Friday 12 April 2013

The Tyranny of "Pretty"

In my wanderings through the Internet, I found this article "Daddy, Am I Pretty?" on the Good Men Project.  It's a letter from an anonymous father whose little girl came to him asking if she was pretty.  She'd been with a friend on the schoolyard when a boy asked them a question.  When she started to answer, the boy said "What does the pretty one think?"

It's a pain every woman is familiar with.  No one wants to have the identifying tag as the "other" girl.  No matter how much we focus on being fun, interesting, kind or any other worthwhile character trait, we want to be pretty, too.

Feminists and dozens of strong female role models tell us that "pretty" is limiting, a shallow, one-dimensional facet.  It's a ever-shifting goal post created by advertisers to get us to buy hugely inflated products of dubious worth.  It's something concocted and imposed and we would all be happier with beautiful spirits than poisoned with beautiful bodies.

Except most of us are still fairly certain the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Yes, an imposed one-size-fits-none standard of beauty is incredibly damaging and should be rejected.  But "pretty" is a more universal option.  Almost anyone can aspire to pretty.  And I don't think it's unhealthy.  We all want to be attractive.  We all want to be admired.

This would be a hugely difficult parenting dilemma if it had happened to me.  There would be so many messages I would want to convey, I would probably drown my poor daughter in them.

I would want to tell her the boy was being thoughtless and was probably trying to be funny, not thinking it would hurt her.

I would want to tell her that relying on an outsider's opinion of her looks is a waste of time.  Especially a chance met stranger.

I would want to march her over to a mirror and show her the incredible beauty of her smile, her eyes, everything about her.

I would want to tell her that looks are the smallest piece of the fabulous being that she is.

Most of all, I think I'd want to hold her and repress my urge to go hunt down the little snot who hurt my precious baby girl.  And then I'd want to scream at the society which says it's okay to judge a woman by her looks.  Too pretty?  Can't be competent.  Not pretty enough?  Well, that must be your own fault and thus we can judge you even more.  The magic zone eludes us all because there will always be someone who thinks it is amusing to put someone else down.  And we will believe the one jerk over the dozens of supportive, wonderful people telling us how marvelous we are.

We've all seen the jokes where the punchline is that a horrendously ugly woman (or man) thinks she (or he) is hot stuff.  No one wants to be that punchline.  And so with every criticism, we have to wonder: is it true?

I hope that one day we'll have a society built on self-confidence instead of insecurity (even though the economy will suffer because we'd buy a heck of a lot less).  But until then, we'll have to make do with as many hugs and compliments as our arms and tongues will allow.

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