How can the desire to feel/be pretty coexist with beauty?

X-posted from Art of the Possible

I did not create this image. I found it in a google image search.If this is your image, thanks for making it.
Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: beauty and pretty are not the same thing. A conventionally attractive person is no more guaranteed to be beautiful than a conventionally unattractive person or a person who is just sort of average-looking. Beauty isn’t about outside stuff, beauty is about inside stuff. You and me, we have beauty if we choose to cultivate it; if we decide to show it off through our choices and behaviors.
What’s more, the image at left is 100% true. Beauty exists in each of us independent of the decorations we don. As RuPaul says, “You’re born naked, everything else is drag.”
But, if it’s what is inside that really counts – and really, everything starts with character – how do we reconcile the desire to bare our naked beauty for all its value with the desire to be seen as physically attractive or the desire to feel pretty? Can these two things coexist? Is beauty only in the eye of the beholder? Can we really get by in the world ignoring what other people think about how we look?
The answer to all of these questions is: it depends. The reason that we struggle with these questions is that their answers are nuanced and require effort to understand. We live in a very dualistic culture: hot/cold, yes/no, in/out, up/down, wrong/right, black/white, Perry*/Gaga, etc. When a question comes along that has an bit of depth to it, it is simply glossed over**, and we stick with what is superficially available. Everyone does this. As a society we are almost exclusively visual, and perception that is based in a single dimension is by definition, shallow.
The “beauty” industry is the worst offender as far as this shallowness goes. Do you ever see articles in Cosmo for character development? Nope. Sex, makeup, be skinny. What about Self magazine? A magazine dedicated to making its readers better!? Nope. Exercise, be skinny, makeup. The only magazine I’ve ever read that has any amount of character development included in its pages is Yoga Journal, and even that is fairly superficial. Now, something highly specialized like Success is reported to contain articles on the importance of character development in success, but people looking for beauty advice aren’t going to read Success magazine for those tips, are they?
So what do we do? Ignore the messages? Abandon the “beauty” industry in droves? Those things haven’t worked. Not only is the “beauty” industry not affected by people who actively avoid their products, demonizing makeup and fashion products creates antipathy at best, and enmity at worst! When we place a value judgment on makeup and fashion products, by extension, we also judge the people who do or don’t use those products! That makes the world less beautiful, not more, and wasn’t the point of all of this to make the world more beautiful?
Okay, so abandoning the “beauty” industry doesn’t work. Judging people who do or don’t value conventional physical attractiveness is counter-productive. But we still want to reconcile the desire to be beauty-full, with the desire to look how we want and have our character revealed through that venue.
I have a revolutionary idea for you then:

There is no moral imperative regarding how a person looks. None. Fat, skinny, average weight: all have the same determination of character. Makeup, no makeup; great skin, blemished skin; whatever color. Same diff. Natural hair color, wild hair, dreads, buzz, long curly blonde locks, a punky red reverse bob. All have the same impact on a person’s value.

There is no moral imperative regarding how a person looks. That means you can look how you want! Maybe there are some standards for appearance based on your life-situation, but that doesn’t affect your value, that is, your beauty. Your life-situation does impact who you be. What does have a determinant affect on your value is how you behave.
You are beautiful without your makeup; and also with it. And while how you look may reveal the nuance of your character, how you act reveals that you actually have character in the first place.
*See what I did there?
**No pun intended, ahem.

Join the Conversation

  • honeybee

    This is a fascinating topic but I find your analysis a bit simplistic.

    Certainly how we look is (or should be at least) completely irrelevant to how we are perceived and treated in a general sense.

    However it gets more complicated when the topic of sex and finding a mate comes into the picture because sexual attraction is a very real and very component of this. So while I would never be mean, ignore, or treat anyone differently who I didn’t find “pretty” it doesn’t mean I would necessarily have sex with them either – no matter how beautiful they are.

    That’s where it gets complicated. Because (almost) all of us want sex. In fact most of us want it ALOT. And even more so, most people want to be sexually desired – e.g., even if in a relationship with no chance of cheating they still want others to find them sexually attractive.

    That’s where being pretty or handsome or whatever else comes in.

    Personally I would never have sex with or be with someone who I didn’t find both beautiful and pretty. And certainly sometimes really beautiful people can become “pretty” to you – it is somewhat objective of course – but in today’s culture especially the issue is you might never get to know someone well enough for that to happen unless you are at least somewhat pretty to start with.

    I’d like to see a follow-up on this piece which analyzes in detail the sexual component of beauty and what impact that has or should have on our value judgements.

    • Rachel Setzer

      I wasn’t talking about sex. I wasn’t talking about physically attractiveness as a means to sex as an end. I wasn’t talking about beauty that way either. My analysis is simplistic, (superficial, you might say), because I am discussing something which is entirely superficial.

      I don’t really have an interest in the sexual aspects of beauty, or physical attractiveness. My aim is to discuss the nature of beauty as it relates to character; as well as the nature of physical attractiveness and its relation to beauty and the impact on a person’s perceptions of themselves. I’ll leave the analysis of sex up to the experts.

      • honeybee

        Um, ok. I just don’t see how you can discuss beauty and being pretty without sex. I mean isn’t that the whole point? Even if you’re just focused on people being beautiful solely due to their character, you are still bringing sex into it. And if you aren’t – e.g., you’re including friends, etc. then I suggest using different terms as it’s impossible to seperate terms like beauty from sexuality.

        • Rachel Setzer

          Defining beauty along those lines only reinforces the ideas that I’m trying to shift. A person’s sole purpose is not to perpetuate the species. There are enough humans now that it’s okay for a person to simply exist for the sake of existing, and be beautiful for the sake of beauty.

          I believe that people are works of art. Like art, the beauty aspect is independent of whatever physical attractiveness may or may not be present (and in the eye of the beholder), and the purpose of the piece, (whether someone thinks it’s pretty or not) is to make the world a more beautiful place rather than a more fuckable one.