I knew i wasn't done the other day. Especially in regards to my first question: Is feminist and conventionally pretty compatible? I was quick with a YES! But there is a lot more to it than that. People are pissed off about this right now and i don't blame them. I think the reason there is such a divide in this topic is because some think fitting a status quo set by patriarchy, is "antifeminist." Others think it's antifeminist to call people out for their looks, conventional or otherwise. I certainly stand by my previous agreement with the latter argument, except for one other thing: privilege.
Much like white-privilege, male-privilege, hetero-privilege, and cis-privilege, there is an absolute amount of privilege that goes along with being conventionally attractive. This may be why there is such a divide within this conversation. Without putting words to it, are we all talking about the "what is beautiful is good" phenomenon?
The physical-attractiveness stereotype (AKA "what is beautiful is good") is the presumption that physically attractive people possess other socially desirable traits as well. This is based solely on their appearance.
How does physical appearance and attractiveness tie into privilege? Research shows that, "in our society people who are good-looking are assumed and expected to be better than the rest of the population. According to Kenealy, Frude, and Shaw (2001), research indicates that an individual’s physical attractiveness is an important social cue used by others as a basis for social evaluation. This leads one to believe that physical attractiveness affects how society views people and also how people can be misinterpreted based on their looks. Since many people stereotype physically attractive people as being more socially acceptable, it becomes harder for average or unattractive people to be perceived as having positive traits."
In numerous studies photos of people that were stereotypically attractive were rated more favorably by participants than photos of people not conventionally attractive. Physical appearance had many implications for those rating the photos on impressions of personality. The "beauty is good" stereotype existed in many studies where participants made biased decisions based on physical attractiveness in everyday situations. "Understanding the types of inaccurate perceptions we hold can help us to explore social stereotypes by limiting biased judgments. More specifically, this area is important to the field of social psychology such that stereotypes involving physical attractiveness and social perceptions have always been a major occurrence."
(I realize the photo is laughable but i just wanted to give ya'll an idea of the types of images they use. Even the one that is supposed to be "not attractive" has gorgeous blond hair, perfect cheek bones, big eyes, etc.)
As early as 1972 researchers found support for the "what is beautiful is good" phenomenon in a study that concluded, "stereotyping based on physical (specifically, facial) attractiveness does occur. Physically attractive individuals were rated as having more socially desirable personalities and were expected to have greater personal success on most of the life outcome dimensions." LIFE OUT DIMENSIONS! In most everything in life, just being attractive gives one an upper hand, or at least research shows that Americans believe it does?! This is how much weight we place on physical appearance!
The physical attractiveness bias exists in our professional lives, such as in hiring practices, as well:
Attractiveness biases have been demonstrated in such different areas as teacher judgments of students (Clifford & Walster, 1973), voter preferences for political candidates (Efran & Patterson, 1974) and jury judgments in simulated trials (Efran, 1974). Recently, Smith, McIntosh and Bazzini (1999) investigated the “beauty is goodness” stereotype in U.S. films and found that attractive characters were portrayed more favorably than unattractive characters on multiple dimensions across a random sample drawn from five decades of topgrossing films. There is
considerable empirical evidence that physical attractiveness impacts employment decision making, with the result that the more attractive an individual, the greater the likelihood that that person will be hired (Watkins & Johnston, 2000).
Ok so the physical attractiveness stereotype exists. How does it tie into the currently ongoing feminist conflict of appearance? I think it has a lot to do with privilege. "Beauty privilege" to be exact. Race is socially constructed, yet white privilege exists. Gender is socially constructed, yet male privilege exists. Social status is socially constructed, yet class privilege exists. I think these same rules apply to beauty privilege. For something to be socially constructed it would not have a meaning (ie a biological meaning) without a social representation that is constructed specifically to give it value. Beauty, for example, would just be a state of appearance, no negative or positive connotation to it, except for there is a socially constructed meaning for beauty that creates bias and privilege.
To look at beauty privilege in already accepted and understood terms i will turn to white privilege. The definition i put together below was adapted from Kendall Clark's definition of white privilege.
Beauty Privilege can be defined by:
1. a. A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by conventionally attractive people beyond the common advantage of all others
b. A special advantage or benefit of conventionally attractive people
2. A privileged position; the possession of advantage a conventionally attractive person enjoys over those not conventionally attractive people.
3. a. The special right or immunity attaching to conventionally attractive people as a social relation
b. display of beauty privilege, a social expression of a conventionally attractive people demanding to be treated as members of the socially privileged class.
4. a. To grant conventionally attractive people a particular right or immunity; to benefit or favor specially conventionally attractive people
b. To avail oneself of a privilege owing to one as a conventionally attractive person.
5. To authorize or license of conventionally attractive people what is forbidden or wrong for those not conventionally attractive; to justify, excuse.
6. To give to conventionally attractive people special freedom or immunity from some liability or burden to which non conventionally attractive people are subject; to exempt.
I realize that definition is unnecessarily long but it covers privilege extraordinarily well. Advantages of beauty privilege goes beyond financial benefits such as making more money in tips as a server or not having to pay for drinks at the bar. Research shows that the physical attractiveness phenomenon (thus beauty privilege) affects being hired for employment, called on in the classroom, sentenced for a crime, selected for a position of power, etc. Being able to actively or passively fit into the contemporary standard of beauty offers a set of privileges that go well beyond getting out of a speeding ticket.
The Happy Feminist wrote about beauty as privilege a few years back:
When I was in my 20s, I constantly got pulled over for speeding without ever once getting a ticket. I have frequently been told that the cops probably didn’t ticket me because I was young and cute (and white, but that’s not the issue here). Was I glad to not get a ticket? Sure! But the power in these situations was always in the hands of the male cops who pulled me over. They got to decide whether they deemed me attractive enough to exercise their power and discretion to let me off the hook for speeding.
Although I agree with her to a point i don't think this can be used as an argument against beauty privilege for two reasons.
1. The same argument could be made for the other forms of privilege, but we'd know it's crap. For example a statement like "POC aren't racially profiled, the power to determine who to arrest is in the hands of those doing the arresting" is faulty because we operate within a system of institutionalized racism in which the power isn't solely in the hands of a person but a response to the culture that the person exists in.
2. Even if Happy Feminist's argument is taken into account there is still an element of privilege that goes along with beauty because those who fit into the conventionally attractive category are at least given some element of power which, those who do not fit into the status quo, are not. For example, if a conventionally attractive woman is pulled over, she may or may not get a ticket. If a non-conventionally attractive woman is pulled over, she doesn't have that chance. (I use "non-conventionally attractive" because i think all women are beautiful, we are just talking about beauty in societal terms here).
This is closely linked to feminism because feminists work to educate others about privilege as well as give up our own (be it hetero, white, able-bodied, thin, cis, wealthy, etc) to live in a more just world. Could this be why some radical feminists are up in arms about others reclaiming conventional beauty?
If it is, i wish they would be more intelligent about it and lay off the personal, and unjustified, attacks.
I hate to do it but here's a gem that you'd think was written by a troll, but no, it's someone who claims to be a feminist:
"Jill Fillipovic is the original Fake Pretty Feminist. [Fame within the feminist blogosphere] is all based on looks it's all vapid it has nothing to do with women's liberation. UNTIL WOMEN ARE NO LONGER SEXED UP THEY WON'T BE SEEN AS HUMAN BEINGS BY MEN. Actually these are the women who will never see THEMSELVES as human beings. They'll be too busy buffing their nails and deodorizing their vaginas, ha!." (emphasis hers)
Wow. Way to discredit all the amazing work someone has done just because of the way she looks. How is this any better than telling a woman who is not conventionally attractive her work is meaningless because she is "ugly"? It's not.
I think all this women hate is just as much crap as beauty privilege merely because neither will get us anywhere. As far as beauty privilege goes, "beauty" itself is a socially constructed term that determines which physical appearance is better than another. Years back a heavier, pale woman was considered beautiful. It represented her wealth and abundance. Now, women starve and pay for cancer boxes (tanning beds) to achieve just the opposite look because it's what is now socially desirable. Why are we hatin on each other when we should be hatin on the system that tells women they should starve and get cancer to fit a socially desirable appearance? Beauty privilege needs to be recognized in the same way as the other privileges are. We don't tell white people they are useless or hetero women that they can't be feminists. No, we just expect them to understand their privilege and use it for good and not for evil... you know what i mean...
We can't start excluding women from the feminist movement for (intentionally or otherwise) fitting into a standard of beauty that we should be fighting against. If a woman is naturally thin we can't go around saying she must be anorexic and that being thin is unfeminist. No, she is just naturally thin and that's perfectly fine. Saying the opposite is just as much bullshit as if we were to call fat women unfeminist. In the same regard being conventionally beautiful isn't unfeminist, but it does provide an element of privilege that needs to be recognize. As feminists, we can't attack the women who fit this (almost unattainable) standard of beauty but rather we must question the standard and expand it to fit all women, hell, not just women, everyone. Ren says it best, "why are we blaming the woman with the perky tits rather than the society, which says perky tits are the best?"