Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Some thoughts on pretty, in honor of my 41st birthday

The embarrassing truth is that apparently, all this time, being pretty was wrapped up in my self-identity. And yet, as I look in the mirror on this my forty-first birthday, I have to admit: my lifetime supply of pretty is rapidly diminishing.

I recently happened upon this blog post and was struck by the line, “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 realized that a lot of my uncomfortable feelings about my forty-year-old face and body came from a feeling that to some extent I owed it to people to be pretty. To my mother, to my children, to my husband. But why? 

Pretty is like the shallow cousin to beauty. The Lady GaGa to Madonna. The Lindsay Lohan to Elizabeth Taylor. The Rihanna to Michelle Obama. In real life, I don’t go too much for pretty. I've always been more attracted to, found more beauty in things that are a little worn or off-center or unmatched. I’m a fan of pied beauty.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;        5
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled, [fortyish] (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:        10
                  Praise him.

When I look at older women—and lately I've been doing that a lot. Checking out jowls and necks and brows, comparing, trying to figure out how some women manage to look old but beautiful—I admire most the ones that are more than pretty. The ones whose faces show strength of will, force of character, life. And when I look at young women—Those smooth foreheads! That glowing skin!—sometimes the prettiness looks a little unformed. Those unlined faces look to me literally incomplete. And I think there will be more beauty when time seasons a little of that pretty.

It felt like a revelation and a relief (and okay, maybe a bit of sour grapes) to just let go of pretty. Elegant, handsome, stylish, beautiful, confident, striking, fit, attractive—these I’m hoping for a lifetime supply of. But pretty, my stores on that are running low. And maybe I’m okay with that.


  1. I look at older women too, because 35 isn't far from 41, and because I wonder if there is a relief in achieving the lined, graying, rumpled neck and thickened middle phase of one's life. Is there a lovely sense of relief at having successfully crossed from pretty to seasoned?

  2. I was worried about "pretty" today as I had my first television interview (with an Italian news team, and Italians are just so opposite looking of me: olive skinned, dark hair and eyes and very striking bone structures). Anyway, as I walked to temple square to meet the news crew, a homeless man remarked "wow, you are so pretty...and you have a really nice butt." Now it could have been his way of asking for money but regardless, I struggled with feelings of frustration of being annoyed at the catcall as well as thoughts of "awesome, I'm glad I look pretty, I'm about to go on tv (and yes, these are my nice butt pants)." Anyway, it's a constant balance I guess. Normally I eschew most makeup and was glad to take it all off tonight. And I probably will never watch the actual newscast, since I will be judging every wrinkle, squinty eye, and more. Regardless, I've long decided that I do want to be known as an "interesting" woman, one that one doesn't forget (which is kind of easy, just with the hair) and I think I pull that off pretty nicely, just with my force of personality. :)

    I remember a friend saying that when she turned 40 she realized that she was no longer the prettiest one in the room (and like you, has a lot of natural beauty and knows how to enhance it) and it was a hard realization, but an important one if you can do as you do in this nicely articulated post.

  3. Maybe because my Mom and sister have done it so gracefully, or maybe just because at this point I'm naive about this, I look forward to my 40's. I look froward to being one of those people who seems "normal" and then zings you with some hysterical witticism and leaves you chuckling for a few minutes after you part.