As I get older, I’m painfully aware that however pretty I am, that prettiness might be approaching the end of its shelf life.
If you could wake up tomorrow and magically be more of any one thing, what would it be? Would you be smarter? More successful? Kinder and more patient? Or prettier?
I don’t even have to think about it. I’d want to be prettier.
I know that’s the wrong thing to say. As a feminist, the mother of two daughters, and a person who spends my days trying to find just the right words to express myself, being pretty should not be at the top of my list of things that matter to me.
After all, if I were smarter, I’d probably be finished writing this piece already. Instead, I’m spending long minutes staring into space, deleting and rewriting every sentence two or three times, worrying that I’m a terrible writer.
If I were more patient, kinder, less anxious and more confident, I’d surely be a better person. And if I were more successful, I wouldn’t have had to give up my apartment because I couldn’t afford it.
And yet, deep down I truly believe that if I were prettier, I could easily be all of those things.
We’re not supposed to care about being pretty — or at least, we’re not supposed to talk about it. But from the time we’re born, we prefer to look at pretty faces. It’s science. Study after study shows that babies are drawn to attractive faces. Children trust pretty people more than less attractive ones, and teachers give good-looking students better grades. People magazine’s ‘Most Beautiful’ issue is a best-seller every year. Being pretty matters, clearly.
So why should I feel bad for being so invested in how I look?
Not long ago, I gave a speech in front of a bunch of people. I’d worked hard to prepare, studying and writing and rewriting and practicing out loud. I was nervous and excited, and I wanted to do well. Afterward, people came up to me and said lots of lovely things about how much they’d liked my speech. I felt relieved and happy, glowing in the light of their praise. But later that night, when my boyfriend told me I’d looked pretty up there, it made me happier than anything else anyone had said to me. Then I felt bad that I cared so much. Didn’t I want people to listen to what I had to say, not just notice how I looked?
When I was a little girl, my father and I were watching Olympic figure skating when my dad paused to comment on one of the female athletes; “Too bad her face could stop a clock.” Is that when I got the message that being pretty mattered more than anything else, even winning an Olympic medal?
I remember going to my room after he said that and staring at myself in the mirror for a long time. Was I pretty enough to meet my father’s standards?
My great aunt wrote a memoir a few years ago, and in it, she said my grandfather’s family hadn’t approved of him marrying my grandmother because she was ugly. When I read that, my stomach dropped. She’d stated it as if it were a fact — that my grandma wasn’t pretty. When I look in the mirror, I can see my grandmother’s face in mine. Am I ugly then, too? But I don’t think my grandma was ugly at all. When I think of her, I remember the way she laughed, how her eyes lit up with glee. I loved it. To me, she was beautiful.
As I get older, I’m painfully aware that however pretty I am, that prettiness might be approaching the end of its shelf life. I spend more time than I’d like to admit looking in the mirror, studying the lines around my eyes, wondering if my jawline is sagging just a little more than it used to. I don’t think I’ll ever inject anything into my face or go under the knife, but never say never, I guess.
For now, I’m trying to make peace with how much being pretty matters to me. It doesn’t mean I don’t also care about being smart, or kind, or anything else. But when I’m feeling down, curling my hair and putting on lipstick is guaranteed to pick me up. I refuse to feel bad about it anymore.
Featured image via tumblr.com.
Comment: How much do looks matter to you?
Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.