Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Presumption of Pretty

There really is a difference between genuinely beautiful people and, well, the rest of us. I'm not fishing for compliments and I'm not even being bitter, but I am realizing more and more that there is a difference.

To illustrate, a story:

today, I had in my office a simply beautiful 11 year old girl (ok, almost 12). I have known her for 7 years now, as I was the midwife in attendance when her brother was born almost 7 years ago. She has always been a neat kid: smart, kind, gentle with her brother, nice to her parents, respectful without being smarmy, not in the least self-centered (though I am not her parent, of course)... she's just a terrific kid and anyone should be proud to have her as their daughter (and her parents certainly are).

At 11, she is stunning. Poised. Pretty-- really genuinely lovely. Gorgeous eyes. Beautiful hair (that she apparently wants to dye black! Bah!). Lovely skin. Tall. Slender. Graceful. And best of all, she does not appear to be overly aware of it-- she is one of those wonderful pretty girls who doesn't seem to know exactly how pretty she is. Or to care-- though she is well put-together, so I know she does care as most 11 year old girls do. Anyway, she's terrific.

I also had a student in the office today. Another extremely beautiful young woman, probably in her mid to late 20s. Exotic, pleasant, smiles easily, and genuinely a beautiful woman. As we were chatting about the girl, I said something to the effect of "she is just stunning" and my student responded "yes, she is.... but then, we were all that pretty when we were 11." I said "I wasn't" and that was that.

Well, it's true, I wasn't particularly pretty. I was gawky. I was a bit overweight (but I didn't have anything on what I am now, sigh). My hair was frizzy and I tried to keep it straight, a ridiculous thing to even try, and it made my already thin hair look even thinner. I had thick glasses, hiding the blue eyes that are undoubtedly my best facial feature. While some of these have been remedied and I don't think I am ugly, I also realized that I really would not ever expect to be described as pretty. I just don't think of myself that way, and I never have. There have been times when this has been a considerable source of misery, but I think they are pretty much long over at this point.

Still, it is interesting to realize that for some of us there is the Presumption of Pretty-- the absolute conviction that we were at one time pretty, even if that time has passed. It is startling to think that my student might even begin to put herself in this camp, since she is still extremely beautiful and would turn heads just about anywhere, I suspect.

I have never had the Presumption of Pretty. Never. It simply does not form any part of my world view. I wonder what life would be like, to believe that you are or at least once were genuinely pretty, even to complete strangers?

What is it like, to know that you are pretty?


Blogger Cheryl said...


Prior to it all comes the presumption of equality, acceptability. In fact I think that feeling pretty is just an extension of being wanted and acceptable, not a state where one looks and thinks they are better than anyone else.

You could compare it to the confidence in boys at expensive private schools - their attitude isnt one thats been taught - we all start with it, its just that privelige stops life from knocking it out of them.

On the other hand being aware of feeling not-pretty - that must take some seriously hurtful input from somewhere else, whether you are criticised or publicly excluded from praise (oh your friend is so pretty). Unless, unless as an ex-pretty-girl, thats me assuming that pretty = loved?

It comes to us all, this realisation, but at different ages and stages, and I have to say it sounds like you were trodden on far too early.

Its good to know that people who deliberately knock others down generally do it out of fear for themselves.

P.S. I was the prettiest little girl in the whole world ever - not in all eyes of course, but according to my dad - until I was about ten and a friend came round to play and took the title. The praise just burst out as a comment as soon as she'd gone. I don't think he even knew what he'd done.

Grass greener etc, eh?

9:36 AM  
Blogger ZBTzahBTzoo said...

Eh. My parents only praised pretty when they thought I'd noticed pretty on someone else, then came the refrains, "pretty is as pretty does," and "beauty is only skin deep," and all that stuff designed to make the not so pretty feel good about themselves. Til then, it had only been, "smart, intelligent, clever, creative," so when the pee-word was finally spoken, it smarted some. I wish they had spoken none of it and simply said the L-word more often.

Because pretty and smart and clever and creative mean nothing without consistent L.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Miss Cellania said...

Geez, I coudl write a whole post on the perception of beauty. I tink I will.

Lizard, I have no doubt that you were much prettier than YOU ever thought.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Miss Cellania said...

And one of these days, I might even learn to type.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Lizard said...

ver interesting discussion. Cheryl, you are right, I was trod on too early. I have simply no memory of myself in which I did not feel fat. None. That is horrid.

That said, it wasn't like pretty was at all important in my family. We were much more about smart-- and we went to posh private schools. So oddly, I have precisely the sense on entitlement that I thik you talk about. I simply assume that I can do what I want, that I am smart enough and competent enough. I can make things happen. It's totally separate from the pretty thing for me.

I can't imagine being prettiest in your father's eyes and losing that.... but while I know that our parents loved us all well, I don't recall every being told that I was pretty. Perhaps they didn't want us to think that pretty mattered, focusing more on smart and competent and such. Of course, in this world, pretty matters very very much, and to teach your kids that it doesn't is tantamount to lying. Not that my parents did that, but still.

I don't know. How do you give your kids a realistic view? Tell them that of course pretty does matter, but that it shouldn't mater the way it does? That doesn't help.

And I certainly agree with alphabet soup there, that giving your kids love, and making sure that they feel loved and lovable is so much more important. I think of that often, as I tell my daughter how much I love her.

6:52 PM  
Blogger fineartist said...

“We were all pretty when we were 11.” What planet was that chick from?

Dear Lord, at 11 I was gawky, gangly, stringy haired, growing breasts I didn’t want, turkey necking--I had a slight case of turrets, not bad enough to shout cuss words at the theatre, my ticks were physical, I blinked, oh wait, did I say blinked? That would be an understatement I squoze my eyes incessantly, and thrust my head forward like a turkey, and side ways like a I had water in my ears. I rattled too, I know, hard to imagine me babbling, heh.--I do NOT remember 11 being a typically pretty stage. Uh, no, I remember pushing for “pleasant”, not pretty.

My mother calls it my “ugly stage“. Thankfully she didn’t call it my ugly stage,
out loud,
to me,
She waited until I was about 30 and my nephew was growing into puberty, and she said, “He’s going through his ugly stage, remember Lori, you had an ugly stage too?” I think I just looked at her, shook my damned head and huffed when she said it. I mean, I knew that stage was rough on me, but man apparently I didn’t realize just how rough…and I sure didn’t see my nephew as ugly, just pubescent, and a really groovy kid.

My dad used to say, “Snooks there is always going to be someone out there in this ol’ world who is smarter, prettier, faster, better…etc…in some ways, than you. Always going to be someone who has something you don’t have, or you don’t think you have, that’s why you don’t compare yourself to other people, you just know, and don’t forget what you’ve got going for you and you build on it.”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing, I think he really said it in these words, “Snooks there’s always gonna be someone in this ol’ world who thinks they’re better than you, for some reason or another. And there’s always gonna be someone whose smarter, prettier etc….(waving his arm in dismissal). You’ll make yourself sick comparing yourself to other people, be your own measuring stick.”

It amazes me now to realize how much I understood him, and man I’m so glad I did.

Pretty? You know, now that I think about it I don’t think I have ever seen an 11 year old girl who wasn’t pretty, God/Goddess bless them…I am such a contradiction.

I wonder if anyone feels pretty all of the time? I doubt it. I remember feeling pretty the other day for a few minutes, I remember feeling pretty one time when I was at the swimming pool with my kids reading a Stephen king book and a photographer from the local paper took my picture. Oh dear Lord I did NOT feel pretty when I saw the pic in the paper, gads, I had my head all bent down resting on my three chins, and my butt was hanging out underneath the lawn chair, it was awful, heh heh, and when I went to work that night they had copies of it hanging all over the kitchen, (I was a waitress at the time, not a cook, um no.) with the following caption, “For a good time call waffle ass…” The creeps. It was funny though.

I am babbling….

6:19 AM  
Blogger fineartist said...

Oh and I forgot to mention that my toes were literally hooked over the end bar on the recliner/lawn chair. Oh horror.

6:37 AM  

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