"To understand what it takes to be beautiful," writes Amy Alkon for Psychology Today, "we need to be very clear about what being beautiful means — being sexually appealing to men." She then commands: "burn those muumuus." Uh-oh.
Alkon's full essay is worth your while — read it here — but the gist of it is that men care about packaging. Your heart and mind matter, but won't get you anywhere without some Pilates, eyebrow tweezing and lipgloss. And: "While we wish things were different, we'd best accept the ugly reality: No man will turn his head to ogle a woman because she looks like the type to buy a turkey sandwich for a homeless man or read to the blind."
That's not all: Alkon stresses that upkeep is important:
Too many women try to get away with a bait-and-switch approach to appearance upkeep. If you spend three hours a day in the gym while you're dating a guy, don't think that you can walk down the aisle and say "I do...and, guess what...now I don't anymore!" A woman needs to come up with a workable routine for maintaining her looks throughout her lifetime and avoid rationalizing slacking off- while she's seeking a man and after she has one. Yeah, you might have to put five or ten extra minutes into prettying up just to hang around the house. And, sure, you might be more "comfortable" in big sloppy sweats, but how "comfortable" will you be if he leaves you for a woman who cares enough to look hot for him?
Alkon basically supports every negative message ever sent by a woman's magazine — and most sent by men's magazines. You're not good enough just the way you are. Alkon clearly chafes against the idea that lookism is wrong, stating: "Looks matter a great deal. The more attractive the woman is, the wider her pool of romantic partners and range of opportunities in her work and day-to-day life. We all know this, and numerous studies confirm it — it's just heresy to say so."
The problem is, we've created a society in which little girls learn not that looks are one part of the equation, but that looks are everything. Advertising campaigns and ladymags promise that life will be better when your hair, makeup, skin and weight are "just right." Yet young women are often unprepared for the reality: None of those surface enhancements can make a person happy, and none of those things guarantee a fulfilling life. Plenty of beautiful people live sad, confused and lonely existences. Furthermore, the culture of lookism thrives on competition and exclusion. It creates an atmosphere in which things a young woman has no control over — acne, a big nose, a non-hourglass figure — trump the things she does have a say in: Sense of humor, book smarts, kindness. We're left with a system in which those who luck out in the genetic lottery win at life, hard work and merit be damned.
Alkon doesn't see it that way, of course. She sites France — a nation targeting excessively thin images of women — as having a "healthier" attitude about beauty, "perhaps because feminism never seeped into mainstream culture."
In the end, she offers this:
The truth is, like knowledge, beauty is power. So, ladies, read lots of books, develop your mind and your character, exercise the rights the heroes of the women's movement fought for us to have, and strive to become somebody who makes a difference in the world. And, pssst...while you're doing all of that, don't forget to wear lipgloss.
The Truth About Beauty [Psychology Today]