Let's Marginalize The Beauty Cult

Every day for the rest of my life, I'm going to draw black lines directly above my lash lines. Along with this, I'll apply moisturizer, green primer to offset redness, liquid foundation, bronzer, blush, eyeshadow, mascara, and setting spray. I'll workout, but also rely on tanning for a deceptively slimmer look. My nails and hair will be done on the regular, and I will frequently have my eyebrows threaded. I will wear Spanx under my dresses for a tighter appearance, and heels until I can't feel my feet at the end of any given eventful night. This is the way I live. This is the way most of us live.


"I do it for myself," I lie to myself from time to time.

Facials, spa treatments, chemical peels, fillers, Botox, more fillers. Make up tutorials. Each of my friends has a different suggestion, a different routine, a different cosmetic doctor. It is ritualistic and embedded into our nature, this addiction. Because that's what it is: an addiction. And beyond the final product, when we are done with ourselves, there is an added obsession with the right lighting and the ever pursuit of the perfect selfie, and finally, an attempt to make it all look effortless. Like meat in a factory, we are processed to be perfect, until we are validated. And even that validation, most will admit, isn't enough. We need it today. We needed it yesterday. We will need it in 5 years. But I hope not.

The way I look affects the way I feel about myself entirely. I feel like I matter when I feel beautiful, and I feel important when I enjoy an influx of likes and comments on a casual 6:35 p.m. Lo-Fi filter Instagram post. "Wowowow 😍😍😍," they all write. Like they're bewildered by my greatness. Like I've won the Pulitzer Prize. The mass approval of an Instagram photo—or even a semi-professional portrait—is fleeting, and means nothing if you think about it, but like any addiction, we need more—more attention, more "likes." So we post and post, because we want to know that we are, as we continue to age, still beautiful. But is that all we are?

Sweet, educated, charitable, talented? If you're a woman, apparently that's not enough. You have to be beautiful. And "beautiful" implies something very, very specific.

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The perpetuation of this beauty-above-all mentality is astonishing, and it has so clearly become what our culture values most. Now, an obsession with "glam" is propagated by influencers on Instagram. An overwhelming amount of celebrities, models, and reality television stars are posting edited pictures of themselves, giving credit to an unreasonable amount of make-up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, and clothing companies who endorse them. Even our news anchors are looking prettier and prettier, a testament to how if a woman isn't beautiful, she can't keep an audience's attention.  

Beauty is treated like an achievement. Except it isn't one, because almost anybody can attain it. But let us examine an actual achievement. Observe the trajectory of a physician, for example. She takes the MCAT, studies for years on end, completes residency, learns a specialty, passes her board exams, continues to practice and learn, and after all of this, is known to be accomplished. This is achievement. This is service. This has meaning and purpose. She contributes to society. But a woman is born with beauty, she doesn’t earn it or work hard for it. If she is not satisfied with her beauty, she is blessed with the ability to enhance herself with products and services from the fashion, cosmetic, diet, and plastic surgery industries accordingly. It's simple. When I learned that I looked "prettier" with bright pink lipstick on, I continued to purchase every shade I could find—at Sephora, on Amazon, at Bloomingdale’s and even at CVS.

"Thanks @everyone!!!" I'll respond on a picture I posted 24 hours ago. I didn't pass a board exam—I just applied MAC’s Pink Nouveau to my lips that night. This level of enthusiasm on my selfie is questionable, but our generation has been conditioned to feed off of these over-the-top laudatory comments and to deliver them more regularly than subscription email newsletters. Telling a girl she is beautiful is the highest form of compliment. If you don't believe me, tell any woman that you think she's beautiful, and observe one of two emotions—gratitude or self-doubt, usually expressed with exaggeration.

We are complacent about our constant regard for beauty as a woman's single most important feature.

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"She's so lucky, I wish I looked like her," my friend tells me as she scrolls through Taylor Hill's Instagram. I am both infuriated by and understanding of this remark. We assume that life is better if we are prettier—and we can always, always be prettier. That's why our efforts to be pretty are never-ending and addictive. But the constant comparison breeds jealousy, competition, and even hatred. On the opposite end, I've seen women compare themselves to those who are more accomplished academically or financially, but are quick to reassure themselves by pointing out to others—"whatever, she's not that hot though." Which again, assumes the superiority of beauty compared to any other characteristic. In fact, so many women have been taught that they can get by on just their looks, and thus they frivolously work on acquiring knowledge. We have created and subscribed to a society that equates external appearance with intrinsic value, an extremely hazardous assumption. And just to be fair to Taylor Hill, I'm sure her looks are not her only attractive quality.

You’ve got pharmaceutical-grade beauty, the cocaine of good looks. Our beauty receptors receive more stimulation than they were evolved to handle; we’re seeing more beauty in one day than our ancestors did in a lifetime. And the result is that beauty is slowly ruining our lives. How? The way any drug becomes a problem: by interfering with our relationships with other people. We become dissatisfied with the way ordinary people look because they can’t compare to supermodels.
— Author Ted Chiang

Young girls are experiencing a rise in eating disorders, early sexualization, plummeting self-esteem, and chronic depression as a byproduct of this "need" to be pretty. The statistics are staggering. One day, if you're not careful, your daughter(s) could be included in one of these stats. Because you already are. And so am I.

This is the part where I'm supposed to suggest an end to our obsession with beauty—where I ask women to accept the pigmentation in their skin, throw away the foundation, put down their bronzer brushes, and opt for the natural look.

That’s unrealistic. It's not going to happen, for now. Do whatever it is you need to do to feel beautiful. I know I'm not going to stop my routine either.

But here's what we can do. As women, we can refrain from comparing ourselves to other women. We can remind ourselves that beauty is not an accomplishment. We can stop being so impressed by it. Because if you think about it, all of our faces are just canvases for make-up, and our bodies are mannequins to be put on display. We do, like I mentioned before, have exercise, beauty products, and even physicians at our disposal. Beauty is just a standard, and we all have the power to enhance ourselves if we want to. But I'll be damned if I raise my daughter to believe that the correct application of her winged eyeliner means more than her accomplishments, her work ethic, her integrity, or her contributions.