Why Is The Conversation About Caitlyn Jenner All About Beauty?

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

She’s wanted to be a woman, and felt like one, for most of her adult life, and yet her opening move to introduce her new self to the public is to pose on a magazine cover, all glammed up.

I’m not demeaning her journey. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be born into a male body when you feel like that’s not what you are, and I have tremendous compassion for everyone who is going through this. But in a culture that makes it so hard for us ordinary women to feel like we’re not “less than” because of the barrage of images that stare back at us all day from television, movies, music videos and magazine covers, it’s frustrating that this is how she chose to express her newfound womanhood.

Everyone is congratulating her on her bravery for coming out, which is important, echoed by Laverne Cox in a recent blog post. But as Cox points out, and what I have been feeling too, is that the chorus of voices in social media and elsewhere are all preaching the glories of how beautiful she looks, as if this is what matters, and this is what makes her a woman. If it’s an authentic life she’s been in search of all this time, I don’t think it’s to be found on the cover of Vanity Fair.

I don’t think the lighting, the makeup, the Photoshopping and the talents of celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz make for authenticity. Yes, Leibovitz is famous for her incredible portraits of celebrities, and her camera has often found the essence of the person even in a formal studio shoot: Bette Midler in roses. John Lennon naked, wrapped around a clothed Yoko Ono. Tina Fey, glammed up in a short party dress and high heels, still dancing and making faces.

But this photo, perfect as it is, doesn’t tell us anything about Caitlyn, except that she’s succumbed to an illusion of womanhood that we non-celebrities can’t live up to. Why? Because it isn’t real. If it’s authenticity she’s after, she hasn’t found it yet.

I’ve never worn a bustier or a corset, and I’m 100 percent woman. (“You feel like 100 percent woman to me,” my husband adds helpfully.) I don’t like high heels. I’m a jeans-wearing, sneaker-loving woman who doesn’t wear lipstick but feels like a woman every day just the same.

But that’s just me. Women are all different, of course. But the women among us who are not celebrities or models don’t get to look absolutely perfect, frozen in a pose that shows off our best physical qualities. We wear clothes we can walk around in, and work in, and play in, and live in. And I’m not an expert on the transgender population, but my guess is that they desire to live authentic lives as the people they are, trapped inside the bodies that are wrong for them, and that their struggle to find them has to be found in the everyday. Clothes you can buy at Old Navy, maybe, or H&M. You can still be a woman in shorts and a T-shirt. And being a woman is much more than how you look.

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