I went on a date last night. Before I tell you about that date, I want to tell you a story.
When I was a student at Northwestern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I attended a fraternity party. One of the girls at the party was a freshman who had joined a sorority that week. She introduced herself and, over the course of the night, I learned that she was writing her thesis on evolutionary theory. When I asked her what she wanted to study, she said she was not sure. A while later, she said she was studying the evolution of sexual attractiveness. We got to talking about why some people look more attractive than others. To quote The Bachelor’s Bekah M., she said: “If it’s so easy to be attractive, then why is it that I’m not hot like all the other girls?”
I looked her dead in the eyes and, for the first time in my life, I said: “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?”
I have been seeing lots of college freshmen recently. Most of them have never seen themselves with a critical eye and they have never had a discussion about why some people look better than others. They think they have it all figured out, that they already know why they are attractive. However, in the span of a few weeks, most of them have learned that the mirror is a tricky place. People aren’t necessarily as beautiful as they believe. When a person stops being concerned with how they look, the only thing left to do is try to look better.
Don’t get me wrong, I have never told people that they are ugly. I haven’t been sure that this is a right thing to do. In the era of social media, it feels like all of us are constantly subjected to extreme angles of hair and butt, so I imagine most people take the advice of every Instagram photo as truth. At the same time, however, everyone I know who is single is obsessed with their looks. No one wants to hear that there is no such thing as “the perfect amount of muscle” or that a few extra pounds can even be a positive thing. I have yet to see someone not feel comfortable with their body after being told that it’s not a flaw. Most people know that their body is something that can work for them, something that they can get healthier and more in shape with time.
I’ve only ever heard this advice from the men in my life. My mom, for example, is forever yelling at me to “just stop eating so much candy.” I’m a hopeless romantic and I find myself sending love poems to people on Facebook. I can think of many girls who want to be ugly. In fact, in her latest book, Rainbow Rowell says, “Girls are all the time trying to be pretty, or to be liked, or to look right, or to prove something about their culture. We all are searching, in the way we are all inherently beautiful.”
But “beauty,” according to Rowell, “is about what lies between.” The saying has long been a popular one at Northwestern University. “If you’re beautiful on the inside,” someone would say to me in high school, “you’ll be beautiful on the outside.” And most of the time, this proved to be true. But I have also seen too many of my female classmates on those “best of looks” lists. To many of the people who tell us how beautiful we are, we are either “model-thin” or “in the mold.”
Sex, Math and Fortnite (part 03)
Our culture obsesses over finding the unattainable. Beauty feels like a competition. It’s as if we are being asked to justify why we are beautiful, like we are up for a popularity contest. People are constantly comparing us to other people we find unattainable. On the other hand, I’ve always felt that the standards placed on us are unfair. Girls are continuously told that they should be “a size two.” It isn’t right to judge a person based on their body. I believe that beauty should not be judged based on one’s self-image, but on who that person is on the inside.
Some people have it worse than others. Some of us have suffered from eating disorders. It is a misconception that you cannot become healthy and be thin and still be beautiful. I know I am still physically attractive, but I no longer try to be beautiful on the outside. I make it a point to not walk around wearing a red wig. It makes no sense that our culture is not OK with us being happy with who we are.
:: 09.28.2020 ::