beauty before the beast


Been thinking a lot lately about the idea of stereotypes, labels, judgments and beauty standards.

An article I previously re-blogged talked about doing away with beauty standards and this is inherently to do with labels and negative undercurrents in the way we think.

It is standard discourse now – and has been for a long time – to call for the breakdown of stereotypes and labels.

I understand why people call for this, but I think it is impossible.

How can you breakdown something which is a fundamental part of language and a way in which our brain internalises information?

We understand something is what it is, what it does and why it does it, based on putting it in particular categories based on our sensory interpretations. We understand a table is a table because it has legs, stands off the floor and you put things on it (loosely speaking). It feels solid, it looks like a table. There. We have subconsciously defined it. Given it a label, a category, a stereotype, with no conscious effort.

If we didn’t have such cemented categories and labels then we would find it increasingly difficult to determine between a table, a chair and a shelf – for example. I understand that tables and people are not the same! I am not suggesting that I am like a table. I don’t imagine it would end well for the person who decided to put their feet up on my back. A table is not reactive (technological innovation not withstanding), but people are. We are sentient, which is where the labelling issue blurs.

So how – when the whole concept behind the human language is to apply a label to something in order to understand it – are we to break down these categories and stereotypes?

Instead of disbanding these labels, perhaps what we should do is aim for a more fluid method of understanding and internalising the information we receive about someone or something?

A radical overhaul of how we think and talk about each other, as opposed to how we categorise people to build assumptions about them and their potential behaviour?

Is it so terrible to apply a label and make assumptions providing that you understand that they are just that, assumptions?

Were we not to take advantage of our ability to reflect, question and be reflexive, might we do away with the emphasis placed on stereotypes and labels as opposed to disbanding them altogether?

Putting our efforts into changing the way we think about ourselves, each other and the things around us rather than fighting to disband labels and categories can help breakdown the issues associated with stereotypes in the first place. In doing so, they may not carry the same weight they do now, and help breed an environment where people see the beauty before the beast.


beauty and the beast


I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about how we think about ourselves physically, and believe that the way we think about the way we look and the way we are, are two sides of the same coin.

I think that the fear of being labelled as arrogant, vain, shallow or self-absorbed might actually make us focus less on what we like about ourselves, and more on the things we don’t like. Or perhaps even, to acknowledge or notice flaws or faults that we did not initially recognise as ‘bad’ things to begin with, because it is a social faux pas to think that you are beautiful or handsome.

People tell me that it takes strength to admit your weaknesses, and it does. Acknowledging what you are bad at is difficult. However, you shore up the vulnerability you expose yourself to by admitting the weakness in the first place.

There is strength in knowing what you are bad at, but acknowledging what we are good at and like – let alone love – about ourselves is even more difficult, and makes us vulnerable to criticism. As a nation, we care way too much about what other people think about the way we look, but don’t actually seem to like the way we look and undervalue our own opinions.

It seems ingrained that we think that thinking highly of ourselves, being proud of our appearance and displaying confidence are bad things. That there is weakness in these characteristics, and maybe there is if you harness them in certain ways, but how is acknowledging the things you like about yourself a weakness? How is acknowledging a truth or your positive feelings about who you are and the way you lo0k endemic of haughtiness or arrogance? I think real strength lies in really knowing who you are, the good and the bad, the beauty and the beast.

Everyone tells me I am attractive, beautiful even. But I have been incapable – until recently – of even acknowledging what anyone else sees.

Now, I seem to have reached a place with myself physically where I no longer hate the way I look, and I acknowledge how other people see me and what others think, but I still struggle to see it. I understand that I am beautiful because it is what people say, but it isn’t often that I see it with my own eyes.

On that rare occasion where I do sit down in front of the mirror and think ‘I look beautiful today’, I instantly scold myself for the thought. I scold myself because I think that it is bad for me to think this. Luckily I am mostly past the absurd idea that I am only beautiful if other people think I am, that my opinion is irrelevant and mostly past scolding myself for acknowledging the fact that I am beautiful – even if I don’t quite see it the way others do. I’m a work in progress.

The more comfortable I am with the way I am,  the more I see and like the way I look, and the less afraid I am to admit that I am both beauty and the beast. We all are beauty, and we are all the beast.

It’s a powerful feeling. But the most powerful feeling of all comes not from the days I think I look beautiful, but from the days when I don’t even notice the way I look. I don’t feel the need to judge myself, I just let myself enjoy the moment, and nothing else matters.