The Beauty Gift/Curse

Looking at the women on those [fashion magazine] pages, you can see that beauty is not just a racist and classist ideal. It is something to admire, to be seized and elevated by, to long for, envy. However much I sympathize with the aims of beauty studies, I am troubled by LaFrance’s approving citation of a study arguing that asking women to smile is “street harassment” and infringes on their rights. … Nor can I agree with Hamermesh’s assertion: “In many cases our preferences against the ugly are no different from our socially unproductive discrimination against minorities.” I don’t recall reading about a lynching of an overweight person; nor do I recall reading about a short person being told to get to the back of the bus. …

But there are plenty of ugly, rich old people, unsightly boomer megazillionaires, and downright unpleasing-to-the-eye successful TV pundits and Wall Streeters. So lacking beauty does not doom you to foreclosure and the trailer park.

Author Rachel Shteir takes a stroll through the beauty-book aviary for The Chronicle.