Feminism | Posted by Alexa S on 04/27/2011

On Being Pretty

what do you wish for?

what do you wish for?

I am not pretty.

Now, the typical response to this is, “Yes, you are!” Even if the people in question have never even met in person. Because maybe this person seems pretty, in the sound of her voice or the style of her writing. Maybe this consoler is one of those people who truly believes that everyone is beautiful. That is a lovely, wonderful ideology that I too subscribe too. Every person is beautiful. But not every person is pretty.

I certainly am not.

Pretty can be hard to define; or, at least harder to define than those words considered its synonyms. And its only companion that carries nearly as much weight is “thin.” I have many friends who do not believe that they are pretty, as well as many who do not think that they are thin. It is much easier to confirm that someone is thin. Thin is objective. Thin can be proven by muscular abdomens and hard, flat stomachs. It can be verified by pristine, tight legs and sharp, defined collarbones. Thin is good, right, aesthetically pleasant.

I’m not thin either.

———————————————————-

The fact that I am not thin used to hurt. It was a tangible ache. By the time I was thirteen, I felt it was too late. I wanted to be thin; I had to be thin. So much of my life revolved around this desire, these acrid mantras constantly interrupting my thoughts. I didn’t even realize how much this wanting affecting me it was replaced with more pressing matters.

When I was younger, I loved throwing coins into fountains for good luck. The one at the mall and a Chinese restaurant were my favorites. This was a favored activity of mine, though, well beyond early childhood. Every wish I can remember having, from the age of eleven and beyond, was to be thin. Sometimes it was specific, a number to achieve or a particular day to yearn for. Often it was just general: “I wish I was thin.” Every so often, I’d also add a wish to be happy.

In books, and movies too, the not-so-pretty girl always gets to have this marvelous transformation. Sometimes, she just whips off her glasses and flips her hair. Her peers all love her. Everything works out. Sometimes it takes effort, plucking and sit-ups and new jeans and mascara. It’s hard work, for certain, but she may even gain some new friends with this process. Then, there’s the girl who was just ho-humming along, and she goes away for the summer or visits her grandparents or takes a long nap and, suddenly, she’s gorgeous. This is the plot of countless forms of entertainment, yet it never ceases to infuriate me.

I’ve hated this girl for such a long time. And I hate that I still, and probably always will, envy her.

———————————————————-

I now possess the confidence to firmly state that I am not pretty.

I’m not thin enough, either.

But by what criteria? Who creates these standards that I am judging myself by, like a rubric for an assignment?

Well, my peers, I suppose. My peers, the majority of who dully absorb whatever they’re told without a second thought. Less than two decades into their lives, so many are already lackluster, with a piteous dearth of emotion and creativity. So, they obviously didn’t make this up themselves. But where did they get this all from, these expectations that affect the lives of so many?

The media.

These standards were created by society. They are not organic. And I have always been all about screwing the media. I have always wanted to subvert the patriarchy, reject antiquated racism, and slap prejudice in the face. I knew it was ridiculous that, as a woman, I had to be submissive. And even more preposterous that, as a young woman, I was expected to depend on others. There was no reason for me to follow these orders. Why? Because they’re bullshit.

So, why isn’t this body ideal bullshit too?

Huh. It was quite the epiphany for me. Still is, mind you. And once I confirmed its truth, I was so very scared, because, for the first time,

I was free.

———————————————————-

I am not pretty.

I’m not thin enough, either.

Knowing what one is defined as and caring, though, are two blissfully different things.

I do not care anymore, but I don’t shout this from the mountaintops. I don’t wear it on a badge with pride. For me, losing possession of self-loathing is a private triumph to be quietly celebrated. It is a truth I am patiently caressing until I am ready to share its magic.

Alex also writes for her own blog, Blossoming Badass.

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  • jULIET @ at 1:22 pm, April 27th, 2011

    Definitely reminds me of Katie Makkai’s slam poem entitled “pretty”. Google it, it’s fantastic.

  • Autumn @ at 6:47 pm, April 27th, 2011

    Excellent, excellent! I love how you define the difference between “knowing” and “caring.” I think there’s power in declaring that we’re okay with how we look, even if the end point of that isn’t “and I’m GORGEOUS and KNOW IT.” Because you’re right: Every person is beautiful, but not every person is pretty. (I would argue that every person has something pretty about them, though.)

    I also love dissecting the words we use to describe female beauty. I don’t want to be all spammy…but on my blog, which is all about examining our concepts of beauty, I examine the histories, etymology, and connotation of various words (hot, attractive, lovely, bombshell, etc). Here’s the link to my word posts:

    http://www.the-beheld.com/search/label/words

  • A @ at 9:19 pm, April 27th, 2011

    @Autumn- thank you! I’ll read your posts. My blog has other posts in this vein as well, and it’s linked to in the piece and in my name.

    @Juliet- thanks! that is an amazing poetry piece!!

  • Liz @ at 11:26 pm, April 27th, 2011

    Great piece!

  • Icefox @ at 11:46 am, May 7th, 2011

    Every person is pretty.
    Sorry for the cut-off comment and lack of explanation (I’m feeling lazy right now), but everyone is pretty; it’s how I see it. However, not every person is beautiful.

  • A @ at 4:00 pm, May 7th, 2011

    @ Liz- thank you!!

  • aimlesspanther @ at 7:32 am, August 20th, 2011

    What a wonderful article! Reminds me of the first time I listened to Ani Difranco’s “I am not a pretty girl” :) great writing

  • A @ at 8:01 pm, August 20th, 2011

    @aimlesspanther- thank you! And I love, love, love that song. :)

  • Brandi @ at 11:22 pm, March 16th, 2012

    This poem also made me think of Ani Difranco. Love this entry. Thanks for posting. :)

  • Stella @ at 4:45 pm, November 6th, 2013

    I have read Your article and I am glad you came to accept yourself, because being pretty doesn’t mean being thin…or the other way around. I am thin, I know. I always wanted green eyes, lovely skin, thick hair. I wish one day I can be as “forgiving” towards me as You are and start looking at my reflection as on a friend instead of an enemy.

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