Confronting My Privilege, Accidentally: Part 2 (Pretty)

Sometimes there are forms of privilege that you academically knew you benefited from, but you don't really *feel* them despite all the research and reading. Until something smacks you and says OH HAI, YOU HAS PRIVILEGE! Particularly situations in which you are temporarily unable to access that particular privilege, for whatever reason. I blogged about my revelations around hetero privilege recently, but right around the same time, I've been confronted by the temporary loss of another privilege I hadn't thought much about.

Pretty privilege.

It's not exactly a secret that cultures privilege varying forms of attractiveness, and that compliance with that standard ensures one access to what I refer to as pretty privilege (particularly for women, hello sexism, when did you come to play?). It comes up from time to time when studies are done that show that more "conventionally attractive" people get paid higher salaries, or are more likely to receive help when they're struggling with something in public, etc. It's a scientifically-proven form of privilege, and yet it gets little airtime in general.

I ran head-first into my pretty privilege last week, when a mini-rash developed on my left eyelid. I had a couple of odd, swollen, red, itchy bumps on the eyelid and browbone above it. As a result, I couldn't quite open that eye all the way; the lid was dragged down on the outer corner and the skin over the browbone pressed out and down over my eyelashes.

Now, I'm also uninsured. And yet my first thought, beyond "What the fuck is that...?" wasn't anything to do with doctors or clinics or how I could pay for treatment if this was something that required medication. It was: "Oh my god, I'm ugly."

Ugly. That's what worried me! I no longer fit the patriarchally-defined Beauty Standard for my culture, and that bothered me more than the potential health ramifications of a mysterious rash near my eye.

Now, even at my best* I don't entirely fit the Beauty Standard. I'm a bit fat (though I'm more of an inbetweenie than truly fat or thin), my nose is kind of long and pointy, my breasts are ginormous but not perfectly round and perky, I don't tweeze my eyebrows, I have a little bit of hair on my toes...I'm sure most women could go on and on about the things they know about themselves that fail to meet the Standard, and I'm no exception. But I fit it closely enough that I am considered pretty, in my cultural context. And until this happened, I had no idea just how much the bulk of my confidence stemmed not from genuine self-love, but from the fact that I knew damn well that I was close enough to beautiful to get away with it on a day-to-day basis. I could go about my business safe in the knowledge that my appearance would, 9 times out of 10, fall somewhere on a positive scale of approval for the people I encountered, and would thus garner me no negative reaction, no disapproval.

But with my droopy eye, when I went out that day to class and to run errands, I was terribly self-conscious. I felt like I was intruding, like I didn't have the right to be go out and be ugly at people. DAMN, had my vanity (and the accident of genetics that preceded it) left me with a humongous blind spot.

Why would I, an avowed feminist, be so invested in compliance with the patriarchal Beauty Standard? What place does that kind of vanity have in someone who seeks the downfall of the entire kyriarchy construct? Surely, I can find something truer in myself to have pride in and be confident about.

I've heard it said recently, "It's hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your own head." Truer words were never spoken. Harsh as it is, I'm glad I've marked the location of another set of outposts to be taken down.

*I say "best" not in reference to my objective best health, but to the times when I most closely coincide with the Standard.


CaitieCat said...

That's some nice teaspooning. Seriously. It's probably not a revelation to say that for a lot of trans women, that standard is a grueling, painful rod with which we are beaten regularly, emotionally, sometimes physically. If we make too much attempt to get close to the standard, we are reinforcing the gender binary, or making a spectacle of ourselves, or performing old models of femininity (I've been accused of all three, over the years). If we don't bother, we are tranny freaks.

It's not an easy thing to admit one's privilege. Brava. :)

WitchWords said...

Why thank you. And thank you also for elaborating on this from your perspective...Like so many other things, being pretty while trans is a catch-22. The game is rigged; damned if you do, damned if you don't. Shit, just look at the Tranny-Alert fiasco; the (alleged) transwomen who did meet the Standard were fetishized as hawt, the ones who didn't were mercilessly mocked as men-in-dresses.

The Beauty Standard is an insidious and vicious construct indeed.

Melissa McEwan said...

Great post, J. Love it.

WitchWords said...

Thanks, Liss! Good to see you here, as always. :-)

CaitieCat said...

Fascinating post by Monica Roberts (of TransGriot) on GlobalComment:


Seemed relevant. :)

WitchWords said...

An excellent post, Caitie, thanks for linking to it!


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