Why I Don’t Want to be Pretty

I’m tired of trying to be pretty. Not so much physically tired (although that’s certainly part of it), but mentally tired. The culture of beauty is exhausting.

To be fair, beauty has never really been my burden. I am attractive to some, but I’ve never possessed the type of beauty that stops men and women in their tracks.

I challenge the notion that women have to be pretty.

We are assigned this task from birth against our will: prettiness is a requirement for femininity. If you are not blessed with inherent conventional beauty, you must acquire it through adornment. You must put on that show.

And do not misunderstand me: I appreciate beauty. I love art and music and many beautiful things. But I do not contend that all art and music must be beautiful — so why must all women be?

Even the label “attractive” makes me cringe: is a woman’s only purpose to attract others? Does she not have value beyond her physical appearance?

Beauty as a feminine attribute has a long history of being a social (and racist) divider and a way of separating those who have and have not. It has been ascribed a sense of feminine virtuosity, along with sweetness, grace and agreeableness.

That beauty applied to some things and not to others, that it was a principle of discrimination, was once its strength and appeal. Beauty belonged to the family of notions that establish rank, and accorded well with social order unapologetic about station, class, hierarchy, and the right to exclude. — Susan Sontag, “An Argument Against Beauty” (2007)

peoplemostbeautifulIf young girls have not already been blessed with this attribute at birth, society tells them that they will ‘blossom’ in puberty, and holds beauty as some sort of carrot to keep them moving forward into womanhood. When this doesn’t miraculously occur naturally, we are flooded by advertisements showing us not just how to modify ourselves to achieve this goal, but also by conflicting messages as to the standards of beauty themselves.

What if I don’t want to be beautiful? Does that make me a pariah?

Is the desire not to be pretty subversive?

I am not against caring about your appearance. Clothing, hair and makeup are all forms of self-expression and I think they are absolutely an outward representation of personality. I just don’t think conformity should be the ultimate goal. And I would prefer that these outward expressions be self-guided rather than wholly influenced by societal pressure.

It is obviously not just cis-gendered women who are hurt by these expectations: gender-fluid and transwomen are harmed as well. The pressure of prettiness (being a perceived equivalent to femininity) to ‘pass’ as a validation of one’s ‘realness’ hurts all women.

A woman’s identity (and value) should be defined by so much more than whether she is (subjectively) aesthetically pleasing. I could trot out some over-worn platitudes about inner beauty, but I hesitate to create a list of what makes a person ‘valuable’, because there is no one answer. Some women are intelligent or clever. Some are kind. There are a million attributes that make for interesting women. And yes, some are beautiful, but that shouldn’t be the only thing that makes a woman. And not being beautiful, or not even caring about being beautiful, shouldn’t need to be an act of rebellion.

Chopping your hair off should not be ‘brave’, any more than wearing it long is. Going without makeup should not be brave, any more than wearing dramatic lipstick and eye shadow is. Wanting to focus on other things than one’s physical appearance shouldn’t be a subversive or radical concept.

It shouldn’t be. But I think it is.

/rk

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6 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Want to be Pretty

  1. What bothers me most about it is when other people value it more than they value the things about me that *I* value. Sure, it’s nice to have someone find you attractive outwardly but when they stop there and don’t keep finding out about me, when my looks are what matters to them, that really upsets me.

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  2. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the word “attractive” per se, except to chalk it up as a physical element and nothing else. It literally means that someone has a quality that attracts (someone). Appearance can be a part of that, but so is intelligence, personality, attitudes and philosophy, skills, circumstance….and for any of these factors, it can be the prevalence, or lack of these qualities that creates attraction.

    To be attractive, is simply to be someone who attracts…for whatever reason (aside from gravity, unless exceptionally pedantic).

    What I don’t like is to correlate attractiveness to physical appearance.

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    • But that’s my point, really. I think attracting others for a variety of reasons is great — but I don’t like it as a sole reason for being. That women *need* to be attractive to be women is what I take issue with.

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  3. I was applauding your post as I read it.
    Bringing up two children during the past twenty odd years has taught me that we should be focusing on telling them it is more important what you do rather than how you look.
    All too often today girls, and some boys, believe ‘fashion’ is the goal they strive to be.

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  4. Sometimes I want to cut my face up so people will stop looking at me, or telling my they think i’m “pretty”, or whistling at me, or grabbing me at the bars. I hate going out, I hate my face, and I hate everyone. People pay NO attention to the soul, and if they did they would see the ugly, nasty, dark things that nobody wants to talk about.

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    • It’s a horrible feeling when those dark thoughts seep in, and I’m sorry you’ve been made to feel that way. You and your body are not a commodity, and you don’t deserve to be treated that way. I feel that darkness inside a lot… but I try to remind myself that there is also a good side to me — a side that people close to me see (the real me or my ‘soul’) and that they love and appreciate. Some have seen the darkness and love me in in spite of it (or maybe because of it — because many of us have darkness, but it’s how we choose to deal with it that makes us what we are). Thank you for sharing something so personal. You’re not alone.

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