Feminist Exercise: Try replacing the phrase 'objectivised beauty' with the word 'canoes'.
by Tash Hodgson
A suggestion for the world at large: Objectifying beauty, insisting that 'hotness' be present in everything from advertisements to UN ambassadors, is about as appropriate as doing the same thing with canoes.
Recently, I've become a bit worried about the world. Not so much in a "my god, Mr President, will you take a look at these print-outs?" kind of way. More like "So, how was school today, world? You... you don't want to talk about it? You never want to talk about it. *whispers* You always used to want to talk about it..."
It's a concern born of love and the sneaking suspicion that, day by day, the world's potential is being thoroughly wasted. And the worst thing of all is that I know exactly what the problem is. Partly because I'm really arrogant, but mainly because I'm utterly, utterly brilliant.
Let's imagine for a minute that we've been transported to some other planet (I think there are a few films regarding this topic, if you need a visual). This is a planet where the creatures LOOK and SOUND and WEAR COATS and GET HAIRCUTS just like us, only with one small difference. They're totally and utterly obsessed with canoeing. They bloody love it.
Day in, day out, they practice their canoeing, read up on it, talk about it, host TV shows about it, put their careers on hold for it, judge others by their skill in it, cry over it, write books about it, dedicate millions of Flarbs to it (flarbs being their global currency, keep up) and generally centre their entire consciousnesses around it. Bloody canoeing. They just can't get enough of it. They love it.
Except, actually they don't. They're knackered by the constant oar-upkeep, the need to understand the latest in current-flow, the daily need to inspect their... like... wood bits. As a planet, every other industry suffers because value is placed on this utterly arbitrary talent. When the aliens are asked if they'd rather have a plumber who was good at canoeing or not, there's no doubt in their minds. Canoe expert, of course. In a mate, canoeing prowess is not only expected, but necessary. Want to choose an airline service? "Do the adverts have CANOES IN???", they'd yell desperately. And when we, baffled humans that we are, drop into this world of madness, quietly say "but, being good at canoeing doesn't really matter, right? At all? Except for people who... like... canoe for a living? And there can't be very many of them, surely?" we'd be met only with the aggressive stare of a nation who knows outsiders could never understand.
Now, let's start again, but replace the word "canoeing" with being objectively attractive.
OH MY GOD IT'S THE STATUE OF LIBERTY WE'VE BEEN HERE ALL ALONG DR ZAIUS.
Why is it that we require our singers to be attractive? Are they any less talented if they've got a (Susan) boil for a face? What about our actors and actresses? If art is supposed to imitate life, shouldn't it be that those we watch look, sort of, like us? When people advertise perfume, why don't they say what the perfume smells like, instead of having a nineteen year old with wet lips pick up an oversize bottle and whisper "...moist". If a perfume advert had some bloke on it scratching his face and going "Erm... smells a bit like guinness and hay, I think", I'd buy it. Why does objectivised beauty, this thing that has absolutely no bearing on any tangible skill, control every aspect of our culture?
Being Empowered is not the same as Being Objectively Beautiful. Being beautiful, actually, doesn't matter. It's useless. You can't heat it up and eat it, you can't put it in a bag and take it to the Poor Kids, you can't build a delightful Italian taverna out of it, it doesn't make you laugh, it doesn't inspire you to DO GOOD - all it ever does, ever, is make you wonder what you can do to be more like It. Gok Wan has, sadly, missed the point. "GET WOMEN FEELING BEAUTIFUL NO MATTER WHAT THEIR SIZE" - WHY? WHY DO WE NEED TO? WHY DO WE NEED TO FEEL BEAUTIFUL? We do, of course, is the sad truth of it. We do, otherwise no-one would shag us. But if THAT is the only goal, aren't we giving beauty a credence it doesn't really deserve?
Thing is, it's one of those problems that doesn't have a solution, isn't it?
Yeah, I could stop shaving my legs (why on earth do I do that? Why? How odd. What an odd thing that is) and stop wearing makeup and channel my self-worth entirely into something actually worthy of worth, but it's too late for grass roots. Fear is too powerful, and that's what it really comes down to. I'm ashamed to say it, but I'm just the same. We're all racing-racing-racing towards the sunlight, laughing-laughing-laughing as we grit our teeth and try to hide the fact that we've all got a stitch and want to go home, because this is the race, and it's SO MUCH FUN and if you stop, that's it. Everyone else is gone, and you're left in the darkness. Everyone pretends that Trying To Be Beautiful is a right lark; shiny bathrooms, white pillows and cheerfully overdubbed Swedish models, but it isn't (trust me, this ivory face of mine has been nothing but a curse). It's a ticking timer; a man at the bottom of the ferris wheel tapping at his watch and spitting into the grass.
I have a solution though. I actually do. Unfortunately, it's a solution that requires Really Massively Famous people to do something quite tricky - stop trying to make us feel awful all the time. Stop placing value on a thing that has ABSOLUTELY no bearing on talent, on intelligence, on wit and on worth. Does J K Rowling need soft focus lighting to talk about Pottermore? No. Does Julia Roberts looking 28 until she dies prove she can act? No. Does pub feminist Caitlin Moran need to put a lovely picture of herself on the front cover of her book in order to write eloquently? No.
I'm aware that I'm sort of going off on a "women women poor women" tangent here, but honestly, that isn't my point. All I would say is, that if women worldwide threw their mascara away tomorrow, men would still shag us. Trust me. Men are dead easy. But out of fear that that one woman, that one sneaky woman would keep her mascara hidden triumphantly in her bag and betray us all with beauty, all of us clutch our weapons close.
It's just canoeing, though, is objective beauty. It doesn't matter. It's canoeing, only without the subsequent endorphin rush and excellently bad-ass bruising.
I throw down a gauntlet to you, influential people of this world. At your next photoshoot, refuse the beauty treatment. Just look like what you are, a human with a normal human face that does the things that human faces do. Start showing young girls and lads that beauty is fine, but that, actually, it doesn't matter. Like painting the Mona Lisa on the world's most powerful telescope - it's nice and all, but could you get out of the way now, please, there's sort of some science we need to be getting on with.
We are so much more interesting than an arbitrary ideal.
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On another planet, probably, are aliens that place the same emphasis on canoes as we do on objectifying beauty and demanding it go with everything, like salt. Both planets are silly and should spend more time on GETTING USEFUL THINGS DONE.