Is being 'beautiful' a sign of privilege?



Is having good skin a sign of your privilege? It’s a question that made headlines earlier this week when activist Jameela Jamil responded to a comment from a follower complimenting her skin. @Tinselytina wrote adoringly “Your skin is so perfect” under a recent Instagram post, and instead of a simple thanks, Jameela responded by highlighting her own privilege. “My skin is currently clear because privileged people have more access to good quality nutrition and also our lives are significantly less stressful than the lives of those with less privilege. I also get to sleep more because of this. All of these things keep my hormones in balance and I’m able to address food intolerances easily,” she wrote.

Twitter users were quick to accuse her of humble-bragging and centring herself in a rather condescending way, but regardless of whether Jameela’s response was appropriate or not, the question remains – how much of our ability to look, and feel, good comes down to our level of privilege?

Memes circulating on Instagram would suggest that privilege is central to achieving today’s standards of beauty. The popular memes show before and after photos of celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid, with the caption, “You’re not ugly, you’re just poor”, supposedly referring to the money each celebrity has spent on altering their appearance through aesthetic procedures. Invasive surgeries like rhinoplasty (nose jobs), breast augmentation and jaw reshaping can easily cost upwards of £50,000 in total – and that’s before you factor in the ongoing non-surgical treatments like dermal fillers, laser hair removal, Botox, fat freezing, facials and brow treatments.

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“I have patients who have spent over £10,000 on treatments in one day,” says Dr Michael Prager, renowned aesthetic doctor. “For those who rely on regular treatments like Botox and fillers to maintain an altered appearance, for example if the shape of their face has been altered with fillers, it can add up to a significant amount of money over a number of years.”

Aside from the expensive facial treatments available, good skin is also a matter of nutrition and lifestyle. Low income families are more likely to have a diet lower in fresh fruit and vegetables and higher in sugar and processed foods – all of which contribute to inflammatory skin conditions like acne and rosacea.

It’s not just how we look that can depend on how much disposable income we have – it’s our sense of wellbeing too. Juice detoxes and spa retreats are very much a pastime of the privileged, but so are the everyday occurrences like access to fresh air, daily moments of relaxation and of course, sleep – things many of us take for granted. A good night’s sleep is pivotal to overall health, including skin health. Lower income individuals are more likely to have a job that involves shift work, which can disrupt our natural circadian rhythms and can result in hormonal imbalances, to mental health issues, to weight gain, to a compromised immune system. “While you sleep, your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting substances like antibodies and cytokines. It uses these substances to combat foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses,” explains Dr Sue Peacock, consultant health psychologist.

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“Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up its forces. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may not be able to fend off invaders, and it may also take you longer to recover from illness.” Plus, less privileged people are more likely to live near major pollution sources like industrial estates and big cities, as well as less likely to have access to green spaces with high rise housing and accommodation with no garden – which can affect physical and mental health.

Of course, being poor doesn’t by default make you less beautiful. What is defined as beautiful by today’s standards is very much luck of the draw, with your facial features almost entirely determined by your genetics. But, all things considered, it does seem a hell of a lot easier to ‘improve’ the way you look – and feel – if you have money to do so. But you really don’t have to rub it in, Jameela…



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