“Why do women have to be thought of as beautiful?”

‘I won’t go into the details of the indigenous people’s views, but one general, interesting fact the student presented was that there was no concept of “nature” in their language. That is, there was no sense in which we—human beings—were over here as perceiving subjects or knowers, whereas “nature” was over there, a passive object to be experienced and known. Rather, the people he encountered saw themselves in a deep relationship with the surrounding plants, animals, bodies of water, and so on, such that there was no distance that enabled any being to be only and permanently an object. This got me thinking about my culturally insensitive acquaintance’s comments. He interpreted the people’s reaction to “nature” as them not appreciating its beauty. Our mutual friend assumed instead that perhaps they were just used to it since they lived there and saw it every day. Who knows, maybe he’s right?

I have a third interpretation, in light of this new information about some peoples’ very different, non-Eurocentric conceptual resources. Since they did not put any distance between themselves and the other citizens of “nature,” since nonhuman entities were not strange, alien, passive objects to be witnessed or understood from “over here,” but instead deeply connected, continuous beings who themselves could be co-subjects with the people, this particular people considered the stuff that we call “nature” simply not the right kinds of beings/things to be thought of as essentially objects of beauty.

In a way, some feminists have similar thoughts about the mainstream’s obsession with women and beauty. For several years, films and TV shows, magazines, fashion shows, or commercials have been congratulating themselves for featuring “real” women. Instead of endorsing the ridiculously narrow standard of beauty (tall, thin, doll-faced, usually white, hyper-feminine, and sexualized), these “progressive” campaigns champion “real” women, hoping to widen the range of the beauty standard to include all women. Basically, the notion can be summed up as “all women are beautiful!”

Although some feminists are fighting to ensure all women (and not just white, thin ones), are beautiful, others—like myself—are critical of the connection between beauty and women altogether. We ask the question: Why do women have to be thought of as beautiful? That women are automatically connected with beauty is problematic in a number of ways, but I’ll only discuss the way it is relevant to the discussion I raised above regarding nature.’

–Aphro-Ism : Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters. Lantern Books, 2017.

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