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Thoughts on Beauty | Manolo for the Big Girl

Thoughts on Beauty

It’s hard to talk honestly about beauty.

From the multi-billion dollar beauty industry that promises you will be more beautiful than you are now (which is not nearly beautiful enough) if only you would buy this cream, to the rejection of all physical beauty as “shallow” and that only inner beauty counts *COUGHuglypeopleCOUGH*

It’s tough to find a middle ground.

I’m told traditionally good-looking people get treated better than their plain or homely counterparts and I am inclined to believe it.

Why?

Well I guess beauty makes people happy –it makes me happy, and also broke, and also also possibly pregnant (JOKING I’M JOKING)– and you want to do things for the things that make you happy. I think the sexual aspect is overplayed. I get treated better by gay men when I’m all dolled up and they certainly don’t want to sleep with me. Bastards.

So what do we do?

It kind of sucks because there’s some part of me, the part of me that still thinks the world should be fair and what’s on the inside should be the only thing that counts, thinks I am being OPPRESSED by the MAN and plain people should get the same treatment as the pretty girls.

And yet? Screw it. Life isn’t fair.

I can do my best to treat all people with a baseline of courtesy and human decency because there’s never a reason to treat someone less than that, but frankly, I like getting treated well because I’m pretty.  I work damn hard at being beautiful because I know beauty is currency and I hate being broke.

Interestingly, I have found my size doesn’t come into play as much as you might think it would, since I feel like I’m constantly treated to a barrage of “I’m invisible because I’m fat and no one treats me well and booty hooty hoo.” I might be living in special magical Plumcake World, but with a few exceptions –mostly shopgirls– I’ve NEVER noticed being treated as less-than because I weighed more-than.

So maybe you’re not invisible because you’re fat.

It’s so easy to blame the fat.

I think Francesca once wrote something about how maybe you’re not single because you’re fat.

I’m fat as butter and there are men on two continents  currently attempting to frogmarch me down the aisle (granted it’s one man on each continent and they’re both crazy as a bag of ferrets, but hey) and I think we ALL know it’s not because of my lovely and charming personality. I’ve got the lovely and charming personality of a Perrier-Jouët meat puppet, and I know it.

BUT I work the currency.

Pretty girls (and boys) have been getting the breaks for thousands and thousands of years. It’s not going to change, because human nature doesn’t change.

So, why shouldn’t we have to play by the rules? We are never going to be so noble and benighted as to not care about external beauty. Why should we think we deserve a free pass?

28 Responses to “Thoughts on Beauty”

  1. Madame Suggia August 23, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    I always rationalize it like this: the universe has a way of even-ing things out. So I have a gorgeousgorgeousgorgeous face (helped in no small way by a daily and judicious application of the finest my cosmetic drawer has in stock), and a rather wobbly physique. Would I trade my fab face & flabby body for a face like a bag of spanners and a *perfectly proportioned*size 12 body? Not in this lifetime. Because if I had my face, and a bangin’ body, well, that just wouldn’t be fair on all the other girls, now would it?

    As for being treated well, once I hit adulthood, I realized, this was ‘it’ and I’d better get on with it, using what I had. And I honestly don’t recall ever being treated with anything less than the respect, good manners and thoughfulness I deserve. Red lipstick and a f**k you attitude helps.

  2. Thea August 23, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    I once sat in a ‘weight and health’ class in Los Angeles and realized that while I was obviously much fatter than most of the women there, I had still had my tooth enamel and I didn’t eat breath mints to cover barf breathe.

    Then after I got over being catty/insecure – I realized that most of those incredibly thin women had a lot of the same problems I did. Fear of being judged and found wanting, bad boyfriends, etc etc.

    I love makeup and clothes and of course really good accessories as much as the next girl but if you live by the media standard you will never be ‘beautiful enough’ and you can literally die trying.

    So I scour the stores for what looks good on my figure, whether or not it’s in fashion, and I always keep my lipstick on and I expect to be treated like a gorgeous creature…..and generally, I am :-)

  3. GoP August 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Have you noticed, also, that if you are cute, made up well, and wearing nice, flattering clothes people size you down in their mind? Somehow pretty=less fat.

  4. wildflower August 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Beauty is similar to intelligence, personality, athletic prowess, and a whole bunch of other personal traits in that you are born with a certain amount, but if you want to make the most of it, you have to work at it.

  5. Jeni August 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    @GoP- I’ve noticed that too. The more dressed up and “lookin fine” I am the smaller people guess me to be. And none treat me like the token fat chick.

    I am a big girl, 5’10” and about a size 26/28 but I work it. I walk very tall, (no slouching for me!), dress as nice as I can afford to (while still looking like the jean loving college student I am), and tend to have this attitude of “I know I’m the sh*t, if you don’t recognize it that is your problem, now move out of my way plebs”…It works. No one has said anything negative to me about my appearance/weight since I left 11 grade. I’m pretty dammit and I plan to use that to my advantage!

  6. The gold digger August 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    My sister is not thin and has never had a problem attracting men. She is outgoing and warm and dresses nicely and does her hair and makeup and has a fab smile.

    Unfortunately, she is an adrenalin junkie and picks men who are not the settling down type, but not because there aren’t settling down men who aren’t interested in her.

  7. La Petite Acadienne August 23, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    I think confidence really does play a major part in it. You, Plummy, come across as someone who will be treated like she is fabulous or she will damn well know why. And that’s appealing. Hell, how many of us here have girl-crushes on you? (Raises hand). Beauty is one thing, but vivacity? Oh, that’s another thing altogether.

    And I think unfortunately, a lot of bigger girls (heck, a lot of girls in general) have had much of the vivacity and confidence crushed out of them by some people who WERE cruel to them. So then it becomes a vicious circle. You expect to not be treated well (even if you know you deserve better), and so you accept bullshit treatment, because you figure that better treatment is for other girls, not you. So you get treated like crap, it crushes yet more of your confidence. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Overcoming that is a huge exercise in bravery. It takes being able to just stop and say, “I will not accept that kind of treatment. And if that means being alone/making a scene/losing friends/what have you then so be it.” And it’s scary, because when your confidence is that low, it is a REAL leap of faith to think that asserting yourself won’t result in you dying alone in a gray apartment with too many cats.

  8. Mifty August 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    If “*COUGHuglypeopleCOUGH*” are the only ones who think it would be nice if most people weren’t so hung up on looks — and I don’t believe for a moment that’s the case — well, why shouldn’t they (actually, we, these days) see things that way? They’re the ones who have the most reason to be unhappy, so it seems perfectly reasonable they’d want to talk about it.

    That said, I agree that this “some are pretty/some are not” thing seems to be hardwired, and nothing’s really gonna change. But there are lots of things in the world and human nature that I don’t much like, and might point out, and also don’t see changing. That doesn’t mean they don’t suck.

    I used to be very pretty. Not beautiful, but snub-nosed, high-cheekboned Irish-girl pretty. Now, after years on prednisone (I prefer breathing to not breathing, generally speaking), I am chinless and pudding-faced and quite plain.

    I enjoyed the perks of prettiness when I had them and miss them now they’re gone, though I think I have kept a good amount of the sort of unearned confidence being pretty gave me. I do keep forgetting I’m one of the “*COUGHuglypeopleCOUGH*”

    I don’t whine about injustice, or sink into self-pity (not about this, anyway). I wear jeans and T-shirts and sneakers because that is my ordinary preference, not for lack of choice or effort, do my hair and makeup neatly, and at about 300 pounds, I haven’t gotten crap about my weight from family, friend, stranger, or even doctor in many years.

    But pointing something out doesn’t in itself constitute whining, and it isn’t unreasonable to say something stinks when it does. Even if you’re “*COUGHuglypeopleCOUGH*” (Can you tell I kind of hated that?)

  9. Eilish August 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm #

    “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

    This saying may seem trite, but it’s not. If you really think about it, this is an incredible statement. Is there one generally accepted standard of beauty espoused in fashion magazines? Yes, there is. Do most people fit into it? Nope.

    But look at ART. Throughout the world and through history, visual artists have depicted a wide range of body types, facial features, and other outward characteristics as attractive or simply interesting.

    As a photographer of people, I tend to be attracted to specific features like my husband’s eyebrows and lips or my son’s chin and smile. I also tend to be attracted to more dramatic features and bone structure because they’re more interesting to photograph. That’s just me.

    Simply put, different people are attracted to different things!

    I think what confuses some people is the concept of making the most of what you have and taking care of yourself. My gorgeous son can wear a grubby t-shirt with shorts and flip-flops and not comb his hair, but because he’s 5 and has perfect skin, even features and a charming personality girls from 5 to 85 go ga-ga over him.

    This doesn’t really work for me. :)

    But if I dress nicely, take care of myself and project the confidence I’ve earned in my 33 years I still get a lot of positive attention. Not from everyone, but there you go, that’s life.

  10. daisyj August 23, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    This is basically my approach, though I doubt I could ever express it so confidently. I used to rail against the shallowness of the world until, at one point, I realized there were certain things that were within my control, and the quantity of fairness in life is not one of them. So, if attractive stylish people got the good end of the stick, then I was going to do my best to be one of them. I’m not saying I’ve reached the level of transcontinental longing, but it’s rare that I ever feel invisible.
    (That said, I tremble in terror for what this comment section is about to become. Brace yourselves, girls.)

  11. Abby August 23, 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    As always, I have thoughts. My looks are average; when I was younger I had my pretty phase but am not dramatic in either direction on the looks scale. I do think that personal unfairness re beauty is one thing, and systemic unfairness quite another. As a society we should strive to make things as fair as we can.

    When people start talking about “hardwiring” and “human nature” I always get a little itchy. I don’t quite believe it, somehow. Oh, I know there is massive evidence to support those arguments, but there are always the outliers too.

    I think this is so much more emotionally weighted for women. Average men don’t appear to be sent into tailspins over handsome men existing in their worlds. This is obviously (puts on feminist hat) because of sexism and hopefully when things are better the world over for women we can be less wrought up over this stuff. It’s just stuff, after all.

  12. g-dog August 24, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    LPA pretty much expressed my thoughts – simply that confidence is a huge factor here, and that is internal.
    And .. I found the “*COUGHuglypeopleCOUGH*” insulting/demeaning and beneath you. Especially since Fat&ugly is almost one term (vs. fat or ugly).

  13. txbunny August 24, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    I was told many years ago that after a woman passes 40 her soul/inner values start to show on their face. Whether she is filled with joy or anger, contentment or resentment, etc it will seep out and be displayed for all the world to see. I have found that this is also true for a man.

    This is the reason why I think many people feel I am 10-13 yrs younger than my actual age and I always have people talking to me / treating me with kindness and respect. It also does not hurt that I am confident, joyful, impish, energetic, with lovely manners. It does not matter whether I am dressed to the 9s or in shorts and a tee with no makeup and a ponytail in a personal life.

    That said, I am treated much better at work if I wear a dress everyday, makeup, fixed hair (as opposed to a ponytail), and appropriate shoes / accessories. I am an engineer and the only woman in a team of 40 (there is only 16 women engineers in a organization of about 450). It is not fun in this boys club and you need very think skin to work here. What should matter is my competence and my abilities to complete a task quickly and correctly. I am not in sales or sales support. Unfortunately some of the Neanderthals I work with only act nice, appropriate, and professional if I look stunning at work.

    This disgusts me beyond belief. I can still pull off stunning fairly easily but I don’t think that I should feel compelled to do this to receive fair treatment at work. In a casual work environment where the guys wear shorts, tee shirts, and tivas this should not be necessary.

    I just remind myself I am gainfully employed in a bad economy. I also know that my looks will help me get my next job (fortunately or unfortunately). I know they make my life easier in many ways and I like to look good as a creative statement of self BUT my inner intellectual is not happy that the outer packaging is that important to much of the world.

    I dress nice and look polished everyday for myself and myself alone. I just wish it was not so important to my co-workers that I am interesting/beautiful to look at.

  14. Dawn August 24, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    On the note that your size doz not effect you as much when you are pretty . I very much agree . I have always herd how ppl are treated differantly bc they are fat , but I dont feel like I ever have been (with the exception of someone getting mad at me and calling me ”fat ass!” like Im not aware or something *rolls eyes*) but Im also very pretty . I mean , not to be conseeded , but Im a pretty girl . I have never been treated as less than by ppl bc of my weight (I should add that Im 5’3” tall and a size 16/18 , so Im actually fat , not just ”media fat” which is a size 6 these days) and I have never had a lack of men looking/flirting/asking me out , tho I have been very happily married from the time I was 18 <3 or ppl treating me well . Im also a very confident person and I think that may have something to do with it as well . I also try to treat others well , no matter what they look like .

  15. Harri P. August 24, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    I guess my question is, are we talking about beauty as in natural good looks, or beauty as in the annoying industry that says I have to have a full face of makeup on and scent and high heels and the right underwear and done hair to be considered an attractive woman, worthy of respect?

    Because frankly, I don’t give enough of a crap about the opinion of other people to spend a lot of time on beauty. I got better things to do with my life and my time.

    It is also annoying to me that anyone who spends enough time working on themselves is considered attractive in our society, regardless of their natural looks. Diet enough, bleach your hair, spend enough on plastic surgery, and even if you look like a snub-nosed pig facially, that’s enough to signal “beauty” to the untrained eye.

  16. marvel August 24, 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    Does anyone else find that your opinon of whether another person (male or female) is “beautiful,” “pretty” or *COUGHuglypeopleCOUGH* changes with your appreciation of their personality/job ethic/compassion? I have known people whom I thought initially to be strikingly beautiful to appear gradually more plain as I discovered that they were not as competent at their jobs as I thought they were. And I’ve had the opposite reaction, in which I grow to think of someone as more physically attractive than I first thought, just because they have earned my respect in an academic and/or professional and/or good human-being sort of way.

    Also is there anyone here who downplays physical attractiveness, so as to be taken more seriously at a job or to avoid unwanted attention?

  17. the misfit August 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    I enjoy being a spectator but temptation finally got the better of me and I want to echo Harri P’s comment. I’m 28 and pretty normal-looking (and not a big girl, if that matters in this instance). I have a lot of single guy friends a few years older than I am. I have noticed that they have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA which women are really attractive. I don’t mean that they and I have different taste…I mean that they can’t see the difference between packaging and natural beauty at all. If every girl they knew were stripped to a white tee, face scrubbed, with no hair dye, perm, or products, they wouldn’t recognize most of us. I’m married, so I’m not competing (and thus don’t try as hard most of the time), but I’ll often note just how much attention gets paid to a frankly unpretty girl if she’s very thin or fit; expensively dressed; wearing makeup and heels; and has Expensive Hair. Of course self-presentation can make us all look our best, and is worth the effort when we want to really turn out. It’s fun (if it’s for fun, rather than because you have to, IMO). But a beautiful woman in PJs and messy hair is beautiful, and an unattractive woman in heels, makeup, dyed/fake hair, tight clothes, spanx, and a mani/pedi is – not. Or at least, this seems obvious to me.

    None of this really bothers me, BTW, because the ranks of the TRULY beautiful are so thin. They’re life’s exceptions, like the truly brilliant or the phenomenally athletic. We all love to ooh and ah over their exceptional-ness at times, but they’re not our competition any more than Olympic athletes are when we’re playing softball at the family picnic. My dear husband thinks I’m beautiful, and I think he is dashing, though neither of us could ever pass for a model; so I’m happy.

  18. wildflower August 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Another thing that has crossed my mind is that although mountains of anecdotal evidence confirm the notion that more attractive people get treated better and even statistically make more money, there seems to be no correlation between looks and happiness. More attractive people do not have better relationships or happier families. Or see more beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Or stub their toes or drop the soap less frequently.

  19. Plumcake August 24, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    @Wildflower: I’d definitely agree with that, in fact I wonder if they’re not just a little bit more unhappy than plain folks.

  20. Eilish August 24, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    So many interesting perspectives here! Plumcake, you have some really interesting readers. Thanks for posting on such a thought-provoking subject.

  21. ginag August 24, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    Maybe it’s because I’ve never fit into the exceptionally narrow confines of beauty: i’ve always been fat and have had short hair, and have worn glasses, not to mention I don’t have caucasian features.

    I find it laughable that so many of you can discount the true privilege that comes with being pretty. Fat girls can get a pass if the fat’s in the “right places” or if they have symmetrical, blemish-free faces, or have pretty (long) hair — oh, and it helps if you’re white and don’t fall into the unfortunate ‘mammy’ stereotype that’s attached to fat black women.

    I can be as charming and witty as I wanna be, but fact is, that currency doesn’t spend nearly as well as pretty. I’ve had to learn to be witty and charming because I always knew that’s the only thing that would attract a mate – it sure wouldn’t be my physical qualities. I got married *in spite of* what I look like.

  22. Ellie August 24, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    As an unattractive person and a feminist, I’ve never particularly cared or tried or bothered. If people have chosen to point out where I am lacking in the looks department, it’s never been because of the way I actually look/ed, but rather because I’ve never played the game. I don’t see a need in wearing make-up every day, or dieting to try for some standard I can’t reach, or dressing in a manner that makes me feel uncomfortable because it’s “nice”. In fact, since I’ve reached adulthood, people just don’t point out that they don’t find me attractive. I’m competent, dress appropriately for my environment, and don’t expect special treatment nor do I give it to anybody based on their appearance. I don’t exude self esteem. While expecting special treatment works for some people, I expect to bypass the whole issue of beauty and it works for me. Though I will confess to purposely making myself “uglier” by keeping short hair. A useless protest against an equally useless man who hasn’t been in my life for years, but all the same, being “uglier” on purpose makes me me.

  23. Constance August 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    A favorite quote:
    “Nature gives you the face you have at 20;
    It is up to you to merit the face you have at 50.”
    Coco Chanel

    I’m in agreement with txbunny. Anger, resentment, disgust, it all shows in your face as you age. My niece and her daughter call that “the bitchy face”. And women and men get it.

  24. Retna August 26, 2010 at 5:15 am #

    I went to an upmarket boutique looking for a dress for my niece. I’m a size 16 but work at the presentation, and avoid the matronly. The shop assistant insisted that there were indeed clothes my size despite their sizing ending at 12. She went through the designs and found clothes that did fit me well. If I hadn’t put in the time and effort to look ‘fashionable’ I doubt she would have given me the same attention. Looking stylish does give the impression that a body is some how less big. And gets you more attention. Looking like you can pay for the purchase – seals the deal.

  25. wildflower August 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    Ellie… it’s none of my business, but *if* you’d care to indulge my curiosity, what is it about being ugly on purpose that makes you you? How does this make you happy? Do you make your home and/or office decor ugly on purpose as well? What about the simpler things? For example, I love my bright primary-colored Le Creuset pots and pans. Do you eschew things that are pleasing to the eye just to make a statement? What is that statement, and why is it more important to you than giving your eyes joy?

    Feel free to ignore me if I’m being too nosy!

  26. raincoaster August 26, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    Any number of people have claimed to have been the first to say “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” You have to think of it in terms of what you have to work with, as Plummy says. “This is me just out of bed” vs “this is me groomed.”

    Maybe your style is more Joni Mitchell than Dolly Parton, and that’s fine; you still have the difference between you at zero and you groomed.

    I live in a horrible part of town where, thanks to disease and ODs the life expectancy is lower than nearly every nation on Earth. I know if I walk down the street and someone offers me drugs, I’m not well-groomed enough, because I have been mistaken for a user. I’d rather NOT be approached by drug dealers on the street who see me as inferior to them, based on appearance.

    So I guess you could say that much of the time I’m dressing to make an impression on drug dealers: an impression that I am above them.

    This is true; it is AUTHENTIC in a meaningful way, and the fact that it takes a bit of effort on my part to put up my hair and pick the black trench rather than the teal windbreaker with the torn hem is not a deterrent to it. There is a class differential between those who are groomed and those who are not which is what we’re responding to in those studies.

    By the way, John Molloy, who did all those Dress for Success books and who is a statistician by trade, has examined beauty and grooming extensively. He says yes, we assume well-groomed people are smarter, more competent, higher status, and more sexually attractive than ungroomed people (he did two pictures of each model and told people they were twins).

    There are also several studies that show that naturally beautiful people (see the BBC special with Elizabeth Hurley) with symmetrical faces who are conscious of their beauty are LESS happy, less self-actualized, and less secure than other people. And there you have the difference between beauty and grooming.

    How would YOU like to live under the cloud of knowing you peaked at 16?

  27. Ellie August 28, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    Wildflower: I don’t actually prescribe to the wildly held theory that short hair is innately uglier (note the quotes), and I don’t go out of my way to be slovenly and unkempt, if that’s the definition of ugly you’re going with, but I also don’t go out of my way to try to improve my appearance, especially if it’s inconvenient for me. Some women will be all “oh, excuse me, I didn’t have enough time this morning to do X beauty ritual.” With me, it’s that I don’t choose to make time because it’s not important for me. As to hair, which is actually my main form of protest, well, somebody long ago was pretty much stuck me in a mold of “girl with long pretty hair” and developed an idea of me that didn’t mesh with who I was. I let him expand on the idea and tried to play into it, because I was silly and stupid and hadn’t yet thought about it all that well. It led to a lot of pain. I cut off my hair in a protest against that ever happening again, because if that was the key feature that made me desirable to this person, well I’d be having none of that. And I keep it short as further protest that I won’t fit into anybody’s mold. When people see old pictures of me, with long “pretty” hair, they tend to tell me that I need to grow it out again, so I can be prettier, so I can fit their definition of what a woman should look like. So no, I choose to be “uglier” on purpose because I’m not stupid and silly anymore. I’m me, not someone else’s idea of what I should be or what I am.

    To your other question, I like pretty things when it comes to art and home decor and what not, and won’t buy clothes that I don’t like the look of, though this applies to most stuff that is popular these days, but a person isn’t a thing. Buying a nice pot isn’t the same as making yourself up in a manner that pleases someone else. If someone else wants me to wear lipstick, or grow my hair out, or get a nose job (yes, I have been told this before), it’s not the same as buying an object or visiting a museum. An object doesn’t have to stare at you in the mirror and tell you you’ve given it to someone else’s desires. Or maybe it does.

    As I said, I tend not to judge on appearance (unless you wear jeans to a funeral or the opera, which isn’t a matter of prettiness, but respect), so if people want to be “prettier,” good for them. I just won’t be joining them any time soon.

    I hope that’s enough of a clarification.

  28. wildflower August 28, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    Ellie, thanks! Your earlier post somehow took me aback, but from this explanation, I actually think you’re a lot like me! :) (Not that that’s a compliment; I’m a certifiable eccentric. :) )