Who needs beauty?

I like compliments as much as the next person, but I can’t stand being reassured that I look good or am pretty. It implies that’s my looks are something I should be worrying about; if I made a list of things that make me anxious in this life, it would not include my looks.

But people are conditioned to worry about a woman who lacks beauty. It comes from a long history of women being allowed to offer nothing but sex appeal to men in order to receive the resources men controlled. While we haven’t yet reached gender parity, at least women of my generation grew up with the belief we needn’t exchange sex with men (in marital or other forms) for financial security. We had other options. Therefore, in theory, we shouldn’t have needed to be someone’s idea of good-looking to get by in life. And yet, people worry for those of us who aren’t supermodel types – and fail to worry about those who are the media’s idea of gorgeous, as if being beautiful guarantees a good life.

To all this I say: Bill Gates.

Let’s face it. He’s just not (conventionally) good-looking. But he is a legend in his own time, rich, respected, influential, so I doubt anyone ever wrung their hands about the fact he was never be a GQ cover boy. It sounds silly even to think of, doesn’t it?

And yet, what could I possibly do in this life that would be so important that no one would ever think it a pity I’m not also starlet material? I mean, Martha Stewart is great-looking at the worst of times and terrifically successful, and yet the tabloids have wasted more than a little ink on the subject of her occasional slight weight gain and signs of aging. I can’t even bring myself to discuss the way Hilary Clinton’s looks and sex appeal were dissected during her run for the Democrat presidential ticket, and she’s a good-looking woman. And, oh, Oprah: all those years, she was such a success, but still too fat.

When, oh when, will someone notice that despite all the many fantastic things Bill Gates has going for him, his looks aren’t great, and THEREFORE EVERYTHING SUCKS FOR HIM?

See how ridiculous it sounds when you put a man’s name in there? And yet, it’s what women face. We hear it so much that it sounds normal for someone to be ignoring everything a woman has accomplished because she’s got a wrinkle or five, or has put on seven pounds, or has adult acne. It’s what little girls become aware of, often not on a conscious level, as they contemplate someday taking over Congress, becoming president or running a top corporation: even if we do all that and look totally awesome, we will find unflattering pictures of ourselves in the “Who’s Not Hot?” section of various rags. What a thing to look forward to! Gosh, I can’t imagine why we aren’t all out there busting our asses to become something other than the next starlet.

Joan Cusack

Ugly? Seriously?

Let’s take a look at actors, while we’re at it. Male actors can look like Harvey Keitel, Joe Pesci, Don Knotts or Ron Perlman and establish solid careers and maintain loyal fanbases because we are conditioned to appreciate something deeper in men than their sexual attractiveness. But women…. pffbt. If you look up somebody’s idea of ugly actors online, for the women they list people like Rhea Pearlman, Linda Hunt and Joan Cusack. Joan Cusack? Are you kidding me? She’s a hundred times closer to the current beauty ideal than any of the men I mentioned. Linda Hunt is perhaps in the same ballpark as the men (nowhere near the beauty standard, but a memorable, fascinating face backed up by solid acting skills), but the vast majority of female character actors look more like Joan Cusack. That means, if you’re not at least as close to the beauty standard as she is, you can kiss goodbye your dreams of even a minor acting career.

This culture kindly equips men with multiple measuring sticks by which to gain esteem. Not good-looking? Then don’t go into acting, son! Go into engineering or lawyering or Congress or any of the eleventy billion careers where downright ugly men score big on a daily basis. But women have only one measuring stick, and it’s “Are you perfect at everything yet?” No matter what you accomplish in the world, it’ll be a pity if you aren’t also great-looking, and everyone will wonder why you haven’t gotten corrective cosmetic surgery to fix your lack of gorgeousness, since you obviously have the money.


  1. Brandon says

    ‘Always thought it was weird how the media made a woman’s beauty sound like a (good) charactor trait.

  2. Apples says

    Gosh, I remember reading things on the internet about Maggie Gyllenhaal after The Dark Knight came out. People (by which I mean the imdb forums) were acting like she was a monstrosity, and more importantly were insisting that this severely damaged the quality of the film. I don’t recall any of the male actors in the Dark Knight being particularly good-looking, but of course that doesn’t matter. Can you imagine if a female actor got herself all uglied up in clowny face paint like Heath Ledger did? I imagine it wouldn’t be the best career move.

    • Mana G says

      That reminds of when the Hamlet that has both David Tennant and Patrick Stewart came out. People were actually claiming that Mariah Gale (Ophelia) wasn’t pretty enough to convince them that Tennant’s Hamlet could be in love with her! If you’ve never seen this woman, Google image search her. I assure you, she is quite lovely. As much as I love David Tennant, and as attractive as I personally find him, he’s quite far from “God’s give to women,” as it were.

      • Savannah says

        I have always thought David Tennant was terribly unremarkable at best and very weird-looking at worst. I can’t imagine a woman on the same “level” of attractiveness would be as fawned over as he is.

        I’ve been under the impression that Tennant is a big hit with straight lady fans for reasons having nothing to do with appearance, though— i.e., his performance on Dr. Who. And I definitely can’t think of a female actress who is considered hot among straight men for reaons other than appearance.

  3. Charles RB says

    I remember hearing that when Amber Benson started on Buffy, people complained she was fat. WHAT?! She’s fucking average, you muppets!

  4. sbg says

    Amber Benson is quite slender, actually.

    Yeah, you’re nothing if you’re not beautiful always reminds me of people’s reactions when I tell them I’m not seeing anyone. “Oh, don’t worry, it’ll happen!” as if I must surely be looking for a relationship if I’m not in one. Isn’t that what women do?

    It’s incredibly sad and frustrating to me that a woman could have a huge list of accomplishments, and people will say, “Yes, but is she pretty?”

  5. Elee says

    This is what made me really mad during the election campaign in Germany. Angela Merkel is the first female chancellor in Germany and she is not only not good-looking, she isn’t even very charismatic or striking (or at least wasn’t during the election run in 2005, her appearance improved in the latest run in 2009. I don’t mean her looks, I mean that she appears more decisive and surer of herself than the first time, the experience as the decision-maker who is publicly aknowledged as a such did her a lot of good, I guess). Like with every high-profile politician and esp. with chancellor candidates it was a given that every talkshow and every comedian will make fun of them, but usually the looks and mannerisms are used for recognition of the characters. But with Angie there was so much vitriol directed at her on a personal level I really was flabbergasted.

    • says

      And you know what? There are *still*, after all those years, comedians who make nothing more than a joke about her looks. She’s a gorram politician, and she absolutely does enough you can criticize or joke about in her line of work. Who cares how she’s looking unless she shows up in running clothes at a G20 summit?

      • scarlett says

        A few hours after Julia Gillard became Australia’s first PM, the broadcast news was all over the ‘fashions of JG angle’, and the following day, the online media were onto it as well. Occasionally we’ll get a male pollie who has, say, a fondness for loud ties that they like to play on, but I sort of get it when it’s something really obvious as opposed to ‘how dare she not be as impossibly beautiful, groomed and stylish as Carla Bruni?’

        • Elee says

          And even Carla Bruni gets scorned as a manipulative bitch or a whore. Who cares? It is not as if people can’t change and not as if she her function in the political games was to represent, she is not the one who was elected. With Angie it angered me so much more because I still think the party she represents and in the beginning she in particular are not what Germany needs (lack of experience, lack of backbone, questionable political goals etc.) but this derailing of critisism to her looks effectively choked every serious discussion.

  6. Melissa says

    A friend of mine is a smart, capable, articulate law student at a top law school. She is also beautiful, although not in that she’s-the-next-Victoria’s-Secret-model kind of way. She’s “normal-person beautiful.” Extremely thin, nice skin and hair, pretty face, nose job…but no striking features or curves. In a recent conversation, she told me that she’d love to run for office someday, but she isn’t hot enough.

    It’s a sad world out there.

  7. Patrick McGraw says

    The “best” part is that even if you are beautiful, they will focus on that to the detriment of your abilities. Witness the crapstorm that Jade Raymond has been through for having the temerity to be a hot video game developer.

    • Savannah says

      Reminds me of the Ani DiFranco lyric: “god help you if you are an ugly girl, ’cause to be pretty is also your doom; everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room”

  8. meerkat says

    Bill Gates isn’t good-looking? Man, I don’t even know what our popular aesthetic for judging male attractiveness is.

    • sbg says

      Well, tbh, I don’t find him attractive or unattractive. I just know that if I had to spend the rest of my days on a desert island and had to choose between Bill Gates and, say, Shemar Moore – from a purely aesthetic standpoint, Shemar wins. Big time. 😉

    • Karakuri says

      Not at all. xD For one thing a well-defined jawline makes a guy ten times more physically attractive to me. I judge men’s attractiveness the same way I judge women’s, though I’m not sure just how unusual that is. 😡

  9. Casey says

    That Joan Cusack thing TOTALLY reminded me of when my parents were watching School of Rock one night on TBS, it was during her character’s big freak-out scene where she tells Jack Black’s character that she’s a bitch and no one likes her and my mom just sadly lamented “Poor Joan Cusack, she’s so homely…” UGH!!!

    I always found Joan Cusack to be rather striking (I LIKE her prominent jawline, dammit!).

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