Overcompensation is still a form of emphasis.
And we need to stop disproportionately emphasizing physical appearance, regardless of whether we do it in a positive or negative manner.
We blame the media, corporate America, advertisers, mean girls, and men for crushing women under a relentless onslaught of images, ideas, and aspirations related to the perfect female visage. And, by all accounts, that blame is justified.
“Feel anything that’s more representative of you as a person than ‘pretty’.”
That’s part of the message in Amy Schumer’s new movie “I Feel Pretty” — that the world is constantly reminding women of how they look and suggesting that, for most women, it just isn’t good enough. Included in nearly ever scene in the movie (especially at the beginning) is an example of how society is unfairly focused on female appearance and how that disproportionately affects women’s lives.
This is not a new message, and yet it is one that, while we may be willing to acknowledge, we are slow to change. The problem is that while our particular brand of resistance to the problem does directly combat the undesirable outcome, it also simultaneously strengthens the troublesome core from which that outcome springs.
The key to eliminating a disproportionate level of societal focus on appearance isn’t that we focus on appearance in a different way; it’s that we stop overemphasizing appearance, regardless of whether we do it in a positive or negative way.
Aside from and in addition to her extraordinary wit and comedic delivery, Amy Schumer has built her celebrity platform partially on encouraging women to embrace their bodies, even and especially when they may be considered “less than perfect” by societal standards.
The ideal resolution, of course, is that societal standards should just change. However, the concept of physical “beauty” (in anything) is comparative by its very nature; i.e. if everything or everyone is equally “beautiful”, then the concept has nothing against which to be compared and is therefore dissolved.
This is not an argument in favor of judgment or of quantification/qualification as some may frame it; it simply recognizes that we are unable to avoid recognizing differences in physical appearance. Fighting that is not only delusional, it is, more importantly, unnecessary. We simply don’t need to pay such a disproportionate amount of attention to appearance.
The message did partially come through in Schumer’s new movie. The main character’s appearance does not change, and she has better life experiences simply due to a change in attitude or perception. The problem is that the altered perception that causes all of the positive changes in her life is still completely centered around appearance. Why do we keep positioning appearance as the hub around which a woman’s life revolves?
Even the title of the movie “I Feel Pretty” suggests that the ultimate goal to be attained is to experience this feeling of “prettiness” (generated internally if it is not being provided by others externally). I don’t begrudge anyone that feeling. I wish that everyone felt pretty, and I hope that those who don’t can learn to.
But it’s not the only thing worth feeling. In fact, it’s not even the most significant or consequential thing to feel. Feeling pretty is wonderful, I’m sure, but there are so many better things to feel.
Feel happy. Feel strong. Feel energized. Feel independent. Feel compassionate. Feel empowered. Feel love. Feel loved. Feel respected. Feel appreciated. Feel admired. Feel driven.
Feel visible. Feel significant. Feel valuable. Feel valued. Feel smart. Feel witty. Feel talented. Feel skillful. Feel artistic. Feel musical. Feel irreplaceable. Feel controlled. Feel thankful. Feel generous. Feel kind. Feel transcendent.
Feel annoyed with me or offended by me for suggesting that I could or should tell you how to feel. Feel anything that’s more representative of you as a person than “pretty”.
It’s a mistake to be so focused on how society reacts to the way we look. And, it’s a mistake to tie so much of our sense of self-worth up in our own comfort with and acceptance of our appearances. Both of those extremes overemphasize the ability of appearance to define us. In reality, though, we are so much more than that.
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