Pretty Privileged

Here’s a concept that’s so obvious I needed to hear it from someone else. As a feminist in constant training, I am aware of the most common types of privilege, even the ones that don’t affect me directly. And yet this one, which has punched me in the face throughout my life and scared my soul for lives to come has somehow managed to fly right through my Privilege Catching Net of Feminist Awareness (cool name, ha?).

And so it was that, thanks to Littoral Mermaid, that I could finally articulate my feelings. The Privilege Catching Net has grown in surface. Watch out, world!

So, let’s get on with it.

I’m an average looking woman. I know. There are millions of us. I can imagine myself saying those same words in a support group for Average Looking Women. “Hi, my name’s Mary…”; “Hi Mary”, say all the women in a neat choir; “… and I’m a *sob* average looking woman”.
This idea would be much funnier if it wasn’t so needed. With all the messages out there making us feel like utter trash ‘cuz, you know, it’s profitable to “un-trash” us, I believe it would be tremendously helpful for all of us average looking women to get together and discover that
a) we are by far the majority of women on the planet and b) our very existence, or rather, the label put on our very existence, actively PRIVILIGES the ones on top. That is, the pretty ones.

See, for every 10 pretty women, there are 100 average looking women who exist to make the pretty special. That’s the thing about privilige: the ones who have it, have it precisely because there are considerably more who don’t.
Pretty-ness wouldn’t be worth so much if it wasn’t so rare. And for it to be rare, there has to be far more average-ness than pretty-ness.
That’s the thing about privilege, it causes oppression. Pretty-ness is used in pretty women’s favour and against average looking women. Pretty-ness is used to put yourself up. But the only way to do that is to put many many down.

I could go on and on about pretty privilege, particularly the effect it has on the ones who, like me, do NOT have it and more particularly still on the effect it has on one’s perceived worthiness of being loved. If for some reason this resonates with you and you want to rant with me, feel free to do so.

I’ll leave you with the words of two awesome feminists:

Amananta, “Ugly Girl”

“Yes, I am ugly – why should it matter? Why should it invalidate my opinions, be used to dismiss me as a friend or a gaming buddy, be used as a weapon against me whenever someone becomes angry with me or some random stranger sees my picture and decides he wants to use me as a toilet to dump his emotional shit into? Why should I be required to be ornamental? Why is my refusal to try to be an ornament met with such strident disapproval from complete strangers? What gives them the right?”

L.M., Pretty Privilege

“Pretty women are not devalued under this system and may even reap some benefits for their good looks. That’s why I think that pretty women* often express indifference or even hostility towards radical feminist criticism of beauty culture as misogynist or hell even as a little sexist or see beauty culture as something to be celebrated or even as empowering. They can’t see through their pretty privilege.”


16 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    pisaquaririse said,

    Afaic appearance standards involve prejudice, and a hierarchal order on a person’s involuntary status. Pretty, hot, good looking, sexy, I’d-fuck-her all need to go.
    This does not make me very popular.

  2. 2

    Mary Tracy9 said,

    Well, standing against appearance standards will make you popular on this blog! 😛

  3. 3

    L.M. said,

    Hey, thanks for quoting my ancient post 🙂
    I’m LM not Dissenter, though – she blogs at Mermaid’s Garden livejournal. When I heard about her blog, I thought it was rather funny that there are two radical feminists associated with mermaids.

  4. 4

    Mary Tracy9 said,

    Oops, terribly sorry, LM. I’ll fix it right away.

  5. 5

    rychousmama said,

    This is a really good post, and, ironically, not discussed enough in the feminist blogosphere, in my opinion. I think it’s very important to mention that beauty standards in our culture and most cultures are extremely white supremacist: light-skinned, small nose, blonde hair, eyelid crease, thin and more “girlish” looking, and hairless/light-haired.
    I fit somewhat into the standard western definition of “pretty,” and it’s important for me to see my pretty privilege (albeit revokable when I don’t shave my legs or underarms, when I don’t wear makeup, or when I refuse to let men ogle my “prettiness”). I was always struck by the way a lot of liberal feminists are quick to judge other women as “jealous” or “too angry” or “irrational” because they are fat or conventionally ugly/average. Even though I have pretty privilege I very much claim radical feminism as the basis for my world view.

  6. 6

    rychousmama said,

    Oh, FYI I have posted before on your blog as “Lara” but I had just signed in to my WordPress account, hence the different username 😛

  7. 7

    L.M. said,

    I’ve gotten a lot of anger and resistance about the issue of pretty privilege. No one really likes to have their privilege pointed out to them. But I don’t believe in a feminism that keeps some women socially subordinate to others.
    It might have showed up in the comments of the old post, but I think that any of the disadvantages that attractive women have – common ones brought up including not being taken seriously, being objectified or sexually harassed by men – are more about being female and being a victim of misogyny than being a victim of one’s own prettiness.

    Lara – yeah, if you ever closely read the ev-psych definitions of female beauty, they’re completely racist. Especially the stuff about “light skinned women are more feminine and beautiful” – why, then, do light-skinned women in the modern West bake themselves mahogany in tanning beds? Ethnic plastic surgery websites are pretty creepy, too – let’s narrow and sharpen your nose, widen your eyes, etcetera, but really, we’re leaving your ethnic heritage intact!

  8. 8

    marytracy9 said,

    Hi guys! I’m glad you liked my post and you’re contributing to the discussion.

    Lara, you are right this is not discussed nearly enough in the feminist blogosphere. Which is probably why I only realized about it fairly late in my “feminist awakening”.
    When I read the comments on your post, L.M., I was surprised to find so little agreement and so much anger and resistance, as you say. Particularly when it was such an eye opening concept for me.

    And yep, female beauty standards are incredibly racist. And it gets particularly taxing when evo-psychos try to pass them of as “universal”. MY ASS!
    On regards to white western women baking themselves mahogany, I would argue that this is yet another clever marketing ploy. White women cannot turn black any more than black women can turn white. Sure, you might get “tanned”… for a while. But you’ll have to keep on going. And that’s where the money is made.

  9. 9

    L.M. said,

    Indeed, the beauty industry has offered all kinds of “solutions” for tanning, from bronzing powder to tanning beds to spray-on tans. (There’s also the skin lightening industry, which is really creepy, too, as it relies on pure racism and usually results in disfigurement.)
    I’m not sure if white women are intending to look “black”. Dark brown skin is absolutely not considered beautiful. Almost all of the black women considered beautiful in the media are light skinned – Thandie Newton, Halle Berry, Vanessa Williams, Beyonce Knowles, etc. A tan is usually considered a golden-olive to light-grown color, which is a very white centric definition. Very dark skinned people, no matter how much they stay in the sun, won’t ever be that color; and some people (darker skinned white people and many nonwhite people) are born that way without ever going out into the sun, if we actually do tan, we’re a lot darker than the desirable “tan” color!
    As for the capitalist dimensions of beauty, it’s interesting to watch it collide with patriarchy. In the interests of capitalism, people have tried to sell “beauty” treatments to men, like spa services, plastic surgery and nicer clothes, because they basically realized that they weren’t even marketing to 50% of the population.
    Capitalism’s a powerful force, but I’m not sure if the beauty industry has made much headway among men, because it’s running right into the *patriarchal* standby that only women have to be beautiful and men’s appearance doesn’t matter.

  10. 10

    Mary Tracy9 said,

    Oh, white women definitely don’t want to be black! Black skin is a denfinite no-no. And isn’t it grinding that suposedly “black” women in the media aren’t really all that black? Not only are they light skinned, but they don’t even have the characteristic “black” features like wide noses, fat lips, curly hair, etc,etc. Hell, Vanessa Williams has green eyes! And Naomi Campbell, who is quite dark skinned for media standards, is always found with ligh coloured contacts.
    It’s almost as if someone puts them there to act as “black women tokens” and shut us all up about “racist beauty standards”.

    And I agree that the beauty industry will never make as much money from men as it does from women. For men being handsome is a plus, for women it’s a requirement. Lard, women are often defined as “beautiful”. That leaves the average/ugly women as being not even women. Nice, patriarchy.

  11. 11

    rychousmama said,

    L.M. brings up a really good point about the whole tanning business not about white women wanting to loook like black women. I would further add that olive and light-tanned skin can often be an indication of youth, and we all know that youth is considered one of the most desirable characteristics in women as a sex class.
    It’s so sad, how these white-centric beauty standards have become universal, global. My family is Egyptian. When I was small my grandma used to bounce me on her lap and lovingly say “beda, beda!” “Beda” in Arabic can mean “egg” but it also implies “skin as white as an egg’s.” So basically my grandma was praising me for my “white” skin. This is considered the highest form of beauty among Egyptians, who are mostly very dark-skinned, with kinky hair and black eyes, might I add. Lots of women all over Africa and even parts of Asia use skin bleaching creams, are getting surgery to look more like white women. If you look even at a lot of rap music videos now, you will barely ever see black women in them, or, only black women with very light skin, skinny noses, and super straightened hair and light eyes.
    Although some male models now are starting to look thinner, more hairless, and more “vulnerable” than they used to be a few decades ago, I wonder at what point men’s beauty standards will become more rigorous.
    Oh, a little media experiment: look for any black couples (all hetero, of course :P) on TV, in ads, etc. and see which one person of the two is lighter-skinned. I am sure you know the answer already. This especially is the case if you are in the US.

  12. 12

    rychousmama said,

    Something very strange, and you can think I am an idiot, or confused at best, but I sometimes go to a tanning bed. Yeah…I think I have a complex with the fact that my skin makes me look like a white girl and yet I want to identify physically (and even culturally, to an extent) as Egyptian. I guess I also have an affinity to darker skin, as I find women with dark and brown skins very beautiful. Haha, you can interpret that and psychoanalyze me 😉

  13. 13

    L.M. said,

    rychousmama – I put the blame at the feet of racism and patriarchy first, but nonwhite people are very good at enforcing these standards themselves. Usually it’s other nonwhite people who will tell me “you have good [feature x] for an Asian”. this is a particularly depressing example of nonwhite people buying into white beauty standards, that a black celebrity agreed with Don Imus that dark-skinned black women are ugly.
    With men’s “beauty” standards I notice a dichotomy: there’s the more high fashion look (I blogged about this a long time ago) where there’s a vogue for very skinny, androgynous looking men, and then there’s the more mainstream ripped, athletic looking “Men’s Health” model look (also in Abercrombie or other mainstream retailer ads and applicable to most Hollywood actors).

    Mary Tracy – I’ve also been thinking, a lot of “feminine” or women’s culture revolves around beauty. Like going shopping, going to salons, teenage girls doing each others’ hair and makeup, getting made up for formal dances or weddings. Other than homemaking and nurturing, what’s left of stereotypical femininity if you subtract beauty?

  14. 14

    Mary Tracy9 said,

    Lara, I also got praised for being quite white when I was a baby, though it didn’t last.
    Can I have a go at psychoanalyze you? Ahem. You clearly have a strong case of “wanna do whatever I want” syndrome. Which is very serious and dangerous when women get it. You might find people say to you “you will never get laid with that attitude!” and remember, realizing you have a problem is the first step to change.


    And L.M., to quote the Queen of all Radfems in the Blogosphere,

    “Femininity, in fact, can’t even be practiced without stuff (which is one way of debunking the argument that it is an inherited sex trait). It is simply not possible for a woman without makeup and deodorant and lingerie and kitten heels and diet pills and clothes without pockets and anti-wrinkle cream that promises “glowing skin” and self-help books explaining the best ways to suck up to men and jewelry and razors and tweezers and lemon-scented cleaning products and boxes of Lean Cuisine in the freezer — all stuff that must be bought — to be fully feminine.

    Aside from homemaking and nurturing, I would add “obsession with chocolate”, but this trend might be relatively new.

  15. 15

    Catherine said,

    Just wanted to throw my two cents in…

    I am an attractive woman but it has never led to great opportunities. In fact, besides getting hit on a lot, all it has ever led to is me having to work harder to prove that I was more than just a pretty face.

    I recognize the disparity between women who are considered average-looking and attractive women. If getting more male attention is your aspiration, enjoy. I must rather be known for my mind and my work.

  16. 16

    L.M. said,

    Catherine – as I said in my post that Mary Tracy linked, not being taken seriously and being subjected to unwanted sexual attention is part of being female, not just being attractive. Attractive men – unless they come off as too “gay” or boyish – have attractiveness as icing on the cake because they are men and have male privilege.
    Furthermore, unattractive women have to put up with unwanted sexual attention all the time.

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