A few weeks ago I wrote in response to Rachel Hills’ thoughts on erotic capital, and the questions she asked.
But I feel like I didn’t really get to the crux of what I wanted to say, and that’s deciding whether erotic capital affects my life and how I experience beauty privilege or beauty disadvantage.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about beauty, and I’ve noted before that I have been negatively judged on my beauty (beauty equals vapid bimbo, apparently), deemed “not pretty enough”, played up my beauty and flown under the radar by playing it down.
But in general, when the way I look gives me more benefits than it does hassles (except when it comes to street harassment!), beauty positivity, as Hills puts it, isn’t such a bad thing. I’d rather be underestimated and prove people wrong than overestimated and let people down.
But I’d be interested to hear from those who have experienced the negative effects of beauty privilege. What are they?
Hills also raises the idea that erotic capital isn’t so much about how beautiful you are, but how much effort you put in. I put in more effort when I attended a party over the weekend that I did when I went to work the next day, tired and sore. But there’s a recently released study that shows even at work, going makeup free gains you less respect than a slick of lipstick and some cover-up. (I tried a sans-mascara look at work over the last few days, and no one noticed the difference. Whether this is due to the natural fantasticness of my eyelashes or the ineffectiveness of the product is another question…) In the workplace, I’d say more emphasis is put on beauty privilege that there should be.
Outside the workplace, I certainly get more of a response when my hair’s out, I’m wearing feminine clothes and I’m not wearing my glasses, but the effort I put in in these scenarios also garners me more attention from those less fortunate.
I’ve had some awful experiences in the city, where beggars have approached me asking for money. I was happy to oblige until I was swindled out of $30 by an expert con artist. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m more than happy to give a few bucks to a homeless person, whose life is tragically laid out before them on the street, but they’re usually so downhearted and -trodden that they don’t approach people for money. It’s the ones who don’t actually need money (though who’s to determine who’s more in need?) and scam people out of their’s that give the poor a bad name. But that’s a post for another day…
“Erotic capital, as [Catherine Hakin] describes it, isn’t just a signifier of wealth and power—it is a ‘personal asset’ that can be traded for those things, no different from a university degree, a good professional reputation or a strong network of friends or acquaintances.
“ According to Honey Money, good-looking junior employees who sleep with their bosses to get ahead are neither exploited nor exploitative: they’re just engaging in a simple exchange of pleasing aesthetics for social introductions and mentoring. Husband-funded ladies who lunch are no less powerful than women who bring in 60 per cent of their household’s income … so long as they maintain their erotic allure.”
And there’s the very “beauty privilege” Hills is talking about: you can use your hotness for your own personal gain, and that’s fine. But don’t ever lose what got you there. That’s what gives beauty-positivity a bad name.