump [Trump supporters please read on – this is NOT political] — and I’m the first to say the comments he made regarding women were atrocious. Some defend him, some condemn him – I’m here to do neither. What I’m grateful for is that the conversation regarding women, our bodies and our rights is being had en masse.
While of course I agree with women having full rights to their bodies, I’m here to take a slightly different approach to the conversation – to talk about how our equating women’s worth with their beauty is so much deeper than we give it credit for. I’ve been thinking on this for a few years but it has only recently hit home how pervasive it is.
I was “lucky” in that I always got a lot of attention for the way I looked. While nature gave me some gifts, I certainly did my part to amplify them. I started wearing makeup at 13 years old, much to my mom’s disapproval. And once I started, I never stopped. I remember putting on makeup to go to the stable to ride my horse, or to run into CVS for 5 minutes – because God forbid someone see a 15 year old without makeup. In high school (yes, high school) I wore mini skirts with cleavage shirts and 4 inch heels – no joke. And I loved it. I loved the attention I got.
Fast forward a few years into my early twenties and I remember thinking to myself, “But what happens when I’m not beautiful anymore? When guys don’t ‘want’ me?” I literally remember ruminating on how bad “that day” would be. What would the world be like if I wasn’t always getting attention for how I looked? Would people treat me differently? Would they see me at all? And if so, for what? My intelligence? My experience? And would those things be as valued as beauty?
I guess I didn’t think so because at 26 I became anorexic – a plight which so many women today unfortunately suffer. Think for one second about what any eating disorder is about. Yes, it’s about control and perfection and other things. But what are we trying to control? The way we eat. And why? So we LOOK a certain way – the only way society tells us we can be beautiful – by being skinny, because “that’s what women should look like.”
I’ve spent the past few years trying to get over my fear of “being discarded” by society when my looks run out. When I moved to the Bahamas, I decided I’d no longer wear makeup on a daily basis or do my hair or get dressed up (this also largely made sense seeing as I’m a yoga teacher and it’s 80+ degrees here so I’m basically sweating all.the.time.) But it was a conscious decision to try to be seen first and foremost for what I have to offer this world – my passion, my compassion, my experience, my determination, my intelligence, my knowledge, my heart – which far outweigh my looks. But am I “over it”? Over looking good or caring that people think I look good? To be honest, no.
My instinct is still to feel flattered when people meet me for the first time and tell my husband that he’s “so lucky, she’s beautiful.” Or when I meet a friend’s mom or girlfriend and their reaction is, “Oh! [friend] didn’t mention how pretty you are!” like they can’t believe my friend would forget to mention something of such importance. I’m not saying that in and of itself it’s bad to compliment people on their looks. I’m only illustrating HOW much we value beauty – that the “ultimate compliment” for a woman isn’t “you’re so smart” or “you’re such a kind person” – it’s “you’re beautiful.”
I believe most of us have been brought up during a time and in a society where [women’s] looks are prioritized, above almost all else – and we will probably spend our lives trying to unlearn the paramount importance placed on physical beauty.
But I also believe we can and must do better – for our daughters… and for their daughters.
So how do we do better?
To me, the only way we can begin to shift societal perceptions of women it to start shifting our belief system within. Remember that quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”? Well similar to that, society can’t tell us how to value our worth without us having a say – because it’s each of us as individuals who make up society. If we refuse to buy into society’s belief systems, the beliefs lose their power.
We have to start by noticing on a daily basis where we we’re placing [utmost] importance on beauty. For instance, when you get all done up to go out for the night, are you doing it to look in the mirror and feel beautiful and feminine? Or, are you taking a selfie and posting it on social media so you can see how many people validate how you look? See the difference? I’m not advocating burning bras or denouncing makeup – not at all. I’m only asking you to ask yourself, when you place importance on beauty, where are you doing it from and who are you doing it for?
Like I said, this will probably be a lifetime of work for many of us. But as everything else in this world, change starts from within.