The Truth About Beauty is That Amy Alkon is Still Searching For It.

Thanks to the Fark user who posted: “Yes, Virginia, there are generally accepted standards of beauty, no matter what the fatties and frumpies have told you,” kicking off the start of my personal holiday season (marked every year by the first person to tell me there’s a Santa Claus) and directing me over to “Advice Goddess” Amy Alkon’s travesty of an essay on Psychology Today.

In what mostly feels like a shameless ploy to top Marie Claire’s controversial fatties essay, Alkon explains that “The Truth About Beauty” is as follows:

…if you’re a woman who wants to land a man, there’s this notion that you should be able to go around looking like Ernest Borgnine: If you’re “beautiful on the inside,” that’s all that should count. Right. And I should have a flying car and a mansion in Bel Air with servants and a moat. […] It just doesn’t seem fair to us that some people come into life with certain advantages—whether it’s a movie star chin or a multimillion-dollar shipbuilding inheritance. Maybe we need affirmative action for ugly people; make George Clooney rotate in some homely women between all his gorgeous girlfriends. 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.

Well. That’s helpful. Go make a bathroom run, refill your coffee and get comfy, folks… because BOY, do I have some things to say about this. First up: Who actually subscribes to “this notion?” Where is this “Uglytopia” that Alkon is so worried we’ve all moved to, where we get to live some blissful no-beauty-rules apply existence? I think pretty much everyone is willing to admit that looks play a role in every aspect of our lives. I just don’t encounter a lot of widespread denial about this. Perhaps Alkon only hangs out with the makers of inspirational throw pillows?

At the same time: Way to throw men under the bus. Because yes, we all like pretty people. But how f*cking tired is this only boobs need apply rhetoric that assumes all men are in fact sharing a brain and only want One Thing? Maybe Alkon uses whether a guy “ogles” her (so charming!) as the basis for forming lasting relationships. The rest of us, men and women alike, are looking for a whole rather nuanced variety of physical attributes, character traits, sitcom preferences, political leanings, soda brand allegiances, what have you, in a potential mate.

Only Alkon says we’re not, and then proceeds to go the “science has proved it” route (“There is a vast body of evidence indicating that men and women are biologically and psychologically different, and that what heterosexual men and women want in partners directly corresponds to these differences”) without citing a single specific study. That’s just lazy. If she can’t be bothered to do her homework — beyond watching the Jessica Simpson show where they visit tribal woman fattening themselves up for husbands — I don’t think we need to pay this section too much mind either.

Here’s what we will get into: Alkon’s take on feminists who perpetuate “the absurd notion that it serves women to thumb their noses at standards of beauty.” She writes:

But take The Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf: She contends that standards of beauty are a plot to keep women politically, economically, and sexually subjugated to men—apparently by keeping them too busy curling their eyelashes to have time for political action and too weak from dieting to stand up for what they want in bed. Wolf and her feminist sob sisters bleat about the horror of women being pushed to conform to “Western standards of beauty”—as if eyebrow plucking and getting highlights are the real hardships compared to the walk in the park of footbinding and clitoridectomy. Most insultingly, Wolf paints women who look after their looks as the dim, passive dupes of Madison Avenue and magazine editors. Apparently, women need only open a page of Vogue and they’re under its spell—they sleepwalk to Sephora to load up on anti-wrinkle potions, then go on harsh diets, eating only carrots fertilized with butterfly poo.

OK. I too, get extremely frustrated when feminists (I actually don’t think Wolf is one of them, but it is a common enough argument) claim that women are selling out if they care about their appearance. We talked about this just the other week when Katha Pollitt wrote how Feminism is about getting that stuff out of your head. And I was like, how’s that working out for us? Not so much, right?

But it’s a cheap shot and an inane comparison to say that we’re so mad we have to pluck our eyebrows when African women have to deal with FGM. I am actually extremely concerned about FGM. I am also concerned about the 30 million American women with eating disorders, including the 20 percent of anorexia patients who will die from their disease — the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. And I’m pretty concerned about the low numbers of women holding CEO jobs and public office and how beauty standards reinforce those glass ceilings while also fueling a $330 billion global industry that profits off our beauty insecurities and often non-negotiable need to conform to the young/thin/sexy standard in order to get and keep a job.

And so I just can’t stomach Alkon’s “you can’t beat ’em, so pretty up and join ’em” solution to these problems:

It turns out that the real beauty myth is the damaging one Wolf and other feminists are perpetuating—the absurd notion that it serves women to thumb their noses at standards of beauty. Of course, looks aren’t all that matter (as I’m lectured by female readers of my newspaper column when I point out that male lust seems to have a weight limit). But 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. […] As the classic commercial says, “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.” (If it increases her options, who cares which it is?)

Alkon is simultaneously creating this “problem” (that we’re all somehow in denial about the role of beauty in our culture — we’re not, we get it!) and claiming the only solution is to accept this most fundamental kind of discrimination and make yourself look really, really good so you don’t have to worry about it applying to you. How is that not insulting women (and men, too), to suggest we all keep playing what everyone knows is an un-winnable game?

Especially as Alkon proceeds to randomly start making fun of older women trying to practice exactly what she’s preaching: “Note to the menopausal painted doll: Troweled on makeup doesn’t make you look younger; it makes you look like an aging drag queen.” So you’re damned if you do — unless you’re French of course. Here Alkon borrows yet another tired stereotype (that every French woman is alluringly thin and beautiful) to preach her version of the beauty myth, where women should avoid extreme makeovers, but do their best to maintain an hourglass figure even once you get a man. This is super important:

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?

This is pretty much the point in Alkon’s essay where I feel a sudden need for Scotch. ven though it’s not even noon. And I hate Scotch.

Because look. If I have to choose between existence-still-not-proven Uglytopia and Alkon’s world, where every man thinks with his dick and cheats on his wife unless she uses her beauty as a tactical diversion, well hell, put me down for a quarter acre and a split-level on Main Street, Ugly Town, USA. I’d rather keep fighting against such an oppressive set of standards, while also holding on to my last shred of faith that people are actually rather idiosyncratic and unique and don’t all engineer our love lives to run like the B plot from the last episode of “Real Housewives.”

And the reason I want to keep fighting — not rejecting in the old-school feminist way, but challenging, questioning, and changing — is because I actually think that there is a third option for a better kind of world here. Okay, rejecting the Beauty Myth didn’t work. Yes, the influence of beauty standards on our relationships and careers is clear (there really are studies, even though Alkon was too lazy to look them up) and to some extent, unavoidable.

So what if — instead of ignoring it and instead of rolling over and just taking it — we got to make up our own minds? And that would mean some of us might say, “Gosh, I don’t think I will marry the guy who will cheat on me if I wear sweatpants.” It would also mean some of us will say, “You know what, I’ll take the Botox and I like how I look in fifty pounds of makeup, thankyouverymuch.” And there would be a whole actual spectrum in between where women got to pick and choose which beauty things we like (pretty shoes! shiny blowouts! whatever!) and which felt like a huge pain in the ass (pretty shoes! shiny blowouts! whatever!). And decide when it felt fun and appropriate to emphasize that hour-glass figure for a (certain) man’s enjoyment, and when it’s more useful to remind some of them that our eyes are up here.

But we wouldn’t judge each other for all of these different choices, making a knee-jerk assumption that Sweatpants Girl is going to end up sad and alone instead of able to find a partner who thinks sweatpants are kinda hot and oh yeah, likes her for other reasons too, or automatically deciding that Painted Doll must be in total denial about her appearance because there’s no way she actually wants to look like that.

We’d be like, cool, she’s rocking beauty on her own terms. And so am I. And it’s all good here.

Because that’s how you change the game — no whopping denial or irritatingly useless stereotypes required.

 

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18 Comments

Filed under beauty standards, Happenings

18 responses to “The Truth About Beauty is That Amy Alkon is Still Searching For It.

  1. candacem

    well said! I am getting the distinct idea that its becoming acceptable to journalistic standard to allow one’s opinions (marie claire article on “fatties”) to overshadow factual studies and constructive intellect.

  2. Here here. I vote to live in the world of your last four paragraphs, please and thank you.

  3. Wow–reading your post got me so angry! I can’t believe that these opinions (Amy Alkon’s, not yours) still exist. Makes me feel like all our feminist gains were for naught. And I HATE Psychology Today for publishing it. Not that PT actually represents those of us who are psychologists (me, in particular), but I fear that people assume that its articles are derived from scientific study, or actually written by psychologists (!) as opposed to advice or gossip columnists. Unfortunately some people will take this as gospel, and feel even more pressure to go to extreme measures not because they want to, but because they believe that all men seek the same thing. I love how you responded to her ridiculous article, and I hope you forward this post to Psychology Today, as well!

  4. This makes me furious. Every time. Even though I’ve heard these absurd arguments so many times. Why, for example, is she bothering to talk about the Beauty Myth at all? Wasn’t that written a long time ago? Because she’s still there, wanting to debate Naomi Wolf. Which means that we’re all still there, caught going around and around the same black and white ride. And whenever someone starts talking about what “feminists think,” it’s pretty much clear that they have no idea what they’re talking about.

    Also, what a sad, little life Alkon must be living. I wonder what terrible, superficial man broke her heart.

  5. Hannah Wren Dunning

    I like that you emphasize the importance for women being able to choose what beauty means to them. The process of becoming comfortable and happy with yourself is so particular and involved that I think it’s often hard to understand that different things are right for other people.

    The problem I have with Amy Alkon’s article is that she’s claiming to have the right path for everyone, and a less critical might get carried away in rhetoric. I can tolerate some lively disagreement, but she gets pretty nasty here.

    I was grading a high school paper recently that described a “body of evidence” for something but never mentioned it. Where did people get by thinking that the word evidence is evidence? Phew.

  6. danceswithfat

    Do you ever think your work will never become famous because it just makes too much sense? I see this whack-a-doodle say “To understand what it takes to be beautiful, we need to be very clear about what being beautiful means—being sexually appealing to men.” and get published in freaking Psychology today. And I look at the Twinkie Diet guy who is all over the news. Then I read our blogs and think – this is reasonable and makes sense. Crap, it will never get picked up!

    Seriously though, this was a fantastic blog and can I just say shame on Psychology today for printing an article by someone who is not a psychologist but rather an “Advice Goddess”. Did you know that this same woman wrote a book called “I See Rude People: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society”? The cobbler’s sons have no shoes…

  7. H C

    She tells women that they need to be beautiful and remain beautiful then berates older women for getting botox. She makes no sense. She uses Demi Moore as an example of someone who is very attractive for an older woman but fails to mention the amount of plastic surgery Demi Moore had just recently admitted to having done.

  8. LM

    I came across this in Psychology Today at the grocery store. I started reading, only to get about half a page in and encounter the phrase “feminist sob sisters”. I immediately shut the magazine and put it back in the rack. Aren’t we all a bunch of crybabies? Wanting a world where it’s certainly ok to be beautiful and emphasize your physical femininity, but it’s also ok to wear sweatpants and still expect your husband not to run off with some woman who looks “hot” for him? Where we’d like to be judged by something other than our man-pleasing attributes? Where we’re actually considered people, people who have valid opinions and feelings and goals and whose lives do not revolve around trying to keep or get a man?

    Sorry, I’m a bit irate. This dumbs down everyone involved. And my main concern is actually the magazine that this opinion piece was in. Because of the title, people are going to assume it’s fact and use it as further justification of an incredibly unjust system.

    Oh, and one more thing: curling their eyelashes? Curling their f***ing eyelashes? Get a clue, Amy. Try “attempting to live up to a literally impossible standard”. You will never be pretty enough or thin enough. Too thin, perhaps, but never that elusive perfect weight that would enable you to break through that glass ceiling and accomplish all you might deserve to in life. Ugh.

  9. Sarah

    Thank you so very much for your response to Amy Alkon’s hateful little screed against women that Psychology Today inexplicably featured. I’d only recently subscribed to PT after reading a copy in a doctor’s office and finding it a welcome change from the ever-present celebrity gossip and fashion/beauty magazines with which I have always had a marked love-hate relationship.

    I appreciate fashion, and who doesn’t love beauty? But I’ve become less and less tolerant of what I see as increasingly narrow standards and widespread highly-demanding expectations regarding a woman’s appearance. No longer is it enough to be thin. Women must now top off that slimness with massive boobs–the more artificial-looking, apparently, the better.

    I agree with nearly everything you and your readers wrote about “The Truth About Beauty.” It’s comforting to know that I am not alone in my extreme annoyance with Alkon’s caustic anti-feminist bile-spew which I believe sunk to it’s lowest in this phrase, “Wolf and her feminist sob sisters bleat about…” Really?

    Good grief! If were interested in shrill, snarky bitchiness, I’d turn to Sarah Palin.

  10. J

    Articles like that make me so nauseous. They’re always such a load of heterosexist crap. What, the entire human experience revolves around het, cis women being pretty in a way that makes het, cis men happy? What a load.

  11. Thank you! I read this article and was just sickened. Is this supposed to pass for real insight now? I don’t even want to read the Marie Claire article on “fatties”, it’s sure to be asinine.

    Hell, I love makeup and clothes and perfume and pretty much everything at Sephora that I can be snooty about. But I don’t do that to land a man. That’s my zone, a near all-female world where I can forget that I work for Comcrack and that my inspection is expired or that the holidays are coming up and I’m going to have to barter with squashes. My guy actually seems to prefer the no-makeup, sweatpants me to the done up me. Amy clearly has been out of the dating game for whatever reason because her advice sucks. I’ve also noticed how self-centered her other writing has been when she was SUPPOSEDLY writing about a topic that actually deserves attention, like increasing rudeness in today’s society. This is just icing on the cake, and I’m going to shove it in my mouth so it goes straight to my wide, amazing hips.

  12. Laura

    THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!
    I was given a subscription to Psychology Today for Christmas and this was the first article I read mention of when browsing through the first issue I received. After continuing to flip through the issue Ive decided on having the gift giver cancel my subscription!!!! It appears to be nothing more than a hyped up ‘fashion’ magazine masquerading as a legitimate source of information on the field of psychology. It infuriates me that this kind of archaic spewing is what is passing for Psychology! THANK GOD all the commenters here feel the same as I! I too am irate and really can not even make much of a rational comment of my own here at this time. Just THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! for standing up for the dismissal of this type of patriarchal, archaic thinking and calling for a more HUMAN approach. “If I have to choose between existence-still-not-proven Uglytopia and Alkon’s world, where every man thinks with his dick and cheats on his wife unless she uses her beauty as a tactical diversion, well hell, put me down for a quarter acre and a split-level on Main Street, Ugly Town, USA. I’d rather keep fighting against such an oppressive set of standards, while also holding on to my last shred of faith that people are actually rather idiosyncratic and unique and don’t all engineer our love lives to run like the B plot from the last episode of “Real Housewives.” I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Laura

    this is what articles like hers, passing as authoritative, perpetuate http://www.wreg.com/sns-isabelle-caro-pictures,0,5630366.photogallery
    I was also SO glad to see mentioned the title of the book written by this poor woman – “The Little Girl Who Didn’t Want to Get Fat” – dispelling the myth that anorexia is necessarily about issues other than the pressure felt to be ‘beautiful’

  14. Thank you for your thoughtful response to Amy Alkon’s appalling rant in Psychology Today. I read the article, became thoroughly enraged, and promptly trolled the Internet in search of counter-articles, finding almost nothing. I kept thinking…’Is it me, or is she a raging woman-hater?’ I was so glad to find your post. Glad it’s not just me. :S

    I’m torn between wanting to slap Alkon and de-program her. WTF?

    As for Psychology Today, I don’t have a subscription — and won’t be getting one. My love affair with th is mag is officially dead.

  15. Thank you for your thoughtful response to Amy Alkon’s appalling rant in Psychology Today. I read the article, became thoroughly enraged, and promptly trolled the Internet in search of counter-articles, finding almost nothing. I kept thinking…’Is it me, or is she a raging woman-hater?’ I was so glad to find your post. Glad it’s not just me. :S

    I’m torn between wanting to slap Alkon and de-program her. WTF?

    As for Psychology Today, I don’t have a subscription — and won’t be getting one. My love affair with this mag is officially dead.

  16. Pingback: The Other F Word « Fierce, Freethinking Fatties

  17. Pingback: Friend Friday: Fashion, Feminism and other F Words | Beauty Schooled

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