Why I don’t like One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” a feminist perspective.

The other day my sister asked me why I felt the need to break my arm lunging to change the radio station when What Makes You Beautiful came on. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. It’s wasn’t just because they were a boy band, or because I had already heard the song enough times to fill a lifetime, or because I’m just not into this particular type of music, but something else. I figured out why. It’s the lyrics.

I’m only going to put in about half of the song. I think that’ll be enough. The song is about this guy singing to this girl about how beautiful she is.

You’re insecure
Don’t know what for
You’re turning heads when you walk through the door
Don’t need make up
To cover up
Being the way that you are is enough

Everyone else in the room can see it
Everyone else but you

Let’s start here, focusing on the first few lines. You’re insecure/Don’t know what for. I do. She’s insecure because she’s been bombarded with media and images of beautiful, perfect,¬†unattainable¬†women; women from television shows and movies and billboards and magazines, and she feels like she doesn’t compare. She can’t compare. She’s in high school (presumably). Those years can be the shittiest in life. Her breasts aren’t big enough, her lips are plump enough, her eyebrows aren’t waxed enough, her butt is too small or too big. When she looks in the mirror she doesn’t see the beautiful young lady she is, she sees the love handles on her hips, and the gap in her teeth, and her eyes are too far apart, and her scrawny legs. She doesn’t see the girl you see, because women aren’t supposed to. To know you are beautiful is to be full of yourself, or too confident, stuck up, conceited.

But also, perhaps she is insecure not about her beauty, or her weight, but we can conceive that perhaps she feels inadequate for other reasons, such as she doesn’t have as many friends as she would like, she doesn’t feel smart enough, she hasn’t been to a party, she secretly doesn’t want to drive, or rebel, like all of her other friends do and so in that way she feels like she is an outsider, etc. There are other reasons to be insecure besides beauty.

[Chorus]

Baby you light up my world like nobody else
The way that you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed
But when you smile at the ground it aint hard to tell
You don’t know
Oh Oh
You don’t know you’re beautiful

Let’s be honest here, she could be faking that hair flip and coy glance downwards. Whoever this little girl out there is, no offense to you, but it is a possibility.

If only you saw what I can see
You’ll understand why I want you so desperately
Right now I’m looking at you and I can’t believe
You don’t know
Oh oh
You don’t know you’re beautiful
Oh oh
That what makes you beautiful

But wait, a minute ago you were saying how she shouldn’t be insecure, but it is that insecurity that you like? That’s what makes her beautiful? That is exactly what I just said up above in my very first paragraph. Girls aren’t supposed to be confident. They’re not supposed to know they’re beautiful. We like them insecure. We like them anxious. It makes girls “cute” and “delicate” or some other bullshit like that.

So c-come on
You got it wrong
To prove I’m right I put it in a so-o-ong
I don’t know why
You’re being shy
And turn away when I look into your eyes

Everyone else in the room can see it
Everyone else but you

Well, I just told you why. Or maybe she’s just shy. Maybe she likes you and is embarrassed. Maybe she grew up in a family that never taught her the skills to look people dead in the eye when they talk.

There’s basically no new lyrics after this point in the song. It just repeats itself a few times before ultimately coming to a final and complete end.

I just don’t really understand the song. Yeah, boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl is beautiful, boy sings about girl…. but then he sings about her beauty, she doesn’t realize her own beauty, that’s why he likes her, and then he wants her to own her beauty? The logic doesn’t quite follow.

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You are Beautiful. Really Truly.

You are beautiful.

You are worthwhile.

You are perfect.

You’re not too fat. You’re not too skinny. You’re not too blonde. You’re not too brown. You’re not too pale. You’re not ugly.
Your freckles are cute.

You’re nose is not too big. Your lips are not too thin. Your hair is not too flat, or too bushy, or straight or frizzy or curly.

I’d bet money your eyes are fricken glorious.

Your breasts are not too small. Your pecks are not too flat. Your arms are not too flabby. Your butt is not too big. Your eyelashes are fine the way they are. Your cheeks are like glow-in-the-dark roses. Your smile is not too dull; it’s brilliant. Your eyelids look fantastic flesh-colored.

Your skin is perfect. Your dark spots don’t contract from your beauty. Your acne doesn’t reflect your character. Your scars don’t detract from your personality. Your imperfections make you interesting.

My skin is not blemish-free. In fact, it’s the worst its ever been in my entire lifetime, including those pesky pubescent years. My skin is… I’ll say it, horrible. So much acne. So many acne scars, pock marks, blotches, and bumps litter the surface of my head you’d think it was the surface of the moon. The doctors I’ve seen say that some of it will clear up in time, some of it with medication, and the rest with lasers.

The first thing I thought when the doctor said lasers was no way. No way, Jose! (Or whatever your name happens to be.) But then I went to visit my family who I hadn’t seen in a year. While there, three people confronted me about my acne. The first was a stranger who asked my how I had scarred my face. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. At first I thought I had somehow unknowingly scratched it on something, like a tree branch. But then the truth slowly dawned on me, and my stomach sunk to my knees. Awkward and uncomfortable silence followed. No one said anything else.

The second person was my grandpa, who just made a comment on it out of concern. The last was my grandmother, bless her good-intentioned heart. That probably made me feel the worst. She had an at-length conversation about it, asking me questions: had I seen a doctor? do I have any medication? what am I doing about it? On and on, turning my face one way and then the other to inspect my cheeks. Oh awkward grandma, how you embarrass me. But I still love you.

It was about at that point I started getting really self-conscious about it. It seemed that on every commercial break was some ad about Proactive, Skin ID, Flawless Finish Foundation, Skin Perfecting something or other. I’ve seen these commercials all my life, it feels, but they’ve never stuck with my like this.

It’s not fun, the feeling of inadequacy. I was seriously considering the lasers.

Well, that was a few months ago, and now I’m back to Screw That. So what if my face isn’t as smooth as a baby’s bottom? Who cares if its not the supple flesh of a summer peach? I’ll tell you who cares: Assholes care.

Girls down at the watering hole giving you the once over? Are their eyes fixating on that giant angry volcano erupting hellfire from your nose? Who cares. Seriously. What does it matter? Some people just need to look down onto other to feel better about themselves.

Don’t worry about it. Does one, or two, or ten zits on your face make you a horrible person? No. Are they going to plaster a giant red Z for zit on your jacket? I don’t think so. Will your zit somehow cause the Earth to line up with the center of the Milky Way Galaxy and start the zombie apocalypse that will kill us all at the end of this year? Dear god, I hope not. Imma say a tentative no. I’ll get back to you on that by New Years.

And if a guy (or girl) is going to dismiss you, stand you up, or diss you because of a few red bumps, then he wasn’t your knight in shining armor to begin with. He was just some punk in an aluminum foil hat.

If people don’t like you for exactly who you are, then they’re not worth being around. Friends are supposed to be there to support one another. If they’re not supporting you, they’re not your friend.

A very wise man once said that he wished we could all judge each other not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our characters. Even though I know Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about something very different, I think the spirit of what he said still holds; I’m just adding another color to the spectrum: red and blotchy.

As for me, I’m not getting the laser treatment. I don’t need it. I don’t care if my face never entirely clears up. I am already beautiful.¬†