There’s a song which still occasionally gets air-time on the radio and which makes me so angry I always switch the station. It’s the most blatant expression of an attitude that makes me want to punch everything in sight. The song? “Beautiful” by One Direction. The reason for my anger? This stupid fetishizing of women with low self-esteem.
Encapsulating the message of this song and others like it (“Just the Way You Are” and “Treasure,” both by Bruno Mars, spring to mind) is the line “You don’t know you’re beautiful/That’s what makes you beautiful.”
I mean what the actual fuck. This is some bullshit right here. The underlying premise is that there is a certain knowledge that the singer has about this woman which she herself doesn’t have, i.e., how wonderful, beautiful, etc., she is. He tells her she is all of these things but also that he is in fact attracted to her because she doesn’t believe these things about herself. There’s power in this knowledge and he is keeping that power for himself. She needs him in her life or else she’d lose this special something that he sees in her and she can’t see for herself. It’s so gross. He’s posing as a person saving her from her low self-esteem but all he’s doing is giving her a boost, a shot of approval that only he provides, guaranteeing she’ll come back for more. After all it is precisely her bad self-image which he claims is attractive.
Why would you write songs which hold up low self-esteem as desirable? When you’re describing a woman you’re supposedly in love with, why would you go on and on about how she doesn’t see any of her own good qualities?
I should hope that a normal person would want to be with a partner who had some measure of confidence, some self-respect, a fairly good assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses. A normal person wouldn’t want to have to constantly assure their partner that he or she really actually was worth being with.
But for some reason, the men singing these songs seem to be getting off on revealing heretofore unknown good qualities about their ladies with low self-esteem. Why? Why is this? Do they want someone who will unquestioningly adore them and tell the all the time “I’m so incredibly lucky to be with you!”? Do they want someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to be treated well, so that they’ll be grateful for any little thing these guys do? This is such classic manipulative bullshit, and it’s horrifying to think that millions of teenage girls are being told by their musical idols, “Hey, it’s attractive to have very little self-worth!”
Because do you know what happens when someone with very low self-esteem gets in a relationship with a manipulator who is the only person telling them they’re beautiful? That situation can turn downright abusive and ugly. Bruno Mars and One Direction are saying things that predators say. They’re spouting the exact same sort of thing that makes a vulnerable person addicted to their abuser’s manipulation. And that’s not something any woman should get used to hearing.