I was a freshman at Williams when I first heard someone say, “Girls at other colleges are so much prettier; girls at Williams just aren’t attractive.” Since then, I have heard this sentiment repeated numerous times in a variety of ways by an array of people. The first time I heard someone say this I laughed, ignored it and went about my life. But then, I started to think about what this broad analysis of the entire female population of Williams could actually mean. One morning, after running from practice to my first class, I finally understood what the comment had meant. In their misguided idea of what constitutes an attractive female, they weren’t remarking on ‘attractiveness,’ but on women at Williams’ lack of makeup.
Makeup seems to be an inconsequential thing to those who don’t know its power. Let’s make it clear: Doing makeup is an art form. If you do a Google search of side-by-side comparisons of models with makeup and without, you’ll see how makeup affects our interpretation of attractiveness. The models without makeup look similar to many Williams women. The women with makeup look as if they’re straight off the runway. So, what’s the difference? They have taken the time to painstakingly apply each layer of primer, foundation, mascara, eye shadow, lipstick – the list goes on. Now, highlight in that last sentence the word time. Here at Williams we are running between classes, labs, practices and meetings with barely a moment for lunch,
let alone time to spend an hour in front of a mirror making ourselves more ‘attractive.’ I will not perpetuate the ‘Williams is superior’ mindset by saying women at other colleges don’t do as much as us, but the reality is that Williams students don’t have much (if any) free time on their hands. While I greatly respect those who do take the time out of their day to apply makeup, it’s not something that should determine someone’s attractiveness at Williams.
Going into Love Your Body Week, I think it is important to remember that how we compare women at Williams to those at other colleges is a matter of perception and, frankly, deception. As brought up by the example above, makeup gives women (and men) the ability to paint contours, highlight certain features and diminish imperfections. While this ‘attractiveness’ may be more enticing to look at, it is unrealistic. Women at Williams have a tendency to crave perfection, and the expectation that they need to be coated in makeup shouldn’t be a bullet point on the long list of things comprising perfection. This pursuit of perfection by women at Williams contributes to negative self-images and extreme pressure that women place upon themselves in every area of their lives. It is impressive then that these same women, who strive so determinedly for the elusive goal of perfection, should choose to go without makeup. This is an empowering move and strikes down some of the negative self-talk associated with chasing perfection. It seems baffling that these same women are chastised by the (overwhelmingly male) community for choosing to go without it. God forbid women at Williams make one sacrifice in their pursuit of perfection that their lack of makeup is perceived as making them lesser than women at other colleges. This article isn’t meant to criticize the polarizing standards for women at Williams, but to provide an insight into how one perception of ‘attractiveness’ is not always reality.
Love Your Body week comes with different connotations for different people, but the resounding message is to accept who you are, inside and out. This acceptance should carry over into expectations that the Williams community sets for women and their level of ‘attractiveness.’ Think about it – when you compliment a friend on how good she looks, are you reinforcing ideas that she has to wear makeup in order to appear attractive? Is your evaluation of her ‘looking good’ based on products on her face? I’m not asking people to stop wearing makeup, and I’m not trying to redefine what is considered attractive. What I do want to do is start a conversation with students at Williams about how our perceptions of attractiveness are shaped and ask, as a community, if we can attempt to look beneath what’s on (or not on) the surface.
Jocelyn Volk ’16 is from Hopewell Junction, N.Y. She lives in Fayerweather.