November 9, 2019

Dismantling Pretty Privilege: “I’m Pretty & I Benefit from my Looks.”


Every word I have written here goes against the societal norms women are trained to maintain.

Women are trained from a young age to deny their aesthetic. To not acknowledge that they may live in a body that society views as cute, beautiful, sexy, attractive, desirable, or even pretty.

Because women are well-trained, I am going to provide a proper definition.

Pretty privilege is defined as receiving unique advantages or having immunity granted to a particular person or group of people based on the appraisal of their appearance. 

And like all other forms of privilege, it is hard to notice how we benefit from this privilege in our own lives. For example, I don’t know what it is like to live in a disabled bodied, therefore understanding the complexity of privilege I have as an able-bodied human can be challenging.

However, it is essential to explore these complexities to break down the systems of oppression that premise off of particular groups of people having “privileges.”

Therefore today I am acknowledging my prettiness. My pretty privilege. Something women are taught not to, as it equates to being vain or superficial.

Acknowledging my pretty privilege means holding the complexity of my relationship with my own appearance with compassion and not comparison. 

It means holding my heart with heavy hands as I acknowledge that my cuteness was one of the reasons I was targeted as a child to be sexually abused.

It means not minimizing the harassment I received in high school from young women who were equating my aesthetic with sexual promiscuity. My prettiness was dragged into the intersection of male attention and female competitiveness.

It means not diminishing that my struggle with anorexia was my attempt of destroying my body to deflect the male gaze. It was my attempt at gaining control of how my body was perceived.

Research has shown that being deemed pretty (or having pretty privilege) results in higher popularity, higher grades, positive work reviews, higher salaries, greater career advancement, and receiving better treatment than those not deemed pretty. This is because pretty people are perceived as smarter, healthier, and more competent. Research also shows that they are less likely to be found guilty and are sentenced less harshly in a court of law.

But you should know, according to the research, being pretty (or having pretty privilege) is conditional and not extended to women who are trans, non-white, disabled, older, and/or fat.

Despite the fact that research validates that those born into this world in a body deemed beautiful have an easier time, it remains unbecoming to acknowledge how we may benefit off of our symmetrical face. This is because women, from a young age, are taught to counter a compliment by highlighting a flaw. And although this social training is done to draw attention away from oneself and their body, it is problematic when a pretty person denies they’re pretty.

Countering a compliment with self-criticism or dismissal will not save us from the fact that we exist in a lookist culture. A culture where a woman’s attractiveness defines her worthiness.

When pretty people deny this truth through the guises of self-deprecating dialogue or dismal, they do everyone a disservice by falling back into the untrue looks “don’t matter” narrative. Looks do matter. They matter a lot. Being seen as attractive is one of the top indicators for long-term health.

So let’s stop tiptoeing around it; we live in a biased culture that bases worth off of appearance. Doing such gives rise to fatphobia, classism, ableism, healthism, and many other forms of oppression.

Those of us who were whacked with the beauty wand need to take ownership of the fact that we get special treatment, and that doing such does not make our “pretty struggles” petty.

As someone deemed pretty, I know I was a target for sexual violence because of how my body appeared. I have experienced people looking at me but not listening. I have often had the sense that those around me think that I cannot contribute anything beyond my beauty. I am not denying being pretty can suck, I mean…I even went to medical school to prove to others that I was not merely a pretty face. That’s how deep the wounds of not being seen as a human being with a brain and only being seen as a body were for me.

Pretty people have our struggles, insecurities, and pressures. There is no denying this.

Having your worthiness be defined by how good you look, questioning your grades, jobs, or treatment because of your looks, and feeling overwhelming pressure to maintain your attractiveness and not age—all equates to feeling of low self-esteem, worth and or life purpose.

In my past I have struggled with my appearance, and, like many pretty people, and I have used my voice about my struggle. Us pretty people are comfortable giving voice to how we are objectified, have experienced the male gaze, how we are harassed and raped, the harshness other women meet us with, and the ways our beauty can undermine intelligence and contributions. But rarely  us pretty folk rarely acknowledge how our prettiness gives us special privileges. And our looks do. They really do. The research tells us that.

Us pretty people are no different than any other group of people with a form of privilege. We do not want to discuss our privilege regardless of what that privilege is because it is uncomfortable. However we must acknowledge our privilege if we are to dismantle these systems and hierarchies. We must recognize our pretty privilege if we ever want to live in a world where our worth is not defined by our waistline. If we’re going to give birth to daughters who do not live in a lookist culture, we must first acknowledge that we do. This means being honest.

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