the stupidity of “natural” beauty

It must be nice to be a “natural beauty.” To be gorgeous without effort or even interest. This type of beauty is perhaps the most impressive. It’s like being a piano prodigy, except that you don’t even have to touch the keys*. You can just stand around. You can sit. You should probably not eat too much, but otherwise, you’re good, because of God and genes and accident.

(don’t even worry about it… source)

It’s hard to escape the concept of natural beauty. Once in college I was in a religion seminar, and the guest lecturer, a world-traveling, leathery-tan man with an impressive literary biography described in detail the beauty of the pious Muslim girls he’d encountered on his wild desert journeys. One girl was maybe fifteen, but she radiated a kind of primal loveliness. A dewy, untouched sex appeal. Holy shit, did he actually use the words “sex appeal” in describing her? He might as well have. Rapturously, he recalled how even her thorough hijab could not conceal her bursting beauty. Unlike Western girls, and here he glanced around the table at our tired, effortful faces, this pure blossom didn’t even have to try. She simply embodied beauty. She had, somehow, regardless of politics and oppression and discrimination and whatever else, won.

I was disturbed. Why were we talking so much about this girl’s appearance in the first place? Why was this man so comfortable objectifying, exotifying, and eroticizing her, especially in an academic setting?

But we are always talking about girls’ appearances, actually.  And, in practically every context, “natural” beauty is praised.


It sets up a strange dynamic. We know, as girls, that we’re supposed to care about how we look, since everyone is always talking about how girls and women look as though it’s a really big deal. And we know, simultaneously, that it would be best if we could look as though we don’t care very much how we look, but also look as pretty as possible, at every given moment. Women are celebrated for being beautiful, and celebrated even more for being beautiful when they aren’t even trying.

Being beautiful in sweatpants is a major accomplishment.


Being beautiful without makeup is a triumph.

Being beautiful early in the morning, while exhaustedly walking the dog or slogging miserably to work—success!!

A few months ago, in the New York Times Room For Debate session on makeup, a man proudly trumpeted his wife’s ability to look super hot without even putting makeup on! And she is not exactly young anymore, either! Imagine that. 

Now imagine a woman who’s gotten “work done.” Oh dear. Not great. We feel sort of sorry for her. Snide comments are made. She looks like she’s made of plastic…There’s a desperation about her. Basically, to summarize, she’s already failed, and she’s publicizing her failure by trying frantically to correct it. A woman I know who’s had a facelift told me in confessional tones that she made sure that it looks “natural.” And of course the idea is for cosmetic surgery to look like you didn’t “need” any cosmetic surgery to begin with. You’re supposed to appear a few weeks later looking refreshed, as though you were born this way.

We women often put a lot of effort into, and pay a lot of money to attempt to “look natural.” But, you know, better than whatever natural looks like for us personally.

It can all seem a little ridiculous, when you lean back from it for a second and squint. Which is why the leaning back and squinting is so important, because we need to recognize how ridiculous beauty constructs are.

Of course, it’s not completely unexpected: We praise people for being “naturally” smart, too, “naturally” athletic, and etc. But studies continue to show, as they have for some time now, that it is generally healthier to praise schoolchildren for being hardworking, than for being naturally gifted. We know now that to emphasize a child’s inherent ability places pressure on that child to continue to be accidentally talented, which is something that is hard for anyone to control. When the children who are applauded for their natural skills fail, they are shown to take the failure very personally. After all, the process of their success has always seemed mysterious and basic and inseparable from the rest of their identity, so it must be they who are failing as whole people. When students are instead complimented and rewarded for their effort and improvement, they tend to not be so hard on themselves. When they fail, they reason, “Well, I’ll work harder next time.” They learn that they are capable of success, rather than constantly automatically deserving of it, and they learn simultaneously that they are bigger and more complex than their individual successes or failures.

With this in mind, it seems especially important to correct our widespread cultural fixation on girls’ natural beauty. Which is not to say that this is a perfect analogy, and that we should praise little girls for learning to apply makeup skillfully, so that they can make themselves prettier, even if their inherited features aren’t stunning.

(or instruct them to please make sure they find sexier sweatpants. source)

What I do want to say is: telling someone, especially someone very young, that what matters most about them is something outside of their control—something they either have or don’t have– is messed up. It’s psychologically dangerous, even. It prevents them from figuring out their own worth and taking on the world as unique, fascinatingly diverse individuals.

And goddamnit, we need to let girls do this.

What’s awesome about us as girls and women isn’t something our genes did or didn’t do, it’s what we’re are capable of as full, messy, complicated people.

In honor of this, I will continue to proudly look like crap in the morning, without makeup, rumpled in my schlumpy clothes. It doesn’t get more “natural” than that, guys.

Oh, and also, I reserve the right to sometimes dress up, and fiddle with my hair, and pose in different pairs of similar-looking shoes, and to try very hard to look as pretty as possible. Because for me, it is an effort. And because sometimes that effort is an enormous amount of fun.


A version of this piece appeared on Daily Life

*  *  *

Have you been told that you are naturally beautiful? Have you caught yourself trying to make yourself look “more natural”?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in pajama pants. I always have, and I hope I always do.

*I think I’m using a lot of piano-playing analogies these days. I’m not sure why.



Kate on May 28th 2013 in beauty, body, feminism, perfection

53 Responses to “the stupidity of “natural” beauty”

  1. Mary responded on 28 May 2013 at 11:19 am #

    “After all, the process of their success has always seemed mysterious and basic and inseparable from the rest of their identity, so it must be they who are failing as whole people.”

    YEEESSSS. My creative writing was always praised as something that sort of magically sprang from nowhere, and when I got older and started trying to create stories and poems that were more complicated and demanding, the act of editing was so, so discouraging. If I wasn’t able to just pound at the keyboard for a few hours and end up with something brilliant, I must not be talented, right? To this day when writing creatively I stall out really easily, because I have a mental block about skipping something I can’t resolve in the moment and coming back to it.

    I am driven crazy by the “natural beauty” thing, because I have always had awful skin, and hate the trend of magazines and websites instructing me to showcase my Natural Beauty by leaving my skin bare. That and all the well-meaning magazines / websites pointing out how much standards of beauty change over time and how the only constant is that clear skin is always beautiful. Gee, thanks! Good to know I would have “failed” at beauty in any century!

  2. onebreath responded on 28 May 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    The part about the dangers of praising natural smarts really hit a chord with me. That was totally how I grew up and I still feel like a failure if I don’t know the “right” answer or opinion in any conversation I have. My parents were brilliant at praising the process and yet years of being the “smart kid” in school, ironically, seriously degraded my self esteem. I’m slowly trying to un-learn my perfectionism and constant feeling of unworthiness if I don’t have all the answers. Even as I write this, I feel stress that it won’t be profound enough or connect to what you are saying.

    It’s one of the things I’m learning and gaining from my online community though… it’s the place where I am learning to have an opinion and own it and change it and
    (drum roll), no matter what… I’m still okay. Just like you with your sweats and heels depending on the day, some days I’ll be deep and sometimes I’ll just skim the surface. It’s all me.

  3. Denise responded on 28 May 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    Telling someone that some part of them they had no control over is their defining value (or unfortunate flaw) *is* awful – So agrees this pretty head – apparently the rest of my carsass isn’t worth much, but I do have that pretty face everyone is going on about to my fellow fatties.

    How come all the tips to achieve a “natural” look take HOURS.

    Some years back some magazine was telling me all about how to get Jennifer Anniston’s look. Aside from flipflops, tanktops, lip gloss and bronzer (an outfit that ran at just under 700 if I remember correctly) there was a multi-step process on how to get natural beachy hair. This included subtle highlights and hours of spritzing your head with salt water and then letting it naturally dry while you periodically scrunched it – but not too much! It was all very complicated.

    I suppose if I had more time to commit to lounging around clad in coconuts and beach sand I’d have a better grasp on this natural thing.

  4. Farida responded on 28 May 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    I believe in natural beauty , i think its an inside one , not going out with a bare face! we women love to be beautiful for ourselves not just for the society! so its ok to make effort to be beautiful , it is !

  5. Patricia Christianson responded on 28 May 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.–Proverbs 31v31

  6. Mara responded on 28 May 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    I love you, Kate.

    That’s kind of creepy-sounding, actually. Um. Just. You’re really awesome, and keep doing what you do. ^_^’

  7. Kate responded on 28 May 2013 at 2:06 pm #

    Totally honored.

  8. Kellie responded on 28 May 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Fabulous post Kate, so well-written, so many excellent points. You hit the nail right on the head on many important issues of our day! I agree with Mara!

  9. Katherine responded on 28 May 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    I know this isn’t entirely about the post, but it’s on the subject and reading your writing on this topic got me on a rant, which transformed into an email sent to my boyfriend, trying to put some sense into him.
    My boyfriend is a scientist. This does not mean he is well informed on all science related topics. We recently got into a well spirited discussion about genetics and he decided to begin with the age old myth of wide hips and large breasts being the most desired shape for a women, ya know, genetics-wise.
    He insisted that the larger the breasts on a woman, essentially the better mate they would be (I assume he was talking about our origins and cavemen and women, as he adamantly assured me he was not attracted to this. He was attracted to me, of A cups and tall height. I have a big butt, not so hippy. Does that apply as genetically appealing according to this male standard? Do I care really?)

    Anyway, he was sure that women with large breasts were found more attractive because of their ability to provide more milk for their children. I never cease to be exasperated by outdated beliefs and stereotypes. The above mentioned belief is, of course, very untrue. Size, as it turns out, doesn’t matter.
    I wrote, in the email I sent to him, a whole list of misconceptions he had about “fertility”, the most prominent one being that you can look at person and know; “That is one fertile lady.” Despite all you’ve been told. We are all beautifully different, all different shapes and sizes. A tiny woman can care for a whole brood of babies, your body kind of adjusts for demand. The human body is amazing like that.
    And even more importantly, if you choose to or cannot have children that doesn’t make you lesser, I get so heated about this stuff. None of us should be made to feel in any way inadequate or that we don’t meet a desired bullshit “standard”. I have plenty of body issues, I think that a little truth and common sense is massively healing. So I just wanted to say you inspired me to get my boyfriend to unlearn some things he was so sure he knew. And he conceded with a very graceful “touche”. Or something like that. Thank you!!

  10. Kate responded on 28 May 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    I am very familiar with these kinds of conversations– always frustrating, and a little silly, but they tend to come up.

    And I’ve definitely heard scientists argue for a HUGE variety of feminine characteristics, all insisting that the research supports this one particular body type as the most desirable. I took a class with a famous anthropologist in college, and he has all these slides that showed the “perfect” female body. Small, round breasts, big butts, and all sorts of stuff about waist/hip ratio and etc. Oy vey! It’s too much to keep track of. But suffice it to say, science really doesn’t seem to know here…But common sense says all of the things that you’re saying. There are a lot of different ways to project femininity. There aren’t as many rules as we tell ourselves there are.

    I hope your boyfriend listens!

  11. Diane responded on 28 May 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Thanks for this article :) As someone who has always struggled with weight, my concept of beauty has always revolved around someone who can fit into smaller pants than me…

    As a kid, I had fairly oily skin and a tendency to break out. Well bugger me, I’ve now discovered that oily skin is AWESOME when you hit your 50s because it doesn’t seem to wrinkle as much as dry skin! Of course now I’m getting “gee, you look great for your age!” which I gently correct with “Thanks – actually, I look great for ANY age!”

    However, the “effortless” thing I’m finding the most irritating at the moment revolves around study. My youngest daughter (14) is just starting exams and is bemoaning that fact that “everyone” does better than she does “and they NEVER study”. Which is CRAP!! Every one of those girls is studying their butt off but they want to be seen as effortlessly clever. I honestly don’t get it!

    Why don’t they want people to see that they’ve done really really well because they worked really REALLY hard??

    Teenage girls can be revolting creatures at the best of times but I’ve always found this “I can’t believe I got 90 percent because I didn’t study at all!” to be incredibly annoying :(

  12. San D responded on 28 May 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    Since beauty truly IS in the eye of the beholder, can we agree with this as a bumper sticker: BEAUTY, you’ll know it when you see it.

  13. Mandy responded on 28 May 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    “What I do want to say is: telling someone, especially someone very young, that what matters most about them is something outside of their control—something they either have or don’t have– is messed up.”

    I honestly can’t think of anything to add to this.
    Well said, Kate! Brava!

  14. Liz responded on 29 May 2013 at 3:13 am #

    Great topic, Kate, as usual!

    When I first moved to France, I really really loved how “natural beauty” and more variety in looks was appreciated in French culture… until I realized that no matter where you go on this planet, there is pressure put on women to achieve whatever form of beauty is deemed most desirable. French culture doesn’t like a lot of make-up, but then that means if you don’t have perfect skin naturally, you’re a failure. And body size? Dear God, French people have “fat puts downs” down to a fine art. Half the time, I’m caught completely unawares because I we have very different ideas of what constitutes “fat.”

    I’m always getting in arguements with my coworkers because I firmly believe that 80% of these “beautiful” celebrities or people in magazines that we’re supposed to emulate are the products of a ridiculous amount of work by professionals – and not “natural” or “effortless.”

  15. Jordan responded on 29 May 2013 at 8:55 am #

    Hey Kate! Great piece… I hadn’t thought about the praising for natural abilities vs. hard work thing before, and it makes a lot of sense. I was always the “smart kid” growing up, but I made myself learn how to study and work hard when I was in high school because it seemed like it would be a good idea. It took me a long time in adulthood to embrace the “I may not be naturally amazing at this, but I can work to get better at this” philosophy and find the balance between playing to my strengths and shoring up my weaknesses. It’s definitely a lesson best learned as you’re becoming an adult instead of after you get to be a grown up lady!

  16. Marijn responded on 29 May 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Great article! Can’t say I agree with all of it though

    I love the bit about not praising people for whatever it is they have ‘naturally’ going for them. Like being naturally smart.
    I myself skipped a grade in elementary school and from then on was always considered ‘the smartest in the class’. But I never had to put in any effort.. then I went to high school and was put in classes with kids of the same “level”.
    It went okay for a while, but as the classes got more difficult I flunked almost every single subject. I was considered lazy, rebellious, annoying (all of which I probably was) and quickly transformed from the perfect student into the girl a teacher did NOT want to have in their classroom.
    Thing is, I never learned to work for it. I had always gotten straight A’s without putting in any effort: it had come naturally. Failing somehow made me feel like less of a person. Like I was losing the thing I had always had going for me: my intelligence… instead of realising I was a lazy brat who needed to do her homework I believed that I had somehow become stupid, and my self-worth plummeted.

    Can’t say I completely agree with you when you write about natural beauty though. I guess that some people have ‘better’ genes when it comes to their looks, but at the same time I believe being beautiful on the outside has a lot to do with the way you feel on the inside.

    So when you write
    “I will continue to proudly look like crap in the morning, without makeup, rumpled in my schlumpy clothes. It doesn’t get more “natural” than that, guys.”
    you yourself are somehow making yourself look like crap by deciding you look that way. I think the power of naturally beautiful women is that they feel beautiful without makeup and in sweat pants. You ‘turn’ beautifully the way you put on some lipstick because your attitude changes from “I just got out of bed and I look like crap” to “hey! look at me, I put on some make-up and am all good to go”.

    There’s no miracle-mascara in the world that will make you look like a queen when you feel like a tramp in a glitter dress on high heels :)

  17. Kate responded on 29 May 2013 at 10:22 am #

    No miracle mascara indeed!! :-)

    I have actually never bought into the idea that beauty has a ton to do with attitude. Sometimes I think that’d be cool, because then we’d have more control. Sometimes I think that that’s annoying, because then people can say, “It’s all in your head! Just believe that you’re beautiful!” and put more pressure on us. But often, I think that the beauty we are judged for having or not having is a set of random characteristics that have been culturally decided on. Some girls and women are constantly praised and even harassed for their beauty, even when they feel miserable, and some girls and women are never praised or acknowledged for their beauty, even when they feel awesome.

  18. ARA responded on 29 May 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Ah, yes. I know this was not the main idea of your post, but I was “naturally” smart and artistically talented, and I do think it screwed me up. (The first time I wrote that sentence, I wrote that it screwed me up “a bit,” but I actually think this may be the single largest source of my problems in life.) I’ve got this horrible combination of laziness (lack of self-discipline) and perfectionism (the paralyzing type that stops me from starting and/or finishing a project). I do know how to word hard, but when I was growing up I never worked hard to learn skills that didn’t seem to come “naturally.” No sports. No music. No driver’s license until I was 28 because my first few lessons went so poorly.

    But, you know, it’s awkward to tell people about your problems when the source of your problems is being good at things without effort. In other words, my problem is that school was too easy for me when I was younger. Yeah, that sounds really sympathetic.

    Anyway, after years of being interested in education but thinking that I wouldn’t “naturally” make a good teacher, I finally decided that I could WORK HARD and LEARN to be good, and am now in a master’s program. This is forcing me to deal with my perfectionism, because there is no “perfect” in education, and there’s definitely no time for me to obsess over everything, either. I occasionally freak out and think it’s all a mistake but… I’m getting better.

  19. Iris responded on 29 May 2013 at 11:34 am #

    Kate- Thankyou ever so for comment 17. The whole ‘you have to learn to love yourself and then it’ll all be fine’ thing just shunts blame back onto us. It’s a great piece in general, too. So good to hear space given to the ways doing *well* when small can leave you paranoid and perfectionist. It can happen when you were working your socks off too, if no-one ever seems to notice the effort you are putting in until it doesn’t get the results anymore.

  20. Hy responded on 29 May 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    I am definitely one of those kids who was praised for being smart and never learned how to work hard. I agree with ARA above, that the combination of laziness and perfectionism is really killer, haha.

    Also, Kate, congrats on the Slate piece!

  21. tanner responded on 29 May 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    I immediately thought of Drake:

    “Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin’ with no makeup on. That’s when you’re the prettiest. I hope that you don’t take it wrong.”

  22. laila responded on 29 May 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    Hi Kate, I love all your words. Have you ever heard of the True Mirror? It would be interesting to hear your take on it.

  23. Ann responded on 29 May 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    I don’t think anyone really ever commented on my looks (good or bad) until after I was out of high school. I wasn’t really sure if I was beautiful or not, but I didn’t really care either way, because I knew I was smart, and that was more important. And being smart was something that could be easily measured by test scores and grades, and I didn’t have to wonder where I stood.

    Side note- I have to disagree with you about beauty having nothing to do with attitude. I definitely don’t think that attitude is all there is to it, but I do think that it makes a difference. I think it has a lot to do with posture, the way a woman carries herself, and if she is able to look people in the eye comfortably. I have seen girls who hunch over, trying to make themselves seem smaller or less noticeable, who hang their heads, and seem like they are mostly just trying to disappear, and it is almost painful to watch them, not because they aren’t beautiful, but because they are so obviously uncomfortable. There is something very beautiful about confidence, and that is an attitude thing. I think it might be because if you are at ease with yourself, you make people around you feel more comfortable as well.

  24. Marijn responded on 29 May 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    @Kate thanks for your reply! I think you’re partially right, and there will always be some people out there who are naturally more beautiful than others.

    But I have to agree with Ann for saying that posture makes a huge difference! And this is exactly what I meant by saying it has something to do with attitude :)

  25. Kande responded on 29 May 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    Completely agree with the commentors stating how attitude makes a difference. I do not believe that attitude can make someone suddenly become classically beautiful … but I think when people have a great attitude ( women OR men) that it does cause something attractive to shine through. So maybe it isn’t that attitude = beautiful/pretty/handsome, but rather attitude = attractiveness. Which is why we can see pictures of couples and wonder why, for example, the seemingly handsome male is with the “plain” girl – but when you meet them in person it is evident how she lights up a room. Or how a classically beautiful woman will be with a not obviously handsome man, but swear he is super attractive due to his wonderful sense of humour. With those simplistic examples in mind, I do think it is fair to say that attitude/spirit/soul etc. can absolutely create attractiveness.

    I also think it happens when we get to the point of seeing people as a whole, and not broken down criticized parts, which is what happens when like people enough to be friends, or better yet, love them. We no longer see them as criticizable parts, we just see them as them. Case in point – I am not a person who would be considered at all beautiful to the general public. But try telling my kids I’m not pretty. My kids I am lying next to now, wearing pjs, face un-made-up, hair tangled mess, grey haired and with zits (thank you Mother Nature for THAT trick!); even still to them I AM beautiful. Because they see none of that – they just see all of that blended in as ” Mom” – and that – me being their Mom – is all the convincing they need to think I am “just the beautifullest lady in the world, Mommy!”.

  26. Abby responded on 30 May 2013 at 12:19 am #

    Definitely an interesting piece, and one that made me think. A lot of what you said is true about society, but not when I’m thinking about it for me specifically…for me, personally? Sometimes when I’m hanging out with friends and people I love I really do think they’re just naturally beautiful without even trying. But that’s not the entire cultural construct and I’m not trying to fit them into the specific standards that seem to define “beautiful.”

    I definitely agree about the difficulties that arise when we praise people–especially when they’re young–for being “naturally gifted” or “naturally smart.” I think that it keeps us from daring to be bad at something. If we’re “naturally gifted” at something else, why even work on something we’re bad at? It took me a long time to realize that being bad at something can make it really, really rewarding when you finally start improving, even just a little.

    I was always “naturally smart.” The whole sports thing? Not for me. It wasn’t until I started doing capoeira(Afro-Brazilian martial art) that I found out how good being terrible at something can be…it’s one of the most rewarding things in my life, mostly because I’ve had to work hard for it.

  27. San D responded on 30 May 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Aside from the question of beauty, I have another question. What will you say/do when your little girl wants to wear the same cowboy boots with every outfit, everywhere you go (or some such thing that little ones like to do)? In other words when does what YOU think society will tolerate interfere with your child’s notion of “beauty”? Like, no combing hair, like wearing the same clothes over and over because they feel comfortable, like wearing a superman cape to someone’s wedding…you know that sort of thing. And while never having been a mother, I know these things happen and it is a fascinating thing watching mothers impose their notions on what is acceptable or not, while children have their own sense of what is beautiful.

  28. zoe responded on 30 May 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    i am conflicted about this…

    i have been told my entire life i am naturally beautiful. literally, since i was a child. i remember that being a common comment, and i wholly realize how common of a comment it is presently. i don’t wear make up, i don’t wear incredibly flashy clothes. i am not thin, i am not tall. i have curly hair. am i beautiful? according to other people, probably. but i think what truly drives this beauty is who i am on the inside. despite being told my entire life i was pretty, cute, and “natural”, i didn’t feel beautiful or see beauty until i felt it on the inside for the first time about a year ago. cheesy? yes. true? hell yes. attitude, as others have discussed, changes everything, at least for me. happiness and peace show up in the skin and in the voice and in the eyes. a body is the vessel with which a person can translate the beauty of her soul. and all bodies are beautiful bodies.

    i feel conflicted because this makes me feel guilty for being “naturally beautiful” and owning it as a piece of who i am. this makes me feel conflicted because i think everyone is naturally beautiful, in some brilliant way, and this article makes me realize not everyone believes that. which makes me sad. if we choose to divorce from our societal notions of beauty, the world of beauty and its definitions opens up to us in innumerable ways. talk about a gift!

    san d’s comment is awesome — children do have their own sense of what is beautiful. this is our innate sense of beauty we are all born with. why can we not return to that? or at least actively try? especially if we are aware of what confines we live in and how they dictate to us…

    anyway, thanks for the article kate. got me thinking…

  29. Lovely Links: 5/31/13 responded on 31 May 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    [...] “We know, as girls, that we’re supposed to care about how we look, since everyone is always talking about how girls and women look as though it’s a really big deal. And we know, simultaneously, that it would be best if we could look as though we don’t care very much how we look, but also look as pretty as possible, at every given moment. Women are celebrated for being beautiful, and celebrated even more for being beautiful when they aren’t even trying.” [...]

  30. Amy responded on 31 May 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    I have never been a huge fan of makeup and often times am told I look better without it, that I’m a “natural” beauty. Because I’ve struggled with my weight most of my life, I’ve heard these comments but never really let them sink in. I tend to see them as the “you’ve got such a pretty face, but…” even though I know that’s not the case. But even if I wasn’t a “natural” beauty, I doubt I’d ever wear makeup (minus super rare occasions) because I can’t apply it right and I’m too lazy to try. I am starting to feel more comfortable in my skin nowadays though, and people comment that this radiates out of me, gives me an extra sparkle that I didn’t have when I felt so low. I guess that’s good. I try not to think about it too much.

    I was also able to get away with making all As or As and Bs until high school and then I crashed and burned in college. I still, to this day, don’t know how to study. I wish there’d been more focus on teaching me better learning and studying techniques because it’s hard for be to absorb things that I don’t immediately understand. I don’t have the attention span for it and that’s sad.

  31. Leah Elaine responded on 31 May 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Like so many others here, I have suffered much for being the “smart one” when I was a child. I was over the moon about the motto of my oldest son’s first school – smart is something you GET, not something you are. Even though we have since moved to another state, I still use this all the time to help emphasize hard work. And I’ve modified it to be appropriate for other activities (music, sports).

    The story about the prof? Totally creeped me out. As a science student, I distinctly remember a (world renowned) professor in my department giving me the full up and down look. I seriously regret not throwing up on his shoes.

    Any time someone tells me I’m a natural beauty, I always laugh and set them straight (not that it happens a lot, in case that sounded like a brag). Unless its my husband who once told me that I was gorgeous while I was sitting next to the toilet waiting for my next heave. Love really does color our view of other people…

  32. Women Tour Blog responded on 01 Jun 2013 at 8:36 am #

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  33. Gloria responded on 09 Jun 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    Regarding praising children for innate abilities: “It prevents them from figuring out their own worth and taking on the world as unique, fascinatingly diverse individuals.

    And goddamnit, we need to let girls do this.”

    It isn’t fair to suggest that the “smart ones” and the “pretty ones” are prevented from achieving this. Their experiences are as rich and diverse and horrifying and fantastic and ultimately valid as people who have been told they have to work for everything forever. It’s a harder road to total self-actualization but that sort of evens out all of the benefits heaped on beautiful people just for looking the way they do.

  34. Kate responded on 09 Jun 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Not suggesting that. Just stating that the research says it’s harder when you’re told the worth is in the innateness.

    I was always told I was smart– when my intelligence was challenged, much later on, it really shook me! But I think I’m pretty good at knowing my own worth anyway :-)

  35. Diana (aka mswolfeywolfe) responded on 16 Jun 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your words and your work. I live in Australia, where you’d think we’d be fairly evolved when it comes to gender issues. I mean, we even have a WOMAN prime minister! Our prime minister, Julia Gillard, has called out her opposition politicos and the media for being misogynist… long overdue. So what have we done in response? Run headline after headline about her big hips, lack of dress sense, red hair, long nose, is her de facto hubbie GAY?… ohmygod it goes on and on. I admire her for staying focused on slightly more important issues such as, oh, running the country. She’s been called a bitch, a witch, a liar (Jul-liar, ha ha get it?) – and this is not just in the media, it’s by opposition politicians, grown men and women! Sorry to rant and rave in your space, but really this is to say, thanks again and your words help keep me focused and strong amongst the relentless onslaught of ‘if-you-don’t-behave-in-a-ladylike-way-we’ll-demonise-you’-ness. Love your work.

  36. Eat the Damn Cake » cosmetic surgery doesn’t have to be shameful responded on 17 Jun 2013 at 9:52 am #

    [...] with pushed up, too-round breasts and a stretched, unnatural face. There is something sad about her. It is sad that she “needs” it. It is sad that she is vain enough to get it. She lacks character, she has the wrong priorities, [...]

  37. Melinda responded on 17 Jun 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    What has always bothered me about “natural” beauty is that it doesn’t just seem to be connected to acceptance of one’s imperfections…there is often a broader implication that women who wear makeup, visible makeup, are “fake” or “slutty” or simply bad people. While the “natural” look, whether that means a tiny bit of lip balm or a full face of makeup that has been skillfully applied to look like the wearer simply woke up looking that way, is praised. There is a disturbing notion that women who look more “natural” are more virtuous, more beautiful inside and out. I believe that only promotes further division between women. That is what that guy in your post seemed to be doing, Kate.

    I went through a lot of slut-shaming when I was younger, before I even had my first voluntary sexual experience. And I continued to experience slut-shaming much later as a grown woman. I feel like as women, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

    I went completely makeup-free besides lip balm for nearly 3 years. It was odd, because I’ve always been into makeup with “loud” colors and sparkly stuff. But one day I said screw it and I didn’t wear makeup for a while. My body was in its top physical shape at the time, my hair was long and sexy, and I received attention with a completely bare face. So I didn’t feel like I “needed” makeup anymore. I still loved it, but I was starting to accept my face without it, although some jealous girls called me a Plain Jane. But I guess my point is that whether I wore makeup or not, I never judged other women for their choices.

    Unfortunately, I’ve run into many people who make my life/appearance their business and they will either judge me as “plain” for not wearing makeup or “ugly and insecure” if I so much as wear lip gloss. A gal just can’t win, I tell you!

    My skin (on my face, that is) is no longer scarred by the painful acne of my teens but at nearly 30 I’ve developed a hormonal problem out of the blue that causes hot flashes which turn my face a lovely shade of tomato red. I wear very little makeup now besides mascara, sometimes eyeliner, concealer, and gloss. I plan to shop for some beauty essentials like a gentle liquid base, though…just to cover up this redness. And I want to start wearing lipstick again soon.

    I remember as a teenager my cousin’s friend (who is a real bitch) made a comment about how my cousin was “naturally beautiful” so she didn’t need makeup…unlike me, implying that I was ugly. This was said with a disdainful look and a snotty voice. So that worsened my insecurities but even then, I didn’t wear a lot of makeup, only lipstick and gloss. It just looked that way because I had a somewhat heavy hand, poor application skills, and I loved bright colors, not the sickly nude shades of the 90′s and early 2000′s.

    Sorry for my incoherent post. I guess I’m trying to say that I agree with you. At the moment, I am at home in a sundress with my hair on top of my head and no makeup…I feel fine this way. And it bothers me that when I want to wear makeup or show interest in it, society shames women for not fitting their definition of beauty (“natural” beauty) but also makes them feel bad for wearing visible makeup. I’ve seen so many Facebook posts about how women who wear makeup are “sluts” and being natural is sooo much better. Last time I checked, makeup doesn’t make anyone a bad person, nor does the absence of makeup equate to sainthood. Yet it seems a lot of people believe this. I’m all for being comfortable in one’s skin but there is so much judgment around what we as women do, and makeup is another area in which we are judged.

  38. maxmaxmax responded on 23 Jun 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    As someone who has taken photos of thousands of people, I often ask myself what makes someone attractive? Why do I find person’s chin, neck, or nose more beautiful than other person’s?

    The most convincing argument I’ve found comes from the field of sociobiology. Edward O. Wilson has argues that some physical features are expressions of genetic fitness, for example a lazy eye could represent an underlying neurological defect, or how obesity or an asymmetrical face could similarly represent a poorly dealt genetic hand. Feelings of repulsion are a biological fail-safe designed to prevent us from squandering our genes on an less fit partner.

    This idea of a genetic disposition influencing considerations of beauty is also supported by computer face averaging tests, where composite images of women with averaged faces have been shown to be considered more attractive.

    So while we scorn as unjust notions of discriminating based on appearances, perhaps the ubiquity of such judgements lies in our genes via epigenetic perceptual filters which inform how our minds produce and respond to culture.

  39. Mish responded on 23 Jun 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Love your article, Kate. We cannot win, can we? If we don’t measure up (for which we are constantly reminded) and try to remedy the situation with our hard earned cash, we’re fraudulent.

    And if we do happen to be naturally attractive, we’re constantly reminded, becoming self conscious and probably quite narcissistic.

  40. Cat responded on 20 Aug 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    This is ridiculous. I’ll be the first to say I never wear make up. I think it’s moronic to waste tons of money to cake your face in that garbage. I’m 21 and I have acne (pretty bad acne actually) and I still think I’m attractive and don’t need anything to be beautiful. It’s not about being pretty and thinking your better than everyone else it’s about having enough self-esteem to say I’m beautiful the way I am. To suggest that this “natural beauty” is something you either have or don’t seems counter productive. The goal should be to empower people to have enough self-esteem and confidence so that they KNOW they’re beautiful as they are in their natural state.

  41. Ally responded on 12 Sep 2013 at 7:56 am #

    Reading this article (and all the comments) seriously gives me a huge sense of relief. It also explains a lot. I’m only 15, and although I’m sure that it’s normal to feel insecure at my age, I can’t help but feel depressed every time my classmates compliment me on ‘always looking so pretty – without even trying!’ or on how smart I am ‘I know you don’t like putting in the effort’ even when I get really low grades. I’m really sensitive about how I look because I was in an all girls private school before coed high school, and honestly I felt pressured back then too. Basically telling someone that they are supposed to be perfect and that person not being able to live up to that really hits you below the belt, especially because others will more often than not just brush it off as you not feeling well instead of over expectation.

  42. Caelin responded on 13 Sep 2013 at 11:38 am #

    As early as elementary school, I was regularly praised for being thin. When puberty hit & parts of me got bigger, not only did I have no idea that it was natural, but I sure noticed the absence of the envious comments I’d always received before, with predictably disastrous consequences. Why an adult would praise a child for being thin is beyond my comprehension.

  43. Eat the Damn Cake » i think i finally don’t care as much about the way i look responded on 03 Oct 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    [...] love interest would be the prettiest girl around. It was like that was the baseline requirement. She had to start out effortlessly being the prettiest, and then after that she could have a personality. Beauty sounded like something all the really [...]

  44. Linda Lou responded on 16 Oct 2013 at 7:01 pm #

    I agree with the article. The work it takes to be the beauty the world expects is just not realistic but as I have passed my 52 birthday it’s more about keeping things more natural. Weather that’s beautiful remains to be seen. Very long hair and high heels no more (unless there’s a wedding) I cut my hair to my shoulders and opt for comfort. I found this blog on a search for “natural beauty for women” search. Thinking in terms of tips for simple skin care and stlye. I am glad I did, it’s was hard work with a familly, working and the body I was born with, and I’m sure it will still be work. Its worth the effort. I try to remember KISS …keep it simple silly. I don’t notice when my husband shaves his beard right away and he only notices when I’m not happy. With a empty nest I make the best effort to take care of myself, make time for myself and keep everything simple.

  45. Tlhogii responded on 22 Oct 2013 at 8:21 am #

    These such good thoughts… it’s so difficult to put this in words and you’ve done it perfectly.

    If you have a book about something, I want to read it. That’s how good this article is…

    I’m gonna search for your book now, you have such a unique natural writing and thinking style:)…

  46. Sarasdav responded on 03 Jan 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    I love this post and I especially love: “What I do want to say is: telling someone, especially someone very young, that what matters most about them is something outside of their control—something they either have or don’t have– is messed up.”

    Enough said!

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  48. Why is beauty so important? | CL Mannarino responded on 22 Mar 2014 at 7:02 am #

    [...] tone, making choking noises at the celebrities floating by on TV. “She’s so naturally beautiful, why would she wear that dress?” Or even: “She’s a big woman. Why would she [...]

  49. Natural Beauty | Welcome to responded on 06 May 2014 at 8:27 am #

    [...] Eat the Damn Cake » the stupidity of “natural” beauty May 28, 2013 … It must be nice to be a “natural beauty.” To be gorgeous without effort or even interest. This type of beauty is perhaps the most impressive. [...]

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