Beauty is a beast that can burden those who have it and torture those who feel they've drawn the short straw. Even the president is not immune to a lovely lady. He said this about Kamala Harris, Attorney General of California: "You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake," Obama said. "She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country."
Had he been truly careful, he might have quit while he was ahead before tangling with the beast that is beauty. A gaffe it may have been, but it speaks to an ongoing conversation. How, how, how do women win the war on looks when our own commander-in-chief just can't stop himself in choosing to highlight them as well? However well-meaning they might have been, comment like this do not help, especially from a leader of a supposed "free world."
But how free are any of us really when the follow-up to a roster of great attributes ends with a comment about looks?
Obama has his own girls. No doubt he thinks they are beautiful, but what makes them beautiful is the real question.
My communications degree taught me a lot about beauty, our perceptions of it and how much more likely people are to be successful depending on how "beautiful" someone is perceived. It's impossible not to notice what people look like, but the mark of my maturity as an adult has been in reaching far beyond the physical to what is underneath... the spirit, the drive, the pulse of what makes someone tick.
As a parent, I am painfully aware of how I describe and craft my observations of people. I am also very careful in how I tell my children how I see them. I've struggled with the word "beautiful" in describing my own daughter, not because I don't think she is, but because of how are society seems to value physical beauty above other qualities. And now that she is older, we discuss beauty as a living thing -- beauty in a kind gesture, a bright smile, a gentle touch, self-confidence created by working hard, failing and succeeding, studying, reading, striving, pushing. When my daughter hears me say she is beautiful, she understands that I am commenting on something much deeper than a set of physical attributes.
Women everywhere work with what we are given to feel good about themselves, and it should be no secret that self-confidence has way more to do with real beauty than any physical gifts. Our life experiences and intellect combined with education cultivated over time deepens and sharpens that self-confidence. No one in a position such as Kamala Harris gets there without any of those things. While her physical beauty is part of who she is, that Obama felt compelled to name it within the context of his speech is what bothers me.
Because I want more for myself and my daughter than to be chasing the whimsical tail of perceived good looks, I want more from my president whose own girls are watching and listening. I want my president to keep those things to himself and most importantly, focus on the picture that really matters...one in which a brilliant, hard-working, self-confident woman so stunning in her achievements, manner and character that any observation of physical attributes is simply not worth mentioning.
It is only then that all of us, men and women, will really be free from the beast that is physical beauty.