The Price Of Pretty

Beautiful happens in nature, and handsome comes from a kind of strength, but pretty, well, pretty takes work.

Nobody wakes up pretty, no matter how beautiful they are.   Getting to pretty is what happens when we clean ourselves up, assemble our expression, polish the looks and show our pretty behaviours.

As women, we have a very ambiguous relationship with pretty.   We very well know that pretty demands pain, from high heels to curling iron burns, from suppressing our exuberance for a cultured appearance to recovering from plastic surgery,  but we also crave pretty, really wanting to be seen as pretty, especially in our own eyes.

Ms Erin offers an article from New York magazine: Can a Woman’s Voice Ever Be Right?

As the Duke study suggests, the act of policing women’s voices is often carried out by women themselves. It’s hard to avoid the fear that every prominent woman who sounds like a ditz (or a harpy, or a slut, or a matron, or a stoned 13-year-old) makes it easier for the world to write the rest of us off.

After receiving letters about her vocal fry, This American Life producer Chana Joffe-Walt began to hate the way she sounded, too. “I’m noticing every single time I do it,” she told Ira Glass, “but trying not to do it is impossible because it’s the way I talk, that’s my actual voice.” She also began resenting other women whose voices sounded like hers: “If I hear other people do it — other women especially — I become like a woman who hates women. It taps into some deep part of people’s selves where they don’t want to hear young women, including me. It taps into that in me.”

Pretty, we know, is about very careful and measured revealing of who we are.  We can’t be pretty, we learned early, if we let people see parts of us that they think are ugly.

To be pretty, we have to think first of what we don’t want people to think about us, have to know what parts of us need airbrushed or Photoshopped.

When creating a pretty home, we know how to do that, careful editing of components, skillful assembly of elements, removal of clutter and grime.

When creating a pretty us, though, things get tougher.  Those pieces of us that just don’t fit elegantly into pretty can’t just be disposed of, put in the dumpster or given to Salvation Army.   Nobody starts with a perfect blank canvas.   We can’t be perfectly engineered from the ground up.

The beautiful us has character.   The pretty us, though, has erasures, gaps and denials.

Who are we, though, if we can’t be pretty enough for other people to love us?

For many of us, pretty feels like the imperative.  Since we want other people to be pretty too, it can easily feel like a fair and reasonable imperative.  Shouldn’t everyone feel the social demands to assimilate, to become the prettiest that they can possibly be?

The quest for pretty, though, can leave us feeling battered, wasted and useless.  It stops us from exploring our beauty, instead offering the demand that we fit into conventions.

When people find they can’t fit nicely into pretty they can feel bereft and heartbroken.  I have seen many transpeople who decided to transition fast, running, for example, from a polished guy mode to gal, trying to leap across the messy and queer gap between, and then end up feeling like a failure when they find that they cannot invoke pretty.   In that moment, ending the game can feel like the best and only option.

Beauty exists for its own sake, but pretty exists for attraction, for showing yourself and making connections.  While it is delightful to spend time prettying yourself before an event, the joy comes from knowing that people will see you, see how pretty you are, remember and want to explore you.

If we can’t be pretty, can we make the kind of connection we want and need?   Can we get the compliment and affirmation that we crave?   Can we be the belle of the ball?

If we can’t show well, concealing the bits that might scare others or scare ourselves, what hope do we ever have of being loved?

There is a cost to pretty, but we have been assured that whatever the cost, the rewards will make up for our sacrifice.   What happens if they don’t, if there is no way we can ever achieve our pretty dreams?   How do we live with that heartbreak?

For many of us, letting go of pretty to focus on style and beauty has been the only way to claim a full, healthy and robust life.     Rather than trying to cut ourselves back, striving to look flawless and perfect, wrapped in a mask, we learn to love what and who we are, knowing that self-love is always the basis for loving and being loved in the world.

Rather than just claiming pretty even when much of us doesn’t fit, leaving visible tells about the rest of us that we hope only people who can understand us will see, bringing our whole self into the world allows us to focus on loving the best in us rather than concealing what we fear is the worst.

For many who feel trapped in the pursuit of pretty, limited by the failure of pretty to make them feel safe and growing, seeing transpeople who move outside of convention feels liberating and empowering.

For a few others, though, that same vision makes them furious, seeming to make a mockery of the costs they paid to be prim, proper and pretty.  Those people want to silence us for breaking the rules, for embodying the possibility that there is beauty beyond limiting beliefs.

What woman doesn’t want to be pretty?   Which of us doesn’t consider what she can do to be prettier, even if we know that choice comes at a cost?

But which of us wants our daughters to lose their own special and powerful character in the quest for pretty?  How much do we want them to see and value their own unique beauty, rather than binding their heart to fit into a pretty package of slavery?

Moving from celebrating pretty to embracing beauty is hard.   We all want to be pretty.  We have gotten frustrated, annoyed and even distraught when we try and fail to achieve what we have been told is pretty.

But even as pretty fades, beauty continues to shine, becoming stronger and more potent them more we feel comfortable in our own imperfect skin.

Striving for pretty can be a dead end.

Embracing beauty, though, even quirky, messy and queer beauty, well, that can be the basis for an amazing life.