There are (many) more important things than being pretty.
Nonetheless, beauty is still prioritized and valued so highly that it causes us to think otherwise. It’s unfortunate, yet totally true. The importance of prettiness is engrained into the mindsets of both men and women, and consistently reinforced, throughout our entire lives. The concept that prettiness equates worth is what makes the beauty industry so successful. In small ways and in big, we uphold the idea that being beautiful is somehow essential to leading the amazing lives we are capable of.
For women especially, beauty is an obvious means of validation and identification. As someone who who spent years modeling and as the owner of a Tinder account, I can seriously back up this claim. There’s nothing inherently wrong about being told you’re pretty. It’s simply that the inclination to identify a woman by way of beauty points to a much larger issue. We’ve been conditioned to prioritize looks above all else. So much so that telling a woman she’s pretty is the clearest, most commonplace expression of romantic interest.
What a bummer.
There’s so much more to who I am than the way I look, and I bet that holds true for us both. Mostly, my appearance is just the random result of genetics…which I had no part in playing. If my future boyfriend is reading this, please don’t stop telling me I’m beautiful. But first and foremost, tell me I’m intelligent or weird or independent. Because those things are intrinsic and they’ll last. Looks fade.
Buying mascara has never been more confusing
Women constantly buy into (literally) the relationship between beauty and worth. I read an interesting article featured in Dazed Digital last year, How To Sell Shit To Women. Author Steph Kretowicz writes about the booming beauty industry and the bizarre, lucrative myths it reinforces.
“News Corp owned magazines of ‘what they’re wearing’ with a page where you can buy it; ads on how to be a good clean woman, with Vanish Oxi Action as your answer; health food programmes linking self-worth to the size of your stomach…Their teeth are straight and hair, preferably blonde. Their skin is white, their wrists are weak and in case they forget, there’s a market here to remind them.”
As women, we’re expected to live within an established notion of beauty. It’s easy to forget that we’re fully capable of determining our own standards when it comes to the way we look. Contrary to what we’re told by billboards and glossy magazine spreads, being beautiful won’t absolve you. We owe it to ourselves to take the time to reevaluate what we’re taught by the culture in which we live and how we internalize these ideals. My personal belief? A happy girl is a pretty girl. Always.
Beauty as the end goal
We’ve heard the same story over and over. An average and utterly ordinary girl undergoes a makeover and all of a sudden is catapulted into a future full of success, happiness, and romance. Because no one loves an ugly girl.
The overwhelming assumption is that a woman must be beautiful to unlock her full potential. If you want a great life, you need to look good. How exhausted I am of hearing this story. The dialogue needs to change, don’t you think?
I recently read an insightful article by Anne Thériault, You Don’t Have To Be Pretty. She unpacks the book Divergent (full disclosure, I haven’t read it) and how its message differs form that of most young adult fiction. Thériault includes the following excerpt from the book:
“I’m not trying to be self-deprecating,” I say, “I just don’t get it. I’m younger. I’m not pretty. I –”
He laughs, a deep laugh that sounds like it came from deep inside him, and touches his lips to my temple.
“Don’t pretend,” I say breathily. “You know I’m not. I’m not ugly, but I am certainly not pretty.”
“Fine. You’re not pretty. So?” He kisses my cheek. “I like how you look. You’re deadly smart. You’re brave. And even though you found out about Marcus …” His voice softens. “You aren’t giving me that look. Like I’m a kicked puppy or something.”
“Well,” I say. “You’re not.”
This certainly isn’t the message we’re familiar with hearing in relation to a protagonist’s prettiness. Divergent author Veronica Roth is completely debunking the relationship between beauty and identity here. The book’s Plain-Jane-It-Girl, Beatrice, recognizes that she isn’t conventionally beautiful, and yet she still wins. Why? Because she’s smart, brave, and completely kick-ass.
In popular media, it’s common for a female lead to consider herself ordinary, even unimpressive. Some examples Thériault points to: Katniss Everdeen, Bella Swan, Hermione Granger, Mia Thermopolis. For all of these women, they must be beautified before their true character is reflected and appreciated. In each case, their makeover is integral to their ability to accomplish their goals and achieve self-actualization.
“Think of the scene when Katniss first arrives in the Capitol, when they shave off her body hair, tame her eyebrows and slather her with makeup. Or the part in The Princess Diaries when Mia takes off her glasses, straightens her hair and poof, she’s a babe! Or else Hermione’s appearance at the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when she puts on a fancy dress, bewitches her frizzy hair into submission and suddenly gets everyone’s attention. The message that we get over and over is that beauty, even hidden beauty, is somehow part and parcel of being an exceptional, successful young woman. And of course every girl longs to be pretty, right?”
Being beautiful doesn’t need to be a priority in our lives if we don’t want it to be. It certainly requires some effort to rethink what we’re taught by our surrounding culture, but it’s so worth it in the end. In many ways, looks are simply a facade. Our true identity is something much deeper, that goes beyond the size of our boobs or the length of our legs. When I raise a daughter, I want her to feel strong and empowered because of the person she is. Brains first, beauty second. Or third or fourth or fifth.