Privilege

Is beauty a privilege?

Privilege is a word much bandied about these days.  I know I am privileged.  But there are so many ways to dissect that word.

Just now as I navigated a tight space between a coffee table and a tense cat (adjusting to having a puppy in the house) trying to plug my laptop in,  I gathered my ponderous jacket about me and felt distinctly oafish.  I have never been beautiful nor especially graceful.  Mostly I ignore the fact very pointedly but just occasionally it seems to gain an unfair importance in my head.

People who are not beautiful, I am quite convinced, experience the world very differently to people who are.  On Youtube I watched a French actress/ex-model being interviewed by one of the American late night presenters whose name I can’t think of just now – quite a funny chap.  Anyway,  this actress was very lively and almost flirtatious.  She was born in Germany and speaks fluent German but moved to France when she was quite young and so speaks French like a native as well.  Of course, the interview was in English and he asked her whether she used her different accents to different purposes.  “Absolutely!” she cried and proceeded to demonstrate how she used her charming French accent to get herself out of speeding tickets and the like.   It was a fun interview but I couldn’t help thinking that, no matter how charming the French accent, it helps to have a sweet  face of flawless skin and melting brown eyes to go with it.

I once worked with a girl of Sri Lankan background.  Her hair was always perfectly straight and knot-free.  Her skin was a rich caramel and her laugh was mellow and bubbly.  She was also a very lovely person and a focused and generous employee.  A few times I went out with her and her friends and I realized that she was used to being responded to in a particular way which I certainly wasn’t used to at all.  If she felt stigmatized because of her cultural heritage, she certainly never expressed it to me or let it slow her down.  She went on to become an airline hostess.  And I’m certain that, until March this year, she was very successful.

I don’t pretend that I have a hard life.  I certainly don’t.  But it’s interesting to reflect on the different layers of privilege in society.  It is undoubtedly true that within every minority group there are masses of smaller minority groups formed of the privileges that are less talked about.   Honestly,  it’s as complex as our nervous system, all these bizarre things that humans invent to separate out the lucky from the not so lucky.

Beauty may only be skin-deep but then, so are all the other esoteric things on which privilege depends.

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