Don’t tell me looks don’t matter

There’s a TEDx talk that says looks aren’t everything, and that we should believe Cameron Russell, the giver of the talk, because she’s a model.

Which is hilarious, because she starts off by saying image is powerful.

I mean, doesn’t the very fact that she is a model represent that looks do matter? The fact that there’s an entire industry that revolves around being pretty, an industry focused on tall, slender figures, and all the other physical qualities we’re biologically built to admire. Everything points to the fact that looks do matter.

The very fact that she’s the recipient of a legacy, someone who won a genetic lottery, something that she herself admits she’s been cashing out on, means that looks do matter.

I think she tries to make the point that as much as we admire the people in magazines, the glamourous people who always seem to look good, they’re all constructions. But again, isn’t the very fact that we have all these people working towards the ideal or notion of “pretty”, “hot”, or “sexy”, yet another nail in the coffin of “looks don’t matter”? Clearly, they do.

I like when she says there are people paying a cost for how they look, not who they are. Because, if nothing else, it serves to drive home my point that looks do matter, and thinking anything else is just burying your head in the sand.

Oh, she’s insecure because she has to think about what she looks like, every day? Hey — maybe looks do matter. She’s received all these benefits from a deck stacked in her favour (her words, not mine), and she’s telling me looks don’t matter?

Please. Don’t tell me looks don’t matter — tell me image is important, tell me it’s superficial, but don’t tell me looks don’t matter.

I came across Chris Gonzales’ story of the coolest experience he had as an Apple Store employee almost by chance, but as it turns out, it’s a pretty good argument against “looks don’t matter”.

I’ll let you read the piece in its entirety because it’s pretty great, but the gist of it is that he serves an entire class of kids who communicate to each other via sign language, selling them each a MacBook. Later on, he meets the same kids in the food court, and, much to his surprise, they’re not talking to each other via sign language anymore — no, they’re being as rowdy as you might expect from a group of high schoolers on an excursion to the local mall.

As it turns out, it was all an assignment given to them by their teacher, who wanted to see how store employees would treat a group of deaf kids. Sadly, almost every store they visited had treated them terribly, as if expressing annoyance at having to serve a group of deaf kids.

Kudos to the teacher for coming up with that particular assignment/experiment, because it’s experiments like this that prove conclusively that looks do matter. Even if this proves how easy image is to manipulate, how superficial it all is, and at the end of the day, you’ll be judged on how you look — or how you appear to look, as in the case of the kids that weren’t really deaf. Manipulating your image, either to your advantage or otherwise, doesn’t change the fact that looks do matter.

“The students got to learn a real lesson about how the world treats those who are a little different.”

One last example. You’ve probably seen or heard of Dove’s recent Real Beauty Sketches campaign? It’s about two portraits of the same woman: one by the woman herself, and another by another woman. Both portraits are drawn by a professional forensic artist, and at the end of it, the women are shown their own self-portraits compared to the portrait as described by the other woman.

We’re sucked in because there’s always a gap between the self-portrait and the one as described by the other woman; the message is that the portraits are different because women have a different view of themselves than everyone else does, and too often, women need to be reminded of their own beauty.

Which is all very well and good, but there’s a few problems with this campaign that aren’t readily apparent on the first watching, all of which are detailed over here and which I’ll now attempt to summarise.

For one, all the women are caucasian, and three have blonde hair and blue eyes. Um, okay.

Secondly, certain facial features are implied as negatives: rounder face, freckles, moles, scars. Contrast these with all the positive facial features that were mentioned: thin face, nice thin chin, short and cute nose. See anything wrong here?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s that there’s this perception that regardless of how we see ourselves, there’s always this idea of real beauty, like the name of the video. And that this concept of real beauty is more or less the same thing, regardless of who you are or what you actually look like.

“Because the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty.”

Like I said, and like I’ve been saying all along, you absolutely cannot tell me looks don’t matter. Not when there are models receiving all the benefits of a deck stacked in their favour, not when high schoolers are treated with disdain when they act as deaf kids, and not when women fail to describe themselves as beautiful in their own eyes.

Yes, you might be able to readily manipulate your image. If so, great! Good for you. But it changes nothing — contrary to what you might want to believe with every fibre of your being, contrary to what the others would have you believe, looks do matter. Don’t tell me otherwise.

Sad, perhaps, but true.

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