Who’s heard One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”? Everyone who’s turned on a radio or been subjected to someone else’s in the past year, your hands should be up. For those of you not intimately familiar with the lyrical prowess of this artistic masterpiece, it includes such confessions as: “The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed.” Oh yeah–they went there. Heavy stuff.
For real though, let’s talk about this song. Specifically the final message of the piece: “You don’t know you’re beautiful. That’s what makes you beautiful.” Umm…really? The person to whom the song is directed (presumably a young woman) is described as shy and she “smile[s] at the ground.” Her beauty comes from her immense modesty and even insecurity, the implication being that if she were aware of these things, she would be less attractive. Hmmm. I feel similarly about Orianthi’s “According to You”, which is all about deriving a sense of worth and attractiveness from another person (read: a man telling a woman that she’s good enough).
These examples follow a long tradition of popular media that perpetuate the notion that women must be attractive, but excessively modest. Beauty is presented as external attributes combined with self-conscious body language. (I’m telling you, people, these numbers rank up there with Beethoven’s 5th). Everywhere are messages telling us–especially women–to be more self-critical, to rely more on other people for validation, rather than developing our own senses of pride and accomplishment. Where are the songs that extol self-confidence and self-sufficiency? Confirming one’s own wondrousness, whether or not one has a date? When these songs do appear, they often still rely on someone else’s gaze i.e. “You hurt me and now I’m finally coming back to show you how much better I am alone” (aka Kelly Clarkson’s go-to song). What if you’re always straight up fantastic?
On the flip side, if these songs help some people feel better about themselves, that’s great. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is…my #1 hit (which will, of course, debut at the top of the charts) will be called “I’m fucking fabulous and y’all besta deal with that.” It’s time for everyone to rock their own marvelousness without fear.