Open Thread: beauty privilege?

A reader at What Privilege emailed, suggesting we dismantle the notion that conventionally beautiful women are privileged over other women. I’m all for this, but I was never considered conventionally beautiful (henceforth shortened to merely “beautiful”), so I could use some input from those who are, or who have talked at length to beautiful women.

I’ll start with this. I do agree with the poster that being “beautiful” isn’t really a privilege. Whatever perks there may be to being a beautiful woman, they are all to do with using her as a sex object. I.E., perhaps no one but a beautiful woman has a chance of marrying a superficial rich guy, but that’s hardly my idea of a privilege. There have been dubious studies indicating the conventionally attractive people get more promotions and raises at work, but if that’s true, it’s somehow failed to shatter the glass ceiling.

The reader also talked about how men avoid asking out beautiful women, on the assumption that they already have dates. I can confirm this. L.A. is flooded with conventionally beautiful struggling actresses, and I’ve been friends with them and witnessed this for myself. It may also be that guys lack the self-confidence to ask out beautiful women.

And then people treat beautiful women with incredible resentment. Not just those envious women who have bought into the idea that if only they were beautiful all would be well, but also those men who can’t attract beautiful women but have been taught by their culture that they deserve one (as a trophy, of course – these guys never seem to have noticed anything beyond the packaging of these mean women who won’t date them).

Obviously, women who aren’t conventionally beautiful get locked out of certain arenas: acting opportunities are severely limited, modeling isn’t even a possibility, etc. There’s definitely a prejudice against women who don’t conform to beauty standards. But I don’t think that translates to “privilege” for the ones who do. Just a few perks.

What do you think about the idea of beauty privilege?

Comments

  1. sbg says

    I, of course, have no scientific data for this, but I swear I’ve seen articles about how your looks do have an impact on things like, oh, employment. I had a boss tell me once he put the pretty women on the afternoon shift because that’s when foot traffic was highest; I was on the morning shift.

    But again, not sure if that’s privilege and,as I myself am on the cusp between average and cute (self-touted, natch), I have no firsthand experience at being beautiful.

  2. Sabrina says

    I suppose there’s a small margin where “beauty” can actually be an advantage in everyday life – you’d need to be beautiful but not too beautiful, if that makes sense. I remember reading about a study that said nice looking people are treated better than ugly people cause they are assumed to have more positive character traits than ugly people. Lookism in a nutshell. I’m not really sure if this would be a privilege either cause these assumptions are tied to a tight net of social expectations – for the most part on how well the person is performing their gender role. Being too ugly is a problem for both genders – though more for women than for men. Being too beautiful may become a problem for men cause beauty is attributed to women and thus it’s a bad thing for a man. Too beautiful definitely becomes a problem for women too because of negative stereotypes about beautiful women (bitchy, shallow, stupid, stuff like that).
    So I’m not sure if this would be a privilege on it’s own or just a side-effect of benevolent sexism.

  3. Laughingrat says

    Of course women who can/do perform the beauty norms are granted privileges for that. Any “plain” woman who has watched other women of equal or lesser skill/talent/personability be treated as if they are significantly more valuable and important, simply because those women fulfill the beauty norm, can vouch for that. The fact that those privileges hinge on the “pretty” women’s simultaneous degradation/objectification doesn’t negate them. These women are often treated better than other women, AND they are treated to new and exciting ways to be treated like crap, all at the same time. That’s oppression for you. The fact is that Patriarchy is a losing game, and it has lots and lots of creative ways for women to lose; one of most insidious ways to lose is to be conned into feeling like you’re winning, while you’re actually still losing.

  4. says

    Laughingrat: Any “plain” woman who has watched other women of equal or lesser skill/talent/personability be treated as if they are significantly more valuable and important, simply because those women fulfill the beauty norm, can vouch for that.

    In what way do you see them being treated as more valuable or important? Because that’s not how I would describe the ways I see them being treated differently.

  5. Maria says

    I think it’s harder to make real friends when you are beautiful because other women resent you and men generally want to possess you. It’s also harder to be taken seriously as smart and professional, and what counts as “professional” dress is more stringent, because god forbid someone think you’re sexy and that sexy –> unprofessional.

    Also, if you’re sexually harassed I think you’re less likely to be taken seriously.

  6. says

    I think that our modern idea of conventional beauty is a combination of whiteness, thinness, cisgendered-ness, and able-bodied-ness. So I think we already do have a kind of “beauty privilege” in operation, since anyone who has all of these privileges is automatically considered more attractive than anyone who has only a few or none of them, aside from all of the other beneifts these privileges bring. I don’t think that’s the same as conventional beauty being privileged outright, so I do agree with your point.

    To answer your question: The only place I see beautiful women being really privileged are in terms of the kinds of careers they have access to (modeling, acting, high-end sex work, etc) which usually pay a lot of money. I differ from conventionally beautiful women in that I am a size 10, but sometimes men overlook this and do treat me like I’m conventionally beautiful (the reason I know this is because they always tell me they’re talking to me because of how I look). When that happens, nothing I say is taken seriously, I’m assumed to be unintelligent, and I usually end up fearing for my safety (I think this is because the kind of men who give beautiful women preferential treatment also tend to be very entitled, and it definitely shows). I much prefer being treated like an “ugly” girl (I don’t personally believe I’m ugly or conventionally beautiful).

  7. Maria says

    Suicidewinder,

    You forgot ageist and classist as part of the categories related to beauty.

    I think that for me is why I wouldn’t use the word “privilege” because to me if something is conditional and dependent on your acquiescence (you lose beauty points if you’re not demure, after all, or if you smile too big or frown a lot or have feelings or get pregnant or don’t wear make up or whatever) then it’s not a privilege.

  8. Pumpkin says

    Let’s not forget that beauty is seen to correlate with lack of intelligence (i.e. that whole “bimbo” notion), which makes it harder for conventionally attractive women to be taken more seriously in certain areas of employment. Plus, I’ve seen the sort of attention that some of my conventionally desirable female friends attract from creeps and perverts, and that shit does not look like privilege to me. Not at all. The patriarchy is so utterly messed up that in plenty of scenarios being deemed unattractive would probably be an advantage. Basically, it just seems to be a case of “pick your poison”.

  9. minuteye says

    Maria:
    Also, if you’re sexually harassed I think you’re less likely to be taken seriously.

    I’m not sure about this. Sure, conventionally beautiful women who report harassment could get the “but you look all sexy! He couldn’t help himself!” narrative, but I think women who are not conventionally beautiful or don’t conform to gender expectations are going to get a “why would anybody bother to harass you? You should be grateful for any sexual attention you get!” narrative.

    In general, it seems like there aren’t any real benefits to beauty or plainness. You’re still going to get crap for the same things, it’s just a different flavor of crap, that’s all.

  10. Quib says

    Maria,

    or are loud, or have disagreeable opinions, or wear glasses, or have curly hair, or stand next to someone thinner, or turn a guy down, or aren’t the main character, or get caught in sweat pants, or fail to shave sufficiently, or be ‘controversial’, etc. and so forth.

    It’s definitely set up to feel like a privilege, and it seems like one of the first things people who want to point out the advantages of being female (and explain away male privilege) reach for; all you have to do is be beautiful, and you get whatever you want! (so buy this product that makes you beautiful!).

    While I don’t find it difficult to think up situations where being the most attractive could be an advantage, it’s not something one could ever be secure in. People who are gorgeous, and celebrated for it aren’t able to relax and be confident in their status.

    Beauty can get you favor and attention you might not have otherwise, but it doesn’t bring you status, or get you valued as a person. I don’t think it makes sense to call it a privilege.

  11. says

    This thread is fascinating. I’ve been treated in all the ways described, so now I don’t know how to rate my looks, or whether there are other factors at work. Comparing myself to actresses and models, I’d say I’m pretty, but I’ve always been plump, and plump is a big no-no for most men, but some will overlook it. Still, I don’t think anyone could mistake me for conventionally beautiful.

    It’s definitely true that beautiful woman have access to some high-paying careers that the rest of us don’t. But I guess the reason I don’t see that as a privilege is that it can work against that same woman if she wants to become an engineer at a tech company. That can be extremely high paying work, without the casting couch, sexual harassment and tabloid frenzy. So, better access to jobs where you are especially treated like a full-size masturbation toy… yeah, I get that it’s more money and more money is something many women need, but it’s still keeping women in their place. It’s just, as laughingrat pointed out, a way to make it look like you can get the perks available to men (great salaries) without breaking out of the patriarchy’s predefined role for you as a lump of sex flesh. But I think most women end up paying very, very heavily for those perks in different ways. I’m sure it works for a few, but based on my discussions with actresses and high-paid sex workers, I sense a lot more frustration coming from them than I’ve had with lesser-paying jobs where I’m valued for what I do more than for how I look.

    The real “privilege” will come when most men feel it’s socially unacceptable to let their hormones play a role in arenas (like work) other than dating/sex/marriage.

  12. meerkat says

    “There have been dubious studies indicating the conventionally attractive people get more promotions and raises at work, but if that’s true, it’s somehow failed to shatter the glass ceiling.”

    I haven’t read those studies in detail but I would expect sex would be an independent factor, so it would be attractive men being promoted over other men and attractive women being promoted over other women, so even though women are considered more attractive than men it wouldn’t help with the glass ceiling. I’m job-hunting, and everyone wants an employee to represent their company and make a good impression on clients (understandable) or else an employee that their other employees will enjoy working with (in a field where looks are as irrelevant as possible). Being conventionally attractive would help with all those things. Resumes are always required to have a picture.

    The idea that what seems to be conventional attractiveness privilege is just a combination of white, thin, able-bodied, young privilege and beauty standard compliance does make sense to me, although I feel like you could have all those things and still have some factor that stopped you being considered attractive (asymmetrical features maybe). But I have very little real world experience.

  13. says

    meerkat,

    The studies are vaguely reported, and I’ve never been able to track down the sources. They never describe how they measure beauty, how they compensate for other factors like social skills, or how they rate beautiful but nerdy people. I mean, in L.A., I’m invisible, but anywhere else I’ve ever spent a day, I’m cute enough to get a reasonable amount of male attention. That’s why I find the studies dubious. I think it’s very likely that, all other things being equal, most employers will pick the cuter/skinnier candidate. But I wonder what happens when the beautiful person is far less qualified. How often do people pick that candidate instead, and how does it correlate with the general rate of picking unqualified employees for various reasons (know them, related to them, owe them a favor, feel sorry for them, etc.)?

    To everybody: this link from Maria’s LoGI for the week talks about how supposed female privileges help to mask the fact that the deck is really stacked against us. MOST of these supposed privileges are heaped on women that men find attractive, and that is clearly so that these “privileges” will benefit men. We get free beer on ladies’ night and dates paid for, but those are both about getting men laid, and pressuring women into providing that service. Meanwhile, their privilege is to be presidents and CEOs.

    Providing these “privileges” to attractive women serves another purpose: to make women think there is such a thing as privilege for being a woman, and keep us from wanting to overturn the system that might someday “benefit” us.

    And let’s face it: how do you become attractive? By enriching men through the purchases of their cosmetics and cosmetic surgeries and so on.

    I see beauty “privilege” as a mere smokescreen for all this.

  14. Lika says

    Wow, this topic is really making me think. I’ve always envied beautiful people and wish I was breathtakingly beautiful myself, but it wasn’t because I thought my life would be better if I was more beautiful. For me, I wanted to evoke the same reaction of awe and instant admiration I believe beautiful people get. And not just other people looking at me and going, “wow, you’re stunning”, but also myself when I look into the mirror. I guess I envy those people because my mind thinks they’re getting the awe and admiration that I wish I could have for myself.

    But actual privilege? No, I don’t think conventionally beautiful people have any true and consistent privilege.

  15. shuu_iam says

    I’ve got the sort of appearance where I can dress down, no makeup, and be sort of pretty but not amazingly so, or dress up and put on makeup and start verging into beautiful, so it’s been interesting analyzing how I’m treated differently at different times. On the high end of dressing sexy and with makeup, I started feeling a lot more objectified–from street harassment to guys just holding doors open for me in a way that really gave off the condescending/objectifying (as opposed to friendly or good-natured) vibe.

    Dressed more normally, but while wearing makeup, it feels like I get a lot more people approaching me and being chatty than without makeup, particularly people I don’t know. Since I’m an introvert and would rather be left alone, this has been annoying for me, although I could see where it would translate into beauty privilege in someone more extroverted who wanted the attention in comparison to someone less societally attractive but equally desirous of it.

    Normally (since I haven’t been wearing makeup very often lately, which is part of what’s helped me notice the changes in attitude when I have), people mostly leave me alone. I do feel like a lot more people notice me than I notice them (such as random people pointing out that we see each other a lot or have similar schedules, when I never really noticed them around), but I’m also pretty unperceptive, so take that as you will. I’m a college student and haven’t been in any jobs where beauty was a factor, and I don’t think it’s affected my grades.

  16. Quib says

    Jennifer Kesler:
    I get that it’s more money and more money is something many women need, but it’s still keeping women in their place. It’s just, as laughingrat pointed out, a way to make it look like you can get the perks available to men (great salaries) without breaking out of the patriarchy’s predefined role for you as a lump of sex flesh. But I think most women end up paying very, very heavily for those perks in different ways. I’m sure it works for a few, but based on my discussions with actresses and high-paid sex workers, I sense a lot more frustration coming from them than I’ve had with lesser-paying jobs where I’m valued for what I do more than for how I look.

    I think it’s fairly comparable to professional athletes, there are highly visible successes that are extremely fortunate, enviable people, so it’s easy to see them as part of a privileged class, but behind those dazzling exceptional stories, there’s a lot of really hard work, and body destroying, life span shortening efforts put towards a very slim chance of making it.

  17. Raeka says

    shuu_iam,

    In regards to how dressing up + makeup affects how people treat you, I have this suspicion that as long as you’re a some base level of ‘pretty’, whether or not you’re treated as pretty depends whether you’re complying to the standard definition of pretty hair/clothes/makeup. I suspect it says to people ‘I buy into the system!’ on a subconcious, if not concious level, and people think you’ll be more demure, accommodating, etc.

    I have absolutely no anecdotes to back this up, though.

  18. shuu_iam says

    Raeka,

    I’d definitely agree with that. Like people think “you’re putting effort into your appearance to try to impress men/me”, rather than “you’re putting in effort since you like drawing on your face and feeling tall” or something.

  19. Theora says

    I’m sure that being a beautiful woman can have downsides for those women, but to those who aren’t burdened by good looks, being attractive seems to get one benefits that don’t go to women who aren’t as pretty. We can also make the case that rich kids aren’t privileged because there are some uncomfortable social side effects to having a lot of money, but I doubt we’re going to disavow the entire concept of economic privilege next because of that. A lot of white people don’t see the color of their skin as ever having given them something of value. Yay for getting rid of those invisible knapsacks, right?

    No, being more attractive hasn’t shattered the glass ceiling for women, but that’s because no individual quality exists independent of all others. In general, being a man gives you more access than being a woman. In general, being attractive gets you more than being unattractive. Being of the dominant race and/or phenotype for your country, being educated, having wealth, being cisgender, being neurotypical; these things have value in our larger society, even if we disagree with the amount each thing should be ‘worth’ in any given situation.

    Short version: Everything beneficial can have detriments as well. It doesn’t mean they are not privileges, it just means that nothing is perfect.

  20. Allie says

    There’s the infuriating fact that attractive professors are rated higher by students than unattractive professors. In thinking about it, I’m ashamed to realize that I have actually done this — not on a formal rating or survey, but I had a chemistry TA who was also a Miss America contestant, and I COULD NOT STOP TALKING about how awesome it was that she was both gorgeous and brilliant.

  21. Allie says

    Also. I agree with what Jennifer Kesler said: “MOST of these supposed privileges are heaped on women that men find attractive, and that is clearly so that these “privileges” will benefit men. We get free beer on ladies’ night and dates paid for, but those are both about getting men laid, and pressuring women into providing that service. Meanwhile, their privilege is to be presidents and CEOs.” Quite so.

  22. says

    Theora,

    A privilege is not merely having it better than someone else, and that’s the definition you seem to be working from. A privilege is something unearned that is extended to someone for having some unrelated trait that.

    And a conventionally beautiful woman does not just roll out of bed and engage in basic animal grooming, like a conventionally beautiful man, and go about her day with people throwing flowers at her feet. She wears makeup and accessorizes and goes to a lot of trouble on her hair to show the patriarchy she is willing to comply with their gender norms and would like that Beautiful Woman Perk Package in exchange. She acts demure, doesn’t let on she’s smart, doesn’t defy any gender norms. It costs money, and it takes time and energy. She EARNS the perks. It’s not a privilege.

    In support of that claim, I notice people treating me quite differently when I wear makeup or when I straightened my naturally curly hair and have done various other things to “comply” with the beauty standard. You do get some perks just for “trying” to comply (and that wasn’t really my goal at any point, it just coincided with what I felt like doing at the time).

  23. says

    In my most recent article, I not only identified the time you have to spend to make yourself conventionally “beautiful” as a problem, but also let’s call it “security risks”.
    If you’re conforming to parts of the female dress code like (narrow) skirts and heels, as well as thin clothes, you cannot defend yourself very well if you must, it’s difficult to kick or to run and your clothes won’t avoid minor injuries like scratches.
    If this is too off-topic because it’s more about clothes than how your body looks (or too 101), feel free to delete it.

  24. says

    Zweisatz,

    Not off-topic at all. I think maybe where we can all agree is here:

    (1) Yes, in some ways, conventionally beautiful women are treated better (though, I would argue, in many ways they’re treated worse)
    (2) But this happens entirely in a context of setting these women up to benefit men. They’re not allowed to serve any other purpose, or they instantly lose their perks.

    It’s kind of like the claim that antebellum house slaves were treated better than field slaves. Even assuming that’s true (I think it’s more complicated, just as with the beautiful women vs. the un-beautiful, but let’s assume), it was only because house slaves were trophies with which the master impressed his friends.

  25. says

    meerkat,

    meerkat: The idea that what seems to be conventional attractiveness privilege is just a combination of white, thin, able-bodied, young privilege and beauty standard compliance does make sense to me, although I feel like you could have all those things and still have some factor that stopped you being considered attractive (asymmetrical features maybe). But I have very little real world experience.

    That’s true – a person can have all of those privileges and still not be considered conventionally beautiful. But all too often I see, for example, women of color who fit the beauty standard in every other respect being judged by men as less attractive than white women who fit the beauty standard less. It seems like a lot of the time white women’s whiteness makes them automatically more beautiful to men than women of color, and that kind of thing is what I was trying to get at by mentioning the privilege thing. I would bet that older women, disabled women, etc. experience the same thing, although I can’t speak for anyone.

  26. Anemone says

    John T Malloy did research on attractiveness, and he wrote about it in “Women’s Dress for Success”. You can get the research details there. What I remember is that he did find that attractiveness, up to a point, makes it easier to get hired or whatever, but that it’s possible to be too attractive. A woman wrote him and told him that she wore makeup to look *less* attractive in order to be taken seriously at work. He wrote about this in his newspaper column and a whole flood of people complained, but a few other women also told him the same thing. It’s in the book (not sure if it’s in both editions or just the second one).

  27. The Other Anne says

    Anemone,

    Oooh, I read that book! It was very informative and I promptly forgot everything in it. I tend to wear tshirts and jeans. Oops. I remember liking it, though, and thinking that if THAT MUCH attention to every minute detail in my entire existence (of clothes and whatnot) was what it took, then screw that. I may have to reread it someday, but right now I’m certainly not the kind of person who would benefit from it.

    I do remember something like that in it, as well. Seriously, this was a great book to learn more about “acceptability” when it comes to female professionalism in appearance. It was fairly terrifying.

  28. Maria says

    Now I’m thinking of Debrahlee, who was fired for being too pretty

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-20006646-504083.html

    http://abovethelaw.com/2010/06/woman-claims-she-was-fired-for-being-too-attractive/

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/07/debrahlee-lorenzana-citig_n_603494.html

    http://news.change.org/stories/woman-fired-from-citibank-for-being-too-sexy

    The Change.Org link is especially interesting, because it points out that Lorenzano was first hired to be pretty but then fired when her prettiness was considered unprofessional.

  29. says

    Maria,

    Those are great links, and I definitely agree about the race/ethnicity issue. Ethnic women are “exotic”, which makes them even more “fascinating” and “distracting” to little boy-men who have never been confronted with the suggestion that panting after attractive women all day at work is far more unprofessional than anyone’s appearance could ever be.

  30. littlem says

    Zweisatz,

    I brought that up to a therapist once — that the several of the same types of grooming and dress that make a women more conventionally physically attractive and gender-norm conformative also serve to make her more vulnerable to physical attack (high heels, narrow skirts, apparent physical weakness). She nodded and said that was an importnat insight at the same time she looked helpless / frustrated she couldn’t figure out a way to refute the point right away.

  31. littlem says

    Suicidewinder,

    But all too often I see, for example, women of color who fit the beauty standard in every other respect being judged by men as less attractive than white women who fit the beauty standard less.

    There is also this.

  32. Leah says

    I tend to agree that people often equate beauty with goodness. To quote Ani Di Franco ‘I am not a pretty girl; that is not what I do’, and… I’ve lost track of how many times over the course of my life that I’ve been told by others ‘I’m afraid of you’, ‘you might hurt me’, and ‘you might kill me’. On the rare occasion I am complimented, the word most often chosen is ‘striking’ – again with the assumption of violence on my part. I’ve never killed, maimed, tortured, or poisoned anybody – and yet, ‘cos I’m weird looking people want to believe that I could do it without a second thought.
    Sabrina,

    • Maria says

      Doesn’t Ani also sing that everyone hates the prettiest girl in the room? That doesn’t necessarily sound like beauty=goodness to me.

  33. says

    I’ve always heard that people equate beauty with goodness, but I’ve never been given good evidence of that. What comes to mind when I try to think about it is:

    –Eve
    –Femme fatales
    –“Nice Guys(tm)” whining about those horrid women who won’t blow them, and you know those are all beautiful women, because women in the more ordinary looks range are invisible to these guys
    –Mermaids and sirens as the explanation for boating misadventure (and male sailing incompetence?)

    Which would make me think female beauty is equated with narcissism, treacherousness and death.

    I mean, hell: Yahoo answers the question of why beautiful women are evil and only one person complains that that’s a “generalization”

    I would also consider this: a LOT of female villains in real life get framed by the media as gorgeous, particularly if their crimes involve sex (“hot teacher” molesting little boys, Long Island Lolita, etc.). People have NO trouble believing such a beautiful girl/women could do that horrible thing. But when a good-looking man is accused of crime, people are “stunned”, particularly if it’s a sex crime. It comes down to the absolutely unfounded belief that the only reason men turn to horrid crimes is because they’re lonely, because they’re ugly, and beautiful women are so mean to them.

    Maybe the best way to sum up why I don’t find this credible: we’re invited to pity the Phantom of the Opera and view the engaged girl who won’t dump her fiance and go live in a sewer with him as a selfish bitch. This story repeats, like, everywhere. Remember the comedian who suggested the VA Tech massacre wouldn’t have happened if only some cute girls would get off their high horse and service guys like that sexually?

  34. Patrick McGraw says

    Maybe the best way to sum up why I don’t find this credible: we’re invited to pity the Phantom of the Opera and view the engaged girl who won’t dump her fiance and go live in a sewer with him as a selfish bitch.

    What I find interesting is how much of that is fan reaction rather than the actual story in the novel or most adaptations. The Phantom is a figure of pity, to be sure, but he’s also a murderer, a kidnapper, and threatens to rape Christine in nearly every version. But the fan romanticization (is that even a word?) of the Phantom is extreme, along with a lot of hatred of Christine. And most of it is from female fans, which is the really worrying part for me about the messages our culture is sending.

  35. Alice says

    I don’t think especially beautiful women or men are privileged, however, I find it possible that people who are (in lack of better words) not especially ugly are privileged. Those that make sense to anyone?

  36. says

    Patrick McGraw,

    That I did not know! It’s interesting because critics often misunderstand the hell out of Wuthering Heights – Bronte was so clearly pitying Heathcliff as a child while condemning his behavior as an adult, and framing the whole thing in generational cycles of abuse years before such concepts began to be studied. But critics to this day think it’s valid to consider Heathcliff a romantic lead rather than a study in abuse.

    Just speaking for myself, the message people keep trying to send me is that I’m being horribly mean to men if I choose not to date every single one that asks. Apparently, I have to have a socially accepted “excuse” to avoid dating someone, and “I’d rather stay home and read than date that particular person” is not acceptable. And I get this from other women. It’s almost as if they’re worried that if *I* won’t date them, THEY might have to, because if NOBODY will have sex with them, then they’ll turn into serial killers and we will all be raped and killed! Or something. I really can’t figure out the little twists in their minds when they do that.

  37. says

    Maria,

    I don’t think that holds true anymore. In 1898, if you weren’t beautiful, there was little to be done about it (and most of what could be done wasn’t socially accepted for most classes, such as makeup). Now there’s surgery, makeup, all sorts of commercially available stuff, and it’s bred the idea that people are entitled to only be confronted with women who are pretty, or who at least hide their ugly under a veneer of carefully applied makeup and the most expensive hairdo they can get.

    Ugly men get elected to public office. Ugly women are supposed to wear paper bags when they leave their homes.

    In a lot of ways, people who are average in some way are treated better in this culture. People hate on the beautiful and the ugly, the smart and the mentally challenged, the really virtuous and the really villainous, with equal venom… but as long as you’re somewhere in the middle, you may not get much positive attention, but nor do you get people ganging up to bully you.

    And speaking as someone who’s gotten a lot of positive and negative attention for being smart, and not much attention to my looks either way, I prefer the sometimes depressing lack of attention to the anxiety I have about how some people will react if I let on that I’m smart.

  38. M.C. says

    Jennifer Kesler:
    Which would make me think female beauty is equated with narcissism, treacherousness and death.

    There’s also the believe that a woman’s beauty can make other do horrible things.
    Like:
    1. A beautiful woman will make other women jealous who will then turn into evil bitches.
    2. A beautiful woman will tempt Nice Guys into raping her.

    Patrick McGraw: What I find interesting is how much of that is fan reaction rather than the actual story in the novel or most adaptations.

    I also think this is rather strange, since the original novel is told mostly from Raoul’s POV, who’s portrayed as being the perfect man: he’s kind, generous, handsome, risks his own life for Christine’s and doesn’t expect anything in return – when he offers her money to leave the opera and live on her own he doesn’t even ask her to be his wife or misstress, he just wants her to be save from her creepy stalker. And it’s solely up to Christine to decide that she’s fallen in love with Raoul and wants to marry him. He’s the complete opposite of the manipulative, threatening Phantom.

  39. M.C. says

    Oh, btw: Does anybody else think it’s curious that right now there are 3 different Hollywood projects (one tv show, 2 films) about the Snow White story, which is essentially about a beautiful woman trying to murder another because she feels threatened by her looks?

  40. says

    M.C.,

    That’s another story that’s gone through some really interesting iterations over the years. I read a fascinating snip of an essay by Gilbert and Gubar which I can’t find now, but the big takeaway from it was very relevant to this thread: SW isn’t about female narcissism. It’s about how male narcissism reduces women to objects that fight over scraps. The voice in the mirror is actually the absent husband-father who wields so much power over the women in the story, he doesn’t even need to put in an appearance. The queen lives by his approval, and when she loses it to Snow White, Snow White is in turn doomed to live by her prince’s approval, which she will someday lose to a fairer woman. There really isn’t a happy ending, and the whole story is a chilling portrayal of what the luckiest of women are doomed to.

    This page: http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/professional-development/childlit/swcriticism.html has a terrific quote: “”Let’s start with the mirror, mirror on the wall, because that shows at every point that this is a story about the desire to be the fairest of them all. The term “narcissism” seems altogether too slippery to be the only one we want here. There is, for instance, no suggestion that the queen’s absorption in her beauty ever gives her pleasure, or that the desire for power through sexual attractiveness is itself a sexual feeling. What is stressed is the anger and fear that attend the queen’s realization that as she and Snow White both get older, she must lose. This is why the major feeling involved is not jealousy but envy: to make beauty that important is to reduce the world to one in which only two people count.”

    Again, that’s relevant to this thread: even if beauty privileges women, it’s a temporary privilege. Even able bodied privilege has a shot at lasting your whole life – beauty for women has always had a guaranteed expiration date. Then the beauty goes, and so do any benefits it once conferred.

  41. M.C. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Thanks for the link. One of my professors once gave me a book about the psychology behind fairytales, but the author only wrote about the roots and not the modern development of the fairytales.

  42. A. L. says

    > What do you think about the idea of beauty privilege? Female privilege, if it exists, is a ragtag combination of consolation prizes to keep the women quiet and content in a system which subordinates them. Real power remains in the patriarchal power structure. The existence of possible female privilege in areas like the draft doesn’t disprove this; the pitifulness of female privilege simply reinforces the original point.

    Meanwhile, female “privilege” is employed as a tool to keep women from challenging their own subordination.
    And it’s frighteningly effective. <
    from here : http://www.feministlawprofessors.com/2011/11/female-privilege/

    also, imo, if *we e.g. link "beauty" to "age" it becomes clear to me that there is a terrible/counter-… soc. stereotype-threat still active *again/ad nauseam i.e. perpetuating a soc. kyriarchy (or pls. feel free to add/put your own words for "its the system".
    (plus racism-, sexism-, anti-LGBTQIA-threat etc.)

    socimages and other resources on the webz have repeatedly published studies and reports how also this soc. beauty-privilege is hurting *everybody, esp. *women. the beauty-privilege-status-quo imo is a good example how "women are/kept in this system" – another soc. catch22-example : "damned if they do/are, damned if they don't/aren't"
    (btw imo a good loop with your *empowering vs. empowered post)

  43. Unemployed fat ex-beauty queen says

    Before I gained a ridiculous amount of weight I was considered extremely beautiful. It was obviously awesome in some ways, but no one took me seriously in anything aside from modeling or the performing arts (in which, admittedly, it was helpful). It was next to impossible to get professors or academic peers to hear me out… I had a few professors who, thankfully, were willing to be advocates for me to those (in my department) who sneered at me or outright hated me (mostly women but not entirely). And whenever I walked into a job interview I could tell when I wasn’t going to get hired just based on the look in the interviewer’s eyes. It’s hard enough breaking into a typically male-dominated profession (law) as a young woman without having the men assume I was just some jumped-up bimbo secretary and having the women assume I was just some jumped-up bimbo sexretary.

    It’s even harder now, in some aspects — apparently the general disgust with fat people that most people have makes it okay to not hire people based on the fact that they don’t want to have to look at you every day, regardless of whether you’re some slovenly fool who doesn’t bathe enough and wears disgustingly tight clothes and too-short skirts or whether you’re tasteful and respectful and cover yourself up and bathe regularly — but at least academically I’m taken more seriously than I was. I think being ten years older is a big help in that regard, though.

    So I’m not sure whether it’s worse to be a young, beautiful woman or a fat woman, in that regard. I know it’s okay to be an attractive man and it’s okay to be a fat man, so either way it’s pretty much crap.

  44. Eva says

    As a rather goodlooking woman I think “beauty privilege” is a strange construct. When I did my apprenticeship as a craftsperson (I’m a scenic paintress) in a maledominated team, I wore ugly clothes, no makeup at all and my hair in ponytails, to be taken seriously. It was important not to be seen as a woman. Especially not a beautiful woman. So everybody could concentrate on my work, and my work alone.
    I think it’s not really about beeing beautiful or not, but about making men forget that you’re actually a woman. So where’s the privilege.

  45. Fraser says

    Patrick McGraw,

    Okay, that makes more sense. I’ve seen several versions of Opera and while they are sympathetic to Erik I’ve never seen them as condemning Christine for not wanting to be his woman.

  46. Cheryl says

    Two years ago, I worked at a Macy’s. A few months after I started, I found out the manager of my department was known for almost exclusively hiring young, good-looking females, and he often asked them out. I was never asked out (I’d have refused if he had tried that crap), so I don’t know if he hired me for my looks or not, but that there’s even the possibility made me feel cheap.

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