Some Women Aren’t Beautiful and That’s Okay

For entirely too long, a woman’s perceived value has been determined by her ‘beauty’, which can be roughly defined as ‘physical traits which others[1] in her society find appealing’. The appeal of different physical traits seems to be determined by a combination of evolutionary biology, culture, and the fickle whims of fashion. Whatever its cause, this standard of evaluation forces half the population, regardless or our character, intelligence, or skills, into the stressful situation of being judged based mostly on something we have limited control over. I say limited; because while women (and men) do have some ability to improve the way we look it is not nearly as straightforward a process as trying to get better at something like math, public speaking, or soccer.

Hanging out in the park with some Guayaquileños. I'm the one in the middle. This picture was posted to assure everybody that I'm not a beauty queen deigning to complement the 'less fortunate'.
Hanging out in the park with some Guayaquileños. I’m the one in the middle. This picture was posted to assure everybody that I’m not a beauty queen deigning to complement the ‘less fortunate’.

Unfortunately, the feminist movement has generally been reluctant to address this issue directly, probably because it will inevitably force some of us to admit that we are not among the beautiful. Instead, there are numerous campaigns to expand the current definition of ‘beauty’ to include a greater range of body types, ethnicities, and ages. While the successes of this campaign are to be celebrated, female beauty is not Lake Wobegon and not everybody can be above average. These campaigns also fail to address the issue of the perceived value of men and women being determined in very different ways.

I’m not naïve enough to claim that standards for male beauty don’t also exist. I know there’s a reason why LL Cool J, Brandon Boyd, and Romeo Santos are considered sex symbols, but Seal, Dave Grohl, and Manu Chao[2] are not. This has not, however, prevented the latter three from being deservedly incredibly successful as musicians and their physical appearances are rarely publicly discussed. Unfortunately, female musicians cannot generally expect the same courtesy. Adele’s weight is the subject of tabloid gossip in spite of the fact it has had no adverse effect on her voice and Dolly Parton’s breasts seem to have eclipsed her musical achievements, including having written “I Will Always Love You”, in terms of recognition.

Unfortunately this double standard is hardly confined to only the recording industry. It has crept into politics, activism, the job market, sports, the visual arts, and apparently computer programming. To fight this attitude we will need to work against it both publicly and privately. When we raise our daughters we can encourage them to take more pride in their ethics and abilities than in how they look in a mirror, we can refuse to get involved in lengthy discussions of a woman’s looks if they are not relevant to her job, and we can encourage others and the media to follow the same practice. This means we must spend some of the energy we currently use telling every woman she is ‘beautiful’ to instead cultivate a world where all people understand that women and men deserve to be judged for what they do rather than how they look. This also means that roughly half of us will have to accept that we are not beautiful, but that we still have many other, likely more important, good qualities. I am Abby Cannon and I am not beautiful[3][4], but I’m brave, adventurous, and smart.

[1] Heterosexual men are not the only arbiters of beauty in a society, but their opinion has historically been perceived as the most important.

[2] Before the angry fans attack, let me clarify that ‘not a sex symbol’ does not necessarily mean ‘ugly’.

[3] Not looking for anyone to dispute this statement. No need for reassurance.

[4] Not looking for advice either. I’m aware that I could be ‘more beautiful’ if I got veneers, wore makeup regularly, started juice cleansing, and traded my jeans and t-shirts for skirts and blouses, but I would rather keep my fangs, save the time and money, eat actual food, and wear comfortable clothes.


3 thoughts on “Some Women Aren’t Beautiful and That’s Okay

  1. Go you. Enjoy what is important to you and be yourself. In my experience, beauty is not correlated with goodness, worth, smarts, or anything else that will be far more important to you when your contemporaries have all lost their youth.


  2. Love it! But I’d turn your attractive vs non-attractive men the other way around. Seal and Dave Grohl are purrrsome!


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