“You’re so beautiful.”
The words we hear all too often. I know it must sound strange, complaining about a compliment, but when we examine the nature of these words, the more we recognize their inherently invasive, unwelcome, and sexist nature. Even the most well-intentioned men may be patronizing, shaming, and demeaning to women without even realizing it.
The need to comment on one’s physical appearance has been so deeply ingrained in us. We meet a friend or even a stranger and feel the need to say something nice. Prioritizing expediency, this nicety is often based on outward appearance.
When I am told I am beautiful, I cringe. I want to say, “I appreciate your intention, but it does not matter. What I look like does not matter, in fact, I take offense at the judgement you have placed on me.” Focusing on physicalities does nothing but perpetuate the cycle of relying on external validation to prove self-worth. The accomplishments and strengths of women should not be overshadowed by her physical appearance. Telling a woman she is beautiful is belittling and quite honestly, a lazy compliment.
Society has Unreasonable Expectations of Beauty
It is hard to ignore the pressing desire to be that care-free woman we see on television, skipping down the street on her way to Pilates class. We want to be that “after picture” in a Pantene commercial: flowing hair, radiant smile, inspiring longing stares from people on the street. However, praising and admiring this woman for he physical appearance belittles every other thing this woman is capable of, not that she requires validation for these things. What’s more, being told one is beautiful places pressure on women to uphold this beauty, as they know they are being judged for it.
Reducing a Woman Down to her Physical Appearance Subjects her to Sexual Objectification
That’s right. Complimenting a woman’s body provokes discomfort. I am an avid runner and I am used to men saying, “You’ve got some stride,” or “Look at the body on you!” In my socialized response of simply smiling (thankfully I have given up saying thank you), I am allowing men to assert power over me. I do not exist for men, yet my smile may indicate otherwise. Giving others pleasure or joy for simply looking a certain way is not my intent and them telling me that is what I am doing places me upon their pedestal as an object to look at, an object to take something from. In this light I feel used and vulnerable.
Sometimes Women do not feel Beautiful and that’s Okay
Society has also placed an emphasis on inner beauty. Be kind to others. Be gentle. Give instead of take. Be positive. However, sometimes negative emotions are experienced, and they must be honored just as positive ones are. Perhaps it is the negative emotions that need to be experienced and analyzed in order to overcome them. I am recovering from an eating disorder, and some days I do not feel one bit beautiful. When others “reassure” me that I am beautiful just as I am, it reinforces the need to feel beautiful to feel good about myself. Beauty does not denote one’s worthiness, yet it takes all the credit for it.
Beauty Encourages Gender-Based Norms
Being gentle and loving and kind, and of course beautiful, are seen as innately feminine. If a man possesses these qualities, he is shamed for being feminine. If a woman does not possess these qualities she is shamed for being tough, butch, or manly.
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, but Keep your Mouth Shut about it
In the end, all people have a different idea of what is beautiful. When our bodies become objects to be admired, we sacrifice other talents and abilities in order to focus on the beauty myth. Beauty is not something to be attained or worked for, and it certainly is not anything others should feel comfortable validating. When we let this false concept of beauty go, there is more space to grow and do and change the trajectory of this world. Let’s do that.