The Uses of ‘Pretty’ – Part II

A long time ago, I wrote a piece about “pretty” that eventually became a section of She’s Not the Man I Married that in turn, our resident board moderator Donna recently referred to when recounting a moment where she looked in the mirror and actually saw herself as pretty.

What made me think about it – and my reputation of being Helen “pretty is a mug’s game” Boyd – was seeing an episode of What Not To Wear which featured a nurse from Arizona who wore her scrubs and sweats everywhere & anywhere. They even had to do affirmations with her, like “I’m beautiful and I want to share my beauty with the world” which the woman couldn’t say without getting teared up. But by the end, she had transformed: it was obvious she felt not just pretty but confident.

& What I’ve been thinking about is that it’s a whole different thing to experience yourself as pretty – in a positive way – than to be told you’re pretty when that’s not wanted. The woman on the show was so obviously floored by actually feeling pretty that I was struck by what she was experiencing in feeling pretty, and so I was struck too by the times feeling pretty meant something good to me.

& It still can, of course.

Growing up as me meant when I was smoking a cigarette near the subway, five men would go by & say “you’re too pretty to smoke” or “you’re too pretty not to be smiling” or “you’re too pretty to have a mohawk.” etc. It was all kind of – the only word that comes to mind is <<interdit>> – about what I couldn’t & shouldn’t do because I was “pretty.”

Looks can become the only thing that women think is important and/or valuable about them, too, & even the pretty ones often discount so many other good things about themselves when they’re not feeling pretty enough. Not buying into pretty was a good way for me, at least, to break through a lot of the gendered boxes I might have been trapped in otherwise. When you feel like you’re not pretty enough to go outside without makeup, & men do every single day, there’s something wrong that needs to be – well, accounted for.

I don’t necessarily love the cattiness of shows like this, but I also know how it can feel to put on something & just feel good – even pretty! – when you’ve otherwise been feeling grungy / dumpy / inept. It’s another case where I think my experience being raised female might be quite different from the way a trans woman might relate to the same issue – that is, an acknowledgement of difference & not cause for hierarchy – because trans women grow up being told you can’t be pretty, you won’t be pretty, and you’re not allowed to be pretty, which is quite different indeed from being told you can be pretty but you can’t be anything else. But all of us, I think, in this lookist culture, have to step back from the shitty feelings of self-doubt – and even the euphoric feelings pretty can bring – and pay attention to pretty being a lot more valuable when it’s something you feel, not something you are (or aren’t).

6 Replies to “The Uses of ‘Pretty’ – Part II”

  1. I bought my first dress this past week ( and it is one of the few times I have felt ‘pretty’.

    It’s odd, because it is easy for most people to assume that because I think I am unattractive/ugly/whatever, that it is because I am trans and can’t see myself properly as a woman.

    The reality is far from that assumption. When I look in the mirror, when I see pictures of me, I don’t think ‘Look at that fugly man in woman’s clothing!’, I just see ‘Look at that fugly woman’.

    A lot of it is irrational, and I know that. Conversely, I have a pretty good grasp of what the ‘general population’ finds attractive and appealing, and I know that I never will be.

    I am fat (size 16 US), I have scarring and pitting on my cheeks, I have no definition between chin and neck that makes me look like a toad. But I do have nice legs, and a nice, albeit copious, bum.

    So, yeah. I’ve watched these shows and usually end up baffled how people who, outside of poor fashion sense (And I like to think that my own is, while hard to fulfill, good. 😉 ), naturally attractive.

    I notice you don’t see many truly ‘marginal’ people on them. You will never see my aunt or mother; my family just isn’t attractive enough for TV. But I get by and don’t let it hold me back more than I have to. =)

  2. Aw, honey, you’re too pretty to be writing so many big words! ::wink::

    Happy holidays (whichever you celebrate) to you and to Betty.

  3. Slightly off-topic, but I’ve wondered why that show stopped giving makeovers to men, which they occasionally used to do. Then I realized — it’s the two weeks of secret filming. I imagine a friend/colleague/coworker/relative hiding nearby with the camera saying, “Who’s that woman coing out of Fred’s apartme– OhmyGo-o-o-od!”

  4. My grandmother used to tell me that if I had to choose between being smart and being pretty, to be smart, “because pretty goes.”

    I have often been grateful for this advice. It’s made my life so much easier in so many unexpected ways.

  5. For me, the definition of “pretty”, pretty much comes down to how closely you resemble a Barbie doll. That’s what it means, no more no less. I mean, I don’t think you’d call someone like Sophia Lauren pretty. Exotic or angular looks are always beautiful, gorgeous, or striking — and always more subjective. Pretty is easier to agree on. Pretty is Barbie. Pink rosy cheeks and small features, good proportions. I don’t think of pretty as something you might feel, nor do I want to — because I don’t think it’s something you can or should aspire to. You’re either pretty or you’re not, and you probably know the difference. If you’re pretty people will often tell you so. If you’re not, they won’t. Pretty is simple like that. I think it’s entirely different to feel attractive, or sexy, good-looking even. Or beautiful, which can encompass so much more than looks (ugly too.) But pretty is this arbitrary thing, like the color of your hair, sharply defined. Greatly preferred by the culture, but not genuinely of higher (or lower) value than not-pretty. At least, that’s how I’d textbook it. In reality, of course, pretty is more devious — something you alternately crave and hate, like wealth, or malted milk balls.

  6. Beauty radiates outward, from the core of your being. Your appearance, which is on the farthest periphery from your core, is the last thing to be affected by this radiance. If you concentrate on making your core beautiful through love, nurturing, and kindness, and if you pay less attention to the surface, you will be amazed at how much the surface will change as your beauty radiating from within finally reaches and saturates the boundaries of your being. It is easier said than done, because you can mistakenly attribute beauty to cosmetics, jewelry, hair and clothes. But if the core is untended and polluted, the disconnect will cause you to be frustrated and feel ugly. Tend to the core, make it radiate your true womanliness, and one day–sooner than you think—you will look in the mirror and see beauty radiating out of your body and reflecting back at you.

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