From Disney’s Belle to Rory Gilmore, the media has proven time and again that the saying “confidence breeds beauty” is not exactly absolute. The phrase “you don’t know you’re beautiful,” made popular by One Direction, has been perpetuated in entertainment, making it seem as though insecurity is the most attractive trait a woman can have. So why is it that this blatant lack of confidence has become equated with one’s own beauty?
When a woman in the media is unaware of how attractive she is, she is increasingly sought after by men. Countless songs and movies are guilty of this trope, further enforcing the idea that self confidence and beauty are inversely related.
One such example is heard in Mac Miller’s “My Favorite Part,” with the line “You just don’t know how beautiful you are / And baby that’s my favorite part.” Additionally, Laney Boggs from She’s All That is a nerdy outcast who remains blissfully unaware of her “new-found” good looks post-makeover. The reason for this upsetting relationship between attractiveness and confidence is quite simple; men see insecure women as easy to control.
Of course, that’s not to say that confident women are inherently not up to par with the Eurocentric beauty standard.
The media has created an unfortunate number of female characters who fit the “you don’t know you’re beautiful” stereotype. These women are unaware of their good looks — despite being the epitome of Western beauty standards — and come across as naive, innocent, and inexperienced. These traits are exactly what draw the attention of some men. Aside from fulfilling men’s desire for control, the female characters who fit this trope are also seen as “untouched” and “pure.” Men see these women as the perfect target to take advantage of, as their inherent insecurity makes them search for self-worth in someone other than themselves.
Possessiveness is one of the main traits of toxic masculinity and it also fuels the perpetuation of the “you don’t know you’re beautiful” stereotype. A woman who doesn’t realize she’s attractive is completely naive to the world of predatory men around her. This plays into the idea of “staking your claim” on someone and having men feel a sense of pride in knowing that they’re the only person a girl has ever been with.
Women in entertainment who know their own beauty are often slut-shamed and seen as being passed around. This further drives men towards the shy, oblivious types; namely, the girls who are unaware of their beauty. These women are assumed to be sexually pure, which further feeds into this problematic fixation.
Confident women are also often stereotyped as “mean girls” in the media, as if kindness and confidence are mutually exclusive. The awareness of their beauty becomes their only personality trait, making these women appear vain and self-centered compared to those who do not find themselves attractive.
Confidence in one’s own looks, which should be associated with strength and security, is instead equated with loose morals and being easy, further perpetuating the disturbing obsession with insecure women in the media.
Fortunately, not all hope is lost. The increase in sex-positivity and powerful female leads in recent years seems to point to a decline in the use of this stereotype. However, that does not mean society is anywhere near eliminating this trope all together.
As long as predatory men — fueled by toxic masculinity — persist and take control of the media, the glorification of insecurity in women will continue to be prevalent. Having self worth as a woman should not be equivalent to being full of one’s self. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being hot and knowing it, especially in a society where unattainable beauty standards are constantly telling you otherwise. One Direction may have written some catchy songs, but they were definitely mistaken with their take on what truly makes you beautiful.