“You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend / spouse / partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.'” —Erin McKean
For years my social media feed was a stream of nothing more than pic after pic of me screaming, “I’m pretty look at me and click like.” It occurred to me today when I was looking at my female cousins’ feeds that this is the same for almost all of them. I asked myself, “Why are we so consumed with having random people in the cyber sphere validate our beauty?”
All of my life I’ve taken great pleasure in being “a pretty girl.” I light up every time someone says to me, “You look good.” And, I dedicate a great deal of my time every day to making sure I look good. I have a beauty regimen that takes no less than an hour at night and an hour in the morning. The morning regimen can take as much as two hours depending on what I decided to do with my hair. I work out religiously (dedicating about 2 hours per work out, 5 days a week) and feel like crap when I fall off the wagon. I monitor every drop of food that goes into my body and truth be told it really is more about how I look than my health.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think our bodies are important and maintaining it is vital to being our best selves. However, why we do what we do is equally important. So the question I find myself asking is, “Are we women striving to be pretty because we think we are obligated to be?”
When I don’t feel like I’m looking good, either my face has a blemish, I’ve gained a few pounds, I don’t really like my outfit, I chose the wrong shade of lipstick, my hair is too short, whatever…it completely throws off my entire day. I find that I am easily angered, I find little pleasure in the people around me, I have little motivation to do my work. There have even been days when I have refused to leave the house because I felt hopelessly unpretty! Nonsense right. I know this intellectually but there is a definite gap between what I know and how I feel and act.
So the question is why do we torture ourselves when we know better. I was raised to value my looks highly. Beauty in my family is very much an indicator of significance (although no one would admit it). Who has the lightest skin? Who has the straightest hair? Who has the roundest butt? Who has the smallest waist? Who has the straightest nose? All these questions and many many more have surrounded me my entire life. They are sometimes directly stated and other times snuck in with innuendo. “Have you seen your cousin’s baby? She’s dark but she’s pretty!”
As I grow older (almost the young age of 41), I find that my body doesn’t always do what I want it to, my skin seems to have a mind of its own (dry over here, acne over there, wtf) and the clothes I want to wear don’t always sit quite right on my changing body (squats are a must past 30 if you dare wear jeggings). The pressure of being compared to girls 20 years my junior is very real. And I’m now asking myself, “To what end does it even matter?” For who am I working so hard to be pretty and why?
As I continue on this path of introspection, I hope the answer leads me to accept that it is okay to not be pretty all the time. That I can walk out the door without full makeup and if I gain a few pounds I don’t have to feel like an utter failure in life. Make no mistake I value every bit of me, inside and out. I believe in being fit, in carrying myself with pride and dignity, and always putting my best foot forward. I just know that for me it must be a choice. It can’t be a societal mandate ushering the terms of my compliance. I can’t continue to live my life as if I’m obligated to be “a pretty girl.”
Well, that’s my rant for today!