The Pressure to Be Beautful

For generations all across America, little girls have been raised, shaped, and encouraged to be as attractive as their physical assets allow. Essentially, the message to them has been “promote and lead with your looks.” In the last decade, with the help of surgical enhancements, an increased population, and a tolerant culture, the competition has become fierce. Consequently, for many women, a plan B has emerged: along with physical charms, develop skills and brains (acquire an education) to improve your standing. The question I ask is this: whom or what is the standing for? And why as a female is it an implied duty to be beautiful? How did physical status become so incredibly potent? Where is the value of a girl’s heart in all this?

Okay, Girls, don’t let your hair stand on end just yet. I am not implying that we are inferior, only observing the obvious. In the words of James Brown, “It’s a Man’s World.” That being said, how we choose to fit in is of critical importance.

Like you, I sing praises for the advancement of women over the last 100 years—we now get to vote, and we are making progress on the equal wage front. Although most of our professional sisters have hit their heads on the glass ceiling, many of them have gone out on their own to become successful business owners. In fact, today more than ever—with some financial backing, a little luck, and innovation—we are becoming recognized as competitors in the marketplace. For most of us, this is no surprise because we have been the strong, supporting foundations for our families throughout our lives. Each of us is typically willing to use her entire god-given skill set to get the job done! So success is no surprise.

Collectively, we have learned the value of loving ourselves—thank you, Oprah! And we are forever working on no longer needing validation from men to reflect our worth. Yet I still live in a world where archaic views are kept alive. In this world, a middle-aged man introduces himself and shares that in his younger years he was a Chippendales dancer, and instantly an image of a hot stud forms in the minds of most. However, his female equivalent in age, upon stating that she was once a pole dancer, is booed for being a formerly loose . . . . Uuummm, and the difference is?

I still sense a strong undercurrent—a still existing double standard—for the valuation of females, and again I can’t help but think that this standard was set by men. Yes, women grow up assimilating these concepts and learning the rules of the “way to be.” Either you become a member of the rank and file and live by these rules, or you choose to be less feminine by the cultural standard. If you are a woman, the message is that it is better to purr than to roar. Why? Because men don’t like it when we roar. But when a man growls, we consider it a god-given rite of passage from boy to man. Maybe that is where the fork in the road of double standards exists.

Some of our sisters have retired their “pretty girl party shoes” for a life of resignation after realizing this lop-sided game brings little fulfillment. They know that somewhere along the way, they made the choices, and with each choice there is a consequence. It may be that they came to the realization that prince charming either doesn’t exist or would not pick them even if he did. So these gal pals improve their quality if life by forsaking their feminine allure as unfulfilling prophesy and go through life by bolstering their gal pal support.

That being said, there are those of us who still enjoy facials and wear stilettos (our girl power shoes). Although the trade-off of the former looks easier, I not sure I am ready to forsake the vagina for Crocs. Should there even be a need to choose? Something to ponder.

I recall two integral moments in life that, albeit different, contained the same life-defining message. Each episode was inconsequential on the surface; however, what I experienced was riveting. In each event, the common denominator was an eclipse in time when I was evaluated as a female “not attractive enough” to garner the interest (dare I say respect) of a man. These stories led to the stories shared in Owning Patricia.

I have always been friendly by nature, and during my 20’s, I was often adventurous as well. Once, when I was pregnant and approaching 30, during a long drive on the 101 corridor along the California coast by myself, I encountered another driver. We kept in step with each other for several miles. He waved; I waved. I pulled off for gas, and he was already at the pump ahead of me. Our eyes caught each other, and a smile was shared. I got out of the driver’s side with my 7-month pregnant belly leading the way, and he turned white then abruptly turned away. WOW! I get it that he was startled, given the obvious, but why did he stop being cordial?

Was I wearing a neon sign saying “Subhuman! Do not approach, make eye contact, or be decent and kind”? No, clearly he had been being friendly because I appeared to be well . . . available for the fantasy of whatever—that is until my baby belly sent out a tazer reality check. Okay, note to self. . . . When a woman is not sexually desirable to a man, her stock value plummets.

The next scenario segues to a larger, perhaps epidemic pattern promoted (perhaps unintentionally) by both men and women. I was 19 years old, and after trying with little luck to fight against the male consensus that by body was a formidable asset, I entered the underground world where sex was an industry and I was a worker. In this rather sobering environment, I had a brief stint as part of the inventory at (the once notorious) Mustang Ranch in Nevada, where prostitution was legal.

Unlike the street worker, the downfall for the worker at the ranch was that, once there, she had no choice about whom she would partner with. In contrast, on the street there was a selection process; he approached, you approved at your discretion. At the Mustang ranch, however, the girls were displayed like garments for purchase hanging from a rack for the male customer’s selection process. He would walk down the line eyeballing our assets to select the girl fitting his appetite. This scenario evokes a fierce emotional (from both men and women) response of revulsion. I get this.

For me it was in giving up my right (however minimal) to choose. For those looking in from the outside, the response may be to the exploitation of women: our sisters, our daughters, and dare I say ourselves. Yet a sophisticated and homogenized version of this selection process occurs in most male-female encounters, and this pattern has been as invisibly tolerated as the many other “-isms” in our culture. It can sting to read this—in a raw, distressing way. However, if luring or securing a man has been a purpose or remedy for us, what is that saying? And what if we don’t like that pattern as a reality, especially when it doesn’t make us look attractive or nice? Remember, we didn’t make the rules, and at any time we can change our participation and perceptions of their value in our worlds.

We are not strengthened if we attack, defend, or make excuses for one another. We are only strengthened when our resolve to stop participating in that selection process comes from us, by us, because of us as individuals regardless of our gender.

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