Don’t Call Me Beautiful

by jillst

I watch a lot of sitcoms. Like a lot of sitcoms – they’re basically my crack. And for me, the most annoying part of any sitcom is when a character has just met a new romantic interest, and it looks like they’re going to get together (even though you know it won’t last, because that character is going to end up with another member of the main cast).

Inevitably that character will be listing this woman’s virtues to his friends, and he’ll be all “she’s smart, and funny and kind…and beautiful.”

And this is your signpost, and mine, that this girl is a total plotpiece of a character. We already know she’s not going to stick around, and now we know that while she does, she’ll contribute nothing of value. She’ll be gotten rid of in one of three ways:

1/ She’ll cheat on him (Cathy, Friends), or the main character will cheat on her (Nora, How I Met Your Mother)

2/ She’ll push for a commitment and the main character will turn her down (Victoria, How I Met Your Mother) or otherwise muck it up (Emily, Friends)

3/ Assorted and unlikely hijinks – they’ll have an argument about a physics theory (Leslie, The Big Bang Theory), he’ll write a poem about her that Pierce makes fun of (Vaughn, Community – a rare male entry)

4/ (And the most common) She’ll do something or a series of things that prove she’s a crazy person (That Girl Elle McPherson Played, Friends; Professor Slater, Community; countless others)

Even ditching her becomes an exercise in bland words and stereotype. She’s beautiful. She’s crazy. This woman doesn’t need specific or accurate descriptors – general, overused ones will do. She’s just there temporarily to entertain a male protagonist.

But, weirdly, even though we reject the notion that all women are crazy, we wholly embrace the idea that all women are beautiful.

We see it in the Dove ads and viral Facebook posts and self-love issues. Every body type is beautiful. Every stretch mark is beautiful. Every face beautiful – no matter how young or old.

And I don’t buy it. In fact, I’m going to put it out there:

I’m not beautiful.

It feels so weird and anti-women to see that in print. But I really mean it. And I don’t say this so you’ll all say “yes you are babes xxx” or some other more intellectually advanced form of that – I say it because it’s true. I’m never going to be on a billboard. I’m never going to be a trophy wife. I don’t have a killer hip to waist ratio. I don’t stop traffic. Jason Whatsit isn’t going to claim he hears trumpets at the sight of my naked body.

And that is completely, totally, fine.

It doesn’t diminish my value as a person. It doesn’t take away from my many other fine qualities (Actually, I am smart, and sometimes funny – which also looks weird in print, because women rarely get to compliment their own brains). It doesn’t mean I don’t or can’t take care of my body, or that nobody will ever be attracted to me, or that I can’t absolutely bring it to a fancy event.

But I’m not beautiful. I’m done. I’m out.

I’m out because, firstly, if we’re all beautiful, the word doesn’t mean anything. Gen Y has often been criticized because we all think we’re special. And we all really got told that. But most of us are actually pretty regular. It gave us an expectation that wasn’t then fulfilled. And that made us angry. And it meant that really special people were denied their specialness. And it meant that special stopped being useful language used to describe, say, Bill Gates and started being used to describe Glen the Junior Copy Assistant.

Glen probably isn’t actually special. He’d probably be better off ditching the idea that he is and building up some decent personality traits and some decent super. No fairy Godmother is coming for Glen. And from the outside, we all know that.

But the idea that Glen is special has locked him in to a set of assumptions (that being special is important) and that’s locked him into certain habits (heightened expectations, a focus on seemingly odd areas of his life – like trying to be a rapper in his spare time). And I think the idea that we’re all beautiful does the same thing. It assumes we all care about being beautiful and that being beautiful is a fundamentally important thing to be. Is it? Probably in some contexts. If you’re trying to seduce Adam Levine, for example. But it’s not essential to having a fulfilling life. I know – because I’m having one.

But the heightened expectations of thinking I’m beautiful might lead me to reject people as friends or as romantic interests that I might otherwise have got along with really well. And that’s sad, and makes my life less rich.

But mostly, the problem I have with thinking we’re all beautiful is that if we’re all beautiful automatically, I have to be better. I’ve been assigned the adjective, and I’m part of the game. So where can I go?  What’s my next move? Trying to be more beautiful. I have to be thinner, better groomed, more desirable. Because I’m worth it – I’m beautiful. I’m beautiful, and therefore, my body has become an object by which I define myself. I have to be worthy of the adjective.

I’ve been entered into a race I was maybe better off staying right out of. Instead of chilling over here, reading books and ranting to my mum about Tony Abbott’s climate policy, I have to worry about how that will appear to someone else.

It’s self-doubt wearing glasses and a moustache.

When I say I’m not beautiful, it’s incredibly freeing. I’m embracing the truth, and in the process, ditching the whole idea of judgement based on my appearance. “This is my body. I try and take care of it and I fail. But actually, it’s fine if you don’t like it. Someone else will. Should you make a comment on it? Probably not. Just move along.”

I can’t tell you how many negative thoughts and behaviours I’ve ditched since I’ve opted out of this myth. I don’t force myself headlong into crash diets and full-on exercise regimes that anger my allergies and make me sick. Generally, I find I actually eat better – because I feel better and I binge eat less.

When I say I’m not beautiful, I’m saying that I think beauty has an empirical standard, that I didn’t meet it, and that that’s fine. Just like it’s fine to not be funny or smart or ambitious. We’ve built cults of perfection around these words and applied them to everyone we like without building in an opt-out system.

Let’s build it.

We’re not plotpieces. We’re not cardboard cut-out humans. We deserve words that fully and completely describe us – words that mean something real. For some of us, those words will include beautiful, or sexy, or hot, or pretty, or cute. And for some of us, they’ll include average looking or plain. But they might also include unapologetic, flimsy, generous, excitable, observant and quick.  And honestly? That sounds way more interesting.