A former co-worker once told me, “You know Jess, you’re actually really weird.” He then went on to reassure me that “it’s a good thing you’re pretty.”
In his statement, my co-worker was implying two things: one, that he was genuinely surprised that my “unusual” personality didn’t match my outside appearance and two, that this is okay because he found me physically attractive. He was implying that my character quirks can be looked past because he thinks I am pretty.
This was not the first time I have heard this justification used, nor did it surprise me. I was expected to act a certain way, and when I didn’t, this surprised him. There is a disparity between the way someone looks and the way they are expected to act. Those others find physically attractive are assumed to be vain and shallow, not goofy or funny or even intelligent. Even more so, beauty is used as a rationale- “She may not be a nice person, but at least she’s pretty.” “At least” is thrown in the statement, as though beauty can make up for a lack of personality or character quality.
Our societal values focus on physical beauty more than any other attribute. We praise figures simply for their physical features, not for the contributions these bodies have made. We have “scholarship” opportunities for young women that have a swimsuit modeling portion. We devour magazines covered with women with unrealistic body types. We care more about bodies than what is inside of them. We trade and cash in on beauty like a good in a culture that prizes aesthetically pleasing faces over intrinsic qualities.
Why do we place such value in something that is both inherently out of our control and unchangeable? In her interview with Refinery 29 on September 7th, 2016, Priyanka Chopra explained that, “Beauty has nothing to do with me. I was born with it. But I don’t want to be known by the fact that I’m beautiful. I want to be known for the fact that I’m an achiever.” In her quote, Chopra is pointing out two important things: one, the way one looks is genetic, not a choice, and two, there is more to a person than their beauty. This is what she wants to be remembered for- her actions, not her physical appearance.
Chopra makes a great point. The value of one’s character should be dependent on the components of his or her personality: kindness, intelligence, or humor. It should be the conscious decisions someone makes every day to be a good person that should leave a lasting impression, not his or her beauty.