There was a caterpillar here a minute ago

What do you do when your own personal aesthetic starts to shift? Tavi, four years into the fashion-blogger scene but still barely fifteen, is left with a quandary:

I took this picture a couple months ago, going for some Heathers/Twin Peaks vibes, but started thinking too much about how I look in it and avoided posting it for a while. I wasn’t insecure, quite the opposite — I didn’t want to post this photo because I look good in it. And, as someone whose “thing” for so long has been “Challenge beauty standards! Screw convention! Look like a grandmother on ecstasy at Fashion Week!”, that somehow felt hypocritical.

One of the factors, apparently, was No More Glasses:

Before I got contacts in March, I just never really counted myself in the general pool of people who might be considered attractive. I wasn’t insecure about how I looked, I just made peace with the fact that I wasn’t, to me, an attractive person, and decided to milk my charming personality instead. The glasses were an easy way to isolate myself from even having to consider keeping up some kind of face. Then I slowly came to feel that, well, maybe I did want my face to be visible. Maybe I liked my face. Is that not okay?

Now I admit to having read Style Rookie since 2008. When Tavi crashed the pages of The New Yorker last year, it suddenly occurred to me that omigod, there might be a swan there, albeit still playing those comfortable duckling games.

If I’d been paying closer attention, I’d have seen this on Tumblr:

i think i’m pretty now, at least applied to my own idea of pretty, which for me comes from all the things i really love, all the sometimes ugly books and movies and what i see on the walk to school, and i’m more intrigued by the idea of looking like a reflection of that and internalizing it and feeling like a part of everything i really love. and i don’t even think there is anything very subversive about what i look like/how i dress anyway?

Three months later, the internalization isn’t exactly seamless:

Right now, I could pretend to be an archetype of a feminist superhero and say I never want to be a conventionally attractive person. But, while I have so much respect for the people who can say that truthfully, I’m not there yet. I think it would be, in my case, much more effective to be honest and willing to have this conversation instead of signing myself to a stereotype I can’t fit. I admit to the basic human desire to be attractive. That’s certainly not all I want to be, and I’m not bending over backwards every morning for it, but it’s there.

The question in my mind: is she actually going in that direction, or will she decide that beauty is a form of currency, and work on building a nest egg?

Because there’s something here that doesn’t quite add up:

People who are conventionally attractive have the privilege of going through life knowing their appearance will usually not act as a barrier in accomplishing what they want to accomplish. Of course, this is a general statement, but typically, Pretty Woman does not have to worry about missing out on opportunities because of her appearance. (Pretty Woman also gets Richard Gere.)

There are, I suspect, occupational fields where said PW will miss out on opportunities because of her appearance, because she won’t be taken seriously; Dr. Christmas Jones, the nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough, seems decidedly atypical, and not just because she happens to run into James Bond. There’s nothing in the world that says that someone who looks like Denise Richards can’t operate a world-class weapons system, but rather a lot of people are used to seeing a grizzled old man in that chair — and some of them, it’s reasonable to assume, have some emotional investment in that familiarity.

So for the moment I’m filtering this through “She’s only fifteen.” This may be giving her short shrift, inasmuch as I was dumb as a post when I was fifteen, that whole National Merit thing notwithstanding, but I figure she’s got plenty of time, and she’ll have several opportunities to change her mind yet again, should she be so inclined.

1 comment

  1. McGehee »

    4 July 2011 · 6:38 pm

    Like everything else in life, “beauty privilege” involves tradeoffs. In her case those tradeoffs may be prepaid, by her having spent years assuming she’d never have access to the privilege and preparing accordingly.

    It would be less than wise of her to squander the opportunities this privilege might offer her, just as she would be less than wise to throw aside all the other qualities she’s applied herself to developing. A smart enough beauty ought to know how to minimize the downside of being beautiful.

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