Let's Talk About the Pretty Privilege

Two-toned eyeshadow and symmetrical smiles: a protective armor against the heavy fist of a beauty-obsessed world-- the same painful punch hidden by sheen of the seemingly perfect lip gloss. When we think of privilege, do we think of expertly-crafted cat eyes or the perfect balance of high-lights and low-lights? Perhaps the better question might be, should we? In an exploration of the word "privilege" through its greatest depths, I have underlined the word privilege. I’ve sat in the faceless crowds of lecture halls where esteemed professors advised us to be “aware of our privilege.” I’ve seen these nine letters on PowerPoint slides, Twitter threads, and Facebook comment sections. I’ve discussed the hot-button topics of “white privilege,” and “male privilege,” “cis privilege,” and “class privilege," until I was falling down the Dr. Seuss-esque rabbit hole of one privilege, two privilege, red privilege, blue privilege. But strangely enough, no test, no presentation, no voice in the crowd ever mentioned the privilege that being beautiful seems to give you in this world.

They say that, “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female,” but it is, however, the currency women of all shapes and sizes have used, after centuries of reinforcement, in exchange for jobs, and relationships, and even the occasional free vodka soda from an unsuspecting suitor. In a beauty-centric universe, the possibility exists that if you employ just the right business casual skirt and blazer combo, with just the right dose of cleavage, you might land the job—despite the obstacles femininity poses in the race for success. In other echoes of Covergirl commercials, we are lead to believe that if you clear your acne-prone skin or dedicate the time to apply an extra coat of mascara, you might even achieve a long-awaited sense of happiness. And those blessed with these naturally glowing complexions, long wavy hair, and the “perfect” waistline, in most people’s eyes, have an unusual advantage. Because they don’t have to worry about being fat, or sad, or undesirable, or not in accordance with a company’s “image,” they are simply allowed to exist in their own bodies.

And while we shouldn’t blame these pretty people for being unfairly bestowed with the “pretty gene.” I encourage these symmetrical faces to question this pretty privilege, as they would any other privilege: race, class, gender, or otherwise. Because from the very second two schoolgirls at recess locate the “cutest boy in school,” we are trained to recognize beauty as a source of power and authority. After all, it’s no coincidence that high school hierarchies are organized on a basis of “hotness” and date-ability—the good looking cheerleaders of the world standing not only at the top of the pyramid, but at the top of the social food chain, as well.

But the most unfortunate part of it all, is we give this authority to the “beautiful” rather willingly. We giggle and shrug off the shortcomings of pretty people with a line we’ve all heard before: “Oh…well he’s hot, so he can get away with it.” Pretty people can almost literally get away with murder on the basic principle that they are good looking. Pretty people can be rude, and inconsiderate, and unintelligent, because “beautiful” is the greatest safety net any one could ever ask for. They don’t have to earn respect. They don’t have to prove themselves worthy of a dinner date, or a job, or a relationship, because pretty is just enough.

And despite the efforts of the painstakingly shallow society that tries to reassure us that, “looks don’t matter” and it’s “what’s on the inside that counts,” only few buy into these scheme, and who could blame them? After all, this is the same world that plasters perfectly symmetrical faces on magazine covers and scolds those who “let themselves go.” It’s the same world that values women in relation to their cup sizes and the length of their eyelashes. This is the place where people with acne are more likely to be turned down for job opportunities that their clear-skinned counterparts would be offered on a silver platter. This is a place where people fall into insufferable bouts of depression when they gain a measly five pounds. This is where beautiful is arguably the most widely coveted trait of them all. Not kind. Not empathetic. Not charitable. Not selfless. But pretty.

And while I am, in no way, arguing that your accomplishments are solely attributed to how “pretty” you may or may not be, I urge you to locate the opportunities you may have not otherwise received without your Eurocentric features of beauty: whether said opportunities are the title of prom queen or the newest addition to your resume as an editor of a big-name fashion magazine. However, despite the brutal reality of this pretty privilege, I will continue to hope and pray for a world that this is not the case. But beyond hoping and wishing, we all must work to stop perpetuating this culture of “pretty privilege,” and refrain from giving things as trivial as outward appearance an undeserved power. On a personal level, I hope to use the power, the privilege I’ve been given to silence the voices that told me I was “too pretty to be a math tutor,” or was “too pretty to struggle with depression and Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” while also avoiding disenfranchising phrases like “well, it’s a good thing she’s pretty.” Remember, pretty is not a rite of passage; it’s not a requirement; and most importantly, it does not exist in objectivity.