I have been thinking about this issue for a long time but a few things have pulled it into sharp focus recently.
First, if you have not heard about the work being done by Jennifer Tress – who turned her cheating husband’s insult (“you’re not pretty enough”) into a positive body image movement – then you have not been trolling popular media much. Her book and website focus on stories, conversations, videos, and educational materials that help both men and women with this issue. (Talk about resilience! And of course a sweet karmic turn as well.)
Next, I was struck by how many of the materials I received in my breast cancer journey showcased classes and services being offered to help me look and feel pretty after surgery/during treatment for breast cancer. One forum has a way for people to donate makeup that they share (with women I assume but I suppose I should not make that assumption, especially since Rue Paul’s Drag Race is my all-time favorite television show). The American Cancer Society (ACS) has classes offered across the country called Look Good Feel Better. Instinctively everyone seems to understand how looking good impacts feeling good and contributes to overall wellness for those of us dealing with breast cancer.
We do live in a society where looks are important. In fact responding to beauty appears to be hardwired into our DNA.
For example: “The classical interpretation of physical attractiveness was that physical attractiveness is just arbitrary, it's in the eye of the beholder, beauty is skin deep, that kind of stuff. And what research has shown is that that is absolutely wrong. In fact, beauty is the promise of function in terms of the health of the individual, and function in terms of the ability to deal effectively with environments that are hostile – environments of our evolutionary past.”
- Randy Thornhill, interview for the PBS series Evolution, 2001
It’s been shown that people’s perception of whether or not we are attractive even impacts our ability to get jobs and what we are paid in those jobs.
Do I think that being attractive should not matter? Yes, but sadly that is not the way the world works. Do I think that the most important things I am dealing with include my mental health, physical health, relationships and work, and that feeling “pretty enough” is and should be much, much, much lower on the list of my concerns? Yes.
But having said that, it is an issue we do not talk about in mental health that I think has more impact on our lives than we acknowledge. And it is an issue that the breast cancer movement has no problem dealing with.
If our sense of how we appear can affect our confidence – and to some extent our acceptance in the community – then those of us living with mental health issues face unique challenges.