I am about to become invisible. I’ve already looked the part for some time now, but I’m about to be officially stamped as ‘Status: Invisible’ in a few months. I am a woman who is about to turn thirty.
Yeah, yeah, whine, whine. That’s all you ever do Amrita. It’s no big deal. Your blog readership is mostly above thirty anyway, they don’t care how old you get. See, they’re even nice enough to tell you age is not a number, nothing significant at all. They acknowledge that people in real life don’t see it that way, and they commiserate with you about how unkind people can be. But, c’mon, enough with exploiting their kindness now. They already told you you’re beautiful, no matter what other 3-D humans have to say about it. Most haven’t even had photographic evidence to support their affirmations, but we’re going to ignore that. The point is, everyone is pretty. Everyone is beautiful. And that is all that matters.
But, I don’t agree. I can’t agree. I agree, to an extent, when you say it about me. But, I can’t, rationally, logically, scientifically, practically agree about the rest of mankind. Excuse my vanity, but we can’t all be pretty.
This essay hasn’t been sparked by my impending age milestone. Apparently, there has been some furore over Amy Schumer’s new movie trailer I Feel Pretty, in which her character, a blonde, white, slightly overweight, thirty-something woman whose been trying to achieve what society considers pretty – a blonde, white, slim, debatably twenty-something woman – through exercise falls off a treadmill, hits her head, develops body dysmorphia and thinks she is hot. The main argument people have against it is that Amy Schumer is pretty anyway, that she’s not that fat, and the film industry needs to stop sending out such messages of ideal beauty, in an age when body acceptance is prevalent. That the idea of it is not only redundant, but also offensive.
Now, if they had cast Jessica Chastain in the role and made it a drama and not a comedy, people would have raved about it universally. Because, then we would have a certifiably pretty actress playing a character with body dysmorphia – a condition not just limited to those falling short of Hollywood standards of beauty. I can imagine people aglow watching a scene in which she, without having any makeup on, would slash a mirror, break other stuff around, put on lipstick aggressively, make her eyes really big, and let out a shrieking laugh, before sinking to the ground and starting to cry. Give her an Oscar folks. Such bravery to play such an ugly role.
Though the above examples seem to separate the two actresses, putting one in “yeah-you’re-not-Hollywood-pretty-but-you’re-pretty” and the other in “yeah-you’re-Hollywood-pretty-but-you’re-a-real-actress-able-to-play-real-roles” categories, both have more in common than you think. In fact, they have something in common with you and me. They’ve all felt unattractive, on more than one occasion in their lives.
I can’t imagine how one can’t. I can’t imagine how forced affirmations – you’re beautiful, no matter what others say – help with the problem. When beauty – specifically, your perception of your own attractiveness – has nothing to do with it. Would you even think about it, if somebody didn’t enlighten you on the situation? Are you thinking about how pretty you look as you read this, probably in your pyjamas, with your chapped lips and dry skin and messy hair?
Beauty is a commodity. And unlike other disposable commodities, it can get you more things, while being a thing itself. Let’s not deny it – I may be beautiful, but I’m not Sophia Vergara. Nobody is about to hand me a lot of money for a shampoo commercial. If I tried to be Sophia Vergara, then we would have a problem. If I settled for less, for something more achievable, and tried to be the best possible Amrita, then we would have a problem too. Which doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to be the best possible Amrita several times in my life. And Amy Schumer hasn’t tried to be the best possible Amy Schumer. And even Jessica Chastain hasn’t tried to be the best possible Jessica Chastain. I bet even you have tried to be the best possible You, perhaps applying more gel to your hair in the morning, or investing in a gym membership as part of your New Year resolutions. You tell yourself the former is to look more professional at work, and the latter is to feel healthier, but they all contribute towards the best possible You.
And when we fall short, we have a problem.
I sometimes wake up late, and go to work putting my messy hair in a bun, barely applying sunscreen, drowning myself in body spray to mask the odours of my unshowered self, and putting on something that looks less crinkled then every other clean piece of clothing around. Prettiness is not the goal, only acceptability. I could well do my tasks by turning up in my pyjamas, but I’m not sure I would be asked back the next day.
I do have a problem with the premise of Schumer’s movie. And if it hasn’t been clear by now, it is – feeling unattractive is not limited to someone slightly overweight. In fact, it has often been found that cases of body dysmorphia, eating disorders and perceptible levels of insecurity have been found in models and actresses – women who are supposed to be the very pinnacle of beauty. Just because you have it, doesn’t mean it makes things easier for you. Your blessing may also prove to be a curse.
On the other hand, trying to believe something that you cannot rationalize isn’t, ultimately, that healthy either. If it were, there would be no room for improvement. If I believed I was an undeniably good writer, or an undeniably good mother, I would not only be unable to rectify my mistakes when I made them, I would refuse to believe I had made any. If I believed I was undeniably pretty, and then got rejected, I risk the chance of not believing I can be rejected. I would be fixated on something I cannot have, resulting in greater insecurity, instead of moving on to something I can.
Which doesn’t mean I’m asking you to stop feeling beautiful, if you do. Not at all. I am trying to dissociate the very idea of beauty from perfection or happiness. That just because you are beautiful, doesn’t mean you’ll have the world in your hands. That beauty itself, is not a big deal, and you can live a very fulfilling life without making it a big deal. Making a movie about the feelings of insecurity around it is necessary, for those feelings are commonplace. But, the idea that it is as important as it is made out to be, is where the danger lies.
What are your thoughts on feeling attractive? Do you think Schumer’s movie has an interesting premise?