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Beauty,Spring 2005
Fourth Web Papers
On Serendip


Malorie Garrett

"God, you are so skinny!" a friend of mine said to me earlier this year as I took off my sweat shirt. I shrugged and said "Yeah, I guess so". "No," she said, you really are skinny". I never know how to react to this comment. I cannot say thank you, for it is not a compliment. It's an observation, a statement. She is bring my size to my attention as well as to her own. This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time that this will be brought to my attention about my waist size. In fact, this same friend has brought up my "skinniness" multiple times since this initial conversation. In her book On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry argues that beauty will lead us to justice. She rejects "the enduring claim that beauty makes us inattentive to justice" (Scarry 62). I believe, however, that beauty cannot lead to justice. How can we be lead to justice by something that constantly causes judgments? We constantly use appearances to pass judgments on others. My friend judges me for my waist size- she does not use my beauty to enact justice. I am more aligned with Teresa Riordan arguments in her book, Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful. In the introduction to she sets out to examine the technologies which women have used to force the ideal of beauty upon themselves. She gives may examples in which women are being judged based on the ideal of beauty, wither by themselves or others. If we are passing negiative judgments on others, we cannot have justice. Saying that "beauty prepares us for justice" (Scarry 78) is not only an idealistic statement, but it is also fundamentally wrong.

Nothing in my personal experience has caused me to be able to believe that noticing beauty leads to justice. We live in a society that holds women up to an unattainable goal of beauty. And while some of us maybe able to reach some of those standards, either through nature or through hard work, it is nearly impossible to reach them all. I have been blessed with a fast metabolism. It allows me to eat whatever I want with out gaining a pound. So with out trying, I am able to attain the ideal waist size. Even though I have a thin waist, I am still constantly being judged by it. The comments people make to me about my weight or waist size always makes me feel awkward, because they are never really compliments. Sometime what they say comes off as a fact, a general point of information. Like, "Wow, I never noticed, but you are skinny, aren't you?". Then there is the condescending comment. They look at me with what I perceive as a cross between discuss and jealousy, as if to say "How dare you look like that while I look like this." And do not get me wrong, there are people who say it with the intention to compliment me-people include most of my family members, aunts, uncles, and cousins as well as close friends. The usual comment is "You've lost weight!" Over spring break, I got this comment twice in one day, first from Lucia, the lady who cleans our house and used to baby-sit me, and later by the women who owns the Chinese food restaurant we go to on a normal basis. And although I know they say it to be nice, I still cannot help but see it as negative attention. They never say, "gosh, you look smarter" or "You are a really intelligent women", they focus on my slim waist.

While it may seem convoluted to talk about the negative attention I receive for being thin, it helps to prove the point that beauty is judgmental. People judge me by my thin waist. They call me skinny, not thin, but skinny. Skinny to me is a negative word. When people tell me I am skinny, it is not to congratulate me on reaching an "ideal of beauty", it is to condemn me for it. I have reached an ideal of beauty, I should be sitting pretty (no pun intended). Instead I receive comments from fellow women. Why they feel the need to constantly remind me of my waist size, I do not know. It may be because they are insecure in their own appearance. They are jealous that it comes so naturally to me. They also hate me for having the natural ability. As women, we constantly strive to make ourselves more beautiful by any and all means necessary. There are a number of reason we do this, for men, for ourselves, and for fellow women. Teresa Riordan paraphrases an observation made by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy in the introduction of her book by saying "Women is out to conquer not just men but her rival females" (Riordan xxii). We use our looks, our beauty, to show that we are better than other women. So if we are out conquer other with our beauty, how can it lead us to justice?

One argument that Scarry uses in her defense is about the power involved with beauty. She says, "If we really believe that "beholders are all-powerful" and "persons beheld are powerless," then wouldn't we decline the offer?" (Scarry 76). In one respect I agree with her here, because I do not think that those beheld are powerless. In fact, women have been using there beauty to gain power for many years. Though I do believe beholders do exert a certain amount of power over those whom they view. As beholders, we can chose to judge the people we behold purely on their looks. In contract to what she is saying, I would argue that some of us do decline the offer, or at least try to. I by no means try to make myself particularly beautiful in the morning. Even though I "decline the offer" to be beautiful, there are still people who will judge my beauty- my waist. We cannot escape others views as much as we cannot escape viewing others. And in our viewing, we are not striving for social justice, but comparing our ideals of beauty to that person, whither consciously or unconsciously.

Throughout this paper, I have deigned the fact that beauty could lead us to any sort of justice or truth. While I may not give beauty enough credit, Scarry give it to much. She says: .


1) Elaine Scarry, "On Beauty and Being Fair." On Beauty and Being Just. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999: 55-124. 127-132.

2) Teresa Riordan. Introduction and Conclusion. Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful. New York: Broadway Books, 2004: xv-xxv, 276-278.

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