Pretty Hurts

Song written by Sia, performed by Beyoncé

I've seen a number of reactions to this song, ranging from "ugly hurts more" to "she's brave for putting this out there, because beautiful people are seen as privileged by society and we assume they don't hurt."

It's gotten me thinking a lot, and the song has been running through my head often since I heard the full thing. I think, firstly, both the above responses to the song kind of miss the point.

The first verse (and the video) does deal with some of the things that go along with being perceived as beautiful in our culture, and we do tend to treat women we deem beautiful sort of like dolls - things to put nice clothes on and display for our enjoyment.

However, I think the main focus of this song is not so much on what it's like to be a person that society deems beautiful, but rather on the dysfunctional system that sets up arbitrary ideas of beauty and messes with our perceptions of ourselves.

We have a society that first of all objectifies people, and then places them in categories based on their body types, skin tone/texture, hair, makeup preferences, clothing, jewelry, etc. It sets up arbitrary standards for 'beauty' ("blonder hair, flat chest, TV says bigger is better; south beach, sugar free, Vogue says thinner is better"), and then pairs people off against each other by setting its arbitrary standard up as something to be idolized by everyone.

To assume that this system only hurts people who get labeled as 'ugly' by these arbitrary standards is a mistake, I think. The underlying problem is that it turns people (all people) into objects, and then uses them for its own benefit. Nobody wants to be treated like an object, a tool for someone else's monetary/social gain, and everyone who falls victim to this is damaged by it. It is abuse.

To make matters worse, it has the tendency to pit people against each other, because on the surface, it's easy for people categorized one way to feel inferior, jealous, and slighted by people categorized the other way, and then when they express that, for the people categorized the other way to feel unduly wronged for something they didn't choose. It's easy to get stuck at that level, and to not see the deeper issues of how the underlying system is creating this discord.

The fix for this is not easy, and it can really only be expressed in very general terms that have to be personalized by each person. The fix is to attempt to distance your view of yourself from your culture's view of yourself. Remove yourself from your surroundings, from external expectations, from societal categories, and sit looking only at yourself. Dig around there, explore, discover. Find what you like, what fulfills you, what things you enjoy and do them. Find what you like about yourself (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc) and emphasize it, develop it, grow it. As you begin to develop an idea of what the person you will be happy with is, work towards it. 

Try things. Fail. Realize the world doesn't end. Step back and go a different route. Explore. Eat all kinds of things. Kiss people. Get drunk and sing karaoke and completely embarrass yourself. Try creative pursuits, athletic pursuits, intellectual pursuits. Experience life. Be daring enough to treat yourself as if you are beautiful, and expect to be treated that way.

Humans have a great capacity for creating a world they imagine through action. Unfortunately, we more often create a world someone else imagines through inaction. Don't fall victim to that.