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Smart and Witty vs Fake and Pretty: The new “compare and despair” game

I have noticed a trend in the quest to promote positive body image that I really think needs to be critiqued and nipped in the bud. Fast. It is typified by the slogan on this T-shirt, which is being marketed by an organisation that otherwise does positive work in the field:

I am sure the intention is good – to break down our culture’s obsession with beauty.  The problem? Pitting two types of women against each other and implying that only one type – women with intelligence – has value. Couldn’t a woman be both smart and pretty? Isn’t it possible that a witty woman may also have moments of insincerity? This seems “pretty” limited and alienating to women who may, either through genetic luck or the use of beauty products, just so happen to fit society’s notion of what is beautiful.

It’s not the only example of this “compare and despair” game that has reached prominence of late. A graphic comparing the Victoria’s Secret “Love My Body”  campaign to that of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign did the rounds too. The message? The lingerie models aren’t real women. What are they then, androids? The models may be Photoshopped and represent a body image ideal that few can attain – but does reducing women to two types and implying that one is better or more real actually help promote healthy body image and body acceptance?

We don’t need to see women reduced to stereotypes, no matter how “good” or “bad” those stereotypes supposedly are. What we need to see, and what our girls need to see, are women being celebrated for who they are, and for the brilliant, beautiful, complicated mix of qualities that makes each of us utterly unique.

Published inAdvertisingBeauty IndustryBody ImageFashion IndustryFeminismGender stereotypingMagazinesMediaPower of Words

6 Comments

  1. Rachel Hansen

    Yes yes yes! Thank you for highlighting this Danni.
    It makes me sad when I see memes being shared on social media that make out that those women who are in line with the popular view of “beautiful” as somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘not real’. They are just as “real” as any other woman!
    We all need to celebrate our individuality, cherish our uniqueness and support all women in discovering the power and beauty in our own amazing bodies.

  2. typical

    Spoken like a truly less intelligent pretty face… just saying. Your words ring of spiteful attack…
    Being a thin, pretty AND intelligent girl, I personally cannot support any of what you’ve written. I don’t find a single word I agree with. I have no problem with campaigns attacking skinny, pretty girls, because truth be told, most of us are pretty dumb. Any of us with even half a brain support such campaigns. Should all women not strive to be intelligent? Is that not something we should be supporting?

  3. Danni Miller

    Hi there “Typical”. I wasn’t sure whether to approve your comment at first as I suspected it was simply an example of trolling, but I decided I would just on the off-chance you were serious. I will respond to your points below:

    * Attacking my intelligence in your opening line does not bode well for the rest of your argument. Particularly as the post cautions against engaging in the pretty vs smart wars.

    * I have read, and re-read, this post many times and cannot find a spiteful word in it, nor can it possibly be considered an attack ( against whom?), although your comment clearly is. “Just sayin'”.

    *I find it hard to believe you can’t agree with a single word in this post. You can’t agree that a woman could be both smart and pretty? That some women just happen to fit society’s notion of what is beautiful? That the Victoria’s Secret campaign was airbrushed? That stereotyping women is not helpful?

    * It saddens me that you think attacking conventionally attractive women is fine as “most of us are pretty dumb.”

    * I do not state, or imply, that women should not strive to be intelligent. This assertion is preposterous.

    I fear you have completely missed the point of the post, or are deliberately trying to misrepresent it.

  4. Jane Higgins

    What a great world it would be to just be ….. authentic.
    Some days I look gorgeous, some days not! Some days I rock the world with my wit, somedays I can’t string two words together. I am all and everything! So are all of us. We don’t need to pull others down to bring ourselves up.

  5. Sam Power

    I absolutely love this post…and, I love being a woman! And being a woman, I feel it’s about time we started celebrating one another, rather than trying to tear one another down. Pitting women against each other in the hope of proving some kind of a point, is not the way to go about uniting us a sisterhood!

    As women we need to support and learn from each other, engage in conversation, and most importantly, stand up for one another! We are more alike than we are different after all!

  6. exiledstar

    “…alienating to women who may, either through genetic luck or the use of beauty products, just so happen to fit society’s notion of what is beautiful.”

    Funny how they don’t just happen to fit that notion unless they use a lot of beauty products, isn’t it? Do men have to use all these products?

    We’re living under a system where women are viewed as being inferior to men, and judged according to how useful as a sex object they are perceived as being. Beauty when applied to female humans isn’t really about beauty; it’s about compliance. If you’re not born a wide-eyed, dewy-skinned, flaxen-haired fairy, you’d better spend the rest of your life slaving to prove your sexual relevance – by spackling on the makeup and dredging yourself in fashion. Noncompliance is punished in a wide variety of ways including harassment, ridicule, social ostracism, less or no love from family, job discrimination and even violence.

    Teaching girls that beauty is a choice does them no good.

    P.S. Linked to your shirt photo. Hope you don’t mind.

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