Our Relationship With Beauty

A young girl recently told me, “I want to wear makeup because I’m ugly.”

It pained me to hear such a beautiful, bubbly soul so nonchalantly degrade herself. It pained me to see how this worry about beauty is still plaguing girls. Not that I’m surprised. 

While there are notable figures and influencers who helpfully work to facilitate conversations to resolve our toxic relationship and obsession with beauty, the problem still persists. Because the truth is, there is still not enough diversity in our society and popular culture of what “beauty” looks like and means.

Of course, I reassured her that she is in fact very beautiful. 

As girls and women, we crave to be told we are beautiful, whether we admit this to ourselves or not. But really, it is often a rather empty and unhelpful compliment(?). This, I think we all know by now. We understand that it is far more valuable and significant to recognize the actual qualities of a person. 

We also understand that someone telling us we are beautiful will not necessarily make us feel anymore beautiful because feeling oneself truly beautiful and confident comes from within (#selflove). 

But how are we to move forward from this fixation on physical beauty when it is, nevertheless, the first thing people want to comment on, particularly when it comes to women? Of course, since we have been programmed from birth to yearn for such validation, it often makes us feel good when someone notices our beauty (so long as it’s not in a creepy 

way). But, nevertheless, the binary is drawn because the opposite of beauty is a lack thereof. 

This is why, especially during my formative childhood years, sometimes the mention of beauty at all was just as harmful as being called ugly. If a girl next to me is lauded for being beautiful while nothing is said about me, it would make me wonder if the lack of appreciation for my beauty inherently meant I was unattractive. Even if I were to be complimented on my intellect or character, I would assume it is simply to make up for my lack of beauty because we are so used to beauty holding primary importance when it comes to the value of women. 

It is truly this power of judgment which perpetuates this cycle of comparison and insecurity. Because really who is to judge who or what is beautiful or not? Of course, it is easy to recognize another’s aesthetic beauty, but I propose true beauty lies in the soul and in the simple act of existing. Beauty in its fullest form lies in exactly how we choose to exist and progress through this life.

I asked her if she thinks I should wear makeup (I suppose in order to be more beautiful, by her logic). She replied, “No, because you already have a great face.” She explained she had never seen a face like mine because all the upperclassmen girls at her school wear makeup. 

But still, we are seemingly obsessed with beauty and being beautiful. Our beloved pop-culture figures and idols – the people we nominate to such a position of fame and influence – more often than not, meet the highest standards of beauty. And while these people certainly have talent, sometimes it feels like physical beauty is needed to validate the talent or make it relevant. 

And when it comes to makeup, we all know by now that it operates as an extension of one’s personality and style. But for women, I feel like there is so much pressure to wear makeup because it’s the “female” thing to do. Of course this is a rather dated notion, but it still stands today. As someone who doesn’t wear makeup, I feel like there is a subtle stigma that surrounds women who don’t wear makeup, such as that we don’t take care of ourselves.

Nevertheless, I find myself often debating about whether I should start wearing makeup, not for myself but simply to fit in more with womanhood. Because I guess if I try to beautify myself with makeup that’ll somehow make me more deserving of the title “woman” or better yet, “beautiful”. 

No matter how much we like to believe our society has surpassed this superficial preoccupation with physical beauty, the reality is we are still always reinforcing the binary everytime we bring it up and judge whether someone is pretty or not. And on the whole, our social media feeds are more concerned with how to achieve a certain style, makeup look or body, and not with how to cultivate our own desires and sense of identity. 

This isn’t to say it is evil to recognize another’s beauty because it is in our nature to be drawn to things which we deem beautiful, but it still remains true that, as a society, our relationship with beauty is not a wholly healthy one and the sooner we realize that, the better it will be for the girls to come.
I hope she never stops living boldly and freely because where there is life – pure, true life – there is beauty.

By Mattea Carberry

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