As Beyonce points out so well in her song and video above, Pretty Hurts women. For so long us ladies have been, first and foremost, what we look like (even though we have so much more to contribute), and less—so much less—about what we have to say, how we think, the quantity of our hearts, the power of our convictions, the energy of our actions.
Pretty—here shorthand for the idea that a woman being attractive is more important than any other aspect of who she is) has hurt me. Since I reached my full height of 5’6″ at 17, I have never weighed less than 145 pounds; my hair is a wild mess that’s hard to style; I have a small bust and a big butt; my eyes are a mushy brown color in a family full of beautiful green- and blue-eyed people.
I, like so many women, grew to hate what I looked like as I grew up, because I didn’t look like the beautiful women I saw paid attention to, rewarded, helped. And there weren’t many of the other kinds of women—making breakthroughs, sports heroes, political leaders—to look up to. If I had been a less-attractive boy, I would have turned my attention from wanting to be Johnny Depp to thinking I could instead be like Jay-Z, or Richard Branson, or Randy Johnson, all of who aren’t the most attractive men physically, but that hardly mattered, did it? But if I didn’t look like Cindy Crawford (who turned her modeling career into a fun job for MTV in the 90s) or Meryl Streep, or Jane Fonda or Barbara Walters, or well, almost every famous woman I heard about growing up who was attractive too, what was I to do?
Thankfully, I always liked, cultivated, and enjoyed the inside-me (I truly enjoy spending time by myself and always have).
I remember, at about 11, realizing that I wasn’t pretty anymore (I had been quite a lovely child up until around age 8). So I, in a solid showing of practicality—I saw that the world was divided into pretty women and smart women and one couldn’t be both—I worked on developing my mind instead. I read, and studied, and threw myself into all the subjects that interested me, passionately. I put pretty aside.
Sometimes I would get sad when I looked in the mirror, but mostly I said a young girl’s version of “fuck it” and took long bikerides in the woods with the neighbor-boys (who never took me seriously as a girl), geeked out on insects, plants and stargazing, and just didn’t bother. And my grandmother, who raised me, encouraged all these things.
Then I grew up and realized I wasn’t exactly a hideous beast, and that maybe I should follow my grandmother’s good advice (for anyone, male or female), to do the best you could with your advantages, and play down the not-so-great stuff and then get on with it.
These days, I embrace my wild curly hair; exercise because I feel good doing it, and accept that though I’m not fat, I’ll never be skinny either; appreciate my small bust (there are many advantages to it, including being able to run easily, sleep on my stomach, and wear cute little unsupportive bras); and love on my eyelashes which are full and awesome, instead of hating on my eyes.
But it took a LONG time to get here—and my grandmother was a good example of health self-image and who rarely had a negative word for me about my looks. I think about all the girls, like in the video below, who were routinely discouraged, in small ways, their entire lives. That wasn’t my story growing up, but if it had been, where would I be today?