Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Can You Ever Be Too Pretty For Your Own Good?

I was having a conversation with a few of my girlfriends the other day when a beautiful girl walked into the coffee shop we were at. The table went quiet.

One of my friends nervously pulled at a loose string on her hem, another stared the girl up-and-down, and the quietest of the group continued flipping through a magazine as if Brooke Burke’s doppelganger hadn’t just breezed through the door.

Finally, I said “Wow, that girl is really pretty.” Everyone responded in surround-sound; defeated and despondent, “I know, right?”

In that moment I began wondering what I was in the middle of. There was an energy shift among the women. Each of us responded in a different way. Each of us had exposed our insecurities and our imperfections in one quick moment of reflection.

As women, are we really threatened by beauty or by the way that beautiful women make us feel?

I found a recent Psychology Today article detailing the perils (ahem) of attractiveness. Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. revealed that “recent research has shown how the advantages of being beautiful don’t always translate into greater successes. In fact, being good-looking can cost you opportunities – jobs, scholarships, promotions – depending on the gender and attractiveness of your evaluator.”

She goes on to further explain via fellow Psychologist Maria Agthe, that attractive applicants who were in the process of approval for a graduate scholarship received higher ratings ‘from opposite-sex raters, but not from same-sex raters’. She went on to say that in this case, female applicants were actually penalized for their beauty by women.

As an author of a book that focuses on social graces and treating each other kindly, one of my core beliefs is deeply rooted in the importance of cultivating inner beauty. But that isn’t to say that outward beauty doesn’t have it’s own gravitational pull in our society and in our emotional lives.

The pretty girls feel like they need to apologize for being so.The plainer girls feel like they need to interchange the words ‘mean ‘and ‘pretty’ to make themselves feel like the nicer of the two. Regardless of where we fall on the spectrum of beauty, I stumbled across some stats that I think may help us better understand our aversion to accepting prettiness with grace.

According to the Social Issues Research Center (SIRC) a non-profit organization founded to conduct research on social and lifestyle issues, 80% of women over the age of 18 are unhappy with the way they look.

SIRC explained, “Recent experiments have shown that exposure to magazine photographs of super-thin models produces depression, stress, guilt, shame, insecurity, body-dissatisfaction and increased endorsement of the thin-ideal stereotype. Magazines like Vogue and Elle are banned in many eating-disorder clinics, because of their known negative effect on patients’ body-image.”

In a Harvard University Study they found that two-thirds of underweight 12-year-olds considered themselves “fat”. By 13, at least 50% of girls are dissatisfied with the way they look. At 14, the dissatisfaction becomes more targeted to certain areas of the body. By the time 17 rolls around, 7 out of every 10 girls will have been on a diet.*

Our image insecurities have lead us to judge not only those around us, but in turn, our poor fragile selves. And this vicious cycle of self-loathing and discontentment has led us to develop a distorted idea of beauty.

The root of the root? Pretty girls don’t have it made. No one does.

One of the freshest examples of this is Whitney Houston. Gone too soon at 48, she was a beautiful and talented lady who had everything going for her . In an interview with Good Morning America, the Canadian power-house Celine Dion commented, “What happens when you have everything? Love, support, motherhood…Something happens that I don’t understand. That’s why I’m scared of show business.”

In Whitney’s case, people continue to say what a waste. What a loss. What a shame. Because it is. Here is a woman who didn’t understand her own worth. Here is a woman who never understood how to accept her beauty and talent instead of resent it. I think there are a lot of us like her.

The problem may lie in the way we have been programmed to view beauty. While every woman wants it, we are also told to ‘harbor a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room’ (whether that’s someone else or ourselves)- as feminist-songwriter Ani DiFranco so eloquently stated.

How about you? Have you ever been shunned because you were a threat to another woman? Have you ever been left out, even though you didn’t quite understand why? Maybe just maybe, it had nothing to do with something being wrong. Perhaps it was just because you looked too right.

Have you ever done the shunning? Have you ever given envy the upper hand?

We hear all the time about accepting each others faults, but what we hear less about is accepting each others loveliness.

We need to remember that feminism in it’s original form was not only a sect of activists promoting a series of accomplishments to catapult women into their own real of economic progress– it was also meant to create a bond between sisters; a union of souls. We need to get back to that place.

Beauty is defined as ‘the qualities in a person that pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.’

My advice? Shock people with your goodness. There is nothing more defusing than a pretty girl who is kind. Because, even if pretty is something you are, being beautiful is something we should all work hard to become.