WOMEN DESPISE gorgeous women. That's what 41-year-old British journalist Samantha Brick asserted in a now-notorious essay published in the U.K.'s Daily Mail. Her proof? Firsthand experience, of course. "There are downsides to being pretty—the main one being that other women hate me for no other reason than my lovely looks," she wrote.
Within hours, Brick's essay went viral, with countless people worldwide weighing in via online comments and Twitter to disabuse her of this notion. Their message, as Brick herself puts it: She's no Elle Macpherson. But they weren't that polite. As one commenter wrote, "No, love, [women] don't hate you because you are beautiful (which you aren't, really). They hate you because you are a smug, self-satisfied, deluded, vacuous idiot."
Reading all of this, I began to wonder: Does Brick have a point? I reflected on many conversations with my female friends about how we regard the other women in our lives. Never can I remember a nasty comment directed at another woman simply because she was attractive.
In my life as a journalist, I've met some of the women our culture reveres as the most beautiful in our midst—Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Anne Hathaway, Beyoncé. When these stunning celebrities enter a room, a hush falls over the crowd. Then people "ooh" and "ahh" and chatter about what these goddesses are wearing and how well they're wearing it. The women fawn the most. I have never heard one mutter a mean-spirited comment in a beautiful star's direction.
But somehow, Brick is having a different experience. Not once, she laments, has a friend asked her to be a bridesmaid, out of fear, she claims, of being overshadowed by her good looks. She also says she's been dropped by "countless friends who felt threatened if I was merely in the presence of their other halves."
A day after the piece ran, the Daily Mail delivered a follow-up. Brick described how she wept in response to the global wave of acerbic messages she had received. But perhaps what's most stunning is that all of the nastiness she's encountered has only reinforced her belief that people hate her because she's beautiful.
What really seems to be happening here, which Brick doesn't seem to grasp: Many women became angry with her not because of her looks, but for perpetuating a culture in which women judge each other by attractiveness rather than achievement. Most women have moved beyond that. Brick, it seems, has not.
Some women don't blame just Brick for spreading that message. Several of my female friends have been critical of the Daily Mail, accusing the paper of exploiting Brick as well as its readers. As one said: "Come on! They are begging us to go all Mean Girl on Samantha Brick."
The Mail has been reaping the rewards in traffic ever since. And men have certainly been enjoying the catfight, too.
But not every woman has joined the fray. Brick received e-mails of support from women who claim to have had the same experience: "Samantha was brave to make this observation in public ... I hope that she doesn't take the nasty comments to heart."
So, while there may always be mean women (and men) who anonymously fire off a torrent of abuse online, ready to pounce on those who stick their heads above the parapet, Brick can rest assured that most women in the world don't despise her because she's pretty or because she dared to think so. Most women are kind and empathetic, supportive and sustaining. Those are the women Brick needs in her life, online and off. Perhaps the fault, dear Samantha, is not in your face, but in your friends.