Do you ever wonder what people immediately notice about you? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn of others’ accomplishments, personality traits and humanitarian efforts all at the first glance or handshake? After all, those are the things that tell you most about a person, right? We all know that’s wishful thinking. Most people immediately evaluate a person’s beauty. After all, humans are largely visual creatures. Forbes published an article about that very concept, citing that “65% of us are visual learners” and that “most of us process information based on what we see.” So it seems that nature is at work each time we make a judgment pertaining to something we perceive with our eyes. Have you heard of “pretty privilege”? It’s a complex matter that carries with it a unique set of circumstances to navigate. Let’s talk about it.
The Price of Pretty
I know firsthand how valuable and powerful the visual is. It’s central to what I do as an interior designer. But, just as in interior design, beauty that exists only on the surface is rarely enough to meet anyone’s needs. While most of us can agree on that, our world and society both regard beauty (though almost always in the most traditionally accepted form) highly enough that it has become something many strive for above all else. Perhaps one of the most literal demonstrations of pretty privilege can be seen in my earliest years. I was a successful child model in single digits. I worked on national campaigns, and it was never a secret that I had “the look” that scouts were after.
My appearance proved to be profitable, and I earned enough to gain a start in philanthropy and even open my own retail store. Even still, my pretty privilege was always a reminder of the importance our world placed on the outward appearance. People were willing to pay for pretty faces. Being found attractive or unattractive can affect how people are seen and treated in the world. It’s easy to understand why so many go to great lengths to perfect and invest in their appearance.
Realizations at the Airport
This wonderful life of mine involves and requires quite a bit of travel, and most of it is for work. It’s rare that I go a month without flying the friendly skies for some speaking engagement or TV production. On this particular day I was walking through the airport to my terminal, more than ready to get back home to my boys after working across the country for the last few days. With a five hour flight ahead of me, I prioritized comfort.
Listen, you might be the type to hop off a plane impeccably dressed with not a single hair out of place like the characters of Sex and the City, but I, my friends, am not. Instead, I donned my most lived-in yoga pants, a no-labels sweatshirt and flip flops. I even accessorized this lovely ensemble with my typical corded (yes, you read that right) headphones. I was laser focused on all the work that I planned to get done while waiting for my plane as I briskly walked through the airport.
The Beautiful People
Why is it that when we put a ton of effort into the way we look: hair, makeup, clothes, we never see anyone we know. But the day we’re in our most “mom bod-accentuating” outfit we run into everyone from our 5th grade teacher to the business acquaintance you met two years ago at a gala? WHY? I know I’m not alone in that.
As I’m going over deadlines in my mind, I run into not one, but two of my most beautiful friends. They’re both wildly successful, and it’s always nice to get a blast from the past and reflect on how far we’ve all come in our lives. But I’ll be honest. For a second, I thought to myself, “I look like crap!” After snapping out of that, I enjoyed a quick chat with my friends. But that made me realize so much about the role beauty plays in our society. My friends caught me at somewhat of a vulnerable moment. I was less “polished” than usual, and maybe for a split second I was self-conscious. But I remembered that these same people had seen me at age 22 in sparkly dresses and stilettos with shiny hair and bouncy tight, youthful skin. They knew who I was with or without the “polish.”
When I consider pretty privilege on the surface, I guess I’m someone who has had it my entire life on at least a few levels. It can be a strange thing, beauty. That’s mainly because so much of it depends on things we really don’t have anything to do with. My face and curls were given to me by people I don’t know. And while I work out, my manageable weight/metabolism and body shape are all a product of my genes. I learned via a breast reduction at 18 that what I didn’t like, I could change. My beauty? It was once regarded so highly that it became a career. Back then I didn’t realize that none of those things were the reasons for the friendships I was able to make. None of those things were the reasons I was sought after for my creative mind and spirit.
It took me some time to realize that beauty is simply a gift. It’s a fleeting and sometimes exhausting thing handed to us by genetics. But beauty doesn’t exist in only one form, and it shouldn’t be dictated by the preferences of a few people. In examining my own experiences with pretty privilege, I’ve reassessed my definition of beauty, and it involves much more than dress sizes and “glass skin.”
Beauty In All its Forms
There is nothing wrong with taking care of your body and face and doing things to ensure you look and feel your best. My friends’ bodies were proof that they’d both been very disciplined in their fitness and health journeys. I’m so proud of them for that. I just never want to lose sight of the fact that growth in this area for me involves caring for both the outside and the inside. Toned muscles and smooth skin can be aspirational, but so can the weight on our grandmothers’ hips or the kink in their spines that proves how much they’ve had to bear for their families. One of the most attractive things to me has always been smile lines! They tell the world you laugh and smile. They let others know that you regularly hang out in the sunshine. There are just so many amazing things to consider on your hunt for beauty. Why would you limit it to only the few features and proportions that someone else declared acceptable?
Beauty often comes with its own consequences. I have many tales of unwanted attention, being objectified because of my pre-augmented breast size, or just being underestimated altogether. I can say that I love my outward appearance, but I can also tell you that it isn’t what I’m most proud of these days. I’m proud that my body carried and birthed two humans. I am proud of the friendships I’ve been able to foster that don’t require some currency of “hotness.” I’m proud of the career I have due to my hard work and determination. I’m proud of my charitable heart that yearns to help those who are less fortunate than I am. To me, all of those things make me beautiful.
There will always be beautiful people in the world. Some of you may even be the beautiful people. While we admire the presentation so many lead with, let us never grow so dependent on what we see that we never go beyond the surface. What a shame it would be to not notice all the beauty that lies right beneath. There’s a privilege in connecting hearts, too.