We’ve all learned a lesson: As a woman, you can never admit to being beautiful.
“People judge me because I’m pretty.”
That’s the headline of an article that has been shared many thousands of times since being published on Cosmopolitan.
The article, written by 20-year-old student and Good Housekeeping intern Felicia Czochanski, focuses on men’s sleazy reactions to the author’s good looks. In its conclusion Czochanski demands, reasonably enough, to be respected for more to than just her appearance.
Read about the original article here.
Admittedly, the whole article reads a little ‘first world problems,’ and a little short on the analysis of the causes of street harassment. In that respect, it’s no different to any number of short opinion pieces published by glossy women’s magazines across the world.
But the reactions toward Czochanski’s piece have been overwhelmingly, personally, barbarically negative. So disproportionately cruel has the backlash been, in fact, that the young writer has been forced to make her Instagram profile private and change her Facebook name.
Commenters began ripping Czochanski to shreds within hours of the article’s publication online. And while a few of the 260+ commenters focused on the article’s “self-involved” tone, the overwhelming majority chose to scrutinise the very aspect of herself on which she asked not to be judged: Her appearance.
“She needs eyeglasses or at least a better mirror ! She is average, that is the most generous thing I can say,” Sheri Russell Jamerson wrote.
The girl looks like a space alien. What a diluded idiot,” Audrey Elmaleh wrote.
“Your toes are really weird and chubby, you’ve got a piggy nose, you wear too much make up in some of your pictures and your eyes are really baggy,” Laura Stephanie R D wrote.
Other commenters challenged her to walk into a modelling agency and see if they’d sign her, or ranked her appearance out of 10.
“2/10 mole,” Morgan Ingpen wrote.
“When did 4s start acting like 10s?,” asked Brian Douglas.
“Girl, you’re about average… by the time thirty hits you need to be married to some average-looking guy that thinks your beautiful, because by then you’ll be coming apart,” Philip Ferro wrote.
Related: An awful case of appearance shaming.
Of course, the exact calibre of the author’s attractiveness was not the point of her article. Cozanchski was merely trying to express her wish not to be judged on appearances, and her discomfort with cat-calling.
But those indignant readers clearly felt she had crossed a line and needed to be placed back in her box. They felt they needed to punish her by pointing out, in very specific detail, every so-called “flaw” in her online photographs.
Because, you see, Czochanski’s article broke one cardinal rule of being a woman.
It’s the rule that says “thou shalt hate your appearance” — and in our looks-obsessed western society, it’s one of the most brutally enforced of all.
Think about it: A woman call tell someone she’s got a great vocabulary, a low risk of heart disease, or a photographic memory without raising an eyebrow.
She can say she’s ambitious, a fast runner, a good friend or a whiz at her times tables without being shamed for “bragging”.
When it comes to looks, though? It’s far more acceptable to complain about having cellulite or to admit to crippling insecurity than it is to say you’ve actually won out in the genetic stakes.
Quite simply, women aren’t allowed to be satisfied with their looks, and there’s nothing okay about that.
There’s a cruel double-standard governing women’s relationship with beauty. It requires women to conform to certain, impossibly narrow standards, but to never acknowledge when they’ve met them.
The ideal beautiful woman, according to rom-coms and pop music at least, doesn’t ever think about how beautiful she really is (or as One Direction charmingly put it: “You don’t know you’re beautiful / That’s what makes you beautiful”).
In short, women are expected to look like Heidi Klum, then dismissed as vain for wanting to look like Heidi Klum, then attacked as arrogant for admitting they look like Heidi Klum.
Exhausting, isn’t it?
It’s as if, because beauty is still seen as women’s most valuable currency, it’s immodest to admit we have much of it.
Felicia Czochanski’s article may not have been self-aware or sophisticated. It may have been published with a deliberately provocative headline, perhaps dreamed up by canny online editor with an eye for clicky titles.
In any case, one thing is clear: The simple admission that Czochanski is a pretty girl was not worth the torrent of abuse that it provoked.
And in all this vile controversy over Czochanski’s article and appearance, the ugliest truth of all has washed to the surface: The fact that we live in a world where you can say you’re hideous, that you need to lose weight, that you hate everything about the way you look — but you can never say you’re happy with the way you are.
How sad is that?
Are you incomfortable with saying positive things about your appearance?