Pretty Privilege vs. Beauty Penalty

You may be hip to the notorious Tiktok trend, “Tell me you have pretty privilege…without telling me you have pretty privilege.” To which the prompt is stitched with a pretty face who boastfully tells a tale to a camera about how their attractiveness benefited them in a particular circumstance.

A woman having her cigarette lit by a bunch of men

I angrily reacted to how this trend propagated the stigma of “pretty girls get to walk through life so easily.” I stopped scrolling, and began bitterly typing up the report where I emphasized that being attractive can bring more attention upon yourself, but that it’s a double edged sword given that this attention can be positive (materialistically) or negative.

Homer from "The Simpsons" angry under his bed covers

Then it hit me- there’s no need to further polarize this debate by categorizing it into a black and white issue that fuels the insensitivity and unfairness felt by both parties.

Spongebob and Squidward wall meme
The Berlin Wall, circa 1961

A true, enlightened feminist seeks to cultivate an educational platform that encourages empathizing with various perspectives, and understanding that they each have their own pros and cons. Seriously, our different experiences and insights don’t have to create a divide that causes us to toxically resent one another. How are we ever going to accomplish anything if we’re constantly fighting each other instead of uniting to focus our energy into overcoming the real issue at hand?

Sandra Bullock preaching world peace at a beauty pageant in "Miss Congeniality"
#MakeLoveNotWar #BurnWallsBuildBridges

My thirteen year old, Tiktok indulgent sister even offered a contribution when I brought up “pretty privilege,” she said, “Being blonde with blue eyes means everybody thinks you’re perfect and have it easy- when it’s really not and you’re totally insecure.” Yikes, can we please dismantle this arrogant presumption if not for ourselves but for our prosperity?

Not to be dramatic, but might I add that the world’s most famous beauty icon, Marilyn Monroe, “killed herself”? Off topic, but her murder is more of a proven fact than a conspiracy theory. But either way, the legendary star had it easy. We all want to be like that beautiful woman we idolize so much who had everything (including Harry Winston’s most precious diamonds). What more could a girl want?

Book cover "The Murder of Marilyn Monroe"
The “conspiracy theory” [fact] investigates the speculation about how Monroe was threatening to expose her affair with JFK, or “presidential confidentialities” to the public. The government can murder anyone who is considered a threat to national security. The read also details how her murder perfectly fits the mold of the CIA’s guide on how to frame murdering someone into making it look like an “accident” or “suicide”

A trans woman, Janet Mock, author of the article, “Being Pretty Is a Privilege and We Refuse to Acknowledge It“, emphasized the “halo effect,” that “hot cis-gendered girls” are automatically subjected to throughout life: “If you’re pretty people naturally see you as smarter, funnier, etc.”

First of all, it’s unjustifiable to self-righteously declare someone else’s feelings and experiences in the third person when you don’t truly know what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

Allen in "The Hangover"
You can’t disagree with Ice Cube.

My counter part to her article is that if you’re “pretty,” people see you solely or at least primarily for that attribute, and you must go to extra lengths to try and prove that you have other qualities as a person. Furthermore, you’re often perceived merely as a materialistic object who therefore carries a higher requirement and expectation of proving themselves as opposed to a human being.

The article included a social experiment with measuring the outcomes of two women: one who was described as “conventionally attractive” and one who had a “plain” appearance…a bit misogynistic to title these women, the experimental groups, with these demeaning labels. That’s pretty [no pun intended] symbolic of the real problem here.

The first trial consisted of the women dropping books on a public walkway. The data confirmed that the attractive girl received more help gathering her belongings from strangers than the unattractive girl did.

"A ha ha, okay..." meme

The second trial threw them into waitressing a night shift. The study found that the pretty one received more tip$ from her tables than the unattractive one. Wow, you really showed them!

Applause sign from "Shrek"

You know what’s actually “unattractive”? Confirmation bias and the warped motives of this experiment. The trials were tailored to inevitably proving their point, and nothing progressive or valuable was accomplished- it was more reactive than proactive. I also love how we are insinuating the measurement of a woman’s likelihood for success by her appearance via waitressing money and attention from strangers on the street.

Mock [I love how that’s her name] shared her sour perspective that constructed her argument into an envious resentment of attractive cis-gendered women. Why can’t we elevate our voices without the spiteful mis-projections? Alexa, play WAR’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends

If you didn’t sing the melody in your head while reading that, we can’t be friends.

Aside from that more important observation, let’s take a look at the flip side of the waitressing trial- which I also dread explaining the shallowness of…but here ya go:

Attractive waitresses may be more likely to receive higher tips at the end of the night, but at what cost? The amount of mistreatment women (cute or not) face in the labor force…let alone the restaurant industry, is incredibly unsettling. I served for six years and got to the point where my tolerance completely depleted and forced me to find a different type of job. There’s all too many horror stories to share, but let me spare you with a lighter, more passive-aggressive tale that was the last straw to break the camel’s back.

Letter of resignation comic

My boss was seated with his friend and waved me over to serve them even though it was half past last call and they weren’t even in my section. I strut over to them, ready to make money off of joyously being their b*tch, “Hey! What can I get start-” “YOU should work at HOOTERS!” His friend manterrupted me right off the bat with that back-handed comment. I played it off mockingly, “Oh, you think so? I was actually applying to internships there.” He responded, “For sure! I can definitely put in a good word for you. You should be serving cocktails in a bikini on an island in the Caribbean tbh.” I shot back, “Great, thank you. I pursue a college degree in hopes of advancing my serving career to that occupational fantasy, literally my dream job.” The clueless dipsh*t continued, “You could easily turn that fantasy into reality! What’s your major? Hospitality?” The conversation just got progressively worse with every word that came out of this dude’s ass. My boss uncomfortably laughed at the awkwardness of the situation while he shook his head. I can only say so much to a customer who determines how much money I get to take home to put food in my belly…but I said what I said, “Public Policy & Administration; where I specialize in public management and communications where I explain to men that women strive to achieve a college education merely in prospect to serve and please you.” He just blinked at me, “yeah, whatever you just said…start us off with some gin and tonics, beautiful.”

My boss felt bad, and he already knew I had just about had it with that job, so he tipped me a handsome $20, and asked me, “Is this enough?” Sir, I’ve had enough.

Did I cash out more doe at the end of the night than some of the other servers? Maybe. (Or maybe I’m actually a good server?) But what the hell, I should be financially compensated for constantly dealing with sexual harassment in my work environment for Pete’s sake. I might’ve made more money than the average server, but the work environment was so uncomfortable that I had to make the decision to leave my job in order to protect myself and my sanity.

"This is fine" comic of dog calmly surrounded in a house fire

I conducted an anonymous interview with a Chief Commercial Officer of a medical device company, she explained that the “beauty penalty” and general women marginalization continues to progress through career advancement. “I’m really proud of my hard work and professional experiences that have led me to where I am occupationally today.” She mentioned being scrutinized by people’s negligent comments that she’s prosperous in marketing, sales, and commercialization because “she’s hot.”

“Mhm…I’m just the CCO of ‘x company’ because I’m attractive. Sure, being pretty helps in certain aspects, but I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t the most qualified for the role. It’s awfully offensive and degrading to demote my skills and qualifications just because of my appearance.”

Marilyn Monroe quote

In regards to dishing out the the strangers’ generosity experiment:

Fact is, if you are “plain”, or not conventionally “pretty” (as described by the labels of the experimental subjects) you’re naturally less likely to be a target, or as some call it, “bait.” When you are a target, people are also more likely to judge you for your book’s cover, this can be in a good way…or a bad way. Not to mention the other exciting ways in which being a target impacts someone in other situations- you could and could not use your imagination.

I remember being summoned to the Principal’s office over the announcements in public school. The Principal told me that I violated dress code. I was blown, I felt confident in my outfit I sported that day, that even abided by the guidelines of my mom’s “classy rule: if you show off the top, cover the bottom,” and vice versa. I asked the Principal, “Be honest with me, would you say this outfit shows too much and is inappropriate?” She reassured, “Not at all, it’s very cute and you look good. But it goes against our policy with your shorts being shorter than where your fingertips fall on your legs.” I said, “that’s pretty dumb, especially since there’s a few hundred other students walking around the halls in clothes that more harshly obstruct dress code who don’t get confronted in your office like I do.” She told me my “body type” made me more of a “distraction” and that if I didn’t change I would be sent home. So is patronizing me for my body policy too? I said, “You don’t gotta tell me twice, adios.” I walked my distracting ass home like it was runway only for my dad to yell and lecture me on how problematic I was. “Dad, I’m sorry this dumptruck [ironically inherited from him] is problematic.” I was grounded, lol.

A satirical spin on Marilyn Monroe’s “Well behaved women rarely make history.”

I got a kick out of Mock’s perpetuation that beauty “opens doors.” Ha! I’ve been waiting for this one…

Fast forward from junior high to a modern day in the life of a “hot girl.” My friends and I would frequent a popular college bar (that shall not be named #iykyk) in part because we didn’t have to wait in line since the owner had an eye for me which leveraged us in- so quite literally, my looks were opening doors. But what society fails to realize is that these aren’t exactly the opening of heaven’s gates.

Let me in meme
I don’t know how you can hate from outside of the club, you can’t even get in

When we were promptly seated at our table, I sat in what happened be a broken chair and my body capsized and folded in half for everyone to see (rofl, literally). The owner came up to me and said, “Your ass is so fat, it just broke that chair.” Wait, it gets worse…

Marilyn Monroe quote

One of the bouncers later confessed to me that he and some other bouncers would feel burdened by my visit, because it “jeopardized” their job, given that the owner was intimidated by his employees talking to me. Additionally, it was always suspicious how seemingly over protective they were when any guy tried to approach me; they’d get aggressive and threaten to kick them out (which they did) if the aspiring bachelor’s didn’t buzz off.

This bouncer also admitted, “I just want to be friends, nothing more. I like to surround myself with independent, beautiful women who has guys buying them drinks to also buy me drinks.” I said, “Huh? Since when do guys who buy me drinks buy you drinks?” The bouncer explained how he regularly practiced this ritual of telling any guy who tried to approach me that if they didn’t buy him a shot, he wouldn’t let them go near me. Bruh…

Bruh meme

I could write a pretty twisted book about all the stories under my belt, but those were just a few at beginner level, relatively speaking. The doors were opened for me, but into a toxic environment that I’m now forced to avoid. In short, pretty causes ugly consequences.

If someone’s “pretty privilege” allows them to reap some benefits in certain areas, cool. Let them gain something out of the natural disaster, for goodness sake.

Perceptions of so-called beauty are continuously evolving and culturally dependent. Pam Wright dug into the variety of different culture’s beauty standards spanning globally and historically, in her article “What Men Find Attractive in Different Parts of The World.” Not to say that men should be the Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsey determiners of who gets judged to “have what it takes,” but men typically dominate most societies, and what they consider attractive.

Simon Cowell meme

“Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder. Our perception of beauty is guided by cultural influences and ideas of aesthetics determined by fashion dictates of that era. Women, and sometimes men, often go to ridiculous lengths and a lot of pain to achieve that elusive beauty ideal. Is your idea of perfection worth the price?”

– Pam Wright in What Men Find Attractive in Different Parts of The World

If you have a symmetrical face, and a slim-thicc figure, you could easily turn heads…in the States. But those physical attributes wouldn’t exactly start traffic in Kenya and other areas of Africa unless you had stretched earlobes and a shaved head.

A woman of the Masai tribe with large, stretched earlobes and a shaved head
A woman of the Masai tribe meets her culture’s beauty standards.
Britney Spears attacking a car with an umbrella from 2007
A woman from Thailand with brass necklaces elongating her neck
“Women in parts of Myanmar and Thailand who wear heavy, brass rings around their neck. The group of people known as the “long-neck” or “giraffe” tribe is a sub-group of the Padaung. The seemingly odd practice makes a woman more attractive to a possible mate because it is a sign of beauty and wealth.”
A woman's face decorated in scars
“Scarification is an ancient beauty tradition throughout the world, in several different cultures from the Western Pacific to South America to parts of Africa. In many of these cultures, both men and women undergo the painful process of scarification, but women tend to scar their torsos and chest because it is considered sensual and intriguing. The scars can send a message about the woman’s social status, political or religious roles, and her genealogy.”
A diagram displaying a skeletal comparison of how women's feet were broken to appear smaller.
“The Chinese practice of foot binding goes back to the 10th century and endured for a thousand years. Girls would have their feet broken and bound as toddlers so that their feet would be tiny, and therefore attractive. This would permanently cripple them, preventing them from walking comfortably for the rest of their lives,” but was an opportunity to elevate the socioeconomic status for the family.
Marilyn Monroe quote
There’s obviously more to be said than just size in the context of our societal beauty standards, but you get the point

My personal experiences and perspective do not invalidate those who may not be considered to meet society’s idealized perception of attractiveness. Additionally, I’m not saying that these women are necessarily exempt from these types of afflictions either, and don’t endure real challenges too. To say one side is worse than the other is completely subjective.

It is important to preach your insights without projecting your frustration into hateful judgements and criticisms onto other’s who have a different background that you’ve neglected to educate yourself on. Instead of subconsciously identifying each other as enemies, we must strive to acknowledge, respect, and support one another.

Malibu's Most Wanted "Please..don't be hatin'"

Telling someone to check their “pretty privilege” can be served as an out-of-pocket, sexualizing micro-aggression that dismisses and rejects the truth of that person’s adversities.

Everyone wants to be attractive, of course, but the wrongful assumption that pretty women “breeze through life,” and have “everything handed to them,” solely because of the way they look is insensitive and dehumanizing.

Beyoncé's "Pretty Hurts" song cover
“It’s the soul that needs a surgery” -Beyoncé

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