For women, personal appearance is constantly under the scrutiny of societyMin An

After endless delays, the announcement came that we would finally be making our way home. With that announcement, heavy and exhausted feet trudged along the aisle of easy-jet’s plane and people made their way to the security of their seats.

A friend and I had been visiting Budapest, namely because the Hungarian booze selection and the flights there and back were going to be cheap. Now, both vastly hungover and horribly delayed, neither of these factors held their original appeal and regret had slightly started to build.

The commotion and chaos, created by baggage being mercilessly rammed into over-head-lockers and flight attendants ferrying items up and down the plane, began to die down and an older lady plonked herself in the remaining seat next to us.

She smiled at me. I smiled back. She instantly introduced herself with firm eye contact and a very intentional tone and I regretted my decision.

I don’t actually remember her name, but a large part of me would like to say it was Rose, so I’ll go with that. Rose’s opening conversation consisted of a long-winded rant about easy-jet, her disgust at the delays this evening and her recent failure in having taken easy-jet to court over some other flight fiasco in the summer.

I couldn’t help but wonder why Rose was still buying easy-jet flights considering her hatred was so strong but decided not to ask and nodded blankly; hoping soon, she would stop talking and allow me to sleep.

Having run out of rage, Rose began to ask me and my friend about our lives. Lifelessly, we both explained that we had just gone for a holiday, were university students and were heading back to Cambridge.

"Is that where you study then, Cambridge?"


"But you’re both such pretty girls!"

Rose eventually fell asleep and didn’t bother us again until she sheepishly awoke at Stansted. But her comment, "but you’re both such pretty girls", has bothered me for several months after our encounter.

Women have always had to navigate the whole virgin-whore tension. You’re meant to be sexy but not slutty, you can’t be dumb but you definitely shouldn’t be too clever, you have to be slightly dependant but not clingy, you can’t be boring but can’t be a party girl either, you’ve got to have a good appearance but you mustn’t care about your appearance, a lady on the streets and a freak in the sheets etc. etc.

And these are just the struggles I would claim to face as the most boring flavour of woman: white; straight; cisgender and middle-class. I couldn’t begin to account for the myriad of additional intersecting discriminations that other women may face in their day-to-day lives.

But what are the specific conditions and limitations that a Cambridge girl has to navigate? What kinds of aesthetic pressure and prejudice are you facing in view of your place here?

Well, as a female Cambridge undergraduate you are never really permitted to have an appearance devoid of prejudice or stereotype because you’re never really allowed to just be an intelligent woman, period.

And yes, we all judge people all the time in view of the way they look. And yes, clothes and appearance are often used as beautiful mediums through which to express and present ourselves to the world around us. But having to prove, to verify your intelligence in view of your appearance seems to be a very female problem.

The one thing every female Cambridge undergraduate has in common is that they’re intelligent. But some people struggle with the fact that your gender and your intelligence coexist.

I suppose because encouraging and applauding intelligent, high-flying females is a fairly new social concept, there are a large selection of people who feel the need to establish a dichotomy between intelligence and beauty. Yes, you can be an attractive woman. Yes, you can be an intelligent woman. But you can’t be both.

But what if you want to be both? What if you are both? (Which in fact we all are.)


Mountain View

Rejection from Oxford made me stronger

The barriers which say that certain types of intelligence and appearance cannot be paired must be broken down; without then fetishizing ‘the hot female doctor’ or the ‘the ball-busting lawyer.’

Women should be free to be attractive and intelligent, rather than allowed to be these things within certain, easily-digestible, parameters and social stereotypes. Neither our appearance nor intelligence should have to be explained in view of the other.

There is a vast amount of pressure on every Cambridge student, but the pressure of authenticating your brains in view of your beauty is one which is not only female but is also pretty archaic.

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