Julie Burchill On The Myth That Every Woman Is Beautiful

21/07/2011 10:46 | Updated 22 May 2015

Everyone is beautiful' sang Ray Stevens in a hit song from my wonder years, 'in their own way.' I would look in wonder indeed at my mother as she sang this song, and snigger to myself; 'No, you USED to be, you old bat! And I'm ABOUT to be. So don't get it twisted...' Or evil thoughts to that effect.

Far be it from me to criticise the brain behind such three-minute-masterpieces as 'Bridget The Midget' and 'The Streak', but Mr Stevens was certainly off his game when he came up with that particular insight. Beauty is a specific thing, rare and fleeting. Some of us have it in our teens, twenties and thirties and then lose it, most of us have it not at all. And that's perfectly O.K. But lying to yourself that you have it when you don't seems to me silly at best and psychotic at worst.

Last month Psychologies magazine ran a Positive Beauty Manifesto. The 10 rules went thus, and my criticism of them is in parentheses:

1. Beauty is the celebration of what is unique about each one of us. (Beauty is actually a very structured ideal, which even six-month-old babies can recognize from photographs.)

2. Taking the time to care for ourselves boosts our self-confidence. (How convenient, when your magazine's advertising comes overwhelmingly from the cosmetics industry!)

3. Beauty and femininity are complex. (Patently untrue - you know them the moment you see them.)

4. Beauty should celebrate intelligent, individual and confident role models. (Beauty is its own justification. Intelligent and confident women who are not beautiful are free to celebrate themselves without being given the go-ahead by anyone.)

5. Being bombarded by unattainably perfect beauty ideals can damage that confidence. (Only if you are UNSPEAKABLY WET, in which case you won't be confident anyway.)

6. True beauty radiates who we truly are, including all our imperfections. (If this is so, why does the magazine frequently advocate face creams which cost £100 and more? Couldn't one just let one's imperfections radiate?)

7. Feeling beautiful is more important than looking beautiful. (As dumb as saying that looking clever is more important than being clever.)

8. A woman can play with her image, make-up and clothes without being superficial. (You need to tell the Muslim world this, not preach to the converted Christian hemisphere.)

9. Neither neglecting your appearance or obsessing about it are healthy signs for women. (On the contrary, neglecting her appearance may be totally healthy for a woman who is fully occupied and satisfied, and obsessing about it is perfectly understandable for a woman whose appearance is essential to her job and income.)

10. We can be beautiful without being young, overtly sexy or thin. (Only if we are a complete freak of nature - which is surely the last thing most women should aspire to.)

Some shady types would sell you the lie that there's something properly feministic about this. But it's actually patronizing in the extreme to treat women as silly little girls who have to be told they're BOOTIFUL in case they SCWEAM AND SCWEAM until they're sick should they believe they've been found wanting.

Beauty is a double-edged sword which brings with it its own set of problems, from creepy men who want to possess it to the owner's fear of losing it. Its existence is to be celebrated, but I would say that so is its loss, freeing us up as it does to aspire to other goals. One thing that isn't any help to any woman is pretending we all have it, any more than pretending we are all clever, rich or kind. We are what we are, and happiness only comes from fully knowing ourselves. And that starts with the woman in the mirror, beautiful or not.


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