I've written before about beauty, and over time my thoughts have shifted, shadowed, the way thoughts do when the subject is very big, very old, and full of pain. Today's post started this morning when I watched a video about the power of self-portrait. It seemed a lovely and empowering message to girls - even when I realised it was made by Dove and therefore was, at its heart, a calculated piece of advertising.
But then I got to thinking. I did not remember the faces of the girls, I remembered only the grief in the eyes of one of them. The pain, the shame. I knew that the important issue for her was not how she looked but how she felt inside herself. It's just that she'd been made to think that the two things were equated, and all her problems could be solved if she only believed she was beautiful.
And this is why I dislike the Dove beauty campaigns. I don't think we should teach girls that they are beautiful no matter what, as if their looks are the most important thing about them.
Why must a girl always feel that she's beautiful in order to know she's okay as a human being?
The way I see myself from the inside out is nothing like what the mirror shows me. I am, to put it kindly, plain. But within this body, I am a dreamer, and a fairytale princess, and a heroine. The fact my looks don't equate the cultural idea of beauty (or even my own idea of beauty) shouldn't matter. Or, at least, other things about me should matter to an equal degree: whatever character qualities I may have.
But everywhere I turn, women (and advertisers) are telling me to appreciate my beauty. What I'm hearing beneath their supposedly empowering words is that only beauty really matters.
I think kindness matters more.
I think gentleness matters more.
I believe a whole bunch of things are at least as important as how someone looks.
I know that roses are beautiful and a delight to the eye, and also that ugly weeds can be medicinal.
I'm not deriding beauty. It has a powerful effect on our hearts. And we women know perfectly well how important it is in our culture. But it shouldn't be the only important thing. And we know this too! But as long as we tell each other that we're beautiful no matter what anyone else thinks of us, we're continuing to buy into the superiority of beauty.
I'd love to live in a world where a girl didn't secretly wish to be beautiful, but instead to be inventive, or compassionate, or brave. I'd love to live in a world where a woman didn't have to come to terms with her plain features and find small hope in the thought that she had nice eyes anyway, or elegant hands anyway, but instead knew that her graciousness, or her generosity, made her valuable and admired by other people, and a sought-after mate.
And I'd really love to live in a world where advertisers didn't exploit women by pandering to their vulnerabilities under the guise of being caring and encouraging. I used Dove soap for years before I went chemical free. It was the best soap I could find for sensitive skin. (The natural soaps I use now are better.) Back in the day, they advertised their soap as "not drying your skin", so I bought it. That's the greatest power of advertising: telling the customer what they need to know about the actual benefits of the product, and being proven right about them. Just imagine living in a world where we received messages such as "this soap really will get you clean," rather than "we believe in you, we want to celebrate you and make you feel good about yourself, aren't we lovely people, hey by the way we sell soap." I hate the thought of corporate fingers stirring around in little girls' souls.