What is beauty? I’ve asked myself this a lot throughout my life, to the point where it’s worrisome how much energy I’ve expended thinking about one facet of my existence over any other (much more compelling) piece of my personhood. And while I take responsibility for my choice in doing so, I also know that so much of that value wasn’t determined by me, but rather, through a culture forged by those with privileged interests.
I, like so many women, grew up in a world that said: “Your worth is not determined by your appearance,” but then subtly and not so subtly inundated me with conflicting messages. Magazine covers, movies, ads, etc. laden with imagery and messaging reinforcing a notion of womanhood very distinct from courageous efforts and actions towards others (patronizingly referred to as “inner beauty”). They said:
“Be pretty and sexy” (in a litany of unrealistic ways); “be composed” (don’t assert power, otherwise you’re a bitch); “be intelligent” (but in non-threatening ways); “be fun” (as though you exist for entertainment).
Essentially, “spend every ounce of energy making yourself appear to be perfect for men, within their parameters of comfort; THEN you will know you have worth.”
Unfortunately, men in our society have benefitted from making women small, and what’s more, I have contributed to its perpetuation. I’m sad to say that I have wasted years of my life buying into those messages; believing that if I met some magical criteria, I would be “perfect” enough to be accepted and loved, as though my worthiness was something I could obtain outside myself. I undermined all of my inherent value – following the instructions society laid out for me – until it left me small and hollow.
But as I move through life, I have been blessed by people who’ve helped me uncover truths richer and deeper than what society wants me to believe. Namely, that is it is not my responsibility to be beautiful or silent; I don’t owe that to anyone and I am not alive for that purpose.
Because despite every lie we hear from every seller of things on Earth; it is not a woman’s job to get smaller and smaller in body, voice, and opinion – to take up less and less space until she disappears so the world can be more comfortable.
– Glennon Doyle Melton
Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female.”
My journey is continuously evolving, but I have been fortunate to learn (and re-learn and re-learn and re-learn) that value comes from within, and that courage, in its many forms, is beautiful and worthy. I further realize that my consumption and participation in society reflects not only my values, but a reimagined legacy of women’s worth in this world. I encourage others to reflect on their participation in the same.
Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time – that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.
– Lindy West
Your body is a work of art; a living piece of history; a breathing canvas. Your body has been worshipped for centuries, not for its negative space – but for its presence. Not for its lacking, but for its abundance. Beautiful girl, Goddess girl – the world will re-learn this, just as you are learning now. Your body is not the problem.
– Gina Susanna
Author Note: I want to acknowledge that not all men in society participate in the creation of idealized beauty (and other) standards for women. Further, many men are also subjected to unrealistic societal expectations of who they ought to be as a barometer of their worthiness. And finally, I want to acknowledge that I’m speaking to a binary scale of gender and sexuality, as that is my personal experience. But in no way do I wish to deny the lived truths of any other individual.
Kelsie Michelson, Price Women and Allies Co-Vice President