A woman's article about 'beauty privilege' has provoked controversy online

A woman's article about 'beauty privilege' has provoked controversy online

Over the years, I've come to terms with the fact that I'm not particularly good looking. I'm not playing the world's smallest violin here: I'm not especially ugly either, just distinctly average. I don't have the chiselled jaw, the straight teeth, the gleaming smile or broad shoulders. I can't sweep women off their feet with a smouldering look and heads don't turn when I walk into a room. But that doesn't mean that I haven't fantasied from time to time about being super-attractive.

It's because we tend to imagine that being über-hot gives one an inherent societal advantage; and in fact, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that it does. In polls, conventionally attractive people are thought of as being more charming and trustworthy, and beautiful people, on average, earn more and have an easier time finding love. In many respects, it's a blessed life. But it could be that us normies are overestimating just how easy our enviable counterparts have it? Maybe being stunning isn't all it's cracked up to be? This sentiment may well be true, but it's one that very few people will have any sympathy with.

In fact, being attractive means that people are often just as likely to see you as thick as they are to view you as a sophisticated bombshell. There's nobody who's on the receiving end of envy and resentment more than attractive people. But try moaning about it in public and see how far you get. You'll be shot down faster than a clay pigeon at an NRA convention.

If you need proof then look no further than the online furore surrounding an article written by Alexa Tsoulis-Reay and recently published in women's magazine The Cut. Why was it so controversial? Well just take a look at the title: "What It’s Like to Go Through Life As a Really Beautiful Woman." Sounds a bit like something from Zoolander, huh?

In it, Tsoulis-Reay interviewed an anonymous 50-year-old woman, who talked candidly about the misery of being gorgeous. The subject stated that she was first told that she was beautiful in her youth, and in adolescence, she seemed to relish in it. But in the adult world, however, things were different. She now blames her stunning good looks for her unhappy love life and difficulty forming female friendships. Men were often too scared to approach her and women were deeply jealous of her. Her colleagues would allegedly bully her, spread rumours about her, attempt to sabotage her career, and wouldn't invite her to parties.

"One of the worst things about being beautiful is that other women absolutely despise you. Women have made me cry my whole life. When I try to make friends with a woman, I feel like a guy trying to woo her," she said. "Women don't trust me, they don't want me around their husbands. I'm often excluded from parties, with no explanation. I imagine their thought process goes something like this: 'what does it matter if I hurt her feelings? She has her looks and that's more than I have. Life has already played favourites.' It's kind of like being born rich. People don't believe that you feel the same pain. It's a bias that people can't shake."

On social media, the reaction to the article was predictably one of derision, with many admonishing the subject for her perceived vanity and self-pity. For example, twitter-user Anna Khachiyan tweeted that woman’s anecdote about other women attempting to sabotage her by planting alcohol at her desk had been fabricated. Another sarcastically stated: "I am grateful that we all learned what it’s like to go through life as a really beautiful woman today."
Other tweets were more supportive. Twitter user Dorothy of Israel wrote "Been seeing too many people mock this 'what it's like to be beautiful' woman, and y'all are horrible humans. Try practising some empathy, cuz clearly you didn't bother to read the piece," while Jessica Wakeman wrote: "The piece could have been really good. Maybe not as an as-told-to, though. Beauty privilege is a topic we need to discuss more. A lot more ... The problem is that when a beautiful woman herself tries to discuss it, she's automatically accused of being self-involved and oblivious. And you know, people want to see pictures. When a 'regular' women tries to discuss is, she's accused of being jealous ... So to dismiss any discussions of beauty privilege, or jealousy, especially amongst women, because it's too "shallow" or not worthy of serious examination/critique is short-sighted."

I have to admit, when I read the article in question, I did feel a twang of guilt. Speaking from experience, I know how easy it is to treat someone poorly on the assumption that their good looks have given them an invincible ego. Instead of treating the person in question as equal, I was mean and dismissive out of spite. I'm sure there are good-looking people out there who have coasted, but to lump everyone into the same category is just callous.


Featured illustration by Egarcigu