Could beauty be a business liability? According to a recent edition of Harvard Business Review, it just might be. Well, if you are a woman that is. Professor Lead D. Sheppard of Washington State University and Stefanie K Johnson, an associate professor of the University of Colorado Boulder, published a study that showed how people will rate more attractive women in the workplace as “less truthful, less trustworthy as leaders and more deserving of termination than their ordinary-looking counterparts.” (“For Women in Business, Beauty is Liability”) Haven’t we heard that beautiful men and women have a leg up in business? I’ve written about this in a number of past posts (“Hotties Get More For Free” and “Did Newsweek Get It Right?” to name a few.) The article does point out that other studies have shown women rated high on the appearance scale did benefit from being seen as more competent. While that too reflects bias, I can see how that makes sense, i.e. if you assume those women who care for their appearance may also care for their work. But to assume anyone, based on their looks alone, is more or less truthful and honest, is disturbing, to say the least.
Was it the methodology that was out of whack? Doesn’t appear that way. The professors had participants in the study read fictional articles about certain people with their photos attached, and then these participants were asked to rate the honesty of the people featured. The articles were quoting leaders explaining why certain people were laid off due to economic conditions (vs anyone’s failures). While the content remained the same, the pictures changed. There were pictures of more or less attractive men and women. Attractive men were regarded the same as unattractive men with regard to the different attributes. Not so for women.
The professors attribute some of this bias to our long history of believing women use their attractiveness to lure men. (Scary that this STILL is so deeply embedded in us.) Another reason for this bias is the long history of some women using their attractiveness to compete for men to climb social and economic ladders. Think beauty contests for example.
Many would argue that attractive people have it easier in life. There have been studies showing how attractive people get more attention, higher salaries for example. But that’s based on bias too! I’m so thrilled to say that we are now living in time of pushing to bust our biases, and a call for inclusion ALL people — all genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, in our schools, offices and media. But there are many other forms of bias we have to be aware of too. And women’s appearance, especially, is one of them. Let’s start by recognizing this is an issue, and remind ourselves that ALL people deserve a fair chance. Sexism is NOT ok. End of story.
I’ve sat on panel after panel but this is a first for me. I am the only light skinned person in this entire conference, speaking about beauty in the workplace. And I’m bubbling with excitement (and a bit of fish-out-of-water feeling) because I’m sharing the stage with four gorgeous, brilliant, fierce business women who are blowing me away with their poise, warmth and insights. My friend Ty Heath of Linkedin organized an amazing conference for women of color, TransformHER, and she asked me to join this particular panel. No question, I jumped at the chance. Ty gave me an opportunity to discuss the truly important topic of beauty in corporate America. While I write about this issue in Beautyskew, I’ve never had the honor to SPEAK about it. I am thrilled that this topic is finally getting some real attention.
I can totally understand why this is a key topic for the conference. There is no denying that African-American women face a double challenge: they often have to concern themselves with BOTH not appearing too feminine or too “black.” In this era of greater diversity an inclusion, the business world has loosened up the expectations of how we should look in the office. But let’s face it, we still have a long way to go. I, myself, am still challenged with not looking either too sexy or too dowdy or too corporate. I wrote an angst-filled post about this last year when I had to prep for a huge speech in Norway. What a pain to have to a. worry about what to wear, and b. have to curb our true selves so so others can feel comfortable. Why is being comfortable so good anyway?
Diversity of looks goes beyond even ethnic identity or sexual identity. In a recent Washington Post article, “Hey Goldman Sachs, does your dress code allow thigh-high boots?” the author, Buzz Bissinger, points out that a shift to casual attire may indicate a loosening of rules but doesn’t demonstrate a broad acceptance of divergent looks and styles despite the company’s claims of diversity and inclusion. There’s still a big gap between allowing chinos in the office and being tolerant of all styles. He continues to write: “… (A) shift to more “casual” attire is fine, as long as the choices are dictated by what others want, others think, others find appropriate. Which, of course, is antithetical to what fashion should be about: individuality, freedom, self-expression. What one wears, not just on heightened days but every day, should never be captive to anyone else except yourself. It is only clothing, which, as far as I know, is not harmful or lethal — unlike, for example, subprime mortgages. “
Bissinger’s passion is palpable. How we look isn’t something to take lightly. It’s fraught with anxiety, judgement, and insecurity. As Bissinger writes: “… In our society of self-suppression, nothing is more subject to instant judgment than clothing. You are defined by what you wear, and if you wear anything different from the mainstream, the furtive stars come out. Then come the snickers. Then come the inevitable stereotypes associated with styles of dress. Worst of all comes your own overwhelming self-consciousness, the sense that somehow, some way, you are actually being offensive by choosing to wear what you want, and that it’s better to be a lemming of conformity, boxy and boring, stultified and stifled, but not sticking out. So you jettison what is most sacred of all, your own sense of self.”
What Bissinger doesn’t stress as much is how our fashion can also also be a source of pride, fun, self-expression and happiness. And these feelings undoubtedly make us more successful. So, yes, it’s about time we engage, seriously, in the topic of beauty and fashion in the workplace. From our hair styles to our clothing, to our thigh high boots, our ability to show up as we want is critical for our senses of self and of confidence. But, as I say on the panel, it doesn’t just impact ourselves. It signals to our colleagues, our friends and families that we don’t need to hide ourselves, but rather embrace who we all are with pride and happiness. And doesn’t a happier, more confident, more diverse workplace lead to a more corporate success? No question!
For a full look at the panel watch this:
Elizabeth I‘s make-up killed her. At least according to some historians. In her attempt to look youthful and blemish-free, the queen used a toxic white powder, Ceruse, containing high doses of lead. As you can imagine, lead isn’t something you want to put on your face every single day for years. No wonder the prosthetics and cosmetics to turn Margot Robbie into Queen Elizabeth I in the much-anticipated film, Mary Queen of Scots, gets so much attention. There’s an almost macabre fascination with it. Margot looks freaky and that “look” actually ends up killing her.
But my fascination with her appearance is for a different reason. The queen went to great lengths to look like this (and suffer for it in multiple ways) for much of the same reasons we “kill” ourselves to look beautiful. According to Rebecca Onion‘s detailed story in Slate, The Real Story Behind Margot Robbie’s Wild Queen Elizabeth Makeup, Elizabeth was stuck. She was expected to look youthful and beautiful, as Onion explains: ‘People perceived a queen’s beauty as a sign of her divine right to rule.” In other words, she had to look good for her job. Sound familiar? Being the Queen, and a virgin at that, she became a worshipped, a cult-like figure that MUST remain youthful. Her appearance was one key aspect of that worship. “Living inside it all, Elizabeth clearly seemed to realize her presentation of a mask that didn’t slip was critical to her survival.” writes Onion.
At the same time, however, there was a strong anti-face-painting movement brewing. It’s questionable how much her subjects actually criticized her for it, but historians point to jokes made about her and published criticisms of the use of cosmetics in general stating that painted women are foolish, foul and abominable. Elizabeth just couldn’t win this game. Either she loses for looking old and ugly or she loses for masking her changing skin. And no question, she loses to her make-up’s poisonous effects.
Times have changed. Make-up won’t kill you (though some plastic surgery, like botched butt enhancements for example, can). Women can lead without having to be worshipped. And adorning ourselves with cosmetics is second nature. But we, women, aren’t fully immune from the high, and often complex, beauty expectations demanded of us in society. We have to look youthful, so as not to be deemed as frumpy and, thus, old-fashioned or not on the cutting edge of our fields. And, at the same time, we can’t look too beautiful, so as not to appear too provocative or frivolous, and therefore, not smart or competent. Let’s be honest, how many of you — women and men — comment on what your female corporate or political leaders wear vs your male leaders wear? I remember these very discussions when my division was led by a woman. I willingly took part in these conversations too! I’m not blameless. We didn’t want our female leaders to appear unstylish. Now that it’s being led by a man, not a word is raised. I’m not saying male leaders aren’t expected appear a certain way. It’s that it doesn’t become water cooler conversation, ever.
I love beauty. I love to play with make-up, wear fun outfits and get my hair blown out. I undoubtedly feel more confident and energized. And, yes, I want to be admired for it too. But why does it need to go beyond that? Why do women have to be caught between all of these tensions? Why can’t we look frumpy or dolled up without any of the negative associations? Why can’t we look beautiful without being accused of being flirty and flighty? My only hope is that as men invest in their beauty more (according to the American Association of Plastic Surgery, in 2017, nearly 100,000 men had filler injections, a 99 percent increase since 2000), we will level the playing field, and the conversations will turn from what women and men look like to whether they have something worthy to say and give to society.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being both a panelist and a moderator for a few events at Advertising Week in NYC. One of the perks of being on the speaker roster was that I was chosen among a few other women to be interviewed by Katie Kempner for her video series: “Perspectives with Katie Kempner.” As Katie describes it on her site, this video series is a way to: “To inspire and empower working women who are attempting to live meaningful, happy, healthy lives as some combination of wives and partners, mothers, friends, sisters, daughters and successful professionals while retaining a sense of self and navigating the crazy 24/7 always-on life that is today’s reality.”
So what did we speak about? Prior to the interview — I’m talking minutes prior — she asked me what am I known for and what I do at Google. When I answered her, she looked at me nonplussed. But when I told her that I live nine lives and try to integrate them all, then she got excited. And that topic became the main subject of our interview.
And, thus, this interview became the first real forum for me to discuss my next adventure: to share my story on how to live a meaningful (successful? happy? — still not sure of the exact description yet) life. Here goes: so many of us are an amalgamation of seemingly contradictory aspects. When it comes to me, I’m part tech maven, part beauty/fashion commentator, part spiritual animal, part athlete, and part mother. But we don’t necessarily celebrate or push those sides to their fullest, and certainly don’t always weave them together. For years, I’ve been excited and energized, but also conflicted and challenged by the many nuances of myself. On the one hand, I’ve been enriched by these many sides, they have opened up new opportunities for me. I realized it’s time to fully buy my own seemingly random but fruitful, fun, expansive approach to life and inspire others with it.
On the other hand, I’ve been accused of giving people a mind fuck. People often ask me, “wait, what, you work in tech and sit at the front row at fashion shows?” Or, “huh, your speaking on big stages about creativity all over the world and are raising three kids?” Or “you combine anthropology with technology?” And this is my favorite: “you dress like that and strictly observe the Jewish sabbath?” Yep. And what’s more, it’s BECAUSE of these different sides that I can be as fulfilled as I am. Don’t get me wrong, I bitch and moan like the rest of us, so I’m not saying I’m fulfilled ALL the time. But when I take a step back I can say I have lived, and know I will continue to live, a pretty badass life. I believe I’ve found my success because I’ve embraced — versus compartmentalized or rejected– these different sides. What’s more, I have found ways to interconnect them.
In the video, I give an early life example of this. I studied in small, yeshiva high school. This meant I endured intense days filled with secular and Jewish studies. Needless to say, college was not just a breeze compared to that but definitely eye opening. I was exposed to many different types of people and subject matters. Did I reject all that despite having slightly different upbringing or lifestyle? No way! Moreover, I took my treasure trove of judaic studies and applied them to almost every subject! By combining my two different worlds I realized I could stand out, and ultimately, succeed.
Another example: when I transitioned from my advertising life to Google, I felt like the biggest fish out of water, a total charlatan. What did I REALLY know about tech anyway? But I was an expert on how to uncover human insight. I studied social anthropology in college and then spent 20 years partnering with anthropologists to help me uncover those insights. Aha! That was my special sauce. Leverage the study of anthropology to uncover what drives our deep relationship to the digital space. That sparked an industry-first thought leadership series of studies, Humanizing Digital. These insights not only drove digital campaign after digital campaign for my client, but also elevated my team within and outside of the company.
Of course the subject of beauty made its way into the video. Like I have done in this blog for years, I encourage us to embrace it. So many people I know see the subject as frivolous and therefore, unsuitable for intelligent business women or men to discuss. Bull shit. There is no reason to not to weave beauty into our daily lives and let it inspire and empower us. Yes, we can embrace beauty AND brains!
Ok, I think you get the gist. I realized it’s time to fully buy my own seemingly random but fruitful, fun, expansive approach to life and inspire others with it. I’m still spinning this concept around so I would LOVE your feedback. Or at the very least have fun watching the video :). Click the image below to watch.
I just returned from a whirlwind — but amazing –trip to Norway where I was privileged to speak to the Norwegian business community at the Oslo Business Forum. As I prepped for the speech, I definitely had a stressful moment or two. Was I concerned about the two-thousand-plus audience? Nah. Was I in a fluster that the flight was cancelled at the last minute and screwed up our plans? A tinsy bit. What really challenged me was deciding what to wear! And I know I’m not alone in having such angst, especially among many of my female friends and colleagues. Am and I just a superficial gal? Well, I do love a nice pair of heels. But the issue runs deeper than that. What we wear speaks volumes. It needs to be on point. And I have definitely experienced the downside of when it wasn’t. And it wasn’t good.
This topic is the focus of the second video conversation with my friends and brilliant women: Rachael McCrary, CEO of Jewel Toned, and Marci Weisler, CEO & Co-founder of Smart Women, Smart Ideas (and edited by the great Suzette Cabildo, also from SWSI). For us, women, especially in this new era of #metoo, we want to be super careful about how we “show up.” As Rachael and I discuss on the video, there are many nuances to consider — many more, we believe, than those that men have to ponder. First, we have to think about the audience — is it male or female? American or Foreign? Young or old? Then we have think about whether the event is a business or a more casual one. Even the state or region of the country in which we are conducting the engagement matters! Rachael speaks about how she dresses differently in L.A. vs. SF vs NYC. Of course we have to make sure we communicate a sense of seriousness while not appearing TOO serious. We want to seem sophisticated BUT still fun. And we can’t seem to old or too young. Phew! No wonder it takes us about four times as long to “suit up” than it takes for men. Think of the opportunity cost of dressing: hours we could spend making money, being with our kids, sleeping, whatever!
Yet, I also appreciate much of the considering, adorning and pampering that goes into this process. It prepares me; it gives me the added assurances that I can rock it, no matter the situation. And it allows me to express myself in more ways than just through the words I speak. I just wish how we appear wasn’t so complicated. Wouldn’t it be great to be able share our full selves without fearing some kind of backlash … from either gender.
Take a look at our latest conversation and please weigh in with your thoughts.
Getting dressed should be a painless, more than that, it should be a positive experience. And certainly it should be the least of my worries when it comes to speaking around the world on very big stages or meeting with clients. Maybe by spreading the word and sharing our feelings, we can learn to applaud, not judge, one another for what we wear. Imagine how we can channel all that left over stress for new ventures!
And now some pics from the event!
A few weeks back I shared my reactions to the #metoo movement. And while I wrote about how wholeheartedly supportive of it I am, I also cautioned us not to inhibit our femininity or masculinity. I urged us to embrace our bodies and celebrate our sensuality.
As promised in my last post, I am sharing the first of our video series of stimulating chats I had with my good friend and entrepreneur, Rachael McCrary, and host, Marci Weisler, CEO and Co-founder of SWSI (Smart Women. Smart Ideas.) Media. Rachael is not only a brilliant and beautiful woman but also the founder and CEO of the lingerie company, Jewel Toned Inc. Phew lots of heavy hitters, eh?
In the video we address how people we know are responding to the movement, e.g., whether they are acting differently, dressing differently or speaking differently. The discussion moves from business success to erotica. We raise the questions we’re all facing around whether we can give compliments anymore or whether we have to squelch our femininity or masculinity; whether having women with power lessens or raises levels of sexual harassment; whether the paranoia around sexual harassment can some how diminish our confidence and success; and how owning our sexuality can actually empower us.
Please don’t get us wrong. We are not challenging the movement in any way. Nor are we necessarily taking the position of Morning Joe host, Mika Brzezinski, who is concerned for men who could be accused and fired without due process. She was quoted in Newsweek saying: “The problem is that any woman can say anything, and that’s it, it’s over. Is that how we’re running businesses now?” We certainly are not dismissing Brezezinkski’s opinion, it’s more that we are speaking about something different: our own, personal experiences, and more specifically how how to empower one another.
No matter where you stand on the issues, the only thing we truly urge for all of us is to be open to the different opinions and sides. Listen to others’ points of view, concerns and ideas. Don’t judge women or men until you hear what they have to say. Get the conversation going amongst your community in work or outside of it. We all are going to all have to navigate through these issues to find a better way. Just don’t expect others to do it for us. It’s up to us to make the change.
Have a listen and share your feedback.
Lots of buzz this week regarding the Golden Globes, especially all the references to women’s empowerment in the industry. As you all know, many of the female attendees banded together to wear black to protest the industry’s prevalent sexual harassment. I’m happy to notice that, while the community of show biz women expressed their outrage via the color of their attire, they were still eager to show their femininity and style. From deep cleavages to hourglass shapes to enhancing sparkle and shine, these impressive women looked sexy and feminine.
I’m not writing as a fashionista or style commentator here. I’m writing as an empowered woman who is eager to help empower others.
I’ve been struggling a bit with my feelings about the #metoo movement. Undoubtedly I support a woman’s ability to live and work free of sexual harassment. After all, I, like so many of my friends, have faced harassment in some shape or form from my school days to today. In fact, I was encouraged by my followers to write my version of #metoo stories. And I did. But I never published them. It wasn’t that I was ashamed. Partly I didn’t want to incense my readers and then leave them with no inspiration. But, really, I think I was concerned that all of our anger would lead us to want to disallow our femininity and sexuality.
We are starting to see the backlash from the movement: from women showing their support for men in social media to French celebrities, led by Catherine Deneuve, criticizing American women for “confusing” violence with seduction. They argue that the movement reduces our sexual freedom, that “instead of empowering women, the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc movements serve the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, of religious extremists, of the worst reactionaries,”and of those who believe that women are separate”.
I certainly DON’T want people — women or men — to misjudge me because of my gender or how I appear. I’ve been burned by it. BUT, what I also don’t want is to feel I have to hide myself either. I want to own my beauty, sexuality, sensuality, femininity — whatever you want to call it. Could the #metoo movement lead some of us to inhibit our sexuality out of fear that we are advertising for sex or “asking” for it? Could our efforts to encourage men to judge us for our creativity, intellect and point of view, also push us to dampen or quell our femininity?
I’m not saying we should all be wearing lingerie to the office. But, from what I’ve experienced, even while wearing a suit and high-necked blouse, people have still judged me as being too provocative. In the end, it’s not just what we wear, it’s our whole aura: our style, how extroverted we are, how confident we seem.
What I’ve learned is that the biases we face or the harassment we may encounter is not about US, it’s about them — the harasser. Any anger or mistreatment of us is a reflection of others’ own issues, particularly issues with sexuality. Thanks to our Puritanical underpinnings, U.S. culture is conflicted about sexuality and beauty. We either deify or demonize it. To make matters worse, we have a hard time believing women can be both smart, and beautiful. To this day, we’ve failed to successfully debunk the negative “dumb blonde” stereotype still floating around our culture. The BBC created an ironic skit, showcasing the amazing Tracey Ullman, aptly demonstrates the biases we face towards women and their expression of their femininity. But she turns the tables. In it, the almost all female police team, make a men dressed in a suit feel like he deserved getting robbed at knifepoint since he look so “provocatively wealthy.” Have a look yourselves:
In all seriousness, we should be able to express ourselves, including our femininity or masculinity, without the fear of harassment. We can change this. We HAVE to #TimesUp.
We need to appreciate beauty and sexuality — our own and that of others. If we embrace it, we won’t feel so conflicted by it — and treat it with the respect it deserves. Once we embrace it, we won’t feel so conflicted by it. And I believe our affirmation will mitigate others’ power to use it against us. Think about it, we apply the same logic to religious or ethnic expression, right? Do we feel we should shut down people’s ability to physically embrace their specialness? No way! I’ve given up trying to appease people who feel uncomfortable with beauty and femininity. If they want to deem me somehow inferior, that’s their problem. They will lose what I have to offer.
To all of you — men, women, and or however you define your selves — don’t lose that unique and wonderful part of you that is beautiful, sensual and magnetic. And if that means wearing a powerful pair of pants, a body conscious dress, or short sleeve shirt that shows off your sculpted muscles, go for it!
Within minutes of me publishing last week’s post, The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On, I received a very interesting plea by one of the readers. He urged me to address another appearance-related issue, ageism. And he was quite passionate about it. Within a few days of my post, he reached out again asking why I hadn’t yet written about it.
While one might be taken aback by such pushiness, I was actually pleased. Selfishly, I was happy that he thinks I have something to say. But more than that, I’m glad he cared, and that he was a “he.” In case you didn’t see his comment on the post last week, here it is:
Great commentary, Abigail. This is an ‘old’ argument. Have we made progress?; probably. Have we went far enough?; Certainly not. I think the broader discussion has to do with ‘age’ – what is the underlying difference between ‘beauty’ & ‘age’ if it means one class is being treated as an outcast? Many older workers are now feeling the same level of discrimination that woman of all ages have felt for many, many years. Of course, certainly for vastly different reasons in many respects. But what about woman over 50? Now they’re judged on their looks and their abilities. Talk about shaming! We need to start raising the noise on this issue; isn’t 50 the new 30? If so, let’s be more inclusive for all races, genders & ages.
Needless to say, I agree with him. And as a woman in the corporate world, especially in a very young industry, i.e., tech, I can relate to the fear of being “too old” in the not so distant future. I may be able to speak in front of large crowds and have the confidence to put myself “out there” in social media but tell my age to may colleagues? Now, that’s a different story :). In all seriousness, I experienced a bit of a mid-life crisis last year about this very issue. Would I lose my allure? And what happens then? Will people not want to work with me anymore? As vain as it sounds, I recognize that we all bring a full package to our social and professional lives. And that package includes youthfulness, style, attractiveness, in addition to all the other very important traits like intellect, integrity, a work ethic, EQ, and the list goes on. So I totally understand what this reader was getting at. There was a recent story by Carly Ledbetter in the Huffington Post all about this: Men are Getting Now More Than Ever. These Plastic Surgeons Explain Why.
This topic reminds me of a story I wrote a few years back about how American woman and men fear looking older. This fear is not just associated with sexual appeal but with a sense of currency in the office. Here’s what I wrote back then:
According to an article by American Health and Beauty(“More Male Patients Seeking Cosmetic Procedures”), men are increasingly seeking facelifts, male breast reduction, Botox treatments and liposuction. The reason given? Major competition in the job market from younger, more energetic youths.
What’s even more depressing is the rise of eating disorders among the silver-haired set. A recent New York Times article (“An Older Generation Falls Prey to Eating Disorders”) states that more and more women over the age of 50 are suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders.
So what do we? We can be more diverse age-wise in our hiring practices. And we can support older entrepreneurs who decided to pivot a bit later in their lives. And I’m sure there are even more actions we can take. In fact, comment on this story if you have some ideas!
But I actually think the changes need to come from within ourselves first. If we are in fear of aging, we will inevitably project that onto others. We all have to maintain ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. If we are to lose our sense of energy and positivity then we should expect people to not want to work or play with us.
I mentioned above that it was a man who reached out to me. While I don’t want women or men to ever feel ashamed or unattractive, I’m actually somewhat pleased it was a man who commented. For one thing, if both genders are experiencing this issue, the more likely the problem will be addressed. In addition, I’m a big proponent of men taking special care of their physical health and appearance. Unlike women who see doctors regularly from a young age and are used to tuning into their bodies, whether for procreation or disease-prevention reasons, men don’t really have a need to think about their bodies until later in life. They may not understand or feel connected to their bodies in the same way women do. But when we all make conscious effort to maintain our physical health, and, yes, our appearance, we understand our bodies better. We are clued into them. And frankly we respect them more. If more men were to have a stronger “connection” with their bodies, I am convinced, they will not only be healthier for longer, but also be more aware of when they aren’t healthy.
No doubt I want to ensure that we give everyone a chance, no matter their religion, gender, appearance or age. And we should fight against any discrimination that we face. But I also think it’s up to all of us, individually, to ensure we feel healthy, happy and energetic. Not only will we have that much more confidence, but we will undoubtedly inspire others to see how being older could even be better!
This week we are changing things up! While the last number of posts have been about the future, i.e., upcoming fashion tech, this week I’m going to talk about something that’s been around for centuries: Fairly Tales. Well, more specifically, Beauty and the Beast.
The reason? You can’t ignore it. Every time I open my news feed I see story after story about the movie. Of course there’s lots to say about this version: there’s some hot actors in and controversies surrounding it, and box-office numbers are through the roof. But it seems the focus on it is excessive.
Should I be surprised? I mean how many versions of Beauty and the Beast, whether in film or written form, have there been? A ton. What gives? Fairy Tales intrigue us because they are a reflection of fundamental human struggles, highs and lows, and desires etc. But in this day and age why are we so enamored by a simple story about a beautiful woman and her ability to attract a prince?
Beauty, or the lack/loss of it, is so central to so many of these stories, because, well, it does matter to us. But I can’t help but wonder if the blatant concern with outer beauty is something we want our kids to be listening to or watching in this day and age. Haven’t we progressed beyond girls being noticed and valued for their beauty alone?
For those of you who follow Beautyskew, you know that I’m anything but adverse to our celebration of beauty. But I am alarmed when we view beauty as our only asset. I too have a daughter who is beautiful AND intelligent, gregarious, athletic, friendly, artistic, and the list goes on. I try to celebrate all these traits. So when a movie all about beauty gets so much attention I have to pause.
But, maybe this film is actually a gift. Maybe the smack-you-in-the-face focus on beauty — it’s in the very title — will force a necessary debate. No matter how successful we are at helping our daughters, sisters, girlfriends or mothers see their worth beyond their appearance, our culture still reflects how critical our looks are. Often culture has a way of doing it in subtle ways, e.g., only cast young, svelte women for TV roles, churn out only singers that look pretty or put the spotlight only on female politicians’ attire. When it’s subtle, it’s that much harder to recognize the issue, especially for kids. On the flip side, the obvious title of the film and the role of beauty in the film can’t be ignored. It’s there to enjoy, agree with or confront. And that’s a good thing.
The fact remains: we are judged by how we look. I suffered from this just last week when I was harshly judged by a particular audience for how I looked. I’m not placing all the blame of my less-than-stellar success at bonding with the audience on my looks, but from what I heard, how I appeared was met with criticism and sexism. This reaction tainted the whole presentation and had a ripple effect on others I work with.
I don’t like it, but it happens. We can’t shield our kids, friends, relatives from that. But we can help them come to terms with it. If we deny the reality, we don’t help anyone. We just leave our loved ones unprepared for others’ reactions.
The reason fairly tales still touch us is that they are so obvious. They speak to the classic issues of beauty vs ugliness, evil vs goodness, strength vs weakness, without apologizing for it or masking it. Of course we are more subtle creatures and don’t need everything so blatant. But sometimes you got to put the thinking out there so people are forced to respond. We need to talk about the role of beauty in our lives, we must deal with issues of jealousy and fear. We may not like that our outer appearances gets so much hype. But they do. Let’s address the issue, and learn how to love ourselves no matter how we appear to others or how others react to us.