JOLIE: Dismissing concepts of desirability essential to creating more equitable society
Column: C'est Tout
Globally, women are socialized to drape themselves with certain qualities to attract partners. From a Western cultural standpoint, the woman’s most prized quality is socially encouraged to be their beauty. We invest in cultivating beauty via hairstyles, makeup, clothes, medical procedures, mannerisms, speech and more.
In childhood movies, the idea of royalty is directly connected to beauty. In cliché high school productions, the idea of popularity is directly connected to beauty. Similarly, in advertisements, the idea of “feeling good” is directly connected to the enhancement of one’s looks.
The prized compliments of our youth as women are the ones that center our appearance. Unknowingly, these compliments are internalized as validation. In the lives of far too many, such compliments become the currency of our worth as women.
Women have been socially conditioned and personally raised to be potential prospects as partners. Our actions and appearances are judged based on the heteronormative concepts of whether they will attract or repel men. The very culture in which women are raised is fundamentally rooted in the idea that women are competing against each other for men’s affection.
In an opinion piece about conventional beauty, Martha Jaenicke defines it as “standards ... that lighter skin, straight hair, a thin nose, thin lips and light-colored eyes are beautiful.” Inherent with white supremacist standards is an anti-Black sentiment that coexists opposite those standards.
Janet Mock expands on this beauty spectrum by reflecting on the compliments she receives for her racial ambiguity: “The message: Blackness does not equate to attractiveness, and therefore my mixed-ness puts me higher on the white cis beauty hierarchy than a Black woman with parents who are both Black.”
Robin Diangelo explains in her book, "White Fragility," how white supremacy extends beyond the idea that white people are superior, that it has a deeper and more corrosive power: It defines whiteness as the norm or standard for humans — people of color, then, are a deviation.
What position, therefore, do women of color (particularly identifiable Black women) find themselves in? Commonly, women of color navigate an abject lifestyle of "pick me" behavior. Kimberly Foster, in a video on Youtube, argues that a "pick me" is someone who always puts the needs and desires of men first. It is about fitting into the male gaze and fulfilling their needs.
Women of color perpetually internalize their inadequacy as a product of their appearances being different from white supremacist ideals. Consequently, women endure a taxing pursuit of compensation. This thought process produces significant consequences that potentially lead to emotional, mental, physical and sexual abuse. For example, we may acquiesce to conventionally unacceptable treatment from our partners because we want to be chosen and partnered.
Author of "Belly of the Beast," Da’Shaun Harrison, articulates that being seen as undesirable, especially for fat Black people, is what perpetuates Black existence as being seen as subhuman. As a result, people who deviate from the white supremacist standard are treated as less than and subsequently receive fewer opportunities in society.
In the feminist movement, people advocate for overarching equality among all people; so why the absence of vocality? It is plausible that the perceived innocuity of desirability, a power structure that produces privilege and access, blinds their critical eye. Desirability is intrinsically linked to colonial ideology and its exclusionary tenets. Therefore, intersectional feminism demands that people recognize how desirability functions to uphold white supremacy.
Hari Ziyad, writer for Everyday Feminism, says it like this: "As people concerned in social justice, we should always be vigilant whenever our behaviors seem to line up with oppressive structures, knowing full well the insidiousness and self-reinforcing nature of oppression."
A society that creates insufferable experiences for so many people where they feel forced to participate is worthy of critique.
This includes the young children labeled “overweight” during annual physician visits who develop eating disorders, birth-givers who commit to unhealthy diets to “snap back” to their pre-pregnant bodies, people of color who employ skin-lightening agents to prevent negative social interactions, people who form gym addictions due to prevailing notions of masculinity and thinness and people who go to great lengths to conceal their disabilities.
Mia Mingus challenged the world in her speech “Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability.”
"There is only the illusion of solace in beauty. If age and disability teach us anything, it is that investing in beauty will never set us free," Mingus said. "This is our work as femmes of color: to take the notion of beauty (and most importantly the value placed upon it) and dismantle it (challenge it), not just in gender, but wherever it is being used to harm people, to exclude people, to shame people as a justification for violence, colonization and genocide."
Faith Jolie is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in journalism and media studies and women's and gender studies. Her column, "C'est Tout," typically runs on alternate Mondays.
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