Jo Boon discusses our obsession with beauty, both in society and the body positive community. In a troubling way, feminism sometimes takes on the mantra that 'everyone is beautiful', or 'you're beautiful in your own way.' Well, you don't have to be beautiful, and you don't have to be care. It's ok to be ugly.
The rise of the body positive movement has been a fantastic thing for people and their self- esteem, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep on improving it. From the able- bodied outlook, through to the lack of male inclusion/ male led body positive communities, there is much that can be improved about the movement. One of the biggest things I think we need to move away from is the idea that ‘everyone is beautiful.’ Not everyone is beautiful, not everyone wants to be beautiful, and not everyone cares.
Sure, of course we need to be changing beauty standards and start being more inclusive (less fat- phobic, racist, transphobic etc.) in our ideas of beauty; but if you say that everyone is beautiful then the word has lot’s its meaning. Beauty is subjective, and it only has as much value as we chose to give it. The problem is not with people who are seen as conventionally unattractive, but with our fear of ugliness and the way we put beauty on a pedestal. ‘Ugly’ doesn’t have to be a frightening word.
There is a danger sometimes that the body positive movement becomes a feminist led way of enforcing capitalist and cultural norms. We need to stop that from happening. For years, people have been told that they need to be attractive, and must buy this or that useless product to make them so. At times, body positivity is used to enforce these same values, but through a seemingly feminist lens. By repeating the mantra ‘everyone is beautiful’, we are reinforcing the idea that beauty is desirable.
Beauty does not have to be desirable, and it is never something that an individual’s self- worth should rest upon. Most of us know this on some level, but don’t truly believe it. It’s difficult to when we’re told every day that appearance matters, and the world somehow seems ‘better’ for the beautiful. Being comfortable in your own skin is not something that will happen overnight, and it’s certainly not something to feel guilty about if you don’t ‘achieve’ straight away. Being body positive shouldn’t become another pressure, part of a tick list at the end of which we will have become perfect.
I find myself worrying about my appearance far too often; but that doesn’t make me a failure, I’ve been culturally conditioned to. It’s that cultural conditioning that the body positive movement should be trying to change. We need to move away from the idea that beauty is important, that good looks and virtue are somehow interconnected and that being attractive will make you happy. So, next time you feel ugly, have spots, or don’t like one of your features, ask yourself if it really matters. If the answer is yes, then fair enough, who am I to tell you you shouldn’t care about your looks?
However, just asking the question can help. Rather than the knee- jerk reaction being ‘everyone is beautiful’ or ‘I’m pretty in my own way’, ask yourself if you really need to be attractive at all. When you look in the mirror, what you don’t see is all your successes, all the wonderful things about your character, the quirks that make you unique. They’re still there and are far more important than looking good.
So, dare I say it? Maybe you aren’t attractive. Maybe you feel comfortable saying: I am ugly. I am not good looking, and it has taken me a long time to come to terms with that. Some days, I feel totally liberated and free to say: yes, I am unattractive and I don’t give a damn, I am happy and successful. Other days I wish I looked differently, feel envious of other people, and am determined to alter my appearance with make-up. This doesn’t mean I’m a failure of a feminist, or a bad body positive leader, it makes me human. I wish I never cared about my appearance, but I do. I was taught to and that’s what I want to change, I want to see people grow up unafraid of the word ‘ugly.’