Friday, October 7, 2011
Jolie est comme jolie fait...
A few weeks ago, a friend said to me, "you look SO pretty in that lipstick," and I found myself flinching with an almost reflexive recoil from the word. Crazy, right? I mean, doesn't every woman want to be pretty? Yet...
Interesting, this bit of personal baggage. I'm not looking for bolstering, and have actually grown quite comfortable and content with my looks. Over the years I've learned to take a compliment, and believe it. Call me attractive, gorgeous, even beautiful, and I'll buy in. But "pretty?" Pretty feels like it belongs to someone else, like a pair of designer heels that I might admire but could never walk in, or a too tight dress. Not a good fit.
Perhaps my ambivalence originated with all of those years of hearing "you'd be so pretty if you just lost weight." Pretty became something that always felt out of reach. Perhaps because of the era in which I grew up, Pretty in my mind evokes a very narrow, conventional standard of attractiveness. Pretty was a label bestowed on the cheerleaders, the popular girls, the slender ones with long golden hair and whose mothers let them wear stretch pants and two-piece bathing suits. (And to free-associate around in the deepest recesses of my psyche, Pretty correlates with Conventional in other ways too: feminine, traditional, deferential, a Good Girl.)
There's nothing wrong with being pretty, and no, I don't really think conventionally pretty women inherently embody ANY of those descriptors. My personal beef is with the word and my own associations, not the women it's applied to. Appearance isn't destiny, or in any way the totality of who we are. If you think of yourself as pretty and it feels like a good fit, more power to you.
But while Pretty feels confining and exclusive to me, Beautiful feels expansive and inclusive. Pretty divides, Beauty unites. Pretty is something that's bestowed, Beauty is something we all inherently possess. Pretty is on the surface, Beauty is about the whole of us. And the older I get, the more I realize that Pretty is fleeting, Beauty lasts a lifetime.
I remember reading a few years ago (can't remember specifically where) musings from a woman who "woke up one morning and realized that [she] would never again be the pretty girl in the room," and the sense of loss she was experiencing as a result of this. Having never been "the pretty girl in the room" I find that while I'm not always thrilled by the signs of aging, I don't feel that I'm losing a part of my identity with each new wrinkle or brown spot or inch of waistline. I just wish I could go back and explain this eventual advantage to my younger self who at times wanted more than anything to be considered one of the pretty girls.
What about you? Are you and Pretty on good terms? Are there other words you feel ambivalent about using to describe yourself?