(I have been able to relate so much with Janet Mock from her first book redefining Realness, and her second book that i must still read. Her life journey takes me through so many similar situations , Challenges and emotions. a story of a black young Trans woman trying to make it in life by being herself and proving to the world that being trans doesn’t mean i am different and i am unable to do things “Normal”People do, As much as Transitioning In Namibia is expensive and very sensitive issue and i still need to go on my journey of transitioning i can relate so much to her. from the irrelevant term “passing “used by those who can perfectly fit in society without anyone realizing they are trans to those of us who cant “Pass”and as such go through all the stigma .discrimination and violence. Hence i agree that being pretty is a privilege ,Passing is a Privilege and that needs to be acknowledged. )Lets read more…below is her Story Janet Mock my Strength.
I knew very early on that I was not pretty. No one ever called me pretty. It was not the go-to adjective people used to describe me.
Throughout elementary and middle school, I was used to hearing other words: Smart. Studious. Well-spoken. Well-read. They became pillars of my self-confidence, enabling me to build myself up on what I contributed rather than what I looked like.
Yet I was enamored by the pretty girls in class, the popular ones who walked into the room and shifted the gaze of the majority without effort, the ones who won class elections, were crowned Miss and voted Most, and who seemed to collect all the trophies and Valentines. I was equally fascinated by the pretty girls and women who were lauded in my favorite films and TV series as well as the ones who took center stage on MTV.
Pretty girls are not identical, of course, since “pretty” is subjective and means different things for different groups of people. Still, there are shared, agreed-upon commonalities. “Pretty” is most often synonymous with being thin, white, able-bodied, and cis, and the closer you are to those ideals, the more often you will be labeled pretty — and benefit from that prettiness.
As a young trans girl, I wondered what it would be like to be seen not only as a girl but as a pretty girl. Like many teens, I struggled with my body and looks, but my despair was amplified by the expectations of cisnormativity and the gender binary as well as the impossibly high beauty standards that I, and my female peers, measured myself against.
This anguish began to subside as I embarked on my medical transition at 15 when how I saw myself inside began to slowly and steadily reveal itself on my outsides. I began to finally see myself. By 16, others saw my self-image as well, and I began to notice the way people treated me shifted. They no longer stared at my body in confusion. They no longer questioned my gender because I began to present more clearly as a girl — specifically, a cis girl. Suddenly, I was successful at “passing,” blending in with the pretty cis girls in class I had once watched in fascination.
I began living my teenage dream: I was seen and accepted as just another girl. With my gender nonconformity seemingly fading away, I began to attract the attention of 18-to-24-year-old cis guys who began stopping to inform me that I was pretty.
Suddenly, I was let in, and I did nothing to earn the attention my prettiness granted me. I soon saw that people stared and smiled, offered me seats on the bus and drinks in the club, complimented me on my appearance, and held doors open. This was partly how I experienced pretty privilege — the societal advantages, often unearned, that benefit people who are perceived as pretty or considered beautiful.
Pretty privilege can give way to more popularity, higher grades, more positive work reviews, and career advancement. People who are considered pretty are more likely to be hired, have higher salaries, and are less likely to be found guilty and are sentenced less harshly. Pretty people are perceived as smarter, healthier and more competent, and people treat pretty people better. Pretty privilege is also conditional and is not often extended to women who are trans, black and brown, disabled, older, and/or fat.
Being curvy but not plus-size, mixed but not all black, trans but cis-blending, and able-bodied gives me a different experience than many. I am a black and native Hawaiian trans woman (who is often perceived as cis) with brown skin, curly hair, an hourglass size-8 shape. I have symmetrical facial features; a smooth, even complexion; and a white, straight, wide smile. For me, pretty privilege operates in a myriad of ways depending on the spaces I enter, who is in that space, and whether people already know that I am trans.
I remember when I was a teenager and my classmates would praise me by saying, “You don’t even look like a boy anymore,” “You look so real,” or “I can’t even tell” — backhanded compliments that still follow me when someone hears my story. It communicates our culture’s misconception that equates cisness with attractiveness and equates one’s ability to be seen as cis with being seen as attractive — as real.
However, one’s ability to pass should not dictate their attractiveness. This widely held belief is part of the reason why trans actress Laverne Cox started the hashtag #TransIsBeautiful. A trans person can simultaneously not embody cisnormative beauty standards and still be seen as attractive or pretty, and a trans person can align with those cisnormative standards and not be seen as pretty.
Still, my appearance is a conundrum to many, even within my own communities. Trans women like myself, whose transness often goes unchecked, are conditionally granted access and navigate spaces more safely than trans women who do not pass as easily. Being able to blend in is a gateway to survival, but many trans women do not benefit from my passing privilege or my pretty privilege.
It is also important to acknowledge that there are repercussions, too, specifically in spaces of desire. Cis men have often claimed that they were “deceived” or “tricked” by a trans woman who was assumed to be cis and was thereby deserving of the violence she faced. This harmful yet all-too-pervasive belief has gone so far as to be used as defensive arguments in courts across the country, called the “trans panic defense.”
To thoroughly examine this concept, I must also discuss race, which further complicates our lived experiences. I am a mixed black woman who has benefitted from pretty privilege in black and people-of-color spaces (largely where I am not often read as trans) but has also experienced being invisible in predominantly white and mainstream spaces. It has been a common experience to either be completely overlooked in favor of white women who are considered the beauty standard, or to have white folks or nonblack POCs point me out as an “exception” with comments like “You are pretty for a black girl” or “You don’t look fully black.” The message: blackness does not equate to attractiveness, and therefore my mixed-ness puts me higher on the white cis beauty hierarchy than a black woman with parents who are both black.
We should recognize our positionality across all of our intersections and experiences. I am a black trans woman who is invited into spaces largely because of how I present, but for so long, I tried to evade the fact that people saw me as pretty or attractive. And I learned quickly to adapt and play the modesty game because to acknowledge that you are pretty is conceited, and to be conceited is to be unlikable.
Women have been trained to minimize their greatness in an effort to be more likable. We learn that when we are complimented, especially about our looks, we must dismiss the compliment, feign self-deprecation and modesty, undermine our looks and pretend we did absolutely nothing to contribute to them.
I learned to counter a compliment by highlighting a flaw, pointing out something I didn’t like about myself — perhaps a blemish on my forehead or the fact that my symmetry is contoured. But self-deprecation and dismissals will not save us from the fact that we exist in a lookist culture that equates a woman’s attractiveness to her worth. It’s problematic when a pretty person denies they’re pretty, and pretty people must take ownership of the fact that they get special treatment. We do ourselves a disservice by saying looks “don’t matter,” because looks do matter.
Here’s the math: If I did not look the way I do, then I would not be on TV or on two book covers. I would not have a beauty column or an Instagram with more than 100,000 followers. This does not mean that I have not put in work and effort and done my job well, but my beauty is not something that I earned. I did not work for it, yet it has opened doors for me, allowing me to be seen and heard. And for me to pretend that it does not exist denies the ways in which being perceived as pretty has contributed to my success and made the road a bit smoother.
This is not to say pretty people don’t have their own struggles, insecurities, and pressures: having one’s worthiness be defined by how good you look; questioning whether your promotion or invitation was earned based on merit or merely because of your looks; feeling an overwhelming pressure to maintain your attractiveness.
As someone deemed pretty, I have experienced people looking at me but not really listening. I have often gotten the sense that if I serve a look that I am often reduced as someone who cannot contribute anything beyond my beauty. I have been on job interviews and swiftly met with looks from interviewers that said, “A girl that pretty cannot be a hard worker,” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“I mean, being pretty helps…would you not say?” Oprah Winfrey asked me during my interview for Super Soul Sunday in 2015.
“Uh, yeah,” I answered nonchalantly.
“Thank you for saying that,” she said. “I hate it when pretty girls always say, ‘No, it really doesn’t make a difference. You should see my cellulite.’”
“Pretty privilege is real,” I stated.
“Pretty privilege is real, girl!” Oprah repeated as if she had just discovered a new A-Ha!, high-fiving me under her grand oak trees.
I’ve noticed that it’s more acceptable for pretty women to complain about objectification, the male gaze, and the ways in which beauty can undermine intelligence and contribution, but rarely do pretty women complain about — or, rather, acknowledge — the access their prettiness extends to them.
It’s unbecoming to acknowledge your attractiveness, so it creates a silence around pretty privilege that only elevates the competitiveness and divisiveness between women who are told we must compare, compete, and measure up in a lookist culture.
People with privilege do not want to discuss their privilege — whether it’s privilege derived from whiteness, straightness, cisness. But we must acknowledge our privilege if we are to dismantle these systems and hierarchies. We have to be honest, and I’ll start with myself: I am pretty and I benefit from my looks.