Friday, June 5, 2015

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

This is my first post in nearly two years. I fell off for a variety of reasons. The two most significant are probably laziness and the feeling that, given the sheer number of opinions out there, I can't come up with anything that hasn't already been said. The latter may be true, but I've decided to (try to) not care. And shout out to Keith for helping convince me to dust off my keyboard.

So. A lot's happened over the last two years. What's bothered me enough to get off my ass and complain about it? Glad you asked. Yesterday, I was asked, "Did you see the pictures of Caitlyn Jenner? She's beautiful, isn't she?" I said no. I was then asked, "Are you anti-transgender people?"

So because I, a 27-year-old,  don't find a 65-year-old transgender woman attractive, I'm prejudiced? I was pretty insulted. And frankly, I think that women and transgender people should be too. To paraphrase some article I saw, it's funny how Bruce Jenner was praised for his Olympic achievements, but Caitlyn Jenner is praised only for her looks.

Yes, a lot of people are calling her courageous, but most of the comments I've seen are related to her appearance. And though I recognize the impact on the LGBT community, I question how much courage it takes for a millionaire celebrity to do this. It takes infinitely more courage for some nobody from Alabama to make such a decision. This praise for Jenner might even be harmful. It's similar to the belief that because Obama was elected, racism and oppression no longer exist.

I was similarly bothered by all the hubbub over the "courage" Angelina Jolie showed when she decided to have her breasts removed because she was at an increased risk for breast cancer. When you can afford to have the surgery (and to have a world-class plastic surgeon give you implants), it seems like a no-brainer to me.

But I digress. I think that every human has the right to do just about whatever they want to their body, but I want to talk about the leap from my saying that Jenner's not good-looking to the assumption that I'm prejudiced against transgender people. Such logic is born of two phenomena.

The first is the crippling fear so many Americans have of being politically incorrect. (For the record, I am not one of those political-correctness-is-killing-society people.) I think that a lot of people have a subconscious fear of being labeled a bigot if they don't let everyone know how beautiful they think Jenner is. I'm reminded of a chapter from Adichie's Americanah that describes some rich Main Line woman who always refers to African women as beautiful or stunning, even when the main character, a Nigerian woman, the women simply are not attractive. Or the "big is beautiful" idea. If you're happy with the way you look, I'm happy for you. But I'm not attracted to overweight woman. (Nor am I especially attracted to super-skinny women. Thigh gaps are kinda weird.) You can't choose your sexual orientation, so why am I expected to alter my opinion on what constitutes beauty?

The second phenomenon is the fact that it makes a lot of people feel warm and fuzzy inside when they write a Facebook post about it. "See how progressive and accepting I am!" These are probably the same people who changed their profile pictures to an equal sign in support of gay marriage but couldn't be bothered to let their elected representatives (i.e., the people in a position to actually change the marriage laws) know how they feel.

I know that beauty is subjective. If you really think Jenner is beautiful, that's fine. She's just not my cup of tea. That doesn't make me a bigot.

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