Don't tell me I'm beautiful. // Allie Rosenberg
Don’t tell me I’m beautiful.
“Being Dishonest About Ugliness”, a New York Times opinion piece penned by Julia Baird (check it out here), begged controversy with its frank discussion of “the savage social hierarchy of ‘lookism’”. Baird argues that, in a society that rewards the physically attractive – yet simultaneously acknowledges myriad non-aesthetic accomplishments as valuable (e.g. intelligence, humor, athleticism) – our attempts to build character through beauty ideals are distasteful.
I’ll admit I was taken aback at first read; Baird’s message seemed unnecessarily harsh. Upon re-reading the article, however, I considered Baird’s opinion within the context of female empowerment…more specifically, female empowerment as represented by popular media campaigns. The Dove Real Beauty movement quickly came to mind: I’m a total sucker for Dove’s feel-good videos promoting self-love (particularly the one about curly hair, because I relate more than I’m prepared to admit), but lately I’ve come to question the dominance of beauty-based media as a source of female empowerment.
Women can write, and read, and run, and play. They can think and debate and critique, emote and confound and provoke. Their strength lies within. This is no novel concept; we soothe ourselves with platitudes and clichés we don’t always believe (“beauty is skin deep”), but rarely do we practice what we preach. Our empowerment strategies rely upon bandaging what is sore, rather than enhancing what is already so strong.
By no means do I intend to diminish the positive effects of beauty-based media, but I do question the long-term viability of such media. Sure, I felt somewhat less hostile toward my unruly curls after watching Dove’s “Love Your Curls” video, but I didn’t feel any smarter, or kinder, or funnier, or more genuine. If these are indeed the traits we cling to in moments of vulnerability, perhaps we should reconsider our definition of empowering media.
I would like to conclude not with a sense of finality, but rather with a thought-provoking emotional commentary (courtesy of berlin-artparasites):
Don’t tell me I’m beautiful. I have already heard the word rubbed raw across the flesh of so many girls before me. Thrown at them like rocks that beat the skin of those we do not understand. “You are beautiful,” we yell with such contempt. “God dammit, why won’t you just believe me, you’re beautiful!” It is not a compliment. It is a victory march of your own self-sacrifice. “You’re beautiful,” we say through gritted teeth. “You’re beautiful,” we spit out through tears, looking at a reflection we hate. “You’re beautiful,” we say, holding a body that has never felt the arms of another. “You’re beautiful.” Don’t tell me I’m beautiful. A word like that floats on the surface, give me something with depth. Tell me I’m intelligent. Tell me I’m courageous. Tell me that when I laugh the whole world smiles. Tell me that my voice is sweeter than strawberries. Remind me that my hands have helped flowers grow, painted the ocean, and captured the sky in my phone. Assure me that with a mind like mine, I can change the world. Don’t tell me I’m beautiful. I don’t really care if it’s true. I’ve spent years trying to convince myself that beauty goes through and through. Don’t tell me I’m beautiful. I’ve felt the word splatter against me enough for a lifetime. I am better than the “beautiful” that slips from your lips. I am the ocean, 36,000 feet deep. There are parts of me you have never seen. I am outer space, infinite in your search. I am not simply “beautiful.” I’m a masterpiece.
Baird, Julia. (2015, November 9). Being dishonest about ugliness. Retrieved from