Scars, gray hair, “real” beauty

A photo: where I’ve been, by dayzoid on Flickr. A self-portrait I think.

I like this scar— I like looking at most scars, and I work on looking at the rest. But the photo itself seems like the kind of thing that gets referred to as “real” beauty in skincare advertising. An older woman, but with flattering makeup and lighting. Gray hair, but stylish and even. Not a bone rack, but posed to look smooth and curvy, never lumpy or saggy or folded. Making some kind of cute and peaceful facial expression. Definitely feminine, but not sexual (not coincidentally, usually looking freshly washed and clean). It’s a very contrived and limited type of “real.” Looking again, this photo is not as extreme as all that, but the demure smile and the smooth white hair reminded me.

I don’t get why more people don’t rant about how patronizing it is to use “real” as a euphemism for old or fat. I can’t decide if it is better or worse than the older concepts of “imperfect beauty” or “inner beauty.” There are probably more phrases in body image activism that drive me bonkers. The whole focus seems off to me— I don’t think it helps anyone to offer these alternate, consolation prize types of beauty, more ways to win at being beautiful. That doesn’t do anything to get away from ranking people or competing. I really think the focus should be on learning to see more kinds of beauty, to be a better beholder.