The Daily Mail published an article this week by Samantha Brick, called, “There are Downsides to Looking This Pretty: Why Women Hate Me for Being Beautiful.”
Problem is, according to a preponderance of opinion, Samantha’s not all that beautiful. Several commenters thought that this was an Onion article (as did I), or that it was an April fools joke.
Samantha’s article has gone viral, and elicited over 5,000 overwhelmingly hostile comments on the Daily Mail site. Many focused on how she was “ugly on the inside,” smug, and shallow.
Samantha’s become the global butt of her own joke—a joke she didn’t intend to make.
If I were writing Samantha’s personal ad, I guess I’d describe her as “reasonably good looking.” Judging from her clothing, hair style, and make up, it seems like she’s aspiring after beauty, as a type.
She might be that “nice girl” in the office who’d be a comfortable mark for sexual banter or flirtation, because she's neither dauntingly beautiful nor deterringly unbeautiful. Samantha looks like she inhabits that sweet spot of flirtation accessibility—not too beautiful; not too unattractive.
Later, when I looked at Samantha’s photos again, she reminded me of those women on the email “pop-up” ads for continuing education or refinancing, the stunt women for middle-aged suburban moms.
In any case, Samantha sees herself differently, as an ambassador from the realm of the beautiful to the realm of the average.
She feels that her beauty makes women jealous. She’s not wrong in that generic conclusion, I don’t think, although maybe she’s not the right messenger for it.
The green monster of jealousy really is out there, and it’s a covertly destructive undertow in many a female friendship. But most enlightened women I know would rather call their feelings or hostility anything else but “jealousy.” Only the brave and truly self-confident confess it openly—and, happily, they dispel the jealous feeling in the process of just confessing it. In my experience, female jealousy festers when it’s unspoken and hidden. Once spoken, though, it becomes a puny obstacle than can even be laughed about.
Feminists in the 1970s talked about jealousy more constructively than Samantha. They saw it as a corrosive by-product of what was then quaintly called “sexism.” Men looked at women as sex objects, and rewarded them accordingly, and because women who could play the game got rewarded, they’d get mired in demeaning competition with other women. Sort of like gladiators, forced into combat. Feminists saw sexism as the puppeteer behind the scenes, moving women this way and that. There was a prior, and more real, problem—of men and women—lurking behind beauty and jealousy.
Now the action is more intra-mural. It’s not the pink team v. the blue team, but “pink on pink” aggression.
Rather than go after the wellsprings of female jealousy—the idea that our worth inheres in attention from men for our beauty, or the notion that women should compete over the resource of men's attention, or that shallow, static notions of beauty are indeed the sources of sexiness, charm, or worth—women instead turn on each other, often savagely, and perceive other women to be their enemies and detractors.
Female jealousy deserves attention, but Samantha’s article feels more like a mortifying Freudian slip, a moment that reveals a deeper truth while it intended to say something else.
That deeper truth, of course, is Samantha's own delusional structure. A “delusion” isn’t the same as “self-esteem.” A person with self-esteem has a realistic, positive sense of worth, but a person with a delusion can’t gauge their capacities and shortcomings realistically.
Nor is it a delusion that Samantha herself thinks she’s beautiful. A brilliant friend of mine who knows plenty about psychiatry clarifies, “her delusion is not that she is beautiful. She fully has the right to feel that about herself. But to assume that all others share her view is delusional.”
Samantha’s delusion of other people’s perception of her beauty is like an explanatory idee fixe for her. It’s apparently the tool that she uses to explain social deficits and problems. In a situation where a person with healthy self-esteem might ask themselves tough questions: how come I don’t have close girlfriends? Why do people ice me out when I talk? Samantha deploys the catch-all beauty explanation instead.
Samantha says that she has evidence of her beauty. At each step on this evidentiary trail, alternative explanations come to mind. The saddest moment, for me, is when she comments about her girlfriends: "most poignantly of all, not one girlfriend has ever asked me to be her bridesmaid. You'd think we women would applaud each other for taking pride in our appearances."
Underneath this bravura about beauty is a woman who didn’t get invited to a bridal party. As a mother, that makes me feel sad. Of course, so many personality-based reasons come to mind as to why her girlfriends wouldn’t ask her to be a bridesmaid. And is she really implying that the selection of a bridesmaid is based on who looks the prettiest—or who won’t out-beautiful the bride?
Samantha’s other evidence for the downside of beauty is almost too wincingly revelatory of non-jealousy-based explanations to share (i.e., a “chill” descends when you open your mouth at a dinner party, because (a) you’re too darn beautiful or, (b), (c), (d), because you’re annoying, self-absorbed, and trivial…?).
Anyway, Samantha made this Freudian slip on the page.
Then, the Trolls descended.
Samantha has called this the “worst 24 hours of my life.”
I can imagine. Let’s say you’ve gone through your life believing one thing about yourself—that you’re funny, for example—and you write an article about that, and over 5,000 people unravel the entire delusional fabric that has held your life together, that explained so much of your life.
And they perform this epic psychological de-pantsing in the most public fashion imaginable.
It would have to feel as if you now needed to reconstruct yourself from the rubble of a tornado.
Why are people so outraged about Samantha’s delusion, anyway? Does it really offend them that much?
I’m not buying Samantha’s explanation, that the hostile comments only “prove her point.”
They may prove a point, but not the one she wants proven, because a preponderance of people find her, plausibly, not to be all that stunning. Now, if Trolls were lashing out about an article on the travails of beauty written by Angelina Jolie, I might concede the point.
In this case—and for the first and hopefully the last time in my life—I have to side a small bit with the Trolls. I believe that the seething take-down of Samantha’s delusion of sexual grandeur has to do with defending our own power, and prerogative, to have our own subjectivity and subjective judgments about people.
Essentially, what Samantha does in presuming that everyone sees her as beautiful is to deprive every one of us—every one of us who’s met her, or who’s read her article—of our most basic powers of observation and discernment, our powers to make our own subjective, intimate judgments as to what and who we find “beautiful” in this world.
I can’t really blame readers for feeling affronted, to have that power taken away. To make things worse, Samantha then builds a delusional structure around her mis-perception of our perception. She vilifies women for a bad reaction that we didn’t have, to a beauty that we didn’t perceive to exist.
That’s narcissism for you.
My brilliant friend continues, those 5,000 people lashed out for every time that a Samantha has cut them off in line, and they’ve said something to her about her bad manners, and she went home thinking she’d been attacked for being Too Pretty, and not because she was a Jerk.
What makes this article more disturbing to me is how much it jibes with the larger momentum toward radically niched political and social worldviews today—let’s call them quasi-delusional in their isolation—where each group of likeminded co-conspirators decides how they want to perceive the world, and then they treat this as reality writ large. Nothing constructive and no teachable moments come from this kind of viewpoint insularity.
I worry that we’ll become a nation of Samanthas, each group nestled into its own self-congratulatory delusion of a world, with other viewpoints neither heard, nor welcomed.
On the other hand, maybe we all need one or two smallish delusions. A delusion is like a fairy tale that we tell ourselves, about ourselves.
But, Samantha, for your replacement delusion—the delusion that you rebuild out of the rubble of this one—could you please keep it to yourself, and leave us out of it?