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You Don't Have to Be Pretty

Saturday, June 08, 2013

This is from this blog:

It's written by Erin McKean, a woman whose work and wit I love - she's a lexicographer (and she does great vintage fashion work, if you're interested in that sort of thing..which I am!)

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty

So the other day, folks in the comments were talking about leggings. I'm pretty agnostic about leggings, but the whole discussion (which centered on the fact that it can be *really* hard to look good in leggings) got me thinking about the pervasive idea that women owe it to onlookers to maintain a certain standard of decorativeness.

Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don't Have to Be Pretty. You don't owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don't owe it to your mother, you don't owe it to your children, you don't owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked "female".

I'm not saying that you SHOULDN'T be pretty if you want to. (You don't owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.

But what does you-don't-have-to-be-pretty mean in practical, everyday terms? It means that you don't have to apologize for wearing things that are held to be "unflattering" or "unfashionable" — especially if, in fact, they make you happy on some level deeper than just being pretty does. So what if your favorite color isn't a "good" color on you? So what if you are "too fat" (by some arbitrary measure) for a sleeveless top? If you are clean, are covered enough to avoid a citation for public indecency, and have bandaged any open wounds, you can wear any color or style you please, if it makes you happy.

I was going to make a handy prettiness decision tree, but pretty much the end of every branch was a bubble that said "tell complainers to go to hell" so it wasn't much of a tool.

Pretty, it's sad to say, can have a shelf life. It's so tied up with youth that, at some point (if you're lucky), you're going to have to graduate from pretty. Sometimes (as in the case with Diana Vreeland, above, you can go so far past pretty that you end up in stylish, or even striking (or the fashion-y term jolie laide) before you know it. But you won't get there if you think you have to follow all the signs that say "this way to Pretty." You get there by traveling the route you find most interesting. (And to hell with the naysayers who say "But that's not PRETTY"!)

For a bit more on this topic - mostly the "jolie laide" part - there's this from the NYT:
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I have recently decided that if I am comfortable in sleeveless shirts then "to hell with the complainers"! After all, just go outside and today people are so unmodest it's pathetic. But I figure if I am comfortable, then I am happy-Never wanted to wear shoes that are 3-4 inches high-or all that dressiness....
    1610 days ago
    How have I been missing your wonderful blogs?

    And I have to tell you about the little plaque that my grandmother always had in her upstairs hall, it said, "God made women beautiful, the devil made them pretty". (I could go upstairs and check the exact wording, but it's 1AM....) And have since found the same plaque and have it hanging in my upstairs hallway and was just showing it to my sis who just got to see my new house....
    1622 days ago
    "Pretty" has a shelf life...and don't we know the women I know here in sunny SW FL keep trying to prolong the expiration date. I say "pretty sad" I'd rather look at the track marks near my eyes and around my mouth and say...she lived a life...and she smiled a lot! Look...she can still move her forehead! Now that's PRETTY remarkable! emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1623 days ago
    LOVE IT!!!!! LOL
    1627 days ago
  • ELSCO55
    1628 days ago
    Gotta love a blog that gets you thinking! At my age I think about prettiness so little that it's hardly a blip on my awareness radar. When I do think of it, I consider prettiness to be vapid and brainless.

    I'm with Morticia on comfort being a top priority. This used to drive my daughter crazy, because she has a fashion sense.

    I look at my face in the mirror so infrequently that it's a shock when I happen to catch a glimpse in passing. I'm not usually horrified by what I see, which is a good thing. Sometimes I'm surprised that I look as okay as I do for my age. (Note, too, that prettiness is from the neck up. Nobody has pretty toes, for example.)

    In general I'd rather be like my mother, whom one would have called "handsome" or "striking." Unfortunately, I'm neither. I am merely pretty, for my age, on good days. Guess you can't please everyone!
    1629 days ago
  • JANEDOE12345
    Thought-provoking topic, well said. Bandaging open wounds has always been a must-do step in my own daily beauty routine.

    1629 days ago
    After reading Morticia's comment I am reminded that *pretty* itches. Pretty bras, lacy and sexy, itch. A pretty up 'do itches and when it's let down your hair bending back in to it's natural state downright hurts! Sleeping in curlers to be pretty for a birthday party was hell. Accidentally poking yourself in the eye with a mascara wand can lead to infection. That's not pretty. Lipstick on your teeth isn't either.
    On the days JF finds me in the studio covered in clay, my hair pulled back in a pony tail, no make up (which I rarely wear anyway), and wearing old baggy clothes that are stained and torn are the days I get the most compliments about being beautiful.
    1629 days ago
    "Being is desirable because it is identical with Beauty, and Beauty is loved because it is Being.... We ourselves possess Beauty when we are true to our own being; ugliness is in going over to another order; knowing ourselves, we are beautiful; in self-ignorance, we are ugly."
    -- Plotinus, 204-270, CE
    1629 days ago
    i'll have to remember this line "tell complainers to go to hell"
    1629 days ago
    One of my heroes - an older woman I rented a duplex from back in the day - used to walk with me when I first started walking on a regular basis. Her mantra was "how pretty do you have to be?" She always added something about one of the three H's: health, hope, and happiness - all three are more important than being ornamental.

    Thanks for sharing this - so profound!

    emoticon emoticon
    1629 days ago
    My mother was super prissy and always wanted a daughter who she could dress up in the foo foo frilly stuff. As a cruel twist of fate she got me for a daughter and she said that from day one I expressed my distaste for the fancy junk. She couldn't understand that for me it was about comfort, not looks. She shed many a tear about it. My mom often asked me "Don't you want to be pretty?" Not especially if I have to itch to do it. She held out hope for my children but one of my son's first sentences was, "No sweater!" LOL.
    1629 days ago
    I should have looked in the oxford English dictionary before I responded. I never really liked the word since it invariably be used in other ways. Pretty awful, pretty funny, it just seems to me to be a meaningless word. It is often awful pretty bad and pretty nice just undercuts the word nice.
    I never wanted to be pretty just lovely and loved. I AM that so its all pretty silly after all. HUGS Pat in Maine.
    How does you garden grow? Mine is still shivering it is still cold at night.
    HUGS Pat in Maine. emoticon emoticon emoticon PRETTY GOOD !!!!!
    1629 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/9/2013 11:03:41 AM
  • SKY214
    Love it! emoticon
    1629 days ago
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