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Is beauty the ultimate power tool?
Maybe, but it's definitely complicated.
Is beauty the ultimate power tool? Maybe, but it’s definitely complicated.
Feminine beauty has become so intertwined with the male gaze that our understanding of and ownership over our own beauty is flawed. Personally, I’ve always felt conflicted about my looks. When I was younger, I spent more hours than I care to acknowledge molding my look to fit hyper-sexualized beauty standards where the end goal was being more attractive to men. I know I’m not alone in this. As I’ve got older, physical beauty has become more of an individual experience and I am less acutely aware of trying to fit these standards. Of course, this doesn’t remove the reality that they’re all around me, simmering in the media I consume and the TV I watch.
Beauty and the objectification of women often go hand in hand, but are they the same? Can beauty be separated from the desires of others? We have to literally look in a mirror to view our own beauty, so are our bodies and faces and physical auras only really for other people?
First, let’s explore if female beauty is worth more than male beauty. The numbers say, yes, yes it is. For instance, female supermodels make way more than male models, even though the pay gap between men and women usually skews in the guy’s favor. The pay imbalance here directly correlates with the worth of our physical beauty, in addition to the size of the beauty and fashion industries’ capitalistic influence over our physical appearance. The story is similar to female athletes. The sexualization of female athletes leads to larger brand deals and more media coverage, but it’s rooted in sexism. In fact, female athletes were sexualized as early as the 20th century in order to reassure the public that women would not overrun sports. Yes, really.
If beauty is our power, why are we not able to “own” and embrace this commodity? Model Emily Ratajowski has famously expressed her opinions on this topic over and over again, only to be met with tons of controversy across the gender divide.
“I understood that I had a commodifiable asset, something the world valued, and I was proud to have built a life and career off my body. All women are objectified and sexualized to some degree, I figured, so I might as well do it on my own terms. I thought that there was power in my ability to choose to do so.” — Emily Ratajowski, My Body
Ratajowksi also explored how her ability to gain status associated with her beauty was because her beauty appealed to men. Would beauty be different outside the confines of patriarchal power systems? Almost definitely. Is it possible to separate our understanding of beauty from the male gaze now? I’m not sure.
When I think about “owning” my beauty, I almost feel guilty. I believe a lot of this feeling comes back to feeling threatened by others’ beauty and worrying about them feeling threatened by me. The number of times I’ve been told people thought I was “scary” has made me overcompensate by being overly polite instead. If you “own” your beauty, do you risk making others feel worse? There’s an innate competitiveness to being pretty in a world where beauty is universally celebrated as a woman’s ultimate power tool. The prize in this competition, of course, is male attention. It’s all pretty fucked up.
It’s also impossible to explore beauty and power without exploring how race, sexuality & able-body bias plays into beauty standards. During a conversation with Kelechi Okafor in Diem (listen here), she discusses the impact of being shadow-banned by social platforms and how algorithmic bias favors people who adhere to euro-centric standards of beauty.
“People [often] want to listen to people who are more desirable and more attractive, and the way euro-centric ideologies of beauty have been set, you’re more likely to listen to people who are lighter and slimmer... even if some of these people don’t have anything to say, they will garner a large following...they are unproblematic in the algorithmic sense.” — Kelechi Okafor
This reality is interesting to explore with the rise of PFPs and avatars—versus our physical selves—as visual identifiers in social platforms moving forward (we’re looking at you, metaverse!). “I’m so interested in spaces that do not focus on what we look like and focus more on what we bring to the table,” Okafor says. While it’s fair to worry about the effect of pseudonymity and anonymity in digital social platforms, I would argue that this is because we haven’t placed enough emphasis on the benefits of pseudo-anonymity in combating real-world beauty biases. Euro-centric beauty standards are byproducts of socialization over centuries, and we have a very long way to go to reset these standards.
Beauty as a power tool is further complicated by our obsession with youthfulness. Preserving youth is tied to the human fear of dying, but women are pushed to more extremes to preserve their youthful looks. If beauty is power and female beauty is youth, wouldn’t that mean our power wanes as we become older? Would we love skincare as much if it wasn’t goal-oriented around keeping us wrinkle-free? What about dying our hair to hide greys or wearing make-up to cover blemishes? Why do we wear clothes that flaunt our body shapes? Why is cosmetic surgery frowned upon? The beauty industry itself (as much as I love parts of it) is rooted in this kind of historical sexism. While elements of beauty are definitely a form of self-expression, can we avoid this reality? What if we enjoy it?
I think it’s safe to say that most of us are conflicted over physical beauty. This week, we’re opening up the conversation around Beauty + Power, diving deep into the outsized (and f*cked up) role that beauty plays in patriarchal, white power structures.
What we’re reading…
👀 Is it pretty privilege or white privilege? Writer Natalia Gevara explores what “pretty privilege” means, especially as it relates to race, gender, and class. “My problem with the term ‘pretty privilege’ is that it takes away from these real definitions that are rooted in systemic oppression.” (The Power Outlet)
😳 The surprising impact of birth control on attraction and relationships. Writer Niki Davis how birth control actually affects our desires and preferences when it comes to picking a partner. (The Power Outlet)
Who we’re Dieming with this week…
To “Diem with” someone means to candidly exchange knowledge. Here’s a handful of the people we are learning from (in the Diem app) this week.
Building financial foundations. Personal finance advisor, Jen Mayer, recorded this conversation yesterday at 4.30pm EST, she talked about how to build financial foundations while freelance and what to consider if you plan to start a family. You can listen to it here.
Rebuilding trust after infidelity: is it possible? Relationship coach, LEVELS dating app founder and co-host of Unqualified podcast, April Beyer & Amy Fraser hosted this conversation yesterday at 6.30pm EST. You can listen to it here.
Unpacking the Hate on “Astrology Girl” with Kathleen Wong. Based on Wong’s article for The Power Outlet, she will be exploring why pop culture loves to hate on the “astrology girl” and why we should question that. Going live TODAY at 2PM PST | 5PM EST, here.
The life of a writer and debut novelist with Coco Mellors. Ahead of Coco’s debut novel CLEOPATRA AND FRANKENSTEIN being released next week we’ll be getting reaaallll on what it takes to be a writer & novelist. Lucky listeners will receive a copy of the book! Going live WEDNESDAY at 10AM | 1PM PST | 6PM GMT, here.
How to cultivate incredible sex & relationships. Tatiana Fogt will be in conversation with dating expert Amanda Blair on how to intentionally cultivate amazing relationships and sex in 2022. Going live THURSDAY 1PM PST | 4PM EST | 9PM GMT, here.
The intro to web3 you’ve always wanted. That’s right, no tech bro Twitter. I’ll be asking Dayna Trocki DeStefano all the dumb questions so you don’t have to. Going live THURSDAY 4PM PST | 7PM EST, here.
Cannabis & CBD for our wellbeing. If you’re curious or new to consuming cannabis or CBD for your wellness, join Eunice Kim and June Johnson as they share knowledge & resources on integrating this into your daily routine. Going live FRIDAY 1PM PST | 4PM EST, here.
ICYMI, we now send out The Briefing every Friday. The Briefing is our round-up sent to all people in the Diem app, to receive the weekly digest (and listen to all the above wisdom!) download and join the Diem app via App Store or Google Play.
See you next week,