Merely “pretty”

Pretty by Katie Makkai

This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those 2 pretty syllables.

About men wallowing on bar stools, drearily practicing attraction and everyone who will drift home tonight, crest-fallen because not enough strangers found you suitably fuckable.

This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, “No! The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.

“You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you, will never be merely ‘pretty’.”

[transcript here]

I’ve always had a love-hate (read: mostly hate) relationship with “pretty.”

Maybe it was because I was always the funny one in the group, the girl who had the “good personality.”  And most of the time, I was (and am) okay with that.  I don’t like the conventional and media-driven definitions of “pretty,” and maybe it’s my own bias, but many of the individuals who are considered “pretty” aren’t usually the types of people I want to be around.

Is it because we have different priorities and interests? Or is it more of my own insecure self-esteem? Who knows. Usually I just avoid the topic of “pretty” and focus on other issues that interest me.

Yet these days I have a daughter who loves to be pink and “princess pretty,” and once again I find myself confronting that word and that ideal.  How do I sate Emma’s interests in the princess culture but not reinforce that superficial ideal of ‘pretty?’ It’s hard, especially when it feels like it’s me versus the “princess industrial complex.”

There was an article a few weeks ago in the HuffPost that has given me some perspective in this fight of honoring the whole girl: How to Talk to Little Girls by Lisa Bloom. A snip:

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

Yes.

It’s so easy for me to compliment Emma on her incredible cuteness (and yes, beauty), or comment on her choice of (often wacky) outfit — but as her mama, I want her to aspire to be commended on more than just these surface qualities.

As much as I can, it’s my job to help her navigate the rough waters surrounding the word/ideals of “pretty,” and help get her to the other side of the contentious issue as a contented young woman.

Ultimately I hope she’s never afraid of being pretty, but also understands there’s so much more to life than being someone who can turn heads.

One comment on “Merely “pretty”

  1. My daughter is going on 8 years old and we deal with this stuff. She flip flops between being quite tom-boyish and loving to get dressed up pretty. It’s good so far.

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