I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for North Korea.
Thousands of people in concentration camps! Fake, empty villages masking widespread famine and disease! State-approved haircuts! How is this even real in 2015? I am equal parts fascinated and horrified by everything I learn about that place.
Today, though, I'm just horrified. And not about North Korea: about the Huffington Post's latest words on the country. The piece (which I'm not going to link, because it's pointless) is a slideshow of North-Korean women with the title: "Photos Of Women In North Korea Show Beauty Crosses All Boundaries."
My audible reaction when I first saw the headline: "So f*cking what?"
As a human with eyes and critical-thinking skills, I can deduce that if life is hard somewhere in the world, women usually suffer the most. Imagine having your period in the middle of a refugee camp...or giving birth in one. Or losing children to starvation or AIDS. And let's not forget everyone's favorite war crime: rape! I can't imagine the women of North Korea are somehow exempt from the extra helping of suffering. So why in the world would this writer waste our time, and this opportunity, on something as trivial as beauty?
Beauty. In this new and mostly awesome wave of feminism, it has become a term of empowerment. "All bodies are beautiful, and all women are beautiful. It doesn't matter how you look or what you wear; don't worry, girlfriend, you're beautiful, too!" The message sounds new, but it still exists within the tired, old framework that beauty equals worth, when it comes to women.
So I ask you today: Why do we all have to be beautiful? What does beauty have to do with anything?
Of all the curious/disturbing/surprising things about women in North Korea, why on earth should any of us give a crap if they are beautiful? Would you ever see a piece like this about the beauty of North Korean men? Or think pieces on how all men are beautiful on the inside as well as the outside? No. Because men haven't been conditioned to crave--need--that kind of affirmation.
It's time to move the conversation in a new direction, away from outer aesthetics altogether. We need to find new ways to lift up women that don't involve telling them they are beautiful. And at the root, we need to stop raising our girls to need reassurance of their attractiveness.
Let's put "beautiful" to bed. Let's embrace more tangible, measurable reasons we are awesome: intelligence, humor, tenacity, strength, creativity. Let's raise our girls on a diet of meaningful words and see what happens.