I have a story in the strikingly attractive and hip looking new edition of Cleo. It’s called The Perils of Prettiness, but I prefer to think of it as The Secret Lives of Beautiful Women. Complete here with some extra quotes (and accordingly, insight into these women’s interior lives) that you won’t find in the magazine.
I’m saving my full read of the magazine for my flight to London next week, but if Erica from Girl With A Satchel's review is to be believed, it's the perfect antidote for those of us suffering from Sassy or Jane withdrawals (a group which includes many of us).
First published in CLEO, January 2010. Copyright Rachel Hills 2010.
Is being really, really ridiculously good looking everything it‘s cracked up to be? Rachel Hills investigates.
There isn’t much in this world that’s as in your face and impossible to pin down as beauty. It’s everywhere you look - think billboards, Miranda Kerr and magazines like this one - and yet there’s no real consensus as to who has it (even Ms Kerr has her detractors), or how beautiful is beautiful enough.
Our obsession is not without reason. Studies show that beautiful people earn more money, have higher levels of self-confidence, more sexual partners and are even showered with more love as infants than their plainer counterparts. “That’s one of the premises of beauty,” explains Dr Meredith Jones, a senior lecturer at the University of Technology in Sydney. “Part of the reason we value it is because of the advantages associated with it.”
But what is life for the seriously beautiful, those people whose striking looks are the first thing people notice about them? Do they really get a free pass in life, a la 30 Rock’s “the bubble”? Or are the perks of prettiness balanced out by the downsides?
The first thing you should know about really beautiful women is that most of them aren’t used to talking about it. The rest of the world might acknowledge their looks constantly, but for them to do so out loud feels vain. “I don’t say this kind of stuff to anyone,” Josie, a 24-year-old model turned lawyer, admits nervously. Elizabeth, a 27-year-old Brigitte Bardot look alike, attributes the fuss over her looks to her long blonde hair and a love of fashion.
The second thing you should know is that the biggest difference being beautiful makes isn’t free stuff, skipping straight to the front of the line at clubs or having a slew of eligible bachelors begging you for a date. It’s attention.
For Josie, most of this attention has come from men. It started when she was about 15, when guys began to ask her own - in massive numbers. “No one in my year group was really getting asked out, so I remember keeping a list of how many had,” she admits. By the time she stopped, the list had reached 200.
For Elizabeth, the attention came from other girls. She says she didn’t give a second thought to her looks until she got to high school. “I’d just turned 11, and I remember in the first few days people suddenly coming up to me and saying ‘Oh, you’re beautiful, I love your hair,’ and really responding to me on the basis of that.”
So far, so flattering. But as Josie points out, there‘s a point at which flattery becomes frustrating. “I don’t see it as a nice thing for a guy to come up and say, ‘Oh you’re hot, can I buy you a drink?’ I don’t like the fact that the world’s that superficial.”
And that superficial world can have a big impact on a young woman coming to terms with the way she looks. “Probably the biggest disadvantage beautiful women face is that our culture privileges beauty above other characteristics,” says Jones. “Everything around them encourages them to focus on the surface and it’s very easy to never go beyond that.”
Elizabeth‘s early experiences follow along these same lines. “I went from being this really shy, bookish person, to suddenly getting to high school and having this big circle of friends who were all telling me I was pretty, and who were interested in being cool and rebellious. It was like I lost an essential part of myself.”
As modelling agencies began to approach her, she became increasingly obsessed with her weight. “It very quickly became a source of pressure,” she says. “I look back on it now and realise I was so boring and self-absorbed.”
Model Rose Vickers, 25, has a natural, luminescent beauty and a brain that makes you want to talk to her for hours. But she says her accomplishments as a law graduate, critic and artist are often overlooked in favour of more obvious attributes. “It takes a while to establish to someone that you’re smart. It doesn’t take particularly long to establish that you’re beautiful and it doesn’t take particularly much effort.”
“Everyone has a shorthand by which they describe themselves. And mine, unfortunately, even given everything I’ve done in my life, is probably ‘model’,” she says.
Everyone is beautiful
The good news for us mere mortals is that while women like Josie, Elizabeth and Rose might have a genetic advantage, context still plays a role in how they’re perceived. In other words: what you wear, how you groom yourself and how you behave has a big impact on how people think you look.
Being considered “beautiful” is neither the privilege of a special few, nor a curse they can’t shake off. As one friend once told Elizabeth, “It’s funny, a lot of people become more beautiful as you get to know them. With you, you seem really attractive at first, and then when you get to know you, you become just like everyone else.”
“In way, I thought that was a really loving thing to say,” she explains.
Meanwhile, Rose adapts her look day by day, depending on whether she wants to stand out or blend in. “Every morning when I wake up, I think ‘what hat do I have on today‘?” she says. “If it’s a model day, I’ll wear the pretty dress and I’ll put heels in my handbag. I also know I’ll be catching a lot of taxis because of the hassle of being on the street. If I’m going to art school or if I’m taking photos, I’ll wear flats and jeans. It’s kind of like playing dress-up to match your mind.”
And that sense of dress-ups can go both ways. Says Jones, “I think that the praise and the love that is given to beautiful people is a wonderful thing for anyone to experience. There are some people for whom every moment of their day would be predicated around people’s reactions to their looks, but I think it can apply to everyone in some way.”
Read more: Britney Spears and Why It’s Painful to Be (Conventionally) Beautiful
Britain’s Next Top (Anorexic) Model
Article: Beauty By Numbers
Why Do Beauty Therapists Always Make It Their Business to Insult You About Things No Sane Person Would Actually Notice?
Big Brother’s Brigitte and Beauty