22 February 2011

A Day For Celebrating Our Real Beauty

The college in which I've been moonlighting is going to have an event called "Beauty Day," in conjunction with Women's History Month.  I and others have pointed out that it's, at best, an odd strategy.  At worst, it can be seen--at least to some people--as "belittling women's accomplishments," as one prof put it.

To some degree, I agree with that prof.  But I also have a personal interest in the question I didn't discuss with anybody there. As I said to that prof, people are indeed judged that way  (The student-run "Rate My Professors" site has a category for "hotness.")  And, sadly enough, members of the dominant culture judge those who aren't part of it by how well they fit that culture's standards, in beauty as well as in other areas, without threatening the hierarchies that are built upon those standards.  

I never would have understood what I have just described in the previous sentence had I not undertaken my transition.  Most people would not say that I am a beautiful woman; not very many, I suspect, would even say that I'm terribly attractive.  But, at least, I seem to fit (more or less) into some ideas that people have about women who are around my age.

Then again, there is something else I never would have understood had I continued to live as Nick.  I am now ashamed to admit that I used to think that some people were simply wasting their time with beauty culture, or even basic grooming, because they weren't attractive and couldn't be made so.  
But now I see why women who are even more overweight than I am and don't seem to have other redeeming features will spend time making themselves up or putting together an outfit.  

I now think that a person who is not affirmed or supported by those in charge of whatever hierarchy rules his or her life has to find his or her own beauty, whether it is on the outside or inside.  Of course, that does not always mean beauty in the sense people usually mean it.  Your real beauty comes from the love you give to, and inspire in, yourself and other people.  And that power can come from any number of sources, including spiritual and intellectual ones.

Knowing that, for some of us, that power is the key to our survival, let alone the hope of any sort of prosperity, we not only feel the need to nurture it; we need to honor and even celebrate it.  That means being our best selves--which, for many of us, means wearing the clothes, accessories and cosmetics that most flatter the light of our eyes as well as the lines of our faces and bodies.

It's not merely a matter of making ourselves attractive for someone else.  (I've come to realize that almost everyone is attractive to someone else, or can be made so.)  Instead, it's a way of highlighting the beauty we hold simply in living through, and sometimes overcoming, the belittlement, condescenscion and harassment--not to mention the heartbreaks and other disappointments-- too many of us face.  

This isn't just about vanity or making ourselves pretty.  It's a matter of survival.  If anyone wants to have a Beauty Day during Women's History Month, he or she should understand that.