Pretty Cool

I'm thinking about being pretty and feeling pretty.

I’m thinking about being pretty, and if that matters.

Next week, I am going on a girl’s trip to a sunny location with some great friends.  Stop drooling.  Before you get too green with envy, consider that instead of occupying myself with which books I’ll bring or which sundresses I’ll wear, I am instead thinking about how gorgeous my friends are compared to me.  I am thinking I am no longer pretty in that singularly youthful way.  What does it mean to be pretty?  And does it really matter?  And does anyone besides me really give a shit whether I am pretty?

Circulating on Facebook recently is a video by Dove.  Yes, the beauty bar (apparently NOT soap).  In it, female subjects (around my age) are drawn by a forensic artist first as described by themselves and second by someone else who had recently met them.  The drawings are of their faces.  Without exception, the subjects recounted their own perceived faults and inadequacies.  Chubby cheeks.  Mousy hair.  The other person who was asked to detail the subject’s features was decidedly more focused on the positive aspects of their appearance.  Lovely eyes.  Shapely cheekbones.  In fact, the describers were far more accurate when the artist completed his renderings.  (The subject’s faces were occluded from the artist’s view). When the female subjects finally saw the finished product, you could see the heartbreak on their faces.  The images were dramatically different.  The describers got it right.  The subjects got it wrong.  Just plain wrong.  And then I wondered, am I getting it wrong, too?

Earlier this month, President Obama was praising California attorney general Kamala Harris for being brilliant but in the next sentence, he called her the best looking attorney general in the nation.  Whaaa?  After an apology brought on rightly by protests, it’s still sobering to consider that women are still being given credit for their good looks on the same level as their accomplishments.  It’s bullshit for sure, but it happens all the time.  Gordon Patzer PhD, a professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago, runs an institute on physical attractiveness.   His website is called Looks Rule.  Seriously, it is.  He has spent the last 30 years researching why it does matter.  Basically, his findings are that attractive people are valued more highly than others.  That’s it.  On a whole, they’re not happier, more organized, more interesting or smarter.  Just more valued.  Maybe that’s the reason that all these beautiful people are idolized who really haven’t done anything.  Paris Hilton.  Kim Kardashian.

They are more likely to have attention lavished on them, such as having others pick up their dropped papers while those less radiant are left to fend for themselves.  More attractive candidates get elected.  Less attractive students get less attention from professors.  It’s no wonder we want to be pretty and attractive.  You get to be liked and sought after!  You get promotions!  You get attention!  But then…  It’s must be hard to keep up that level of interest after your looks get you in the door.  After all, you don’t morph into a different beautiful person every day.  You are you.  And don’t we all use what we have?  Not everyone has supportive parents.  Or lots of money.  Not everyone is athletically gifted. Or endowed with a high IQ.  And you can bet that those things are highly valued too.  And also, what happens when your looks fade?

The reward circuits in your brain fire when you gaze upon a person, male or female, with physically attractive features.  The subcortical and paralimbic parts of your brain are activated, meaning that this happens without you being aware of it and also that it effects you emotionally.  So, as part of human evolution, we are programmed to be drawn to the prettiest of the species.  On the whole, men are more influenced by pretty women than the other way around.  And women are much more interested in being perceived as attractive.  Hmm… So, here in suburbia, do pretty women have more friends?  Not that I have seen.  Do they have better jobs, better husbands?  Sometimes, but not anywhere near statistically significant.  Do they seem happier?  Maybe.  Do they have less worries?  Definitely not.

One of my daughter’s friends asked me recently, would you rather be pretty or cool?  I told her I’d like to be pretty cool.  She seemed to like that answer.  Women rail against the status quo, me too, but we are fighting a biological instinct.  Attractiveness is a favorable attribute no matter how you slice it.

But here’s the thing.

I am pretty sometimes.  When I go out, when I wear mascara, when I watch my children play, when I go on a hike with my husband.  But I am loved all the time.

Have you ever known someone and at first you don’t see them as all that attractive, but as time passes, you find them more and more appealing?  As you discover their absolutely infectious laugh, their eyes gleam even more.  As you find out you both love Rob Lowe movies, you notice a glow about them.  As you are hugged by them in your saddest times, you close your eyes and allow yourself to be surrounded by their beauty.  That’s the rub.  You can change your biology.  You can create a pretty face when initially you didn’t see it.  You can even do this for yourself.  I just did.

Pretty cool.

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen at Mt. Hood Mama Photos for the pretty photos.  She is really pretty, too, by the way.

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10 comments on “Pretty Cool

  1. Goose says:

    Now I know you, and I know you didn’t write this to get complimented the hell out of, but who gives a hoot, I have to say it, you are a gorgeous lady! All the time with this… glowing skin I beg for, youthful looks I will never achieve, sparkly eyes, and a badass yoga body. Plus you got the goods on the inside.

    It sucks how we look at ourselves. I’m feeling the same as you re: this trip! All hotties you are! I’m even growing a pimple under my lip as I type, just to make me feel “better”. The best part is I know I will be with sisters. We will all pinch our own bellies in bikinis while we drink beers and margaritas with one hand and eat chips and guac with the other.

    Cheers to sisters!

  2. Mari Stephenson says:

    I know a certain someone else who is going on that trip who just told me last night that everyone else going (that would include you) was in so much better shape than her. And it’s swimsuit time. I told her she should set a good example by showing the others how nice it is to be relaxed about your body. Of course I’m sure it went in one ear and out the other. Our society doesn’t give us much relief from body image at any age, but you are right, love and caring make all the difference.

    Thanks for another great post.

    On Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 8:28 PM, suburbotypes

  3. Jeanne says:

    I think you were so pretty when you were dressed as Frida Kahlo! It’s refreshing to know you are not alone, but it’s sad to know we all do this to ourselves to some degree. That certain person is fabulous by the way. I fully expect her to set that good example!

  4. Kayla says:

    Wow. This is awesome and just what I needed reminding of today! Love it!

  5. MBG-YO! says:

    The week before we left for Mexico, I talked to a friend about her recent trip to San Francisco. She commented at how amazed she was by the amount of time and effort people put into their physical appearance. I told her about our trip, and my own struggles with being concerned about how I would look or what I would wear. No matter how much I told myself it shouldn’t matter on a lady trip, I admitted it was impossible for me to completely not care.

    The “angel” on my shoulder says it was good inspiration to stay in shape and not eat cookies every night, to evaluate my wardrobe ahead of time so I knew what deficiencies needed to be filled. But the “devil” in me didn’t want to work that hard or have it seem like it’s work. The last thing I want is to be high maintenance. Unfortunately, low maintenance doesn’t equate no maintenance. Maybe there is no such thing as low maintenance.

    Try as I might to accept my appearance, a lot of time, effort, and money goes into the care and keeping of me. I mean, hell, I look like hell in the morning. I have got to do something to try to work with what I’ve got! Which is reminds me why I, too, throw my hands up and serve Kraft for dinner more often than I’d like. Motherhood increases your grooming workload exponentially by having to dress, clip nails, arrange haircuts for your kids, and in some cases, your husband. Not to mention the shopping….

    The gift for me was, that despite any anxiety I experienced regarding my appearance or how I would fit into this group of pre-existing friendships among gorgeous, fit, well-read women..despite all that – I found myself at ease among you all. I embraced and enjoyed the flamboyance of beauty that surrounded me. I felt like my varicosities were skimmed over in favor of my shiny head band. Rather than spend too much time being self-conscious or comparing myself to others, I was in awe of the beauty you each possess. Beauty is transitory, not fading. The beautiful we are today is a slightly different version of the beautiful we were in Mexico, sitting under a slaughter of iguanas, drinking fresh juices on fabulous patio furniture. I’m glad I got to experience it instead of letting my fear of not being enough hold me back. In the end, I know I was true to myself. Of all the things I packed, my favorite was the laughter.

    • Jeanne says:

      I love your response and your writing. You are also “gorgeous, fit, well-read!” You didn’t see me doing any pushups that trip, but you rocked out numerous workouts. We were just a really well matched and low drama group and I found myself wondering how I could have had any anxiety at all about it. Every time people ask me about the trip, I just get all gushy and happy. There really are no words for how awesome it was. You were and are, the icing on the cake.

  6. Mommy D. says:

    You’re beautiful all the way through and always have been.

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