When I was in middle school and high school, there were (as I’m sure is the case in a lot of schools, both then and now) so-called “cool” or “popular” kids. And there were less-than-cool or even “loser” kids. I was definitely in one of the latter two categories, depending on whom you asked. I think a lot of teenagers waste a lot of time trying to either become cool new selves or to re-label their current selves as cool. For most people, once you go to college or the working world (and beyond), you realize that “cool” just doesn’t matter as much as you thought it did back in your adolescent years.
The fight to have different kinds of teenagers considered “cool” is, I think, a worthy one, as long as these uncool teens don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a temporary time of the cool and uncool, and that better times are on their way.
But sociological problems do tend to come in complementary pairs. For example, if someone tries to insult you by calling you (or worse yet, insinuating that you are) gay when you are straight, there are two problems. Problem #1 is using “gay” as an insult. Problem #2 is insulting you. But by calling you gay as an insult, that person is perpetuating both of those problems. Likewise, if you create yet another movie in which a good straight white man saves the poor abused Asian woman from the evil Asian man, you are perpetuating both (#1) that white men are more desirable than Asian men are and (#2) that women are just pawns in a racial game of winning-losing decided by men.
Right now, as far as beauty and women goes, there are two problems that are intertwined. Problem #1 is that the media and those of us the media affects (almost 100% of us in varying degrees) continue to have a very narrow view of what defines a beautiful woman. Problem #2, which is less talked about, is that women are primarily (or at the very least secondarily) judged by their beauty.
So when I see Pretty ugly: Can we please stop pretending that beautiful women aren’t beautiful? talking about how sitcoms should stop pretending conventionally beautiful women are ugly and should show more less–conventionally beautiful women as beautiful, or when I see Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty; I applaud those efforts. Yes, we do need to redefine beauty. There are diverse kinds of beauty. Beauty isn’t just a tall, skinny, blonde (or maybe light brunette), white, straight woman with narrow cheekbones, and tiny nose. Lots of women are beautiful. That’s important for us to get straight.
Let’s not lose sight of the big picture, though. There is still a second problem. Why do we care how beautiful women are or aren’t? Why do newspapers always have to mention how female political candidates looked or comment on how fashionable or unfashionable their dress is? They’re politicians, not runway models! Kathryn Bigelow looks great. Sure! She’s beautiful and her arms are buff. I agree. Uh, but why does that matter? I thought we were awarding her for best director, not best-looking director.
I will, like many other feminists, continue to celebrate and appreciate different kinds of beauty. Still, I cling to the hope that one day we will all graduate from the high school of life, and we’ll see that beauty isn’t what it’s all about.