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.