Beauty Beyond Binaries is a weekly column on the intersection of beauty and individuality on allure.com by writer, Television host, and activist Janet Mock. I understood very early on I wasn’t pretty. Nobody ever called me pretty. It had been not the go-to adjective folks used to describe me. Therefore, the word Pretty Privilege did mean anything to me. Throughout elementary and middle school, I heard other words: Smart. Studious. Well spoken. Well read. They became the pillars of my self-confidence. This enabled me to build up myself on what I contributed as opposed to what I looked like.
Pretty to be Popular
Nevertheless, I was in love with the pretty girls in the class, the popular ones. They walked into the area and changed the gaze of the bulk without effort. It was fascinating how the pretty girls and women who were lauded in my favored films and Television program. Even the ones who took center stage on MTV. Pretty girls are not identical, of course, since fairly, is subjective and means different things for different groups of individuals.
Pretty, is most often synonymous with being slim, white, able bodied, and cis, and the closer you are to these ideals. Being labeled fair, and also benefit from that prettiness, is what people think pretty privilege is. As a young trans woman, I have wondered what it’d be like to be seen not only as a woman. But as a pretty woman. Like most teenagers, I struggled with my entire body and looks, but my grief was amplified by the anticipation of cisnormativity. The gender binary and the incredibly high beauty standards I, and my female peers, measured myself against.
This distress started to subside as I stumbled on my medical transition in 15. How I saw myself inside started to slowly and steadily disclose itself on my outsides. I started to eventually see myself. From 16others watched my self-image as well, and I started to observe the way people treated me changed. They no longer stared at my body in confusion. They no longer questioned my sex because I started present themselves more clearly as a woman, especially, a cis woman. Unexpectedly, I was successful in passing, blending in with the cis girls in class I’d once watched in fascination.
The Teenage Fantasy
Living my teenage dream: I have seen and recognized as just another woman. With my sex nonconformity apparently fading away, I started to draw the attention of 18-to-24 year old cis men who began stopping to notify me I was pretty. Suddenly, let in and old that have I done absolutely nothing to earn the attention that my prettiness has granted me. I soon saw that individuals stared and smiled, provided me seats on the bus and drink in the club. Complimented me on my appearance, and held doors open. This was partially how I experienced pretty privilege, the social advantages, frequently unearned. This benefit have been given to ones perceive themselves as pretty or beautiful
Pretty privilege can give way to greater popularity, higher grades, more favorable work reviews, and career advancement. Those who have been considered pretty have higher chance to be hired, have higher wages, and are less inclined to be found guilty and they have higher chances of being sentenced less severely. Pretty individuals are perceived as brighter, far healthy and more competent, and individuals treat pretty people better. Pretty privilege can be conditional and isn’t frequently extended to women who’re trans, brown and black, handicapped, older, and/or fat. Being curvy, but not plus size, combined, but maybe not all shameful, trans, but cis blending, and able bodied gives me a different experience than most.
Black, Trans and Pretty
I’m a black and native Hawaiian trans woman with brown skin, curly hair, a hourglass size-8 form. I’ve symmetrical facial features, even complexion and white, straight, broad smile. For me, the pretty privilege operates in a number of ways based on the distances I input. Who’s in that space, and if folks already know that I’m trans. I recall when I was a teen and my classmates would praise me. Saying you do not even looks like a boy. You look so real, or that I cannot even inform, backhanded compliments. That still follow me when someone hears my story.
It communicates our culture’s misconception which equates cisness with attractiveness and equates one’s capacity to be seen as cis with being seen as attractive, as real. Nevertheless, one’s capacity to pass should not dictate their attractiveness. This widely held belief is a part of the reason why trans celebrity Laverne Cox started the hashtag #TransIsBeautiful. A trans person can concurrently not embody cisnormative beauty criteria and yet be seen as attractive or pretty. And a trans person has the ability to align with those cisnormative criteria and not be seen as pretty.
The Beautiful Trans Community
Ever since, my appearance is really a conundrum to several, even in my own communities. Trans girls like myself, whose transness frequently goes unchecked. They are conditionally granted access, and navigate spaces more securely than trans girls who do not pass as easily. Having the ability to mix in is a gateway to survival. But a lot of trans women do not benefit in my privilege of passage or my fairly privilege. It is also important to recognize that there are repercussions, too, especially in spaces of desire. Cis guys have frequently claimed that they had been fooled, or tricked, with a trans woman. They had been assumed to be cis and was thus deserving of the violence she confronted.
This detrimental yet all too pervasive belief has gone to far. They are used as defensive arguments in courts across the nation, called the trans panic defense. To thoroughly examine this concept, I must also discuss race, which further complicates our lived experiences. I am a mixed black lady who has benefitted from fairly privilege in black and white people-of color spaces. But has also undergone being imperceptible in predominantly white and white mainstream spaces. It is was a common experience to either be completely overlooked in favor of white girls. They are believed the beauty standard, or to possess white people or nonblack. POCs point me as an exception, with remarks like you’re fairly to get a black girl, or don’t look fully black.
Black but Beautiful
The message: blackness does not equate to attractiveness. Therefore my mixed ness puts me higher on the white cis beauty hierarchy than a black lady with parents who are black. We ought to recognize our positionality across all our intersections and experiences. I am a black trans woman invited into spaces mainly due to how I present. But for such a long time, I strove to evade the simple fact that we saw me as pretty or attractive. And I learned rapidly to adapt and play the game of modesty to recognize that you are fairly is conceited. And to be arrogant means to be unlikable.
Train to Self-Doubt
Being trained to minimize their greatness in a bid to be more likable is normal. And they ask us if it is because of pretty privilege? We understand that whenever we are complimented, particularly about our looks, we must dismiss the compliment, feign self-deprecation and modesty, sabotage our looks, and pretend we did absolutely nothing to contribute to them. I learned to counter a compliment by emphasizing a flaw, pointing out something I did not like about myself, maybe a blemish on my forehead or the simple fact my lace is contoured.
But self-deprecation and dismissal will not rescue us from the simple fact that we exist at a lookist civilization that accommodates a woman’s attractiveness to its own worth. It is problematic when a fairly person denies they are pretty, and quite people must take possession of the simple fact that they receive special treatment. We do ourselves a disservice by stating looks do not matter, because looks do matter.
Pretty or Smart?
Here is the mathematics! When I did not look the way I do, then I would not be on Television or on two book covers. I would not own a beauty column or Instagram with over 100, 000 followers. This does not mean I have not put in work and effort and done my job well, but my beauty isn’t something which I earned. I did not work for it, however it’s opened doors for me, allowing me to be seen and noticed. And for me to pretend that it does not exist denies the methods by that being perceived as pretty has contributed to my success and made the road a little smoother.
This is not to say pretty individuals do not possess their very own struggles, insecurities, and anxieties: getting one’s worth be characterized by how good you look, questioning whether your promotion or invitation was earned based on merit or simply due to your looks, sense an overwhelming pressure to keep your attractiveness. As someone deemed pretty, I have experienced people looking at me, but not really listening. Feeling that if I serve a look that I’m frequently reduced as somebody who can’t contribute anything beyond my beauty. Job interviews and immediately met with looks from interviewers that said, A girl that pretty cannot be a hard worker, despite overwhelming evidence at the contrary.
I have noticed that it is more suitable for pretty women to complain about objectification, the masculine gaze, and the manners that beauty may undermine intelligence and participation, but rarely do pretty girls complain about, or, rather, acknowledge, the accessibility their prettiness extends to them. It is unbecoming to recognize your attractiveness, so it can produce a silence around pretty privilege. This only elevates the competitiveness and divisiveness between girls who have been told they must compare, compete, and measure up in lookism culture. Individuals who have privilege do not want to discuss it, if it is privilege derived from white, right, cisness. But we have to recognize our privilege if we want to dismantle these systems and hierarchies. We’ve in all honesty, and I will start with myself am pretty and I benefit in my looks.