The way which our society regards beauty, is ugly. While there exists a great deal of criticism for when beauty is given more authority than is warranted, many of the problematic ways that we talk about looks often go unquestioned. Saccharin statements such as “everybody is beautiful”, for the most part, are overlooked because of their well-meaning nature, but, regardless of intent, they deserve to be critiqued.
For one, not everybody is beautiful. While everyone is beautiful to someone, no one is beautiful to everyone. Whether or not one adheres to modern beauty standards, we are all more than aware that, with regards to looks, not everybody is equal. Yet, not only do statements that assert that “everybody is beautiful” suggest the contrary, they also imply that there is some sort of objectivity in beauty, as if all beauty can be categorically measured and that we can all come to the same conclusion: we are all beautiful. Both of these ideas are incredibly fallacious and, thus, the statement itself lacks a real foundation, rendering it meaningless.
Furthermore, the fact that it is a blanket statement, in itself, weakens its authority, as it seems insincere. Rather paradoxically, when the scope of compliments, such as these widens from an individual (“you are beautiful”) to a group (“we are beautiful”), it does not follow that the statement is believed by more people but, rather, on an individual level, it is taken less personally and is less effective; it follows, then, that, when the scope is widened to every human being on earth (“everybody is beautiful”), the statement becomes meaningless. Whether someone has always been called beautiful or never been called beautiful, reading that “everyone is beautiful”, will do nothing.
Unfortunately, when these statements have no impact, that is the best-case scenario. The reality is, these statements only act to further perpetuate the inequalities of beauty. When, in response to accusations of ugliness we say the opposite is true, we then tie our value as human beings to our appearance, suggesting that it should matter whether we are perceived to be beautiful or not.
It would be ignorant to pretend that the more beautiful among us do not have privileges based purely on their looks; not only are they often judged to be more intelligent than the average person but, more beautiful criminals are more likely to have judges give them lighter sentences (according to Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion ). In this way, we can see that our unconscious biases with regards to beauty have very real consequences; does it not then follow, that we should make a conscious effort to diminish the value and power that beauty has within our society. Rather than saying that we are all beautiful, why not admit that, while we may not all be the most good-looking, beauty is meaningless.
As Santayana suggests in The Sense of Beauty, beauty “is pleasure objectified”. It has aesthetic value and our world would be far bleaker without it yet, beyond the pleasure which it brings, it is effectively useless and should not govern how we treat one another. While the idea that one should not judge a book by its cover is not a particularly controversial one, these sayings are often not put into practice. Our preference for the more beautiful is so deeply ingrained within us all, that we truly need to make a conscious effort in order to overcome it. Meaningless platitudes like “we are all beautiful” do not serve our best interests and, instead, hold us back.
While we can eat well and exercise, for the most part, beauty on an individual level is based purely on luck and so, is no more an indicator of our value as people than our eye colour. My beauty, or lack thereof, is of concern to myself alone. I want to have the right to be ugly and to be respected, to have my accomplishments not diminished by my inability to adhere to Eurocentric beauty standards. It is impossible for everyone to be beautiful, and that is okay. Ugliness should not be rejected, as that only suggests that it has a value beyond surface level.
Beautiful or ugly, regardless of how my appearance is perceived, I know my worth.