(Trans)Women, diversity & the impossible beauty standard

Just a few weeks back this image was ragingly popular across social media, mostly accompanied by thousands of likes and positive, light-hearted comments. I absolutely don’t mean to spoil the party but, I found it interesting that my immediate reaction to it was not one of similar joy or cheerfulness.

So I asked myself why. And got to these conclusions.

If I can say something about this is that I am not sure whether messages like this do trans women justice or not. Of course I appreciate the positive message this is supposed to convey, but I can’t help reflecting on how this is being conveyed.

These women are all incredibly beautiful, they are all to different extents in the mediatic spotlight and many of them are models or actors. These photographs are clearly taken from professional photoshoots which have been created with the help of stylists, make-up artists, professional photographers and digital enhancement programmes. What I’m trying to get at is that the reality for most trans women (just like for most women as they are represented in the media) is that we do not look like this, and many of us, added to the impossible beauty standards imposed upon women in general, also feel the additional burden of having to ‘erase’ our masculine/androgynous features (when we do have them), in order to better fit in and ‘be beautiful’. What all these very beautiful women have, regardless of their open status as trans women, is a form of ‘passing privilege’ for their adherence to western hegemonic beauty standards, which are misleading, restricting and cause a lot of suffering and feelings of inadequacy.

And I am not interested in debating – at least not in this post – whether ‘passing’ is a thing, whether it should be relevant or not to trans people – and trans women in particular. The truth is that ‘passing’, whether one likes the concept or not, affects us ALL (and by us I mean people within the transgender community) in very tangible ways. And we are still judged upon the same old aesthetic standards, with the added burden that, if we fail to pass, we can incur in all sorts of discriminations and it does make our lives harder. What I would like to see would be the real diversity that is present in the community of trans women, because we are all different. I would like to see more pictures of us, not only our ‘public’, ‘media-palatable’ face. And I would like to see a message of positive inclusion or appreciation next to these diverse pictures, which include a wide range of us, with all of us being encouraged to feel confident in our beauty, or that we are somehow desirable, or even just likeable. (discussion on how our perceptions of our own beauty are linked to social appreciation and to the number of people who would potentially date us is sadly material for a different discussion)

And I am saying all of this from a very privileged position myself, which has come after years of painful discrimination as a gender-variant individual. But in my mind, and in my heart, are the looks and hopes of many of my friends who really suffer because of this, who are haunted by feelings of inadequacy all the time.
And I am sick of messages that impose impossible standards on us, intentionally or unintentionally implying that, in order to be accepted, successful or desirable, we need to be flawless, above average, ‘perfect’. This is so damaging on so many levels, this can literally break you. Personally, I’ve been broken by this, and I am still in the process of finding the bits and splinters and trying, with a little patience, to glue it all together again. I really want this to change.

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