This post is in response to Rachel Hills' intriguing Tumblr post "Some Questions I Have About Erotic Capital." In this piece (a response itself to Catherine Hakim's book, funnily enough), she asks her readers several questions about ideas of beauty and body positivity. Here's a breakdown:
1. Is valuing beauty the root of the problem in body hate, or is it that we are socialized to believe we're never beautiful enough?
2. "Is it just a female thing, or do men experience it as well?"
3. "Have you managed to develop a positive approach to the way you look?"
4. "How do we stop beauty positivity from turning into beauty privilege?"
I have been struggling with these questions, mostly internally, since I started down the route of body love and self-acceptance. How do we reconcile wanting to look good with not judging people based on looks? So, when I read this post, it got my brain cells a' firin' with delicious activity. Here are my thoughts.
1. To this question, I answer with another question: can we ever be separated from our socialized learning? I think that we can unlearn certain parts of our unconscious learning - hence, people who have sexist thoughts can begin to identify those thoughts and change them - but I still get the grind on whether we have a clean slate to begin with. I think, however, that if we started our education with ideas about abundance of beauty in each person, rather than lack of it, the situation could change. For those who have been socialized into the world as it is today, we have to unlearn our ways; going forward, perhaps we can make up some ground with our youth.
And, to the other side of it, I think that there must be some natural urge that looks towards beautiful people/things, but the purpose can only explained with severe limitations (before you start with your evolutionary biology talk, I will tell you I have serious qualms with that field). From a determinist standpoint, there is nothing "wrong" with valuing beauty because there is a function in valuing it. But we take it to a greater extent than just its base elements.
2. I am not a man, so I can't speak for men on this point, but if I follow my previous statements, I think that all humans are mixed into this stew of natural urges and nurtured belief systems - men perhaps have a different slant on what beauty is, how it manifests, and whether it is as lacking for them as for women. Chime in on this, guys.
3. A positive approach I've found is to take into account what I find beautiful to be for me; going through some years of retraining myself away from diet mentality has allowed me to reshape what beautiful is beyond the standard images of it. As an overweight woman of color, there are very different beauty standards within and without my community, so I have had to unlearn some parts and adopt others, and so I began to value myself on my own scale of beauty rather than the tabloid version. (You can also read about some of my favorite body positivity websites here and here).
4. To sum it all up in a simple equation, I think beauty positivity = unlearning social norms + manifesting a personal beauty standard + critical thinking > blindly adopted social norms and beliefs.
It will never be easy. Even people who have gone their whole lives trying to fight the social norms they live under still have days when the world is a burden on their shoulders and they can't look positively on all the work they have done. But with the elements of treating beauty as a personal journey rather than a way to judge people, and approaching people with a general air of kindness, a shift is bound to occur.
Thanks again to Rachel Hills for putting up such a thought-provoking post!
What do you think about these questions? Have you got a different prescription for beauty positivity? Do you believe it even exists? Let me know in the comments!
If you were intrigued by this post as much as I was, you might also like Denim and Black Cloth: Feminism and Female Expression or Wow, You Look Great! Did You Get Paler? on other forms of beauty privilege.