Comparison is the thief of joy, but it is also a main perpetuation of gender oppression and body-shaming. We have all seen those articles in magazines or on pop culture websites where you can decide if the celeb is “Hot or Not”. The polls, also often seen as “Who Wore it Best?”, usually refer to whatever a celebrity is wearing, but this “game” translates into our everyday life. From birth, we are socialized to look at people and rate them as “Hot or Not”. I have even come across a social media App recently called “Hot or Not” in which you get to converse with a person solely if you seem them “hot”. Another example as seen in far too many teenage comedies, people—typically men—even take this mindset to a whole new level by judging someone’s appearance on a…wait for it…scale, as if they have authority to
reduce my appearance down to a number. This sort of viewing of the people around us is a perfect example of our socialized notions to compare people’s beauty.
By participating in beauty comparison, we are in turn creating a hierarchy of beauty. Certain hair types, skin colors, body shapes, and countless other physical features are mentally ranked and can be identified with feels of good or bad. Rather than giving certain characteristics a connotation, we are inclined to simply call them “different”. The issue with this is that even the world “different” has picked up a negative connotation and it, again, perpetuates ideas of comparison. If we are going to simply call characteristics other than ours “different”, we need to rid of “different” as an othering word—it groups that “different” person into a separate category that does not go with the norm. To be different should be simply that: it is not the same. No connotation, no othering or neglecting or demeaning or degrading. That person’s hair, face, skin, height, size is simply different. Simone De Beauvoir talks about “otherness” and difference in her piece from The Second Sex. Here, she discusses our inherent separation into groups, stating that “Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought” (149). We are trained to view “otherness” as a bad thing–something that is not the same certainly can’t be good. Changing the way we use this language can clearly alter our mindsets and perceptions of beauty.
Though different in the way I have described is still comparison, it is aimed at taking away the connotation of what it means to be different. Rather than setting up a hierarchy based on differences, we are simply acknowledging, and even celebrating, differences. I am not here to say comparison is evil—how do you know what berries are poisonous? You have compared them to ones that are not. Comparison is the only way we know how to improve ourselves. But I am here to say that comparing ourselves to others and comparing others to others based on physical appearance is what makes us believe that we are not all beautiful. This comparison is where we get hurtful words such as “ugly” in the first place. By quitting this physical comparison, ranking, and judging, we will be able to all see ourselves as beautiful and recognize all other people as beautiful too.
De Beauvoir, Simone. “From The Second Sex.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. Ed. Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Bartkowski. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1952. 147-158. Print.