Although I don’t always view it as such – especially on Saturday mornings – I occupy the body of a stereotypically attractive girl.
Just uttering those words makes me feel guilty and writing them down for you to see is almost agonising. Why do I feel guilty for telling the truth? Because “pretty” is not a label women are supposed to apply to themselves – the verdict on whether one is “pretty” or not is left up to others. Magazine gossip columns with their unison cries of “Go from flab to fab!” and “Hot or Not?” set the rules, while judgmental strangers on the street happily function as the judges in this worldwide beauty contest.
Unlike most beauty contests, participation in this pageant is not voluntary – it’s mandatory. The prizes can, however, be much better than a modelling contract – being pretty can feel like winning the lottery. Everyday, attractive men and women worldwide reap many benefits for their good looks. According to studies, they are better paid and perceived as more likable, healthy and trustworthy. As a result, they often come out on top in terms of self-esteem and social status.
So yes – in many ways, being a pretty girl is like playing the game of life on the easy setting. I am concentrating on women here, but most of the trends I will discuss seem to be true of our male counterparts as well. Luckily for men, however, they are not primarily judged based on their outer appearance, which is why I have chosen to focus on the concept of “prettiness” as opposed to general attractiveness.
But despite all these advantages, there are downsides to being pretty and I believe we need to talk about them more than we tend to. I can see a shadow of doubt in your eye and I reassure you that you needn’t worry, this is not another one of those “I’m so pretty, everyone is jealous of me” rants. My aim is to look contemporary society square in the eye and, instead of letting it size me up, judge it right back.
Many good-looking women complain that they are sometimes perceived as intellectually inferior, but this has not been my experience. In fact, studies have shown that attractive people are perceived as smarter than their homelier counterparts. Some complain about being treated with animosity by “jealous girls” and “rejected boys”, but from what I have seen an appealing physique attracts rather than repels people. Most of us like to be associated with beauty and being friends with an attractive person brings us one step closer.
In my opinion, the real issue with being pretty doesn’t lie in how others perceive you – it lies in how you come to perceive yourself. Ever since I was little, I was praised for my looks. Whether it was a teacher commenting on my cute dress or a group of teenage boys ogling me in class, I was often reminded of the fact that others found me visually appealing. It was one of the main things that, in my mind, came to define me from an early age onward. After a while it stuck and I began to wear “pretty” like a badge of honour. Losing it became unthinkable.
But that is the point when the problems start. The issue with prettiness is just how fleeting it is. You are always one bad haircut and twenty pounds away from losing your “pretty” status, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the majority of eye beholders have been conditioned by the media to think of beauty in a very narrow sense. Beauty as we know it is white, skinny and feminine. Once you begin to drift away from this mould, the amount of recognition you receive for your good looks begins to wane. That might be preferable to some, but those who – like me – derive a big portion of their self-confidence from their appearance soon begin to feel worthless without this attention.
This is why many pretty girls invest a lot more time, thought and energy into their appearance than their less “pretty” friends. The media loves to mock women who were once beautiful for their botched plastic procedures and inability to age gracefully – and I think I am beginning to understand it. “Pretty” can shoot you toward the stars, but it’s only a matter of time before gravity will take its toll and you’ll plummet down to earth in disgrace.
This post is not a pity party for pretty people – as I mentioned earlier, physical attractiveness holds many advantages. Unfortunately, praising girls for their looks instead of their goals or achievements sets them up for disaster in the long run. Many good-looking people could hardly be said to lack self-confidence, but this confidence is directed toward a perishable good – beauty – and hence represents a pending ticket to depression town.
Some solutions sound deceptively simple – we need to diversify our understanding of beauty to make it more inclusive. I understand the motivation behind this solution, but in my opinion it doesn’t address the root of the problem. Why is beauty – a trait we are born with, much like our skin tones or body shapes – so important in life? Pretty does not equal kind, pretty does not equal good and it surely does not equal deserving of better treatment.
Unfortunately, ridding ourselves of such attitudes is easier said than done. Media outlets and advertising agencies rule with an iron fist and leave no space for discussion – their products are purely visual and the model of beauty they have created is aimed to simplify their jobs and maximise their wages.
But perhaps the winds of change are blowing in the right direction, for we no longer need traditional media to openly talk about body image issues. With that in mind, please share your thoughts with me. Do you think those who fit society’s narrow definition of beauty should be rewarded or do you believe being “pretty” is not an achievement worthy of special treatment?