Is “Inner Beauty” Enough? This Guy Reminds Us It’s Not.
Author’s Note (12/11/11): After posting this several hours ago and sharing it on Facebook, I’ve been bombarded with a couple hundred comments - some immensely supportive, constructive and productive, some intensely angry at me. It’s now 4 a.m. and I just got off the phone with Lexie talking about what to do here. I’m exhausted and honestly, very surprised, by the contention this piece has caused among our supporters. I hesitate to admit how I’ve shed a few tears over a few of the accusations and I’ve second-guessed my response to this man’s article over and over again, but each time I’ve re-read it, I feel entirely sure of my message. It’s true that the author wasn’t trying to be hurtful or inflammatory or condescending, but not all harmful messages about female worth sound outright wrong. Sometimes they seem innocent and harmless, but when taken in the context of the media saturated, body-shaming, beauty ideal-obsessed world we live in, these consistent messages reminding women of the importance of their appearances ARE harmful.
I wrote this piece with the intention of providing girls and women with a more empowering and uplifting alternative to the popular “you’re not married or dating because you’re not trying hard enough to be hot” sentiment expressed in this piece. When young, single women (the intended audience of his piece) read and hear well-intented messages like this man’s over and over again, reminding them that they need to try even harder to look even better, and reminding them THAT’S probably why they aren’t in a relationship – it stings. They already know how much their appearances matter. They already know how much men care about how they look, and how they won’t get asked out if they don’t fit those men’s ideals. They already know their health and well-being is important for themselves and for the men evaluating whether or not to ask them out or commit to them. They don’t need any more reminders that their inner beauty and never-quite-good-enough outer beauty are not enough. This rebuttal has absolutely nothing to do with advocating giving up on health goals or standards of appearance for ourselves. It has everything to do with questioning where those standards come from and if they’re really about health or if they’re about fitting a fleeting, ever-changing physical ideal to attract a mate.
We’ve all probably encountered this perspective on “inner beauty” vs. “outer beauty.” As proponents of all things beautiful, we have GOT to address this backlash against self-esteem-boosting and body-image-boosting campaigns like ours. In a prime example of this thinking (and one of many), a young, single, man in Utah has written this instructional opinion piece from a Christian viewpoint for girls and women everywhere. Here’s the bulk of it, titled “Inner Beauty is Not Enough.”
“Inner beauty is vastly important, and I’m not saying every person needs to look like a model in order to find someone, but let’s not forget – outer beauty is important, too.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among women. On Facebook and in conversations with girls, I’ve heard girls embrace supposed feminine liberation and tell us that they’re beautiful no matter how they look. Before I have to dodge a flurry of thrown stiletto heels, let me clarify: Yes, you are beautiful. You’re a daughter of God, and don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. But . . . you shouldn’t let the “beauty on the inside” argument hinder your quest to achieve your physical ideal. Some girls I know tell themselves it doesn’t matter how they look because they’re beautiful on the inside, and then they just . . . well, let themselves go.
I’m a single male and that reflects in the audience I write to, but regardless of our marital status or gender, we should all take care of our bodies. After all, aren’t they gifts from God? We’re instructed to abstain from tattoos and extra piercings in an attempt to show respect for our bodies, and shouldn’t that respect be extended to how we treat the body itself? We are stewards of our mortal shells, and as such should care for them like the prized possessions they are.
For those who are still dating, failing to take care of yourself can easily delay association with potential mates. The right person will love you eventually, but it’s your physical aspect that often catches the eye. If you don’t take the time to care for yourself, that doesn’t exactly encourage anyone else to care for you, either. How many people who would love you once they got to know you have passed you over? Maybe you’ve even been the one who’s passed on someone because that person failed to care for his or her God-given body.
If you are truly happy with the body you have, I’m glad for you. We should recognize that none of us is going to have a perfect body, at least not at this stage in our existence. (Or maybe you already do have a near-perfect body. Congrats. You should still keep reading.) Women, we guys will accept that not all of you are swimwear models if you accept that few of us have managed the abs of a certain werewolf from Twilight.
I’m sorry if I come across as harsh. There are also plenty of people who go the opposite direction and become Barbie dolls with personalities as bland as the plastic dolls they so resemble. In our journey to improve our inner and outer selves, we should seek balance. We should be satisfied with who we are, but we should strive for healthy improvement. This principle applies to men as well. So how do both genders reconcile this paradox? How do we attain the right body while neither being satisfied with the sub-par nor going too far?
I propose that we find a realistic perception of the person we can become on the inside and outside. Discovering our exact physical potential may take some time, but we can gain a reasonable expectation of the best we can be. Then we simply become content with the progress we’re making toward being our best selves.
Girls (and guys), a little regular exercise and some healthy eating habits will be a good start toward becoming that reasonable paragon. Go running. Take a racquetball class. I think you’re capable of filling in the rest of this list yourselves. I really believe that as we all set attainable physical goals and work to reach them, we can be satisfied both with ourselves and with what we’re becoming.
“What do you think? Am I off base? Do I have unreasonable expectations for girls?”
Well, he asked for our thoughts! My shamefully long and quickly composed response comment is this:
“But…you shouldn’t let the “beauty on the inside” argument hinder your quest to achieve your physical ideal.” This is a clear and blatant example of media beauty ideals being conflated with health and shockingly enough, morality. Has the author stopped to think about where these “physical ideals” came from or how who they benefit? They physical ideals that dominate media and public consciousness today are unlike any the world has ever seen before, thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, pornography, cosmetic surgery and the normalization of extremely, thin, tall white “idealized” bodies to sell any product you can think of – all based on creating an unachievable ideal to drive profit. No one will ever reach those “physical ideals,” and that’s their purpose.
The author is equating “taking care of your body” with achieving “physical ideals,” which is a dangerous message. The idea that one’s health and fitness can be perceived from their appearance is another of those profit-driven myths designed to sell $61 billion in weight-loss aids in 2010 alone, and a 446% increase in the nubmer of cosmetic surgeries performed in the last decade (with 92% on women). Countless medical studies prove that a person’s appearance, specifically their body weight and shape (including their BMI) are an extremely poor indicator of their health or physical fitness – unless they are at a dramatic extreme on either end of the weight spectrum.
Articles like this do NOT help SLC move away from its title as ‘Vainest in the Nation,’ as ranked by Forbes magazine based on studies showing we spend 10 times as much as other cities of comparable size on all beauty products, we have more plastic surgeons per capita than ANY city in the nation, including L.A. and NYC, and other shameful stats. For the attitude in this article to be perpetuated here, especially through the lens of Christian values, is ironic and shameful. This is literally the last place in the country that women need to worry any more about their appearances.
We have more than enough reminders at every turn that we aren’t hot enough, and that if we aren’t hot enough, we better run on the treadmill longer and buy more makeup and wear better clothes in order to get that way, and that we aren’t worthy of love until we drop another 30 lbs. to look a LITTLE more like the “physical ideals” you are invoking. We don’t need any more reminders. What we need a reminder of is that our perceptions of beauty and ideal bodies – even healthy bodies – are skewed by forces that no other generation has had to deal with. Taking care of your body is a wonderful responsibility that we all must take seriously. But if we do it in the name of looking hotter or to get more dates, we’re being motivated by external factors that don’t provide long-lasting motivation and only seek to propel more body hatred in this world that is being CRIPPLED by body hatred. You might scoff at messages telling women they’re beautiful and that there is more to be than eye candy, but you should also know that girls and women who feel OK about their bodies, regardless of what they look like, are proven to take better care of their bodies through physical activity and healthy eating choices. Those who are disgusted with their bodies (as you seem to be reminding women they should be) are much more likely to lead sedentary lifestyles and make poor eating choices.
We at BeautyRedefined.net will continue convincing girls and women that they are worth more than what their bodies look like. P.S. I realize my comment is shamefully long. Sorry. I also want to note that I don’t mean to direct anger toward the author, since he’s not at fault for this distorted way of thinking. But it takes effort to think critically about this stuff, and helping people to do that is a promising goal.”
Whew. We have to think harder about where our ideas about beauty and health are coming from. We have to talk back when people try to use shame and warnings about not finding love to remind women to “take care of themselves.” This is not constructive thinking, nor will it contribute to healthy lifestyles and satisfying relationships. Another useful follow-up to this type of backlash is our response to being interviewed for a story in Reuters, the international news organization, and then having the story killed because the editor claimed body image advocates like us were “promoting obesity.”
Beauty Redefined does not take those types of accusations lightly! Please join us in this fight to take back beauty for girls and women everywhere by promoting strategies to recognize and reject harmful messages about our bodies! Start by joining us on Facebook to continue this conversation regularly, join us by supporting our cause through purchasing sticky notes and postcards with true and uplifting reminders that “You are capable of more than being looked at” and “If beauty hurts, we’re doing it wrong.” These messages are true, and they will encourage health and “taking care of your body” better and for longer than any appearance-focused message ever will.