Okay, I’m not going to dance around this. I’m really sick of the fact that 99% of the encouragement, compliments, feedback or recognition I receive from friends/peers is based on my appearance.
Obviously, It’s nice to get a compliment here and there. It’s less about the compliments I do get and more about the one’s that I don’t. I noticed this weird little discrepancy a while ago, and it’s been bugging me.
Why is my appearance treated as my most important trait? Why do my peers comment on it as if it’s important? Is it important? Is it more important than my other traits? Why do they care enough about my ego to tell me that I look pretty but not enough to say that my photos are good or that my writing is interesting?
I’m not necessarily angry at anyone in particular because I don’t even think it’s a conscious thing. I just want to know why it is the case. Obviously, we live in a world that prioritises physical appearance over depth of character, which is why I feel the need to point it out. Maybe it is just an issue of awareness.
I think the best way to tackle this quandary is through a theoretical frame. If you don’t know what ‘pretty privilege is – the name makes it pretty obvious. It’s a social concept that theorises that conventionally attractive people have some advantage in life that those who are not conventionally attractive do not receive.
It definitely exists, but as with most things, there’s a positive side and a negative one. I’ve not been subject to any severe experiences of fatphobia, racism, homophobia or classism. I’ll probably never be turned down at a job interview because of my appearance. Service staff and strangers are very rarely rude or discriminatory towards me. I acknowledge that as a privilege that not everyone has. But that privilege causes a lot more barriers than not.
Pretty privilege only exists because we, as individuals, buy into the idea that physically attractive people are more valuable than other people. The problem is that equating value to beauty removes value in everything else. And that’s what’s getting on my nerves.
Several issues of perspective and self-esteem arise when you place beauty on that pedestal.
Often when I hear pretty privilege talked about, they talk about girls getting into clubs and not having to buy themselves drinks. It’s about getting attention, and attention being wrongly equated to respect. You don’t get free drinks just because you’re pretty. We all know there’s more subtext than that. If people are doing nice things or being friendly, and it’s because they find you attractive… those are not altruistic random acts of kindness. All assumptions come with expectation, and here’s the thing;
People assume you’re arrogant. People assume you’re unintelligent or unapproachable. If you’re pretty, often, people think that’s all you are. People seem surprised when they discover that I am quite intelligent. When I have daft moments, the phrase ‘You’re lucky that you’re pretty’ gets thrown around. It can be hard to make friends, hard to see yourself as worthy or interesting, hard to feel understood, respected or heard. That’s really strange to experience when I’m 100% sure that I am more interesting, funny, intelligent, hardworking and creative than I am pretty. I hold value for those traits in myself and others, so it confuses and upsets me when others don’t.
I saw a chain of TikToks that explain this concept pretty well. The explanation given at 2.50 is what I’m getting at.
We’ve been placed in this society that sets the beauty standard as the most important thing. The age of social media has catapulted the attention economy. Pretty privilege does exist. But it’s rooted in sexism, the attention economy, and how capitalism builds on desirability politics. In this light, pretty people don’t usually receive actual privilege past ‘being treated nicer’ unless their line of work is one that directly involves receiving attention, for example, influencers or celebrities.
We’ve all seen the viral TikToks of some pretty girl doing absolutely nothing and getting insane clout compared to less attractive creators who are working harder. ‘Ugly’ people are treated horrendously based on how they look, but only receiving respect when someone thinks you’re attractive isn’t respect; it’s a transaction. Either way, assumptions are made, and your worth is reduced to your appearance, and that shouldn’t be the case.
If you are familiar with my public Instagram account (which you should be), it’s pretty obvious that I put a fair bit of work into it. At this point, the vast majority of posts on there are my photography work. At times, my posts only get 20-something likes. That’s okay by me because, frankly, I don’t post for likes. I post because I genuinely like working on my feed, and I’m proud of my work, and I want to share it. However, I find it curious that it’ll wind up with upwards of 100 likes when I post a selfie almost every time. I know that 100 likes aren’t a big deal, but the numbers are substantial enough to indicate the problem.
For example, look at the two posts below.
The first is a selfie I took with my phone while literally sitting in bed at home. The other took timing, vision, skill, editing, a Nikon DLSR and an $1800 macro lens. I know which one took more effort. I know which one I’m more proud of. I know which one is worth more to me. Yet, the selfie is the one with all the comments and likes. You might notice that the caption on the first photo talks about a blog post that went up that day. You might also see none of the comments on that post gives any feedback on the blog post… or indicates that anyone looked at it.
As I’m writing this, my Instagram hosts 297 posts. The vast majority of them do not have my face in them. Almost everything is there to promote my photography and writing. Yet, I can count on one hand the people who show genuine and consistent support for the things I actually care about. I appreciate an occasional compliment to boost my ego, but in all honesty, it doesn’t mean much to me. I don’t particularly care about how I look; I don’t put even a quarter as much effort into my appearance as I do my work. Most of the feedback I receive is about something that I didn’t do, but something my parents did 20 years ago when they combined their DNA, and out I popped with my cute little nose, perfect skin and my dimples.
Unfortunately, it’s taken me almost 20 years to realise that most people actually just don’t care who you are past face value. Most people don’t read the book. Most people just pick the book up because the cover looks good. Maybe they read the blurb. But 9 times of out 10, they decide that it’s boring and not worth the trouble of reading, especially if the book isn’t all about them. I’m really over being put back up on someone’s shelf.
I’m trying to make a living doing the things I love. Unfortunately, in my case, that’s near impossible without gaining the interest and support of other people. I need to know what people think of my writing and whether you find it interesting or helpful. I gain nothing by knowing that you find me attractive. It doesn’t help me grow or learn, and it rarely makes me feel supported or validated because it’s not something that I particularly care about.
I appreciate the friends who do pay attention to how much work and passion I put into my photography and writing. To those who comment on posts that don’t have my face in them, share my posts on their stories, and say ‘I read your article…’ when we meet up… I appreciate you endlessly. But frankly, if you’ve never expressed encouragement for anything other than my selfies, I think you need to re-evaluate your idea of what is valuable and why, and then come back and tell me how cool my photo is.
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