This week I wrote an article about a lot of problems I have with Dove, and when I was writing it I hit on something I hadn’t vocalised before: I’m tired of adverts telling me to feel beautiful. Or worse, telling me I am beautiful. It’s annoying straight up that they assume all women are wracked by physical anxiety and long for physical affirmation. But it’s also patronising because, without a shadow of self pity, I don’t think I’m beautiful.
I really don’t want you to get the wrong idea here. I don’t have low self esteem, or harbour a pocket of self loathing. I love myself, my life, my body, and my face—but I’m not a beauty. I’m a really nice, smart, kind woman who has a lot of great qualities that I’m recognised for everyday. Because of all those things I’m also unbelievably lucky. But again, I’m not a delicate willow, an amazon, a starlet, or anything in between. I’m not bad looking, but that’s about as far as I’d go. I’m a happy average. And the word I like to focus on there is happy, rather than average.
This brings me to the problem I have with this constant insistence from pop-culture and advertising to tell us we’re something we’re not. It’s insulting because it assume beauty is something I mourn for and desire. Honestly, it’s something I give very little thought. And when I see it constantly referred to, it makes me feel bored and ask if my sex really seems that one-dimensional. Advertising to men plays on the desires to be powerful, admired, respected, and even feared. For us girls, it stops at small pores and doe eyes.
To be clear, I have no problem with beauty advertising—assuming the standards aren’t too created in PhotoShop. Honestly I don’t find the slim 19-year-olds that sell me everything that off putting. I understand the need for a thin young model, I don’t expect to see myself reflected back in a Clinique advert. Sure it’s nice to see someone with a bit of shape, but I wouldn’t ask for Lancom to pick a model with my thick glasses, a Pantene marketing executive to push for my thin hair, or a Agent Provocateur designer to insist on my short legs. Those people are doing their job, they’re selling a fantasy. And I have a lot of time for make believe.
I don’t like it when adverts attempt to enter my life and my mind. To pretend they know me and my insecurities. I don’t want them to pose as a knowing friend who loves me, but also want to correct me and tell me I’m wrong all the time. To blindly insist a woman is beautiful when she isn’t isn’t comforting, it’s creepy. If a person walked up to me and congratulated me on my conversational Korean I would think they’re crazy (FYI I’m regrettably very unilingual)—so why should I embrace them when they congratulate me on another quality I don’t have.
This is hardly an occurance that exists souly in marketing, we see it in our everyday lives constatnly. I always find myself impressing on people their physical worth—I do always mean it—but it doesn’t mean it’s what the other person wants to hear. On the weekend when chatting to a friend following a break up I kept hearing myself reference her looks, despite it clearly bringing her no comfort. She didn’t want to know how I ranked her physical worth in a time of vulnerability—she just wanted me to be a friend. But even I fell into the trap of equating beauty with comfort.
And this leads me to the second part of my problem: I hate that people think that’s what I, or anyone else, wants to hear. That we hinge our self worth on our own wrapping paper. Sure I lie awake at night feeling bad about myself sometimes, I feel uncomfortable in crowds, or awkward in my own skin—but my reasons are more complex than my low cheekbones. I worry about by intellectual worth, my originality, the strength of my voice, and the relevance of my vision. And to be engaged on that way is always effecting and personal.
That’s where my weaknesses lie, that’s where my sense of self is less formed and more open to support or encouragement. That’s what I want to talk about, that’s what I’d appreciate the kind words over. But call me a great beauty and I’ll think you’re at best patronising and at worst a creep.
Listen, I appreciate the attempt to see women, but I just ask to consider how they see themselves too. And maybe take comfort in the fact we have better things to worry about than our reflections.
Words by Wendy Syfret