Here’s What Happens When You Call Someone “Less Classically Beautiful”

A “New York Times” article set off a scorching round of criticism last week after television critic Alessandra Stanley adopted a rather controversial tone in her take on director Shonda Rhimes' new hit drama, How to Get Away with Murder.

Viola Davis, Shonda Rhimes

The writer referred to Rhimes as an “angry black woman,” prompting furious backlash from fans – and other unbiased folks.

However, it wasn’t the only inappropriate use of words in the article.

Referring to the lead character of the series, Stanely described Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis as an inspiring woman who is “less classically beautiful” than most of her peers.

Obviously, the poor choice of phrases – in both the cases – resulted in massive public outcry and even inspired a mock hashtag #LessClassicallyBeautiful.

People, especially African-American women, shared pictures of themselves, defying Eurocentric standards of beauty Stanely may have been referring to.

While the reactions are no doubt powerful and empowering, the real debate surrounding the inappropriate phrase itself must not be lost – as it is often the case with social media activism.

Related: Wake Up! Your Online Activism Means Nothing

Here’s what happens when we call someone less classically beautiful even if we mean it in a good way.

We try to define classical beauty

What does “classical” beauty mean anyway?

It’s such a shame that even in 2014, the world, in general, still considers Eurocentric standards of skin-color and features as attractive.

Such ideals are not – and should not – be deemed “traditionally” beautiful because – well – traditions all over the world differ from each other.

To quote Viola Davis, “beauty is subjective” and it should remain so.

We, quite obviously, compare

Now that we are done discussing how awful the phrase “classically beautiful” is; there shouldn’t really be a problem in understanding the fact that it only gets worse when it accompanies the adjective “less.”

Comparison, especially when talking about someone’s appearance, is always bad. Period. Therefore, calling someone “less classically beautiful” is like a double-insult.

It’s almost as if we are not only calling them “not traditionally good-looking” but we are, in fact, saying they are “less than not traditionally good-looking.”

Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

We create a label

Stanley didn’t just call Davis “less classically beautiful.” The columnist has – inadvertently, though – generated a label for all women who look like, or at least aspire to look like, the actress.

And as we all know, stereotypes and labels – especially if they are as outrageous as the one in question – are terrible and should be avoided at all costs.

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