Our Social Contract with Beauty

Originally posted: Dec 6, 2020

watch, or rather listen to, TED Talks when I’m doing something like washing dashes or cleaning my apartment. It’s a very millennial thing – keeping your mind occupied when you’re at a task in order to stave boredom. I was listening to a Talk called “An epidemic of beauty sickness” and the speaker, Renee Engeln, discusses the results of a survey in which “54% of the women would rather be hit by a Truck than be fat” and she goes on to discuss what she calls the Beauty Sickness.

And this got me thinking. Why do we use our beauty or rather our appearance as a form of currency? I agree with the speaker and with the theory of Objectification. But I think it goes beyond that. My opinion is that we were also taught that if we worked hard we could be whoever or whatever we wanted to be. A Doctor? Sure, work hard, get good grades and you can be a Doctor. An Astronaut? Again, work hard, get good grades and you can be an Astronaut. It was our Social Contract – you work hard, society will help you achieve your dreams. Now, culturally this could be an Asian thing. But I suspect most cultures subscribe to the idea that working hard helps you succeed in life.

But what happens when you do work hard but that’s not the currency that life works on. That you walked into a gun fight with a knife, because you were told that a knife is what you needed and a knife might be enough. Research has proven that a beautiful woman earns more than an ordinary looking one.

And that is why we spend enough at Sephora to be a Rouge Member and Ulta to be a Diamond member. We are trying so hard to own that currency, for that power. If we could just own that power that comes through being “beautiful” – which could be anything from being a size 2 to having thick eyebrows (it depends on what you perceive as lacking) – then everything else might fall in place. You may find that dream job, finding a good partner and find love, earn a better pay, have a stable future, etc.

In my life, I’ve observed the change in the way the people interacted with me when I wore make up and lost weight (I’m still a size 14) and when I was without make up. I remember the first day that I walked into my last job. I didn’t have money for a good foundation, so the day before my first day, I went to the local Walmart and picked up the Maybelline Fit Me foundation which did not look good on me. I suspect the color was too dark and the formula worsened the look of my dry skin. Over the next few months, I learnt to use bronzer and blush, bought a better foundation, learnt to set my makeup and lost a bunch of weight because I used to walk 8kms a day. The way people perceived me changed. I made work friends, hung out with them socially and found it easier to do my job because people were ready to help me. All this because I had put on a mask that made me easier on their eyes.

Photo by yunona uritsky on Unsplash

I’ve also observed how men treat you when you look “good”. Life is so much easier when you’re beautiful. Does it come with its perils? Sure. You get unwanted attention and jealousy from your colleagues and friends. But the flip side is, OMG life is so much easier. And if we are talking about looks, in the hierarchy of race, well, I wouldn’t call it race – we’re all the human race. In the hierarchy of groups of people who look similar, in our sex, I would say that white women have won the genetic lottery. And if you have blond hair, then even better. White women are followed by East Asians, then South Asians and Latin groups, and finally, African groups. This is my perception and the perception of the minority women that I have had a chat with on this topic.

Sure my perception can be skewed because it’s the experience of a handful of women of color but I’d love to hear from people on this. And I’ll leave you with this last comment – I’ve often jokingly said that if I could choose to be reborn, I’d like to be reborn as a white blond woman. Make of that what you will.

Featured Image: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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