This is sort of in response to comments to this post.

In my post I talked about the hostility I had found in myself towards “pretty” women. The reason I used the word “pretty” rather than “beautiful” is because I wanted to distinguish between fake beauty (i.e. mere compliance with our cultural norms and standards, “prettiness”) and real beauty.

Prettiness means:

Slim. Tall (but not too tall). Young. Good skin, clear eyes, lustrous hair. Curves, but no visible fat or cellulite. Pert, round breasts: not too big, not too small. Ditto for the bottom: two apples in a handkerchief. Long, elegant, slim, smooth legs. No visible body hair. Big eyes. Pink lips. Straight, white teeth. Sweet smile. Smells like flowers. Dresses to show off all assets.

Some women do look something like that naturally, and many look as close to it as they can manage with the aid of “beauty” tips and treatments. Creams, lotions, face packs, working out, high heels, deodorants and fragranced products, expensive haircuts and hair treatments, dressing to “make the most of” their natural figure, tooth whitening products, make-up, concealer, surgery. All that stuff and whatever else works.

Those are the “pretty women” I was talking about. They comply, deliberately or not, with the ideal that our culture gives them or if they do not exactly comply, they strive to be as physically “perfect” as nature (complete with some or all of the aforementioned beauty tips and treatment) will allow.

It isn’t fair to judge a woman who naturally happens to fall into the “pretty” category. Nor is it fair to judge those who do not, but who strive to get there because (1) that’s what (they think) patriarchy rewards and (2) it’s been driven into them by every single media message they’ve ever seen that this is what they should be doing. Even those who identify as feminists often say either that they like doing that beauty stuff, or that they don’t like it but can’t kick the habit.

Whatever anyone may think of pretty women (boob job or no boob job), I see that as something totally different and separate to real beauty.

Real beauty comes in many guises.

It is not fake. It is not plastic. It is not about being “perfect” or “flawless” because perfection and flawlessness relate to how well one complies with an ideal, whereas real beauty is its own ideal.

And, unlike prettiness, real female beauty can be found wherever you choose to open your eyes.

It is a young woman running for the bus, hair flying behind her, pose abandoned, no thought for who might be watching or judging – caught up in one, clear moment.

It is an enormous pregnant woman, holding her unborn child with the dreaming, far-off expression of someone who is imagining an exciting new future. It is the huge, crooked grin of a woman who gave birth six days ago, sitting on a Valley cushion for the first time. It is the tableau of a woman nursing her little child, the two of them adoring one another, oozing contented bliss.

It is a little old lady, dressed in yellow, her white hair smoothly curled and her lifetime of wrinkles calmly absorbed in a magazine.

It is the woman I saw walking down the street a few days ago. She was young, tall and rather muscly, wearing a little tennis outfit that showed the unsexy fitness of her body to great effect. Her long, black legs moved with an athletic grace and self-assurance that made me smile from ear to ear. I tried not to stare. She was beautiful. I never saw her face.

It is me. My somewhat less than smooth legs, complete with a few bruises from this or that minor mishap: stretching them out straight together, lifted up into the air, I can see that they have changed shape and tone since I started cycling to work. My little toe is a funny shape. My fingers are long and bony, from playing the piano, and from all this typing. My fingernails are all different lengths, they need a trim. My tummy is still a bit wobbly from where I had Baby M. There, just up a bit and to the left of my belly button is where there are most stretchmarks. That’s where her bum used to stick out, and she would wiggle it when we were in the bath. I have a nose that comes right out of the family photo album.

It is me, the marks of who I am. Who says I’m not beautiful?

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