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Dear patriarchy, I want to be prettier

Lisa Taylor | Sunday, November 10, 2013

Last week, a good male friend of mine examined my appearance and, completely unsolicited, told me that on a scale of one to 10, I’m a 7.5. That is, after being friends for more than three years – after working through tough times and supporting each other, after sharing our passions and our doubts about the future – apparently, he felt something was missing from our relationship: a number to quantify my desirability.  
I love my friend, but his comment evoked an array of ambivalent sentiments on my part. One was confusion. Was that supposed to be a compliment? Second, frustration. Why are we, as humans, so obsessed with appearances? Third, indignation. No one ever has the right to verbally judge another’s exterior and make her or him feel insecure. Fourth, introspection. How can we combat the objectification and materialism of our culture? When can we move beyond appearance as criteria of character?
In a New York Times article published Nov. 6, “Mannequins Give Shape to a Venezuelan Fantasy,” the author describes how manufacturers in Venezuela are now creating mannequins that mirror the supposed ideal body type: huge breasts, toned butts and miniscule waists. In a country with dramatically rising rates of plastic surgery, women often go to their surgeons saying they want to look like the mannequins in the stores. One woman quoted in the article reported her own plans for future breast implants, even though a private clinic operation costs the same as three months of basic household expenses – rent, utilities and other living costs. The most shocking part of the article for me was the following quote from Osmel Sousa, the head of the Miss Venezuela pageant: “If it [the ‘defect’] can be easily fixed with surgery, then why not do it?  … I say that inner beauty doesn’t exist. That’s something that unpretty women invented to justify themselves.”
Inner beauty is a justification for unpretty women? What exactly, dear Mr. Sousa, do these women need to justify? Their existence as human people? In a world of rising materialism, consumerism and the commodification of human beings, we have to stop unacceptable comments like this. We have to stop rating each other on a scale of one to 10 as if human beings are products in a store to be bought and later discarded. We have to fight for social space for each and every person. While it’s undeniable that we live in a world of bodies where physicality matters, we must stop the association between being pretty/handsome and being valuable.
I know girls at Notre Dame and in other places who struggle daily with their appearances. I know girls who fight against eating disorders, who skip meals before drinking because they don’t want the extra calories and who stand in front of the mirror and evaluate themselves, asking, “Is this skirt short enough for him to notice me?” Once, I asked my mom why she thinks women wear makeup and men don’t, and she responded, “I think women need it more.” I know girls who wake up hours early to curl their hair and do their makeup before anyone can see them, who work out compulsively to try to attain that impossible but supposedly ideal body type and who won’t eat for a couple of days before going to the beach. I know girls who won’t walk up to the fro-yo machine in the dining hall because they think others are watching them, judging them. The media tells us and shows us every day what body types are acceptable and how to adapt to that social norm, but this constant social pressure to be beautiful is unrealistic and exhausting.
Let’s stop for a moment and ask, “What actually brings us happiness?” My intuition is that it’s much more about friendships and community than makeup and the ideal body type.

Lisa Taylor is a senior studying
political science. She can be contacted at ltaylo13@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.