Words: Lerato Maroleng
Pretty Privilege is not a new concept specific to this current generation and it is one of the privileges that is not often acknowledged as its basis comes from a place of vanity. However, as of late, people have become more conscious of its social implications and the nuances thereof. Each generation and even society has their own specific definition of what is attractive and this is never static as it’s constantly being redefined. Additionally, any aesthetic that is similar to that of being ‘white’ is seen as being more attractive. People that fit into the “pretty” category are automatically favoured, effortlessly capturing the gaze of those that behold their beauty. As the old saying goes “what is beautiful, is good.”
However beneficial pretty privilege may be to the receiving party, it comes with its fair share of cons. Firstly it reinforces that one can achieve things without merit and also leaves those who are not as genetically ‘favoured’ at a disadvantage they had no hand in. This applies to other social privileges such as male privilege and white privilege. Pretty privilege, in my opinion, is the lovechild of the latter privileges. In a society where men hold the power in most social spaces, pretty privilege allows women in particular to partake in some of that power, albeit limitedly.
Whether the motive behind pretty privilege being covert or overt is debatable, there is a trend that starts to present itself. It’s easier to want to ignore it and believe otherwise but it’s an unavoidable fact. It is widely known that organisations or individuals look specifically at ones appearance before considering other factors therefore simply judging a book by its cover.
Growing up I was never the ‘pretty’ girl, always rough around the edges. Fast forward a few years later and yours truly fortunately got caught up on the right side of puberty. All of a sudden people were starting to take notice of a girl who was otherwise invisible. Now obviously in high school you are completely oblivious to what is actually happening but you do notice a shift in how people treat you. I wanted to be seen as one of the pretty girls because I saw how the pretty girls were treated. You go from hardly being noticed to having people literally vie for your attention. To cut a long story short, I found favour with some people because I looked different, different in a way that satisfied society’s beauty standards that we all subconsciously internalise.
Unfortunately one doesn’t just stay in the fish bowl that is high school and you’re very quickly tossed into the boundless ocean of life. The major difference now is that you become a pretty face in a sea of other pretty faces and the privilege becomes hierarchical, there’s simply levels to pretty privilege. Now I am a blogger, a fashion blogger to be exact, and even in this sphere of my life, pretty privilege plays its role. As with celebrity culture, the world’s most popular figures are good looking individuals – not to discredit their talent – and this also shows in the fashion spaces as well. Of course this is not the case all of the time because fortunately transformation is trickling into these spaces. One common trend however is that the most popular fashion bloggers/influencers are the pretty girls with the “cool vibe” – everybody wants to be them.
Because of the nature of blogging and the fact that it is based on the premise of normal people sharing their experiences, more often than not, bloggers of any variety are content curators, they are writers, creative directors, photographers, stylists and so much more but the game has changed to accommodate external appearances over the quality of work or potential. The reason why the blogging phenomena became so extensive, is because it depicted real life girls with attainable lifestyles but since blogging has turned into a business, pretty privilege among a myriad of other privileges, rears its head and again we are exposed to what celebrity culture offers us, beautiful people with unattainable lifestyles. What looks better is what will sell and this applies to other industries as well. So where we used to go for unfiltered inspiration has now also turned into a source of insecurity and a space dominated by aesthetics pushed by corporations and not particularly the individuals. It’s all about monetising and not necessarily authenticity. This is reminiscent of how fashion designers have a preference of models who fit a certain criteria. The lines between raw talent and commercial value become blurred.
The game of life is rigged, some people get more privileges than the rest and some people live blissfully oblivious to this. I do realise that above the other privileges I enjoy, pretty privilege is one of them, which puts me at somewhat of an advantage even though I recognise the unfairness of it all and how it propagates the inverse as being a true as well.
Attractive outward appearance is not earned yet it serves as a tool that happens to open doors or at least make some doors easier to open. As with our cries regarding other societal privileges, I find it imperative that those that profit from pretty privilege do not deny this fact and condense it to “looks don’t matter” because the reality is that they do.
This article was originally written for nth Human.