Don't Tell Me I'm Beautiful, Tell Me There's More To Life Than Beauty

by Alexia LaFata

I recently read this Refinery29 article criticizing the #DontJudgeChallenge that simultaneously excited me and troubled me.

This particular social media challenge involves teens recording a video of themselves wearing fake unibrows and acne that they'd drawn on their faces with makeup and then washing it all off to reveal their "beautiful" selves.

Not surprisingly, this challenge backfired, as many girls were upset about how the videos seemed to poke fun at people with the so-called flaws of unibrows and acne. To rebel against this, those girls posted photos of themselves embracing their real unibrowed, acned faces.

I don't have a problem with the article's criticism of this strange attempt to tell people not to judge someone by his or her appearance gone awry. What I did have a problem with was the ending of the article, which says:

But, at the end of the day, all of the individuals in these videos and selfies are beautiful in their own right, and shaming people for their looks (even under the guise of a positive-sounding hashtag) is never okay. We should embrace the ever-expanding idea of beauty, which models and us regular individuals are continuing to redefine.

This paragraph, to me, felt kind of... panicky.

It's no secret that women are valued almost exclusively on their appearance, their youth and their f*ckability. Women fight every single day against the plethora of shameful assumptions people make based on what they wear and what they look like, whether their short skirts brands them as "sluts" or their less-than-hotness brands them as "unworthy."

And it's unfair. It's unfair that such correlations are made. It's unfair that model thinness, nice breasts, good hips, flawless skin, long locks and perfectly groomed body hair are what prevail (as long as those qualities all come effortlessly).

It's unfair that beauty is defined by such limiting characteristics that only the tiniest percentages of women actually have.

When society reduces our worth to how beautiful we are and simultaneously lets us know that the only people who are beautiful fit under that narrow beauty standard, it leaves very little wiggle room for women to ever feel good about themselves.

So, where does that leave us? How can every woman love and value themselves if only a small percentage of women are told they're worth being loved and valued?

The answer is not to expand the definition of physical beauty to include all women. The answer is to lessen the value of being "physically beautiful."

Let me explain: That previous Refinery29 paragraph reassures girls that it doesn't matter what you look like because you're beautiful no matter what, and that premise in and of itself is great.

Women do have to abide by an incredibly narrow standard of beauty. Chubbiness, unibrows, acne and whatever else the girls in the challenge were donning to appear ugly simply don't fit into that standard, so it's worthwhile to empower real girls with those features.

But instead of swearing up and down that chubby girls with bushy brows and bad skin are just as beautiful as the girls with the groomed physique and the flawless features, I wish Refinery29 did something else: I wish they said being beautiful isn't the most important thing a woman can be.

"Beautiful" isn't a woman's only possible descriptor. Women can be clever, original, insightful, sympathetic, funny, intelligent, witty, kind, inquisitive -- the list goes on and on. So why are these personality traits constantly ignored? Why are none of these things used to reassure us of our worth? Why does everyone default to beauty?

Society measures personality traits and physical qualities very differently. For personality traits, it's okay to exist somewhere on the spectrum: to be sort of intelligent or not intelligent, sort of witty or not witty, sort of kind or not kind, and what have you. Nobody disputes that within every personality trait, there are people who possess a different amount of said trait.

But when it comes to women, this isn't the case with physical qualities. Anyone who claims that "not beautiful" is an option for a woman is met with backlash, as if "ugly" is the worst thing she can be. Every woman must be beautiful. "Not beautiful" is never a choice, even if it kind of applies.

Women aren't stupid. We can compare ourselves against prevailing beauty standards and realize we aren't as beautiful and perfect as every women's magazine, lifestyle website and body-acceptance-movement spokesperson hastily reassures us we are (trust me. We're on to you guys).

Not every woman is a beautiful, perfect 10. I sure as hell am not. And dare I be the brave one to admit that how the girls looked in the "before" part of their #DontJudgeChallenge videos were, yes, less beautiful than how they looked in the "after" part.

The fact that I write all of this nervously, with my eyes tightly squeezed shut and my ears preparing for backlash, exemplifies my fear in merely implying that any woman, at all, ever, could be ugly.

I mean, come on. Is ugly really the worst thing a woman can be? Is ugly really that much worse than selfish, or vain, or egotistical, or boring, or cruel or vengeful? I think not. Unfortunately, however, until women are valued for something else other than their appearance, this mindset will continue. Every woman will continue to feel as if the only way she's worth anything is if websites like Refinery29 frenziedly assure her she is beautiful.

When we place all of our self-worth on beauty, we set ourselves up for failure. Because no matter how perfectly a girl falls into the narrow societal standards of beauty, someone, somewhere, will not think she's beautiful. And eventually, as she ages, her skin will sag and lose its luster, her hair will become dry and brittle, and her model physique will distort before her eyes -- she simply will not be beautiful forever, all the time, to everyone.

Once her beauty disappears, what's left of her? If she'd known for her whole life that she was beautiful, what happens when her appearance changes into something less than the beautiful she'd been used to? How else will she find self-worth?

She'll have to look elsewhere. She'll have to work on something that isn't under the control of genetics and the passing of time. Beauty is fleeting, but a strong sense of self is not -- and this is why we have to work on accepting that it's not as important to be beautiful as it is to be other things.

I know this sounds clichéd, but if we really want to broaden the definition of beauty, we have to look beneath the surface for it. Affirming our physical insecurities with a "You're beautiful just the way you are!" only reinforces the idea that our appearance is all that matters.

Why is it such a big deal to tell a girl that she may not be beautiful but that it doesn't matter because she's brilliant and hilarious instead? Why don't we compliment women on their clever ideas, their original style, their insightful viewpoints, their kindness, their funny jokes?

Why don't we base a woman's worth on who she is on the inside, not what she looks like on the outside?

As Amy Schumer said in her interview with Glamour, "I have a belly. And I have cellulite. And I still deserve love." This applies to all of us. Our physical beauty is not our most worthwhile quality. We are so, so, so much more than our f*cking appearances -- and it is only when we realize this that true self-love can begin.