Bold. Beautiful. Barnard. It almost sounds like a commercial for a new shade of lipstick. For a long time, I’ve felt that Barnard’s slogan, along with much of its marketing, is incongruous with the reality of the student experience it offers and the attributes it venerates. The word “beautiful” needs to go.
Beautiful can have many different meanings. But in our culture, the word “beautiful” has been irrevocably tainted by endless overuse in the media and in reality, becoming locked to physical appearance.
Recently, I have become aware of the number of times I use the word beautiful in everyday conversation—I use it so often that the word has come to stand in for anything positive in my vocabulary. This inherently ties classically beautiful appearance to anything good, creating a relationship that feels archaic and cumbersome.
We are so much more than beautiful. Even beyond physical appearance, “beautiful” is a cage, used to venerate a kind of effortlessness or put-togetherness. Saying someone is beautiful is like saying America is great: it’s a hollow term that ignores inner realities and nuances.
Barnard is also no longer a college that only accepts cisgender women. “Beautiful” has so clearly become a gendered term, traditionally used to refer to cis women. Can you imagine a coed college with the term in its slogan? If Barnard wants to honor the fluidity and subjectivity of gender, and if it wants to adjust to this new millennium in which beauty has been shown to be a harmful construct time and time again, then it’s time to drop the “beautiful.”
“Beautiful” is a signifier of an ideal of perfection and physicality that both Barnard and Columbia seem dedicated to embodying, and to see this dedication, one only needs to take a look around campus. Barnard’s new library will perhaps make the campus look more impressive, but at what price? (Dare I mention Maggie?) And Columbia’s persistent efforts to keep the lawns pristine and green have kept students from enjoying the little green space there is on campus.
We don’t need to keep up the impression of being perpetually polished and put-together. By reflecting this knowledge in our vernacular and by changing our cultural focus on beauty—which is tied to wealth, class, and exterior demarcations of success—we can start to emphasize things that matter.
Maybe a slogan isn’t necessary at all. The slogan, especially with “beautiful” in it, rings juvenile and a bit shallow in a way that Barnard, a difficult school in the midst of a stressful university and a vast city, certainly is not. No one should come to Barnard expecting to find a sweet community of fuzzy bears and matriarchy—in my experience, it’s a very different place, especially with so many of us spending most of our time off Barnard’s campus and in light of all of the architectural, administrative, and global turmoil.
I think “brilliant” would be a great exchange for “beautiful” (though it is not without its own issues—the term does imply a certain level of pretentiousness with which I believe the Columbia community is already sufficiently endowed). Still, in my mind, the term is not as bound to intelligence as “beautiful” is bound to appearance. “Brilliant” evokes images of light and shining things. Barnard is brilliant, not only because it’s in the middle of a metropolis of city lights, but because it is and must be an epicenter of hope in troubling times. We need a college and a university of radical thinkers who will create a future that’s better than the present we live in now. It’s a dark time in the world, but hope is the light we need to motivate ourselves to change something.
We can change something—believing this is the only way that anything will change. I think one way to begin to do so is by finally putting to rest the ghost of the (traditionally white, cisgender) beauty so prized by our culture. Instead of trying to widen the scope of the definition of beauty, a term that has always been suffocating, we can take it out completely. We can knock down the walls that language and appearance build between us and open ourselves to the possibility of a world more open to questions, transformation, and possibilities.
Eden Arielle Gordon is a junior at Barnard studying English with a concentration in creative writing. The Idealist runs alternate Fridays.
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