“If you are lucky, there is a moment in your life when you have some say as to what your currency is going to be. I decided early on it was not going to be my looks.”
“Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”
Wise words from Amy Poehler, the wisest and most hilarious woman alive. I’m not biased.
I read these quotes and initially felt empowered. I can choose what is important about me. I can be more than my appearance. Being stressed about how I look does not have to be part of my life anymore. And I threw all of my make-up and hair products away and lived happily ever after.
But the problem is that I didn’t actually throw the beauty products away, and I don’t actually live in a world where it’s that easy to follow Poehler’s advice. As much as I want to embrace the idea of creating my own currency, I (and everyone else that inhabits this media-saturated culture) am assaulted daily by an opposing view. This view tells us appearance is the first thing that people notice and the most important, especially for women. We are told this in both overt and covert ways, through the roles that women often play in movies/TV, through advertisements designed to poke at our biggest insecurities, and really honestly just everything.
I believe with the logical side of my brain that Amy Poehler is on to something here. Sometimes I listen to this part of myself, and when this happens, Amy is right, I feel more confident and happier. But there are days where the other side of my brain is attacked one too many times by the advertisement for a product I didn’t realize I needed, or the friend obsessing over her own appearance, or the pretty girl on TV having the kind of life pretty girls have on TV…and something happens. I think for me too, beauty must be my currency, and I am lacking.
Ugh this sucks. It sucks most of all because I know that it’s stupid, that there is more to life and beauty is shallow and fleeting and temporal and all the other phrases we’ve heard about it. How do we work towards a culture where we are allowed to create our own currency? How do we work together to start valuing what matters about people? Even Amy admits she only believes what she’s saying 15-20 percent of the time which is better than a lot of us are doing. We would never look down at someone for being bad at math or for not being able to play a musical instrument well. We’ve accepted that some people are naturally better than others at certain things with no penalty or explanation needed. We’ve also accepted that it is legitimate to make fun of others when they don’t meet our beauty standards. It is normal to try to look more attractive than our natural selves.
I’m not trying to say it’s wrong to look great and feel positive about how we look, nor do I believe that it is wrong to admire beauty. What I’m bothered by is the way culture ingrains in us the need to look a certain way. I believe as a culture we need to fight against the idea that beauty comes in one size, one shape, one color, one anything. I also believe strongly we should be valuing other qualities more highly (artistic ability, intelligence, kindness, wisdom), and not just when we’ve gotten “too old” for people to value our appearance anymore.