Just hours ago, a close friend of mine joked that if I were only willing to go on medication for the rest of my life and didn’t care about my health so much, I could have a whole piece of cake instead of just two bites of it at his child’s birthday party. Only an hour ago, I learned that I was dropped from a cabaret show because my hourglass figure, complete with large breasts and very broad hips, was tougher to fit on short notice than the other models and one model had dropped out so a need for even numbers meant someone had to be dropped and I, the most challenging model, was the sacrifice. Sometimes things happen that we tie into our attitudes about beauty and vanity and they seem discriminatory, but they’re completely understandable. Sometimes, what might be normal human behavior is seen negatively because of context. Beauty is a subject included in that weird bias. It is through this kind of a lens that I must view the seemingly giant debate over an article by Samantha Brick.
Samantha Brick is too pretty. Samantha Brick has felt hurt by people’s behavior because she’s pretty. Samantha Brick is now hated by masses on the internet for writing about the experience of being pretty. Shame, the internet cries, on Samantha Brick!
I’m not a beauty queen and I wouldn’t say my appearances are better than average. That being said, part of my very well-being, my work and my success in my work, relies on my appearances. I am not a beauty queen and most people would consider Mrs. Brick a superior beauty, but I think I can see her point, a little.
My friend’s joke was funny to me, earlier. That friend has seen me struggle, now, for over a year in a battle against my own body. His comment is a great acknowledgement of things that have become habit to me; things that are stressful and, sometimes, heartbreaking. The lady who dropped me from the Angry Woman Cabaret was also not being unkind. She was trying to be reasonable about her own presentation. But, their actions are from the perspective of those close to me or directly tied to what is going on. People who don’t know me treat these situations differently. I’ve experienced people witnessing me count calories and obsess over food calling me vain and unreasonable. There are few people who guess that I do it because I’m diabetic and controlling my health through diet and exercise. My renewed interest in exercise is seen as similarly obsessive, vain and unnecessary. While only my closest friends would otherwise have known I was taken out of a show, if it were a topic of conversation outside of my social realm, I can only guess how it would be seen. There’s not a way to explain what happened without sounding vain or maybe pathetic to strangers. I have also experienced people comment on my shape and how I dress. I won’t deny that I am vain, either. I am vain. But, I’m not a beauty stereotype, so it is often allowed, depending on the company I keep.
So, as I ponder what I’ve read from Mrs. Brick, I can understand how what she says may not be entirely untrue. And, before people’s thoughts wander back into the question of who is beautiful or not, this isn’t about who you see as attractive. This is about how other people see her. She’s right, when someone is seen as attractive, things do happen. I’ve seen men spend unreasonable amounts of money on women based entirely on their appearance. In one of Richard Wiseman’s books, he talks about a study done that showed women with larger breasts were more likely to be helped if they were hitchhiking. I also think that there are women who become insanely jealous of others based on looks. I don’t, however, think that’s the only thing that powers what Brick was complaining about. I think that another problem is not how others view her appearance. I think it might be how others view her behavior which affects her appearance.
As a culture, both in the United States and, I suspect, most places affected by Western culture, we have a love-hate relationship with vanity. If someone has large breasts, we are mostly fine with it. If someone purchased their large breast implants, though? Many people dislike it. Pretty eyes are a fortunate genetic accident, but pretty eyes surrounded in lots of smokey, powdery make-up is seen as excessive by some harsh critics and stylish by others. Then there is the battle between our concept of beauty and the tipped scales. Big and beautiful is a new, fabulous trend. Confidence in a human form that is often considered unattractive because of some arbitrary line drawn in the sand about what size is attractive is wonderful, to us, at least lately. But if that same big and beautiful person suddenly becomes skinny, what happens? Confidence in herself might be seen differently. We see self-confidence differently if we see it as someone being beautiful and knowing it when they are matched to an ideal than we see it if someone is attractive and atypical.
Interestingly, this debate also reminds me of the awful debate over the Science Cheerleader a year or so ago, when people objected to some sort of objectification rather than accepting and welcoming a different form of science advocacy. The argument was made that we couldn’t have barbie doll science. If we advocated science, we wanted it to be representative of everybody and by “everybody,” we meant the average, eccentric scientist who wasn’t a “barbie.” Many people failed to see the hypocrisy. I’m also reminded of community debates over sexiness in science, activism and general geekery. Are geeks allowed to be sexy or attractive? Aren’t we somehow buying into a culture of objectification if we are? But, as we ask those questions, we’re implying that we want to remain ignorant of the flipside. If we reject these things in our circles, aren’t we then promoting an intolerance to those who fit this stereotype? Aren’t we perpetuating the very bigotry that Samantha Brick is complaining about?
I don’t think that what people are angry about is only that she is beautiful. I think she’s wrong that the backlash is something that proves her point. No, the backlash seems to say that people are angry that she’s beautiful and she knows it. To us, she’s too beautiful to acknowledge that she’s beautiful. She’s too beautiful to be vain. She’s too beautiful because she’s aware. That’s the crime that she shares with the Science Cheerleader and the crime that she shares with countless other women. If you’re too beautiful, we don’t want you to tell us about it and we don’t want you to use it in our social, academic or eccentric social groups. Why? Because we’re too immature to handle it.