Why “Beautiful vs. Hot” is Problematic

For the UAS Whalesong

I logged onto Facebook recently, and was surprised to see that I had been tagged in a post by someone I haven’t spoken to or even seen since my freshman year of college. Curious, and maybe just a little bit excited, I went to see what she had tagged me in. It turned out to be an article from Elite Daily titled “10 Things That Make A Girl Beautiful Instead Of Hot. (http://elitedaily.com/women/10-things-that-make-a-girl-beautiful-instead-of-hot/612403/)” Alright, I thought, and clicked through. Partly I was flattered – who doesn’t like being called beautiful, after all – but I was also curious. Weren’t “beautiful” and “hot” synonyms? What was going on here?

It turned out that quite a lot was going on. While I was very grateful to the person who tagged me for thinking of me – after all, the sentiment was lovely – I was only able to make it through about half the article before I closed the window, feeling mildly disgusted. Because, as it turns out, the issue with “10 Things That Make A Girl Beautiful Instead Of Hot” is that it caters to a concept called internalized sexism.

“Whoa there, Lexi!” I hear you say. “That’s a lot of syllables and some very specific terminology that we’re not used to hearing from you! What the heck?” Never fear, comrade, I’m here to explain. Internalized sexism is sort of like stereotyping, and works along the same lines. You and I stereotype all kinds of people every day, whether we’re aware of it or not. For example, you might walk into the Learning Center to get help with your math and see two tutors. One is a buff jock in a tank top whose muscles are bigger than your head; the other is a reasonably sized guy wearing glasses and a button-up. Acting on the subconscious   stereotype that jocks are dumb and nerds (or at least, people who look like nerds) are smart and good at math, you would theoretically try to get help on your homework from the latter. Internalized sexism works kind of like that; in today’s society, which is inherently sexist, it’s how girls and women are led to believe that the myths and stereotypes about their own sex are true.

That’s where this article comes in. Even the title alone caters to this; what do you picture when you think of a “beautiful” woman vs. a “hot” one? Exactly. (For anyone needing a little help with this, the typical thought might be something like a woman in a ball gown with an updo vs. a tanned, blonde woman in a bikini, or Audrey Hepburn contrasted with a Kardashian.) But neither one is better or worse than the other; they’re both attractive women who are choosing to show off their appearance in different ways. And so, Elite Daily’s article frustrated me, because it is an article that does two things: one, it tells men who read it “here is what you should look for in a girl because ones without these traits aren’t classy or good enough for you.” And two, it tells women who read it “if you have these traits, you’re  better and classier than women who don’t;” or, alternatively, “if you do these things that are ‘hot’ but not ‘beautiful’ you’re lesser than women who don’t.”

What about that is right or okay? There are already enough problems in the world today without pitting people against each other over stupid stuff like this. One of my favorite trends in media lately has been an emergence of female friendships over the previously existing trend of female rivalries. Unfortunately, this kind of article emphasizes female rivalries, and encourages a weird and pointless system of self-comparison that lifts up one set of women while tearing down another.

Let’s take a look at the “10 Things That Make A Girl Beautiful Instead Of Hot,” shall we? (And for the record, you don’t start a sentence with numerals. Just saying.) Bear in mind that while the titles are from the original article, the summaries (apart from quotes) are my interpretation of what they’re saying – if you’re interested in the original phrasing, I’ve cited their article at the bottom of mine.

Her passions define her more than her looks – “She’s the girl you’d rather talk to in bed than take to bed.” …If you’re talking to her in bed, doesn’t that mean that the latter already happened? What does this even mean, anyway? This is literally just a rephrasing of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Knowing this doesn’t make you beautiful or hot, this just makes you a decent human being.

She shows you her real face – They try to phrase this in a kind of “girl power” way, but it kind of backfires because they do the comparison thing again. “A beautiful woman does not do anything for anyone but herself” (italics added) – well, I’ve got news for you; neither do any other self-respecting women. The article also states “a beautiful woman doesn’t feel the need to hide behind [makeup].” Friend, I have news for you – makeup is not for “hiding behind.” Makeup is for when you feel like having purple eyelids, or changing the apparent structure of your cheekbones. Of course, you can also use it to conceal blemishes and redness, but that’s one of its intended purposes. This is like saying that people wear clothes to hide their nakedness. Well, duh? That doesn’t make it bad.

She doesn’t chase the limelight – “A beautiful woman doesn’t fight for the limelight, but is naturally endowed it.” Right, because you know, Angelina Jolie didn’t work hard and fight for the limelight. She was just standing around and Hollywood started begging her to be in movies. That’s how it works.

She knows how to talk – “Smart is sexy and words have the power to turn any girl into the woman of your dreams.” Smart is also telling me that any girl with a brain is not going to let you turn them into anything, because that’s not how relationships or life work. Also, smart is subjective; someone can be really “smart” about math and astronomy, but really dumb when it comes to English and literature. Someone can be super smart about video games and cinematography, but turn in mediocre assignments. This is no criterion to judge anyone by.

She can go it alone – “A woman who doesn’t need a man is a woman who is confident – and confidence is the key to real beauty.” So what, “hot” women are man-limpets? I feel like this is a good time to point out that they never actually define what a “hot” woman is, or why it’s better to be a beautiful one. That seems like an important oversight – or maybe they knew they were wrong the whole time and didn’t want to draw attention to it?

She’s tight-lipped – Because beautiful women are quiet and  mysterious and don’t call you out for hating on other girls for no apparent reason. Mm. Yes.

She bends over backwards – “Hot girls play with your heart, beautiful girls mend it.” Again with the pitting of females against each other! Maybe what this article is calling “beautiful” girls are the ones who haven’t realized yet what the “hot” ones already figured out.

She’s open – Be bold and do things and go places and live your best life – but don’t chase the limelight or talk too much while you’re at it. Don’t limit yourself, though! Beautiful women don’t do that.

She’s got soul – “Hot girls don’t need to show you their souls, beautiful women attract you with theirs.” Alright, look. I’ve watched enough Supernatural to know that if anyone is using souls as bait, they are Bad News Bears. In all seriousness, though, what does this even mean? How do you show someone your soul or attract someone with it? This makes it sound like “hot” girls are going around flashing people, except with their souls. Fun fact: in order to know someone, or their soul, you’ve got to talk to them and they’ve got to talk to you, and both of you have to show a little of yourself to the other person. I guess all that’s left for beautiful women is standing around looking sultry in evening dresses, which I have only known to work in 1950s noir films, Casablanca, and James Bond movies.

She’s got that thing – Someone’s been watching too much Hotel Transylvania. How did the song at the end go? “It was a thing called a zing, and I wanted to sing, and listen to the ballads of a man named Sting…”

Alright, that got a little salty in places. But do you see what I’m saying? A lot of these things are really arbitrary, and are also based heavily on personal taste. The article is designed to make the girls who read it and meet all 10 requirements, or even most of them, feel good about themselves – but what about the girls who don’t meet the requirements? What about the ones who do talk a lot, who don’t bend over backwards for everyone and everything, who aren’t comfortable being particularly open and who don’t know what their “thing” is yet? That doesn’t make them bad, or worse – it just makes them  different. And that’s a great thing to be!

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