I Didn’t Want To Be Pretty

By Victoria King

Man clothes, dark, heavy makeup, scarcely a trace of femininity: that was me in high school. I hated the notion that girls had to be pretty and were valued only for their looks. I wanted people to appreciate me for being fun, funny and a good debater.

I felt like women made themselves out to be pretty idiots because they were naturally shallow and stupid.

And envious. I hated the competition between females, so I looked as weird as possible hoping no one would see me as a threat.

Men don’t see attractive males as threats. They’re high-fived for getting women – the more the better. I wanted sisterhood, but was really more interested in having “brotherhood.”

It was a strange place to be, looking down on females as a female, and not wanting people to care whether I was pretty or not.

Yet part of me wanted very badly to be pretty. I believed I was hideous.

Despite a wholehearted attempt to free myself from incessant judgments on my appearance, I developed severe issues with self-image and self-esteem.

I saw myself being sidelined because of how I looked. I began to resent working that much harder to keep myself relevant and earn respect when other girls just stood there looking pretty. I felt trapped by society, my body and my inability to change myself or anything around me.

And so I fell into disordered eating in a desperate attempt to gain control over something. It didn’t work.

I began searching for answers. I wanted to know why women’s beauty seemed to be the only thing that mattered. I wanted to know why deep pain is associated with the beauty that is supposed to be a blessing.

The film, America the Beautiful offered a clue. The film tells how businesses make money when women feel dissatisfied with the way they look. If women weren’t satisfied, they wouldn’t spend money to make themselves “better.” I saw how we are manipulated.

As I studied more I began to see what it means to live in a patriarchy. It had never occurred to me that denigrating women’s appearance and capabilities could be a reaction to women’s gain of rights and power. If women have equal rights, you can still defeat their souls by draining their self-worth as they strive to live up to impossible standards.

The revelation was freeing. I didn’t have to accept impossible standards. I even stopped seeing anorexic models as attractive.

Now I feel that “pretty” is neither something to be obsessed over nor obsessively avoided. And I don’t think “attractive” comes in only one form. And that is freeing.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 28, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I feel like a person who act as if she needs to be pretty jus has a really low self-esteem and is really worried about the way they look to others. but i also think this is just not with female its also with males. im sure there are guys who feel the same way about that hard to fit in with the guys and be cool. and i think we all have the same questions , why do i have to be good looking?, or why do i feel like i have to have a certain amount of money and have things that are so-called “cool”.

  2. I actually find this to be very correct. When I was in high school the look was to have long straight hair. And please believe everyone came to school with either extensions or their natural hair straightened. It wasn’t until I got out of high school I realized there was no point in trying to be everyone else view of pretty. I didn’t realize then, but now I see how easily girls are influenced to be “pretty”. Some stick with it and some grow out of it. I grew out of it; I don’t even wear makeup up anymore. It’s just become a hassle. I think once you open your eyes you realize how easily manipulative the world around you is you learn to fight back.

  3. Liliya Baranova

    I think the main thing a woman should do is believe she is pretty on the inside… Looks come and go, but your personality lasts forever! Great article.

  4. This article actually reminded me of myself the other day. I had a 7:30am exam and decided just to go into my final wearing nothing but sweats and a nice, comfy sweater. I convinced myself that everyone would be looking sloppy cause hey, it was college. Of course, I was proven wrong. It amazed me that people actually got ready and looked nice to take an exam. I wasn’t affected by it, but I was surprise when I first walked into the classroom. I notice on campus that girls are rarely seen wearing comfy clothes like sweats and sweaters. When you do find one, I see their facial expression as “crap, I need to leave before someone recognizes me.” When you have a guy walking around though, they don’t care at all.

    Media and celebs defiantly are pressuring women in our society to be looking attractive 24/7. Most women if they don’t live up to that standard, they are just seen as dirty and have no class.

  5. As a woman, I feel the need to look my best most of the time. I was raised this way. Before reading this, I hadn’t thought of it as being “forced” to look good, but I now realize that is my case.
    It’s embarrasing for me to go out anywhere without makeup. I feel like if I do so, someone will see me and think horribly less of me. Self esteem issues, I know. Nevertheless, I have never been one of those girls who confuses their face for a coloring book.
    Eventhough the few people that have seen me without makeup reassure me I can go without it, it’s an obssesion that’s very difficult to let go; I think this is because I have created an image of myself in my head that I cannot let go of.
    Knowing that the picture perfect women portrayed in today’s media is a way to cut women’s wings is empowering. I I have to learn how to embrace myself as I am, with or without makeup.

  6. I think the media has its deepest impact on women when it comes to the appearance of how they should present themselves. The media exposes this kinda of factor towards women of all ages, giving women a message of low self confidence, insecurities about how the way they look and what kinds of clothing they should buy. What are the latest products and makeup to purchase. Products like anti-aging are the major selling products that the media feeds off of. In my opinion the media promotes such factors for money and to target women for profit and business.

  7. I come from the plain girl class. Not being pretty can definly hurt you feelings. As a plain girl I was jealous of pretty girls. I also did not buy the pity me I am beautiful answers I got from pretty girls.
    Granted being pretty is hard work. What gets me is because I am comfortable with being plain people sometimes think I don’t care about my looks or is I am to dam lazy to get all dolled up.
    Many times when I was young, women would want to put make up on me and give me fancy clothes. Why do women want to make me different from who I am.
    I guess it’s safer if everyone plays by the rules. Maybe I am a reminder of what they don’t want to be, which is a proud card carrying plain women.

  8. Marcus Coleman

    The moat attractive thing about a woman is her personality. Not your boobs!!

  9. The media definitely has a lot to do with the notion of beauty. It follows, in part, the principle of soft paternalism. It nudges women to feel that they are not pretty enough and hence nudges them to buy the products it is promoting.

    The society’s definition of beauty has been doing women a disfavor. Women have been troubled. Perhaps, as Me said, women should alter their definition of beauty. Perhaps they should dress up and be beautiful/attractive for their own sake, to be the real THEM, being honest and comfortable with themselves, instead of pleasing others.

    I think that the “competition between females”, in part, explains why usually sisterhood consists of merely a few of them while brotherhood consists of many more than a few.

  10. Maria Papayianni

    I too can relate with what the author of this post is saying here. I remember going through my phase of not feeling pretty when I was a little girl. I see a lot of women falling into this trap because they forget to focus on what’s on the inside. It’s easier to manipulate the outside rather than work on our internal beauty. This was my reason at least. My feeling of inadequacy, and feeling that I am not beautiful enough disappeared the moment I started paying attention to who I am. Since that moment on I stopped seeing the point of following others’ standards on beauty. I instantly became more comfortable in my own skin. Besides, trying to look or act like someone else is really tiring. It never works, and it’s rather boring for everyone to want to be and look the same anyway.

  11. I can totally relate to this feeling. I too struggled with defing what beauty means to me. Growing up, I felt I was trained to be a beautiful woman. But I never was comfortable or satisfied with the type of attention this training brought me. I was taught to be feminine, soft spoken, polite and well groomed. But I had a hard time conforming to these expectations. I wanted to speak my mind, have challenging debates, be athletic and dress low maintenance. I always felt beauty was a smile that comes from the heart, glowing skin because it is healthy, intelligence that seeks knowledge and truth, positive attitude, and an active lifestyle.

  12. I have wondered many times myself why men base pretty much everything on how a woman looks. It never really occured to me that it had to do with living in a patriarchal world and that makeup industries do it to make money. It might be the the biggest truth of why makeup was created, but i think that it does have some good intentions. Personally i feel 10x better when i put on makeup not because it makes me look diffrent but because it covers up the flaws and accentuates my good features. To me make up isnt to cover up but rather to polish us up. We arent perfect and if makeup helps us feel better about ourselves then i dont see why it shouold be a problem but unfortunatley that isnt how it is. Our society has made makeup to be something that woman MUST wear and if they dont then they are ugly. When i was in high school i saw this all the time weather it was a friend or a classmate girls were always worried about how they looked and were more worried about thier makeup than doing thier work. Girls do often dumb themselves down to fit the ideal girl for guys but i never have. i think its dumb. Many of my guy friends constintley tell me that when girls act less smart than they really are that its a turn off! So i really dont think that men in general like stupid pretty girls i think its just something we have grown to believe. The image that we are supposed to look like isnt what men want either or else every man would have a model on thier side but all men have diffrent taste. its just that some do and have created that view of all men. We all know that our society has IDEALS of what a man and women should look and be like but i dont think its what people really want.

    • I’m in my fifties and I have never worn makeup. I’m of the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school and the “What you see is what you get” schools of thought. I have been fortunate to be blessed with good skin and still don’t have any crow’s feet.

      But even if I did, I think women have the right to be unglamorous, plain, or even “ugly”, just as men have that right. I am enough, just as I am.

      I don’t have anything against women who want to wear it because they truly enjoy it, but it’s never held any attraction for me and I don’t think it should ever be viewed as compulsory.

  13. It’s so annoying that society has created the idea that being physically beautiful is what matters most. More unfortunate is the fact that we all believe it. We really need to focus on people for who they are. Nothing is more important.

    • And it’s a pity that most people confine their definitions of beauty to merely what the eye sees. I’ve known good looking people who were not beautiful and homely people who were…

  14. The way I see it, why should I have to be “attracting” something 24/7. Most of the time, I seek neither to attract nor repel. I just want to be plain old me.

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