Feminist Friday: Pretty Is As Pretty Does

Pretty is one of my least favorite words/ideals/concepts. It’s a little word that brings so much grief, I wish I could banish it. It’s usually given as a compliment, as a word to value and cherish, as a point of pride, but it’s actually condescending and limiting. It’s a way to damage a girl’s self-esteem, one tiny “compliment” at a time.

I know there are people out there reading this and shaking their heads, tut-tutting silently, thinking “goddamn feminists, are you every happy? Can you ever take something at face value instead of shoving your hang-ups into everything? Quit your whining, be happy someone calls you pretty.” But that’s why it’s so insidious. It’s not big and scary and violent, so you don’t complain.

Pretty is a word used as a compliment almost exclusively for women. Call a man pretty and its an insult – you’re saying he’s feminine, delicate, fragile, ornamental, and probably not all that smart. Here’s the thing – you’re saying THE SAME THING when you use it to describe a woman. But we’re supposed to be proud of those things, because…vaginas? Pretty doesn’t carry the gravitas of beautiful, it’s a couple rungs down on the attractive scale. It has no power, no strength, no use beyond “I like the way your face/body looks.” And it’s given to girls as an accomplishment.

Pretty dismisses a person’s worth beyond how her face is arranged, which is no more than a genetic gamble. It’s tossed out over and over in a woman’s life – “your eyes are so pretty!” “Who’s this pretty girl?” “That dress makes you look so pretty.” “Look at how pretty you are!” It convinces women to buy new miracle fat melting drugs that may also cause her heart to explode. It pushes women out of advanced science and math classes. It tells her to look into the mirror for her worth, that she is simply a reflection.

Pretty is fleeting and the only objective. Strangers don’t mind letting a woman know that she’d be prettier if she only…lost weight, smiled more, took more time with her hair, wore makeup, didn’t slouch, didn’t play sports, didn’t get dirty, didn’t argue so much. We’re told that pretty doesn’t last, to take advantage of it while we can – which means find a man to marry quickly, while you’re still attractive, using your only asset to snag a husband and, consequently have a fulfilling life.

Pretty feeds into bigger issues like equality and rape culture. Pretty doesn’t fight back, it’s grateful for any attention, wanted or not. Pretty is reductive, taking away individuality, sorting women to pretty or not pretty based on arbitrary cultural values. Pretty is happiness, not pretty is anger and depression and jealousy.

So, here’s the thing. I don’t want to be pretty. It’s never been much of a goal for me. I was born with this face, I’m assuming I’ll die with it (I will never rule out the possibility that my life will end up just like FACE/OFF), I didn’t do anything to get it and it in no way measures WHO I am. My worth doesn’t lie in my waist-to-hip ratio, my inseam length, the relative straightness of my teeth, my management of body hair and blemishes, my ability to smile constantly.

This is what I am: Smart. Funny. Strong. Compassionate. Good at my job. Curious. I have an insanely loud and distinctive laugh and if we ever hang out, you’ll hear it all of the time. I’m a damn good baker, a better than average cook and a heavy-handed bartender. I’m a bibliophile. I’m a die hard Redskins fan. I’m a liberal. I’m an awesome friend and even better girlfriend. I’m a worrier. I’m an idea machine. I am so many things, things I’ve accomplished, things that have nothing to do with my clothes size, my nose size, my hair color. These are things I want praised and admired. Because when you reduce me to pretty, you take away how I see myself.

I am not a reflection, I am solid and real and deserve more than a cursory glance and dismissal. I am not pretty.

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