The Troubling Misuse Of ‘Inner Beauty’ For Those With Non-Standard Attractiveness

When discussing a situation in which a person–almost always a woman–possesses a weight or any other feature that is not attractive by general media standards, supposed critics of body criticism will often use the term “inner beauty.” They will focus on its importance, as well as other non-appearance related aspects, even if the person they’re discussing is absolutely gorgeous. When talking about a model, this rarely happens. Well, unless that model has just donated to charity, wherein she’ll be declared “beautiful inside and out.”

For example, when Jessica Simpson gained weight, all the media’s focus went to that aspect of her life. Then, as she lost weight, everybody started discussing about how “strong” she is and how “driven”–because apparently, if she hadn’t lost weight, she wouldn’t be any of those things. But before weight gain was involved, people primarily just discussed the “chicken of the sea” shenanigan that happened in like 1804.

Can't we get back to the real issues, guys?

Women who do not embody “standard” beauty–that is, looking similarly to those in a typical fashion magazine–are often discussed as though they’re in an entirely different class of person.

At some point, nearly every larger woman I’m friends with has told me that people often say they have a “pretty face” and that they’re “beautiful on the inside,” as though they don’t know this implies they’re not pretty in other ways. Yes, I’m sure some of those people are being genuine: they may actually just be trying to compliment the face or personality and do think the rest is pretty. That said, typically comes out sounding like the opposite of being called a “butterface,” which is equally hurtful.

A couple weeks ago, some guy at a bar told a friend of mine that I had a “pretty face” and “could model parts” of myself, and though he “usually prefers smaller women, she’s interesting.” Apparently, I was supposed to see this as a compliment–this guy decided I was pretty enough for him! Oh my god, lucky me! He normally would think I’m too fat (I’m a size 10) but luckily, those “parts” of me and my personality led to his thinking otherwise. Goodie! Instead, I just started feeling really shitty about myself until I remembered that I didn’t really care all too much. That said, if somebody had said that to me 3 years ago, I would’ve quit eating–obviously, that would be my issue, but having your worth be negatively judged based on particular aspects of your appearance is quite painful.

Look: complimenting somebody is one thing. Here, we regularly call women beautiful and point out when they look absolutely stunning. But those compliments are not accompanied with “…except for her thighs/double chin/face” nor do they come with judgments of the people’s personalities based on their body shapes or clothing sizes.

Treating non-standard attractiveness as though it has to be derived from personality, whereas standard beauty is totally unattached (and, in fact, women of standard beauty often face being called “conceited” or “bitches” for their appearances), will lead to an even greater divide. Connecting outward appearances to inner goodness is never a good idea–it just leads to even more books being judged by their covers. Instead of making a variety of appearances seen as beautiful, it creates subclasses of beauty to be treated as more or less significant than others.

Photos: 20th Century Fox, Worth1000.

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    • Eve

      You hit the nail right smack on the head! This is a definite trend and it’s always bothered me, I just couldn’t articulate it. When people say things like “He likes big girls because he’s not shallow and he doesn’t care about appearances,” it’s like, um, no, maybe he thinks fat girls are sexy and he only cares about their looks. The idea that fat women can simply be beautiful, as in outwardly, as in skin-deep, still seems beyond some people and that’s just absurd.

    • Guest

      this is absolutely true, and the sad part is, those of us who fall into the category of “bigger girls” inevitably end of up being brain washed! totally subconsciously I always find myself wondering why someone likes me, or doubting they find me attractive because I just assume it couldn’t be true, and THAT is really sad.

    • Benita

      Stuff like this will continue until women are allowed to be unattractive. Yes, I mean that. Not everyone is beautiful nor should we be coddled and told that we are. Women shouldn’t feel that they are owed beauty nor that they have to be beautiful, when that goes away maybe the world will be a slightly better place for us.

      • Tania

        That is, unfortunately, true. Everyone is always focused on telling little girls how pretty they look, instead of how well they do at whatever, which is, in the long run, way more important than how someone looks. Yes, being reasonably attractive can/does help with certain things (the studies that show attractive people earn more), but that doesn’t mean actual accomplishments count for nothing. I’d rather be an ugly genius than a beautiful asshole.

    • Jade

      It is assumed that all women WANT to be beautiful and sexy, ‘oh that
      poor ugly woman, we’ll tell her she has inner beauty to make her feel
      better’. When society can deal with women who are not beautiful, and
      accept their merit without without it being attached to the word beauty
      (inner or otherwise) maybe then, women will finally be able to start

    • Nat

      This is something I grew up with, I’ve always been a smaller/athletic body type and my older sister is very overweight. She struggles with her weight, primarily because it has caused some health problems recently, but she’s always been confident about her appearances and I’ve always thought she was one of the prettiest woman I know (a little biased, but still). Anyway, I grew up my whole life with people suggesting or asking my sister how it will feel when I get married first, being SHOCKED when I tell them my sister has a new boyfriend, and people saying stuff such as “well, I’m sure she has a great personality”, “you like to run, why don’t you just get her to lose weight”, “she has such pretty features, it’s a shame she doesn’t take after your mom (who is skinny) and not your dad (who is overweight)”. And it really hurts. Because I am suppose to agree with these people. But I don’t. She’s happy with the way she looks, so everyone else should be as well. Her recent motivation to lose weight has nothing to do with appearances, yet every time someone notices she’s been trying, they say something like “oh! you’ll look so great!” implying she doesn’t now. So that’s shitty. But I think the real kicker is my mom asking me the other day if her boyfriend thought she was pretty. I said, yes why wouldn’t he? And my mom said, well, usually boys don’t really like big girls, so I worry.
      My own mom.

      • The Denise Smith

        That’s such a shame. I’m a very large girl and though my parents are concerned about my weight, it is because of health. It’s a shame that your sister cannot count on your mom to think she’s beautiful no matter her size. Well, maybe she does, but she worries that others don’t. Good for you for being supportive and loving to your sister. I’m sure that’s one of the many reasons why she loves you.

    • Lizzie

      I don’t really expect philosophy from The Gloss (I usually just click on the articles that look entertaining) but this was definitely smart/thought-provoking.

    • MR

      This is a good article. You know my view on women starving themselves. But for me, the key moment in the film is when Hal sees the kids in the Burn Ward as they actually are. Yeah, he’s not so shallow after all.

    • Person

      What’s also annoying about this phenomenon is, ugly women are expected to be nice. Extra nice. We’re supposed to compensate by going the extra mile (or 10) out of our way for everyone else. We’re supposed to be pleasant doormats, who do just about everything to please everyone. Otherwise, we’re not worthy of being liked — or even being acknowledged.

      Why should it be that, if you’re not a supermodel, you’re expected to be everyone else’s happy-to-serve slave?

      To be honest, I’m an ugly woman, and I acknowledge that. I also don’t have “inner beauty,” because I don’t go around acting like an enthustastic doormat for everyone to use and abuse. I can’t speak for other ugly women, but I’d rather be alone with dignity than be a popular, hollow laughingstock.

      • The Denise Smith

        Inner beauty isn’t just about being a doormat. confidence and bearing are also a part of it. I’m a fatty, like a major fatty, but I don’t let people use and abuse me. However, I would like to think that I have inner-beauty because I stand up for what I believe it and, for the most part, I’m a nice person. However, I’m not going to waste my energy on a complete jack-hole. People can mock me and call me names and I’m not just going to take it. I take the famous Dr. Suess quote to heart, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

      • Jade

        whoever you are, this post made my day, good for you.

    • Isana Leshchinskaya

      my issue with shallow hal is that with the curse, he still is seeing a beautiful woman and that is what he goes after. it’s not like all the gorgeous ladies with rotten personalities in the film have suddenly turned into old ugly hags. he is still superficial. the curse has not made him see only inner beauty. it’s a physical manifestation of goodness that still translates to his eyes as a hot chick.

      • Lauren Lever

        One of the chicks who was “hot” in real life was actually a hag in the movie, but it was only one instance, and she was a really bad person.

      • Francesca L. Cimino

        not that i think shallow hal is a revolutionary masterpiece, but have you even see it? the point of the curse was that hal was indeed so hopelessly shallow before that he never would have valued inner beauty without being tricked into it; the story would’ve gone nowhere if gwyneth paltrow appeared overweight to him from the start because he never would have approached her. and it’s not like the movie ended with her being magically made thin once he admitted to her that he loved her for her inner beauty, she stays overweight. he would have been shallow if he stayed away from her once he learned the truth.

    • The Denise Smith

      I, myself, am a very large woman (not like 8 feet tall large, but circumference of the earth large). I’d like to think that I have great inner beauty but the fact is, I’ve known a lot of big girls (some of whom were smaller than me yet still considered large) who just plain suck as human beings. I’ve known a lot of sweetheart thin girls. Self-esteem can effect the whole nice-to-people thing but I agree with this article’s assessment 100% because inner beauty has nothing to do with outer beauty.

    • Christine

      I think that it is not just about large women being squeezed into an “inner beauty” stereotype; thin beautiful women are victims as well. The article mentioned that thin beautiful women are, in fact, preconceived as “bitches” and “conceited.” I’d like to add that thin beautiful women are also preconceived to be “dumb” and “easy.”
      My point is that all types of women; no matter fat, skinny, ugly, or beautiful…all suffer and are all victims.
      Perhaps the best thing is to not care what men think. Heck, some still believe we belong in the kitchen or that we should be submissive. I still hope to see a female president before I die.
      However, one thing that I do think women should work on is to work together and not relentlessly judge each other. We are wired to gossip, to vent, and to talk about our feelings about that “skinny bitch at the gym” or that “girl who’s not even that pretty” with our girlfriends. Perhaps if we stop caring about other women’s looks and stop turning it all into a competition, we could all become better. It’s not a beauty contest, after all, and I truly do believe that “women could rule the world if [we] didn’t hate each other so much.”