The natural beauty viral video is endemic in clickbait-susceptible feminist circles. Every so often, a novel strain — a beauty product ad, a music video — engenders a pandemic. The video is liked, shared, and re-shared. Facebook’s clever algorithms, having correctly classified me as a feminist, bring it before me for easy liking and sharing.
Or perhaps Facebook’s algorithms are cleverer than that. Perhaps they bring it before me not because I’ll approve but because I won’t. Because I’ll then spend another twenty (advertising-revenue-generative) minutes on Facebook composing — but ultimately declining to post — a comment about the insidious anti-feminism of natural beauty memes.
Because the videos are anti-feminist. Feminist bloggers have eloquently explained that letting “beautiful” serve as a synonym for “valuable” implicitly suggests that a woman’s only possible worth lies in her bone structure. Socialist critics have exposed the hook to which the clickbait is affixed: almost all these videos are attempts — from the ham-handed to the brilliant — to make a pretty penny off internet feminists’ displays of tribal allegiance.
There is at least one other problem with the videos. They attack a straw(wo)man: an airbrushed, wafer-thin, heavily made-up conceit of female attractiveness. They aim to replace this with a purportedly more inclusive though equally aestheticized ideal: “natural beauty”.
“You don’t have to try“, the rather pretty pop singer Colbie Caillat tells her listener as she and other attractive women strip off makeup and fake eyelashes.
It is a shame that men are taught to desire a specific female image. It is a scandal that women are taught to despair if they cannot form themselves into that image — by hook, by crook, or by cosmetic purchase.
But like many “natural” remedies, “natural” beauty is a purported cure whose medicinal qualities are at best untested.
The most common objection to celebrating “natural” beauty is that this favours those women whose genetic-environmental cocktail has led them to embody the very ideal that is meant to be challenged: conventional feminine beauty.
The problem runs deeper. “You don’t have to try“. The natural beautician rejects as superfluous, destructive, and unnatural any attempt to alter the (static, perfect, natural) body a woman has been given.
This is “just be yourself” pseudo-feminism. Women don’t need to change; they’re perfect the way they are.
Framing female value in terms of immutable and sufficient essences denies women a privilege that has long given strength and joy to men: the privilege to strive.
Nature is unspoiled. Nature is unsullied. You don’t have to try to change because all change from a natural state is degradation and decline.
Women have spent much of history denied the chance to change for the better.
When the word “virtue” was still commonly invoked as an ideal for men, it most often meant cultivated excellence: athletic, artistic, intellectual, moral. For many women, the most commonly-invoked meaning of “virtue” was a single, vital moral excellence: chastity. Male philosophers wrote long tracts to explain how chastity could qualify as a cultivated excellence. Yet for all their work, many spoke as though a woman’s (particular, essential) virtue could be “taken” against her will.
Feminists have long fought so that a woman may aspire to virtues that she slowly and painfully attains and not merely to an inborn “virtue” that she will be blamed for having “lost”.
None of this means that we can let up in the fight against those who convince women to loathe — and to destroy — their bodies. None of it means that physical beauty is an appropriate locus of aspiration for many or even any women.
To fetishise “natural beauty” is nonetheless to participate in two patriarchal lies: that a woman’s value is tied up in her appearance, and that she can only change what matters most about her for the worse. It dissuades women from striving to be individually excellent — or politically potent.
Please don’t just be yourself.
 Note that theologians asserted that an unwilling rape victim was innocent of sin. This does not mean that people more generally did not make strong judgments regarding a woman’s value based upon the state of her hymen.