New study reports only 10% of boys feel beautiful

I made that headline up, because sometimes it’s hard to realize how deep sexism goes. It’s a weird headline, right?

I recently posted on stats from Dove that only 11% of girls are comfortable calling themselves beautiful. But just asking that question shows a distorted view of female worth mangled in the language of beauty.

I wrote in my post that “feeling beautiful has come to mean feeling good: comfortable, powerful, competent.” But that doesn’t go far enough.

Years ago, getting better from an eating disorder, I had to learn to decode what “feeling fat” really meant. It was like becoming bilingual. Fat is not a feeling, I was told. It’s not? Thin isn’t a feeling either. Who knew? Fat, I finally learned, stood in for all kinds of emotions including anxiety, shame, panic, hopelessness, on and on. Thin included feeling excited, inspired, or happy.

I remember how in the 80s, Gloria Gaynor’s hit “I Will Survive” was supposed to be this anthem of female independence. But I couldn’t imagine a man belting that out and feeling empowered (do men even get “empowered”?). It would be funny, right? Or I think of all the modern day princess movies where the protagonist is so independent she actually chooses who to marry but the whole movie is still all about marriage. Or, as I wrote about the movie “Ratatouille,” the female chef is given a monologue where she complains about sexism but the cartoon itself had no female star. When the framework itself is sexist, it’s practically impossible to break out of the dogma because you’re trapped inside of it. Studies like Dove’s are important because they show the trap but they don’t point the way out.

Last night, my daughter drew two princesses, and she said, “There’s a brave one and a pretty one.” (The princesses, by the way, looked exactly the same.)

I said, “Honey, can’t the brave one be pretty too? Being brave makes her pretty.” Which is the case with men, their attributes make them attractive. But of course, that’s all too cerebral for a 5 year old so I told her a story instead (about a brave princess, loved and admired by all.) I keep thinking that’s the best way to change the world.

10 thoughts on “New study reports only 10% of boys feel beautiful

  1. such a good post and responses too. beautiful means different things for men and women, and to men and women, probably. beautiful man sounds – not manly! what man would want to be beautiful, if he’s attracted to women? women are beautiful, not men! so sexist!

    what about that new ad campaign that is some beauty product with the line something about “pretty is… and beautiful does…” oh i have to go look it up b/c i can’t remember what it says, but it is sooo annoying in the emphasis on women’s worth being our looks, yet it tries to be all wholesome and inner-beauty-ish as i recall. will look it up!

  2. Have you noticed that there is a difference in what it conveys between someone described as “a beautiful person” or “a beautiful human being” and someone described as “a beautiful woman” or “a beautiful girl”? The former implies something about someone’s spirit or personality, the latter, I think, definitely suggests conformity to approved physical standards.

  3. I’m glad you followed up with this post. After the previous I was wondering why we need to feel “beautiful”. I’m not really fussed about feeling beautiful, that’s something we’re taught we should want to feel because “beautiful” has value. If we ask women if they feel beautiful that is a loaded question. Does the princess need to be “pretty” at all?

    I want my daughters to feel they are worthwhile and loved by the people that matter to them. That’s all.

      • I think the word “beautiful” is problematic because, at least for me, it conveys the meaning of pleasing in appearance. I know the dictionary definition isn’t so narrow but I get the feeling most people use it that way primarily.

        Also, i don’t think it’s necessary. For example from my personal experience so bear with me: my partner loves me and finds me very attractive. However, he will not say that I am beautiful. And I’m not. (Obviously, his understanding of the word is that it relates to appearance, and he is not prepared to flatter my vanity. I think that’s a good quality!) But I do not feel that he does not love me because he doesn’t find me “beautiful”. I feel loved but that does not entail feeling “beautiful”.

        I hope that makes sense. I really think that word is a problem because it has so much baggage.

      • Tamara,

        “Beauty” is loaded. It’s great that you don’t need to hear your partner say it. But isn’t “beauty’ in the eye of the beholder? And shouldn’t your “beholder” find you beautiful? I wrote a post a while back about the theory that love isn’t blind but those are the moments when we actually see (not a theory I came up with, but I like it.) Maybe “very attractive” is the same meaning as “beautiful.” I think it would piss me off if my partner refused to call me beautiful, but maybe I need to be more evolved.


        • Ha! It used to bother me but I got over it. What matters most if how he treats me every day as a partner and father to our children. Not so much the compliments etc.

          His refusal to use that word had the consequence of showing me that it isn’t a good word for how I really want to feel. I have more to say but I have to go, my partner is going home early with me tonight so I can go and see my Dad in hospital.

  4. ” Thin included feeling excited, inspired, or happy. ” It also makes you feel like you are in control which is something as women we are taught to demand less of than men, or we are considered pushy or controlling. I have never heard the expression a man is controlling. He is just doing his thing, making things happen.
    Eating disorders are a way of controlling something big in our lives, many women feel they don’t have a lot of control due to a variety of reasons, they are sadly as you talk about often taught pretty is the way to be, so you add those two things and it’s a diabolical cocktail.
    Good blog!

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