Approximately eight months ago, I stumbled upon a Ted Talk by a young woman named Charlie Danger entitled: “Pourquoi vous ne vous sentirez jamais la plus belle” (English: Why you will never feel like the most beautiful woman). The TedTalk – given in French – centered around the theme of this seemingly innate urge women feel to compare themselves to other women and compete for beauty and male attraction. 

Only two minutes in, I was hooked. I immediately identified with this sensation of always wanting to be the most beautiful girl in the room without really knowing why I felt this way. I mean, I’m certainly conscious of the fact that beauty does not define my worth or success. 

Nevertheless, it’s hard to survive, let alone exist, in a society that places so much unnecessary importance on looks – especially when it comes to femininity and the male gaze.

Charlie Danger – the young woman giving the captivating TedTalk – is a French archeologist and historian. She is most well-known for her YouTube channel, Les Revues du Monde. With over 600,000 subscribers, Danger has quite a following. Her passion for history has allowed her to explore unconventional topics that answer quite a bit of questions. At least for myself, the premise of her TedTalk was refreshing and meaningful. It discussed a phenomenon that we would otherwise ignore or lackadaisically brush off. 

Female rivalry exists. In order to better understand why this continues to occur in the modern world, we have to first turn to the past for some clarity.

So let’s get into it. . .

Danger begins the TedTalk by talking about how she found herself spending half an hour scrolling through a beautiful woman’s Instagram page one morning. She says she felt unsettled and uneasy for some reason. There is a voice in her head whispering, “Wow, look how much better she is than you!”

Yet this voice is merely making an assumption based on appearance!

So why do we get this way? Why do we feel this need to compare ourselves to other women? And why do we automatically assume that beautiful women and beautiful people, in general, are happier and better off?

That morning, Danger decided to conduct a study on this phenomenon. She started to look at the followers of other female influencers (conventionally beautiful female influencers). Danger realized that the large majority of these followers were female, not male. Weird, right? Because wouldn’t you assume that a “beautiful” female influencer would garner more heterosexual male followers?

Danger even discovered that social media sites like Instagram increase the risk of depression in women. These sites also diminish self-confidence. No surprise there.

At this point in the Ted Talk, Danger begins to talk about the concept of “female rivalry.” She describes female rivalry as a subconscious or internalized fear of being supplanted by or outshined by another woman. This concept is valid in both the professional and personal sphere and focuses most predominantly on beauty.

So let’s look at some biological reasons for this internalized sensation:

Let’s face it; for the past hundreds and thousands of years, women have had to essentially rely on their male partners in order to obtain any sort of social status. Don’t forget that the majority of the women on the planet gained the right to vote just in the past century. Therefore, in all that time before then, they depended on men. Whether they needed permission to go out, work, have a credit card, etc. 

That being said, in order to gain as much of a place as you could in society, you needed a husband. And in order to be chosen by a husband with more security and stability, you had to outdo other women. And in order to outdo other women, you had to have qualities that were considered attractive to and valued by males. It just so happens that the most important trait in a female partner, according to a man, is looks.

Once again, no surprise there.

All of this means that attractive women would essentially have the upper hand. Furthermore, a woman considered attractive according to the traits valued by men would then receive more hostility from her female counterparts. These women are in biological competition for a male partner. Being beautiful means securing yourself a stable future.

This helps explain why female rivalry has become especially fixated on beauty: because of our history. However, it is WRONG to say that women are genetically programmed to be jealous of each other.

This phenomenon does not mean that women are more superficial than men by nature – NO. All it means is that we have had to put more value into certain qualities in order to obtain a place in society over the course of human history. 

And this biological factor helps explain why we have this internalized need to attract men and therefore put ourselves in competition with other women. 

But then, Charlie Danger goes into the “Instagram effect.” She describes this as our natural response to conventionally beautiful women. We automatically feel this female rivalry and want to be more attractive than all other women. Instagram and social media sites do an amazing job of perpetuating and feeding this kind of sensation.

But is being beautiful really all that great?

According to certain studies, beauty is not only an advantage with regard to men. It can also be advantageous in terms of employment opportunities, school, and even before the law. In fact, juries tend to judge attractive individuals more favorably. 

It seems that we associate beauty with a bunch of other qualities that are not actually connected with beauty at all. Traits like intelligence, kindness, and even our physical health have become linked with being beautiful.

Plus, we live in a society that is CONSTANTLY reminding us of how great and cool it is to be attractive. So naturally, we are going to internalize this association between beauty and success.

Let’s not forget, however, that this society we live in is a patriarchal society. Despite this fact, we seem to have accepted this mindset as “neutral.” We accept the conditions and standards of beauty that society feeds us even though these standards have been put in place by the patriarchy. This phenomenon explains how women have internalized the male gaze and subsequently view it as their own.

We try to appease this gaze without even realizing it. We don’t question our actions or priorities because we have internalized this desire for unattainable beauty. And we have done so believing foolishly that it is the strongest marker of worth and value in this world.

To help the audience understand her argument, Danger uses waxing as an example.

“Imagine you had never seen an image (in media, advertisements, etc.) of a woman without body hair. Imagine that all the women in your everyday life still had their body hair (underarm, leg hair, etc.). In this circumstance, do you think that you would spontaneously have the idea of waxing or shaving your body hair?”

Charlie Danger

Well, probably not. If no one had ever shown you otherwise, why would you put yourself through such pain and discomfort?

Waxing has become so normalized that we literally imagine a woman as waxed or shaved. Think about this: is waxing any more different from other practices like Chinese foot binding?

Charlie Danger then brings up the complexities of the modern world. She notes that with the world becoming more interconnected, we are exposed to much more potentially toxic imagery. Phones, the Internet, social media, and advertisements are constantly spewing out representations of what is considered “ideal beauty.” More specifically, they focus on what the Western world defines as the ideal beauty.  

Moreover, now we have photoshop, plastic surgery, and many other cosmetic practices designed to help us achieve the “ideal body.” This concept of ideal beauty is not normal.

When concluding her TedTalk, Danger brings up an interesting contradiction. You see, while society is constantly telling us how beautiful we need to be, we don’t actually say we feel beautiful. Women tend to avoid openly expressing their beauty and self-love. We tend to devalue our looks and outwardly make negative comments about our appearance. And we do this most commonly in front of other women. Our sole intention in these instances is often getting a compliment or reinforcer from a friend that we are, in fact, beautiful.

Why do we devalue our own beauty? Why do we openly put ourselves down when we know that this isn’t right? Is there a way to escape this internalized male gaze? How do we escape the confines of the patriarchy?

My goodness, that’s a lot to think about. Well, Charlie Danger’s solution is to practice social contagion. She believes that we should show more representations of women who don’t fit this cookie-cutter definition of “ideal beauty.” If even just one person goes against the norm, we will wind up following their lead. Eventually, the norm will fade away, thus concluding the concept of social contagion.

Danger says that it only takes one brave person to break free from the confines of the patriarchy and show the rest of us to embrace our true beauty. Women can choose. They shouldn’t have to feel obligated to adhere to unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards. Women shouldn’t have to compete with other women for male attention. Women shouldn’t be competing with each other at all! 

When I finished watching Charlie Danger’s TedTalk for the first time, I felt relieved. I was ready to explore my own personal beauty, both inside and out. I am constantly reminded of the social pressures placed on me as a female. Nevertheless, I am excited when women around me go against these norms. I realized that I look up to women who are confident, beautiful, and strong in their own way.

I don’t want to be a mirror image of the latest supermodel. Instead, I want to shine for who I am, not for who I am supposed to be.

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