Pretty Privilege Is The Most Useless Privilege

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Pretty Privilege Is the Most Useless Privilege

Countless studies prove pretty privilege is a thing:

Attractive people earn 3% to 4% more than their peers. (University of Texas, 2011)
Attractive workers are (wrongly) considered more able by employers. (Harvard, 2005)
Women who wear glamorous make-up are seen as more competent and likable than less attractive women without make-up. (Harvard, 2001)
Teachers give good-looking high school students better grades than their peers. (University of Miami, 2009)
Attractive real estate brokers make 12% more money than their peers. (Middle Tennessee State University, 2012)

It must be a fantastic privilege to have, right? But all that glitters ain’t gold — pretty privilege is a sh*tty privilege and comes with a hefty price tag. The price is so high; we shouldn’t consider it a privilege at all.

As an able-bodied, white, straight, cis person, born in a rich European country with universal healthcare, I ooze privilege.

Is my life hard? Yes! But none of the hardships I deal with are because of my skin color, ethnicity, health, or sexual orientation. The only “bad” hand I got dealt with is my gender — way too often, I have had to deal with misogyny and sexism.

But thanks to my white privilege, I don’t have the same struggles as my Black and Brown sisters, who have to deal with their own brands of intersectional sexism.

None of my privileges have any downsides.

There are no downsides to being white in a Western country. Reverse racism doesn’t exist. And even if it did exist, people of color discriminating against me does not affect my life. As long as most governments, board rooms, judges, and police officers are white, I’m privileged. Whether you like it or not, white is the default and, therefore, a major privilege in many countries.

Neither are there any downsides to being able-bodied. And if you are one of those people who whine about disabled people having the best parking spots, please, eat a bucket of broken glass. And just because there are disabled parking spaces doesn’t mean that the actual buildings are accessible. Not having to think about accessibility is such a huge privilege; most able-bodied people aren’t even aware of it.

The same goes for being straight — no downsides whatsoever. I can marry any useless man I want, and people will be happy for me. I can order my wedding cake everywhere. I can hold hands with my partner without having to be afraid to get assaulted. I won’t be classified as mentally ill because of who I love. I won’t be shunned by my family or forced to undergo conversion therapy.

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Ditto for being cisgender. I have never questioned my gender. I have never had to think about how I identify and why. I don’t always like being a woman, but I am one, no doubt. My machinery matches my gender identity. And when I see my trans friends' struggle, I realize what a massive privilege that is. There are no downsides to being cisgender because cisgender is the default.

I acknowledge my privileges and use them to advantage the people around me who are less privileged. There is, however, one privilege I have wrestled with since puberty — pretty privilege.

Growing up, I was a plain-looking kid. Because my brother and sister were both ridiculously good-looking children, people were always kind of disappointed when they saw me, and I deduced that meant I was ugly. I felt ugly.

I had crooked teeth, a lisp, small eyes, virtually no eyebrows, which gave me an alien-esque appearance, and I was so tall I always slouched over not to stick out like a sore thumb. I was bullied relentlessly in school, which didn’t help with my self-confidence.

And I was okay with it. I enjoyed being overlooked. My shy and introverted self wanted to be invisible. I didn’t mind being ugly because I felt smart. My books were my best friends. I would never win a Miss World contest, but I would do anything in my power to have a shot at a Nobel prize.

And then, when I was 14, a miracle happened.

My braces got removed.

I discovered the magic of the eyebrow pencil.

All the kids in my class had a growth spurt, so I wasn’t the only tall one anymore.

Seemingly overnight, my body transformed from awkward girl to full-blown hourglass woman mode.

Some of the boys in my class confessed they had a crush on me. I thought it was a practical joke. There were so many pretty girls in my class; why would they pay attention to a cave troll like me?

At first, when my breasts started growing, I was happy. But then they didn’t stop. Suddenly, boys wanted to carry my bag and help me with my homework. I saw boys and grown men staring at them. Staring at me. I hated it. I started wearing my brother’s old t-shirts to hide my body.

But in the oversexualized 90s, girls were encouraged to show some skin. We complain about girls being hypersexualized nowadays, but in the 90s, we went to school wearing low-rise jeans, showing off our thongs, and grinding to LL Cool J’s classic “Doin’ it.”

My unflattering clothing made me stand out. I was painfully insecure, and I wanted to fit in. So slowly, I branched out and shopped at the same stores as my newfound friends. My tight clothing and make-up gave me attention, and it was a confusing experience. The more I tried to fit in, the more I stood out.

It is still hard for me to call myself pretty because I’ve spent my formative years being okay with being ugly. I’m not very invested in the way I look. I don’t think I am all that.

But I am not blind. I see how people react to me. And I am very aware that I am treated differently from my not conventionally attractive friends.

I don’t know if I make more money than my peers because of my looks, but I do know that I’ve never had any trouble finding a job — even though I’m a college drop-out. I like to tell myself that employers hire me because of my skills, but there is a possibility my looks have helped me more than once.

I can’t deny looking conventionally attractive has advantages. These advantages come with a price tag, though:

Unwanted to dangerous attention from men

Judgment from women

It’s temporary; beauty fades, and there is a lot of pressure to preserve your good looks.

When I was 15, a grown man offered me $100 to give him a blow job. He told me every man dreamed about having my beautiful lips around their — you get the picture. It was a traumatizing experience.

When I was 18, a photographer invited me to come to the Autosalon in Paris, France, to pose with the newest and sexiest cars — all expenses paid. He tried to take upskirt pictures and booked only one room in a hotel, for the two of us.

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I have been groped. I have been assaulted. I have even been followed down the street by a man who didn’t want to leave me alone because I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

I am not alone in this. Many of my friends share these traumatic experiences.

Unwanted attention from entitled men isn’t the only price I pay for pretty privilege.

I’ve had altercations with women because they thought I looked “arrogant.” A woman tried to beat me up because her boyfriend approached me, which was apparently my fault, not his.

When I got my first big promotion, my female co-worker told everyone I only got that promotion because of my tits.

A male co-worker got into a fight with his live-in girlfriend because she felt we spent too much time together, and there had to be something going on — yes, a major international project we were both had key roles in.

Even though studies show that attractive people are seen as more competent, many people assume I am dumb or naive. Because a woman can’t be pretty and smart, right?

Beauty fades, and there is a lot of social pressure to stay pretty. Marketing campaigns aimed at women have an unambiguous message: if we’re not pretty, we need to become pretty. And if we are considered pretty — for the love of God, don’t ever age.

I am not saying marketers and magazines caused my body dysmorphia, but they didn’t help, either.

Privilege is an odd thing. It is something you didn’t ask for; you’re just born with it. I refuse to acknowledge my appearance as a privilege, though. My skin color, gender, and sexual orientation are not a debate. I am white, cis, and straight. And the privilege that stems from those traits is undeniable.

Your opinion about someone’s appearance doesn’t say anything about them. It says something about your taste and preference. So how can something be a privilege when it’s not universally acknowledged?

Last month, supermodel Emily Ratajkowski wrote a viral essay about how a photographer abused her and made lots of money selling a book filled with her nudes. Like most supermodels and celebrities, she doesn’t own the right to her own image.

Her vulnerable essay has touched a lot of hearts, but it has also made many people angry. Angry because people feel miss Ratajkowski isn’t “allowed” to complain. Her appearance has made her millions, and she has danced around naked in a music video, so for a lot of people, that makes it “okay” for a photographer to abuse her. She shouldn’t complain, but be thankful and count her blessings.

What’s the advantage of pretty privilege in her story?

As long as pretty privilege comes with the male gaze, being objectified, street harassment, abuse, assault, rape, not being taken seriously, and women tearing each other down, it’s a sh*tty privilege.

So if you have ever struggled with having pretty privilege, please know you are not ungrateful for pointing out the downsides of this faux-privilege. Just because you enjoy the advantages of your appearance doesn’t mean that you have to accept the disadvantages.

In my dream world, there are no privileges, and we’re all equal. In the real world, that might take generations of struggle to achieve.

But getting rid of pretty privilege is quite simple. We need to let go of the whole concept of the importance of beauty. Instead of obsessing over appearance, focus on traits that actually matter. There is no correlation between looks, character, or IQ.

Tell people they are fun to be around. Or that you love their style. Point out their accomplishments en what makes them great people.

If we focus on the inside instead of the outside, we can eradicate all the ugliness pretty privilege evokes.

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Judith Valentijn is a writer, psychology student, and certified non-duality coach. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.