I Didn’t Want To Be Pretty

The goth look

The goth look

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.

"America the Beautiful"

“America the Beautiful”

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.

Victoria is a student who gave permission to post

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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 July 2, 2014, in body image, feminism, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. How many of your female students have essays like this? Did all of them struggle with this contradiction of Not Wanting to be Pretty/Wanting to be Pretty, or just a few?

    I’m not judging them, just trying to understand this way of thinking. I never wanted to be pretty/not pretty…I just didn’t want to be seen as a girl/woman, whether ugly *or* pretty, so I don’t get wanting both at the same time.

  2. A wonderful revelation, Victoria and a great post

  3. Please thank Victoria for sharing her journey of liberation. I’m fascinated how each woman’s experience is unique yet there are those familiar threads that show something collective is also at work.

  4. I dont want creams or lotions, or any ads of such things to make me pretty. I am happy how I am. And I just want to maintain it. I am happy what God have made me.Every woman should feel beautiful from inside. Nice one.

  5. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a (male) friend in middle school when I commented on his stylish new shoes. He said he liked them but he was going to get rid of them and find a different pair. Apparently the pattern on them was becoming mainstream, and he was in danger of inadvertently wearing popular clothes.

    Really? You say you don’t care what other people think, and you take extreme efforts to avoid winning their approval?

    And yet… I had a long talk with my kids some time back about choosing your battles with peer pressure and conformity. There is always a cost to not meeting society’s standards for beauty and popularity. The more you deviate from those standards, the higher the penalty — from just missing out on all the “in” groups, to having people actively avoid you, to having only one or two people willing to be seen with you, to having literally no person on the planet who wants to have anything to do with you. Your job is to figure out how much your deviation from social norms will cost you, and then decide whether you’re willing to pay the price.

    Me… I keep my extremely eccentric clothing choices in the privacy of my own home, and limit my public eccentricity to a quirky sense of humor. So for all my speeches on abandoning society’s demands to conform, I really failed to live up to my own advice. The price just wasn’t worth it then, and I’m even less willing to pay the price now as I get older and more used to predictable routine.

    • Interesting how often we are of two minds, rejecting something that we are clearly accepting. Interesting to think of all the ways this might apply to our own lives.

  6. I have hated the way I look for as long as I can remember. I have found it very hard being plain in a word that idolises beauty. Now I try and remind my self that it is Ok that I am not going to turn heads when I walk into a room, neither are lots of other people and they are happy.

    I am interested to check out this “America the Beautiful” movie too I think.

    • I think we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves, too.

      But 2 of the happiest couples I know aren’t real good looking. They care about who each other is inside over looks. And they have amazingly happy lives. They follow their bliss in terms of their work, and they have great friends, in addition to those awesome relationships.

      I also know plenty of gorgeous people who have had horrible, horrible relationships, and not so happy lives. On the relationship front, Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger come to mind.

  7. I found this post on Feministe. This is really powerful; thanks to your student for providing permission to share. It’s so interesting how we pigeonhole ourselves as either “pretty” or “not pretty,” and how both can be equally restrictive and damaging. This is an incredible journey and so important for her to have shared it.

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