Is It Foolish To Waste Time On Beauty? Author Zadie Smith Thinks So

August 24, 2017  |  


There’s no denying that beauty is a commodity for women. If you’re pretty there are certain privileges you’re granted in this world. You can literally make a career out of the way you look. Men can do that too but for women, you don’t have to be a model to benefit from something you did absolutely nothing to achieve. There have been studies that show people who are perceived as more attractive are often treated more kindly in public. There was the teacher, a convicted statutory rapist who a judge found “too pretty to go to jail.”

She was also White. But White woman are believed to be the pinnacle of beauty in this country. And that’s another sub-discussion we don’t have time for today.

The question is how much stock do we put in beauty and is it too much? Is it a waste of time focusing on our outward appearance, when we know that doing so can yield to tangible, positive results in the real world?

I ask this question after something author Zadie Smith said during one of her talks. Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Smith shared an anecdote about her 7-year-old daughter. And her habit of “spending a lot of time looking in mirrors.”

As a result, Smith imposed a 15-minute time limit. “I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this,” Smith said. “Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a shit if you waste an hour and a half doing your make-up.”

She took particular issue with contouring.

“From what I can understand from this contouring business, that’s like an hour and a half and that is too long. It was better than giving her a big lecture on female beauty, she understood it as a practical term and she sees me and how I get dressed and how long it takes.”

I won’t go too deeply into the contouring discussion because that too warrants an entirely separate article.

But the question of what to tell our children, particularly girl children about beauty is an important one. Personally, I don’t feel like her daughter gazing at herself in the mirror is a waste of time. I actually think it’s the opposite.

If you think about it, a child’s appreciation of beauty is just more pure than ours. At seven, I doubt she’s admiring her looks and thinking how they might please a man or what the symmetrical nature of her face can do for her. She’s just looking in the mirror and she likes what she sees. And that appreciation of her body, is beautiful, a skill she’ll constantly need to hone if she’s going to exist as a well adjusted human in this world.

Many of us know, from experience, what it’s like to question our bodies, our appearance. We have more experience looking in the mirror and picking ourselves apart than we do of admiring and appreciating what we have and the small miracles our bodies perform for us daily. It’s not lost on me that my body is literally helping me convey the thoughts of my mind, through my fingertips. That’s power. And that’s beautiful. Something to be appreciated.

Still, I can understand where Smith is coming from. She likely wants her daughter to be more substantive than just a pretty face. She’s so much more than her body so she should invest in developing and appreciating those other parts of herself as well. Word.

I equate that to a man who lives on my street who calls me “golden dreads” and tells me he “loves me” almost every other day. I try to ignore the “love” comment. One because I take that word seriously and two because he doesn’t even know my name, let alone my personality to love me. He loves the way I look and that’s just not all there is to me.

In a culture where women settle for residing in and presenting the most shallow versions of themselves, there is danger in putting so much energy in your beauty that you forget your being.

Like almost everything else in life, we have to approach our beauty with balance.

What do you make of Zadie Smith’s comments? Is focusing on beauty a waste of time?

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