I have been pretty all my life.
If you ignore that one dreadful experiment with blunt bangs in 7th grade, I never had a truly awkward phase. Mine was not an adolescence plagued by glasses or braces. It’s not like I was drop dead gorgeous or anything, but old women always greeted me with cries of “Oh, aren’t you a pretty thing!” and relatives declared I’d break hearts when I grew older.
All this is to say, I have a love/hate relationship with the word pretty. If you grow up being told you’re physically attractive, it becomes an expectation. Despite my zealous feminist views, I religiously wear make-up, get regular highlights, and dress with a strong retro, girly vibe. I love a good floral dress and red lipstick. I love leaving the house with a bounce in my step, because – damn! – these shoes look awesome. However, I am starting to hate pretty.
There’s something those old women don’t warn you about and your well-meaning aunt doesn’t prepare you for. Pretty is a double-edged (s)word. As a woman in this country and in this age, my looks are constantly up for discussion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this sentence starter: “Yeah, I guess she’s pretty, but…” Fill in the blank as you like. The specimen in question may have thighs just a bit too big or hair that curls when it should straighten. For every woman, there is someone, somewhere who thinks she’s just not pretty enough…and, worse, that it makes her less valuable as a person.
Despite the various children’s books and encouraging Mom maxims I grew up with, this hit me hard in high school. Suddenly, pretty became a debate prompt. The boy I’d laughed with in my TAG English classes now felt the need to inform others that he didn’t see what the big deal was about me, because my boobs were just fat that I pushed out too far. Now, of course, I find this somewhat hilarious because A – all boobs are fat and B – why, yes, I have always had excellent posture, thank you for noticing. But as a 14 year-old? I wanted to hide under a sumo-sized sweatshirt for the rest of my life, so that nobody could ever again notice that my boobs had somehow been deemed sub-par. All it took was one comment about my ranking on the great spectrum of pretty to completely change my relationship with what had, up until then, been two perfectly fine mammary lumps.
Over the years, I compensated. I wore a dress or skirt almost every day of high school and diligently curled my hair each morning. Since the age of 14, the number of times I’ve left the house without make-up can be counted on one hand. I shave my legs every other day. I rip extra hair out of my eyebrows. It’s all become part of the routine. I’d like to blame it on that one too-immature boy, but it’s not him at all. It’s society. Society expects me to do these things. To be a woman, one must primp, one must pluck, and never ever ever let on that she actually uses the restroom!
And now, at the ripe old age of 26, I’m fucking sick of it. Why do I have to do all this again? Why, when I have three degrees under my belt and the ability to save a human life, do I care if you think I could stand to lose 10 pounds? It’s just all too much. The amount of time spent on how I look is just exhausting and I’m not even doing all I supposedly should. If I prescribed to every beauty recommendation, whole hours of my day would be devoted to deep conditioning and matching my nail polish to my handbag. Here’s the thing: I just don’t give a crap about any of it.
I see the point in deodorant, regular showers, and well-fitting clothes. The rest of it seems like utter nonsense. Why was my makeupless face pretty at 12, but something so repulsive it must be hidden from society at 26? Why exactly do I have to remove all of my body hair? Last time I checked, we didn’t even start shaving our legs until the 1920s, so how can it now be A Mandatory Facet of Womanhood? Don’t even get me started on the Hair Down There. If you’re lucky enough to ever see Down There, what gives you the right to judge its trimmings?
I understand that physical attraction is a big deal in dating. I get that attractive people can get ahead, thanks to their looks. I’ve read the research. It makes the whole human race sound like the cast of Mean Girls. Because, let’s be honest, it doesn’t last. The picture of young Hollywood loveliness today is going to grow old. She’s going to get wrinkles, she’s going to fluctuate in weight, her magnificent breasts will someday – horror of horrors! – sag. Because that is what we humans do. It’s how Mother Nature rolls.
The older I get, the more pretty begins to seem worthless. I’m never going to win this game. There will forever be someone on the sidelines suggesting that I whiten my teeth or shrink a few inches or magically stop aging. No one is universally pretty. It’s unattainable, like passing the Kobayashi Maru without cheating. If my guy friends can seriously pro/con the attractiveness of Natalie Portman, then we’re all screwed. This ship is sinking, no matter how often I curl my eyelashes. Pretty isn’t a good adjective to identify with. It’s just too transient. Give me smart; give me funny. Give me excellent at board games.
You can keep the pretty. I don’t want it anymore.