Our thumbs must grow weary of the perpetual scrolls and clicks we all have surrendered to in the current digital age. How we perceive ourselves and the very backbone for networking and creating connections is now rooted in our physical appearance. Namely, the more aesthetically and “traditionally” beautiful you are, the more you gain, and I don’t just mean in followers, but in life itself. Who can blame us though? Our means of survival and popularity are channeled through how we look to others, and I say this in the least self-absorbed way possible because it is true.
Let’s face the reality of American beauty culture. There’s a standard for beauty for young women, and those who most closely resemble it are often considered the prettiest, or even the most popular. “Pretty” often seems to parallel white, able-bodied, thin, cis women, and this disproportionate definition of beauty can be defined by the psychological term, “Pretty Privilege.”
Pretty privilege defines how (disproportionately Eurocentric) beauty standards often carve the way for subsequent opportunities and advantages that women who are physically defined by this standard may benefit from. On a small scale, a friendly face may pay for your drink at Starbucks. But these racially, economically, and socially charged standards of beauty also impact career opportunities, first impressions in interviews, social media presence, and brand deals.
In March of 2006, the American Economic Review published a study called Why Beauty Matters, analyzing the economic and social implications of Pretty Privilege. When someone is acknowledged as “beautiful” they are more likely to also be recognized as other admirable traits such as kind, intelligence, confidence, all qualities which employers are looking for. Pulchronomics is the economic study of beauty, and how it ties into physical attractiveness. It is widely acknowledged that men, most often white men, are disproportionately paid in comparison to women or people of color. However, with a Eurocentric standard of beauty, these systemic injustices extend to physical attractiveness as well. Studies have proven that juries are more prone to find a convicted felon innocent if they also find them more attractive. Not only does this once again place white convicts at an advantage, but delegates how perceived attractiveness causes a false reality that ties physical beauty to assumed positive qualities.
Pretty privilege is so much more than a beautiful girl who garners positive attention from others or reels in more Instagram followers. It is the modern-day implications of early racial theorists that began to socially construct the notion of race and physical superiority. Colorism still perpetuates many communities of color and sometimes (even subconsciously) will esteem women of a lighter skin tone.
Pretty Privilege is also thought to stem from “uglyism,” which is the prejudice against “ugly” people. How “ugly” is defined once again turns to the eye of the beholder, which more often than not adheres to certain unattainable and uncommon forms of beauty. Any form of privilege stems
from the subordination of another, inferior group. However, many skeptics acknowledge that being pretty is an advantage, but not a privilege.
According to the Huffington Post article, “‘Pretty Privilege,’ Where?” “A privilege, which by definition is an unearned benefit, is something that reduces if not eliminates a person’s likelihood of experiencing a particular set of hardships or unfavorable circumstances. There is no such hardship a ‘pretty’ woman can avoid by just being ‘pretty.” Those in doubt point out the disadvantages of being seen as “pretty,” with an “ask them” attitude, as culturacolectiva.com noted. Ask a woman if it’s a privilege being attacked because she is pretty or ask her how often she’s been sexually harassed.
But privilege does not mean there are no downsides to someone’s life. Not everyone regarded as pretty is grateful for unwanted sexual advances or catcalls, but this does not necessarily mean they are not given other advantages for their looks.
So where does this apply to the Tulane community and what must we ask ourselves?
Whether you regard yourself as pretty or not, whether you may regard others based on these standards, we all play a part in the role of social media, of financing the beauty industry and supporting influencers who may even look a certain way. Primarily it is important to acknowledge pretty privilege, whether you are at the receiving end or not. With a more holistic understanding of the issue, action can be taken to dispel it. The representation must diversify to fit all forms of students, all bodies, all genders, all races, all identities. Because by pushing ourselves to certain standards of beauty we actively marginalize others who can’t. I challenge myself to investigate the reasons behind my desires regarding my looks. Why do I look towards having a certain body? How does my whiteness play into my overall attractiveness? I don’t believe how we regard ourselves or are treated by others will soon in the near future. As humans, we intrinsically label and judge others. But with the knowledge of this bias, we can strive to recognize it at the moment, and in small ways work to end it.
Feature Image Credit: Jerk Magazine