Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pretty Privilege

I thought this Unfogged post written by a woman about the ways in which her unusual beauty has served her well was really interesting. C.f. this discussion on "pretty privilege."

I can't say I empathize with Ms. Alameida, exactly. Well... maybe a little. I've had the "girl on a bus" experience that she described quite literally twice here in D.C. But, as one of her commenters says, that may have had more to do with looking like a nice white upper-middle-class girl who wasn't trying to scam the system than with prettiness. I fear that commenting on some of the other specific issues that Ms. Alameida touches on -- how prospective dates or sexual partners size her up, and how different that experience is from other people -- would be TMI territory.

I suspect the real problem is that, as this Jezebel writer wrote, there is some "watershed period in a young girl's life that determines her self-perception; whether she'll view herself as a Pretty Girl, or as a woman who, while may or may not end up being conventionally attractive, views this, when she considers it at all, as incidental to her self-perception." Occasionally, I'll catch someone responding -- I think -- favorably to me based on appearance, and it's more weird than anything else. I feel cognitive dissonance more than privilege. So my middle school moments may effectively blind me to the pretty privilege concept, for good or ill.

Also on the pretty mystique, I've been reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned on Kindle for I-phone on my metro commute. Yay free books for i-phone! So the Unfogged post reminded me particularly of Gloria Gilbert's mystique.


  1. I still don't get which women pretty privilege is supposed to cover. The drop-dead gorgeous? All women under 50 who are neither morbidly obese nor severely facially disfigured? But I think you're right, and Jezebel's right, that for the vast majority of within-normal-limits female humanity, it all comes down to whether we imagine ourselves to have begun our lives as women beautiful or not. This was part of what frustrated me in that thread - how could someone, on the basis of current-ish photos, determine how someone else always looked/carried herself, and whether that person does or does not know what it's like to be judged unfavorably on the basis of looks?

  2. Regarding your first sentence -- I think it's supposed to be a continuous variable, not dichotomous, the way most other kinds of privilege are that people like to talk about? That is, like, an Upper East Side socialite with an eight-figure net worth benefits from class privilege more than I do, but I'm still benefitting from a set of privileges vis-a-vis someone who grew up in hardscrabble poverty in Appalachia. That people benefit from a set of class privileges to different degrees doesn't necessarily render the whole concept useless. That said, though, I understand what might have frustrated you in that thread...

    Oh, and perhaps I should have said this first, but welcome! It's always excellent to have readers and commenters. Apologies also for the delay in responding -- I didn't realize I had this set so that comments don't get automatically forwarded to me by e-mail.