Pretty Privilege: A Deeper Look in the Mirror 

by PJ Heath

William Shakespeare, one of the most influential writers in the history of the English language, once wrote, “Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good; A shining gloss that fadeth suddenly; A flower that dies when first it ‘gins to bud, A brittle glass that’s broken presently.”

Many say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that it is subjective, but years of history and research suggest otherwise. 

The topic of pretty privilege has recently surfaced in conversation worldwide and is becoming recognized as a sociological and psychological phenomenon. Pretty privilege can be defined as a principle in which individuals who are considered conventionally attractive based on beauty standards of a region or culture, have an upper hand, and are predisposed to several opportunities that people society deems unattractive do not obtain. Being pretty can be correlated with intelligence, social status, wealth, talent, health and career opportunities.

The over-exposure of what society considers conventionally attractive has caused many people to suffer from issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and negative body image or body dysmorphia. 

Statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons say 18.1 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2019. This includes 16.3 million minimally invasive procedures. These statistics also say facial rejuvenation procedures have become increasingly popular. More than 1 million procedures were performed on patients ages 13 to 29. 

 Unfortunately, social media can be responsible for these issues because it is inevitable in this technologically advanced world. It is practically impossible to avoid media which portrays the perfect image of a person, especially social media platforms that are based on algorithms. This means the platform will continue to promote similar media that a person has liked. As a result, teenagers and even children in elementary school are routinely shown images and reels that highlight the “ideal” person.

In a 2018 report by the ASPS, more than 40% of plastic surgeons stated that looking better in social media selfies was a factor in pageants of all ages to seek both cosmetic surgery and nonsurgical enhancements like Botox and fillers.

Research from the Children’s Bureau, a federal agency under the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, says in terms of the relationship between screen use and both physical and mental health outcomes, there have been several studies that suggest higher levels of screen use in children and adolescents is associated with reduced physical activity, increased risk of depression, and lower well-being. Children are inadvertently being taught at an early age that looks equate to self-worth, to judge based off physical appearance and that this type of behavior is acceptable. 

Even as younger generations try to negate the bias through the promotion of body positivity and overall acceptance, this kind of behavior is difficult to unlearn. These beliefs and behaviors are sometimes carried all throughout a child’s life and can be passed down through generations, thus causing generational behavioral patterns.

Globally, there is no denying that pretty privilege is a real occurrence as it has been displayed for years in all cultures and societies. In the United States, these privileges can be seen in favoritism, popularity, higher scores/grades, promotions, positive reviews and recommendations.

Based on research from Kristen Marrian, a senior sociology student from Skidmore College, America has a culturally accepted norm of what makes someone beautiful. A standard that is hard to meet. Being light-skinned, blonde and blue-eyed appears to be the benchmark of beauty, of what is most desirable.

Therefore, individuals who do not have some of those coveted features would be considered unattractive by others. It is an uncomfortable but irrefutable truth about society.

America’s definition of conventional beauty is extremely Eurocentric and promotes Caucasian culture. This is not just an issue in America, this has spread to several other areas such as Europe, China, East Asia, Japan, and Lebanon. 

Asian, African, Native American, Middle Eastern, Latin, Pacific Islander; every culture has so much to offer, each with their own unique beauty that deserves to be celebrated equally.

This is the first installment of a three part series on pretty privilege. 

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