Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Problem with Pretty

This video has been going around the Internet for awhile now, so I'm surely not be the first person you've seen posting it. I found this piece extremely powerful in a way that I think many of you will have when you first gave it a listen. We are women, too, and many of us have felt what Makkai felt as she awoke from her surgery so deeply that perhaps we won't stop to really consider what she's saying. There is more here than a celebration of women and their true potential.

We are at once constantly and rarely thinking of Pretty. "Pretty" is a word that bounces around between our ears, ringing shrilly, whether we are Pretty or not. We begin our lives worrying about Pretty. Pretty is a word our parents lavish upon us or say too little. It is a word that strangers use to acknowledge us as children. It is a word that represents a warm camp near the summit, a lesser one than Beautiful, perhaps. It is a word like candy that makes us glitter with excitement but leaves our stomachs emptier than before. Pretty is not as fulfilling as we want to believe it to be. We don't think about Pretty deeply enough.

Like Makkai says, we should strive to be so much more than simply Pretty. It isn't wrong to want to be beautiful, but our society has placed Pretty on a pedestal at the expense of our sometimes delicate psyches. You can want to be Pretty-- I won't try to take that desire away from you. It isn't a crime, you know. But there is so much more than that to us. We have hearts and brains-- things that can be unequivocally Beautiful in a way that will always outshine a Pretty face.

Pretty makes us insecure and overly competitive. It sits just inside our ear and whispers as we scan the faces in a crowd. It asks us to hold our heads high when the people around us don't meet the same aesthetic standards. It encourages a heinous undercurrent of jealousy among women when we should be comrades in the fight for our self-esteem. Pretty girls walk into rooms and we protect ourselves by doubting her intelligence-- you cannot be smart and Pretty without repercussions. "At least I'm Prettier than her" we say when we see our ex's new girlfriend. And like Makkai, we are always falling somehow short. There will always be doubt. There is never perfection.

Beauty is a wonderful thing, but Pretty can be damaging when it is held up as the holy grail of womanhood. It turns us against each other in a world where we all battle Lookism. We are so much more than the symmetry of our faces. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we say "you're lucky you're Pretty" in a way that undercuts ourselves or demonizes the other-- we assume that Pretty can carry you through, that Pretty can make life simple, that Pretty can bring you happiness. While sometimes these things are true, like most other stereotypes they are overwhelmingly not. And even if they are true what good do we do ourselves to reinforce these standards by fighting so hard to be Pretty? When we don't try to see Pretty as unimportant, we help it to remain too important.

Many Beautiful people are Pretty. Many of those Beautiful people are not. And that's okay, because Pretty is relative. Pretty, in the eyes of our culture, fizzles and fades as we grow old, accumulate weight, scars, gray hairs. Cultures' aesthetic values change over time, too. Pretty is this nebulous concept that none of us can really pin down anyway-- Pretty is different to everyone, and that's a fact. Pretty just does not last. It can't. When little girls are taught to dream of being Pretty, they are taught to dream of something they can only achieve in passing-- and what are they left with when it's gone? What are they left with when Pretty is out of reach? Or if Pretty alienates them from their peers? Or becomes an obsession? What are they left with when Pretty is the only thing worthwhile in a world where you can be anything?

So dream of being greater things than simply Pretty, because you deserve to be Beautiful.


Jem said...

Aww.... you said everything that I could possibly want to say about being pretty. It is simply not enough to be pretty one should see themselves as beautiful. We all are beautiful in our own way, wether its in terms of looks, smarts, both, etc. :)

amanda said...

That was an incredibly powerful video, and you crafted an incredibly powerful response. I especially loved comparing "pretty" to candy.

Here's to being beautiful -- inside and out. :)

boopnut said...

It made me think of that song, "I am Beautiful" by Christine Aguillera. That song always lifts my spirits. Somehow pretty would never apply to my soul.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the video around but this was the first time I actually watched it. It is (no pun intended) pretty powerful.

The thing that always comes to my mind, though, is a story one of my best friends told me. Her parents tried to raise her like Makkai suggests, by not emphasizing physical attractiveness in hopes of promoting intelligence, etc. As a result, they never told her she was pretty, so she grew to believe she wasn't. She's still grappling with the fact that she is, in fact, beautiful. This made me wary about Makkai's message - absolutely, we should not emphasize ONLY physical beauty, but it can be very dangerous to ignore it.

Vanessa said...

Thanks for the lovely, thoughtful comments!

rubybastille: I think you have a great point that maybe I glossed over or didn't address as well as I'd hoped. While I definitely believe physical beauty should be emphasized WAY less, I think there is an importance to assuring people that they are pretty-- but in a way that doesn't prioritize it over other qualities.

Anonymous said...

I'm completely in awe of how you constructed this - you nailed it! I have been thinking about this idea a lot lately . . . a couple days ago, a woman told me I was beautiful. I was stunned. And I found myself nervous around here, like I hoped my personality would match the high compliment of beautiful. I didn't want that luster she saw to fade. Crazy, though, isn't it? Like beauty has to be a static, stoic pose that never moves, never makes mistakes, hardly breathes. :(

Thanks for writing this.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this.
It was powerful. The things we fancy, and what they make us become. If only we didn't fancy them so much.
We are all very beautiful!!! We need not forget that.
I hope your week is lovely.



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