The following is a Toni Morrison quotation provided by the commenter truthpoet in response to a post about interracial dating at Racialicious. I hope I am not inappropriately co-opting the quotation, but it also hit me right between the eyes as regards FA.

The concept of physical beauty as a virtue is one of the dumbest, most pernicious and destructive ideas of the western world, and we should have nothing to do with it.

I personally think our tendency to equate beauty with virtue is getting worse and worse rather than better. In this age of technology, it’s becoming all too easy to insist that someone (usually a woman) “should” “fix” any perceived deficiency in her appearance.

Acne? “Just” use ProActiv or something to get rid of it. (Note: although this suggested solution really isn’t that big a deal, I know I’m not the only adult acne sufferer who is indulging in a bitter mental chuckle at the idea that people with clear skin have any concept of exactly how easily irritated and unresponsive to treatment acne-prone skin can be.) “Ugly” shoes? “Just” ruin your feet and posture by wearing prettier ones. You owe it to all the random men who have to see you walking around, after all. Yellowed teeth? “Just” get expensive and possibly damaging tooth whitening treatments. Wrinkles, sagging skin, too-small or too-large breasts, cellulite? “Just” get plastic surgery and put yourself at risk of complications including death. And of course, “too” fat (by the ever-changing, constantly narrowing current definition)? “Just” go on a diet and lose some weight.

There’s no excuse not to. After all, the women in the magazines have no trouble achieving the type of perfection the critic is asking you to strive for–with the help of routine Photoshopping (see “Portfolio” section within link; h/t Sweet Machine) that everyone knows about but still does not constitute an excuse for you not to be perfect or die trying, of course. The tone of the discussion definitely carries a judgmental, narrow-minded moral overtone that appears to be based on the idea that any given woman can and should change any minor or major detail of her appearance solely to make her more aesthetically pleasing to others.

Frankly, even if the fixes described above really were as quick and easy as today’s pundits make them sound, I would not consider it a very good idea to give in to these pressures, because it just feeds into the idea that we really do have a moral responsibility to be attractive at all times. And given that losing weight in particular ranges from difficult to impossible for most fat people (I’m not even going to get into how unhealthy diets are at this point, because that would just encourage the usual conflation of “How dare you not be sexually attractive to me” and “but I’m really just concerned about your health!”)? No way.

(ETA: Reading this back, I realize I got rather far afield of the original intent of the quotation, which is to say that it is pernicious and destructive that we seem to view beautiful people as inherently morally superior. That definitely struck a strong chord with me, and to bring it back around, I meant that it’s easier than ever to equate beauty with virtue because supposedly anyone can and should control every detail of their appearance to please the masses.

[And sure, people are going to make fun of you for trying, like pick on you for how much makeup you’re wearing to cover your acne or how you still have cellulite even though you’re thin or point out how fake your facelift or boob job look, so you’re still not as “good” as a “naturally” beautiful person, but just like fat people are only seen as acceptable when they’re doing penance for their bodies by dieting, it’s your moral responsibility to tirelessly strive to “improve” at all times.]

So anyway, if you’re not beautiful–or on a strikingly parallel topic, as Godless Heathen pointed out in the comments, healthy–it can only be your own moral failing that makes you so. This just reinforces the belief that beauty=virtue IMO.)

Advertisements