Deconstructing the “Pretty Girl” Myth
When I was younger (like last week), I used to look at beautiful females and imagine they were coasting through life without a care in the world. When you look like I do, it’s easy to put beautiful women up on a pedestal. I can usually carry on a conversation with a rock, but I used to get tongue tied around these gorgeous women. The first things that ran through my mind were: She is way too pretty to be my friend. What could we possibly have in common when she looks like she does? Why would she want to be friends with a disfigured, splotchy lady?
This destructive inner dialogue was utterly ridiculous. I have vowed to stop this madness and encourage others to do the same. No one coasts through life unscathed. Regardless of what anyone looks like on the outside, everyone has scars on their heart. The crap that befalls us does not discriminate between wealthy or poor, beautiful or plain, famous or average. No one can dodge this mystical, equal opportunity crapper. Plus, how would we appreciate life’s incredible moments unless we endured the bad times life inevitably brings? I can think of no better person to illustrate this point than my beautiful (both inside and out) friend, Corrie.
I met Corrie in fall, 1992, at The University of Illinois, where we both had joined the same sorority. One look at Corrie and I was sure we would never be friends. I vividly recall my first time seeing her face, which radiated with striking beauty. Corrie’s perfectly proportioned body was clad in leggings and an oversized AEPhi sweatshirt. Her graceful height was accentuated by the high-heeled cowboy boots she wore and the insanely large head of hair that screamed, “Don’t mess with me or my hair!”
When she spoke, Corrie was articulate beyond her years and used big words I had never learned when studying for the vocab portion of the ACTs. She possessed the rare combination of abundant brains and beauty. I was so intimidated by her, and felt positive this gorgeous genius would never want to hang out with the stupid, awkward looking girl I perceived myself to be.
I stayed away from Corrie our first semester. Slowly though, we began to talk and travel within the same circles. By sophomore year, Corrie was one of my closest friends. We went through college laughing, crying, engaging in toilet paper fights and pretending to study on the quad. When I hung out with Corrie at bars or fraternity parties, I became accustomed to the way guys would talk to “both” of us but really only tolerate my presence because I was obviously friends with the pretty girl. Our college experiences laid the foundation for a lifelong friendship that has spanned over two decades.
Corrie has taught me so much. I was shocked to discover that she does not think of herself as beautiful. When pressed by me, she will only admit to seeing herself as looking “fine” or “moderately attractive.” Like many women in our country, she prefers not to leave her house without makeup in order to conceal her perceived flaws from the public. She is self-conscious knowing that some find her intimidating and unapproachable.
Has Corrie coasted through life riding the coattails of her beauty? Hell to the no. Corrie has been crapped on like the rest of us. She and her stunning good looks encounter daily obstacles. She struggles with parenting three children and maintaining her strong marriage. Corrie spent a decade toiling to earn a PhD in clinical and school psychology and has yet to cultivate her career due to unforeseeable circumstances. Little things have gotten in her way, like being on bed rest during her third pregnancy, a diagnosis of liposarcoma—a rare cancer of the soft tissues—at age 36, and financial challenges that arose when her husband lost his job. With each challenge, Corrie has demonstrated resilience and tenacity that only someone with her inner beauty and strength could.
I will admit that when I meet someone for the first time, I still need to stop myself from letting that awful negative self-talk enter my stream of thoughts (you’re not pretty enough, smart enough, cool enough …..). We all need to wrestle these inner voices and realize we are worthy of self-acceptance and happiness. I consciously have to remind myself of Stuart Smalley’s famous SNL quote,
“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
This is where I speak directly to my imaginary critics and defend what I’ve just written. It’s my own signature weirdness, so just indulge me.
Imaginary Critic (or maybe just my sister): Why are you depicting yourself as such an ugly duckling on this blog when you are a beautiful swan? Seriously, you’re being offensive to people who are truly less attractive than you. If you’re trying to encourage people to embrace who they are and exude confidence in their appearance, then why are you constantly bashing yourself with your self-deprecating humor?
Me: Listen Heidi, er, I mean “Imaginary Critic,” I have never once referred to myself on my blog as ugly. Splotchy, awkward, disfigured, deformed, disgustingly skinny—yes, I’ve used those adjectives, but never ugly. I’m trying to make the point that regardless of how others perceive us, there is a part within ourselves that tries to demolish our self-confidence and cast a shadow of doubt over our accomplishments. I want to encourage everyone to squash that inner voice and replace it with one that tells us to proudly fly our freak flags.
Imaginary Critic (or some of my friends): The more you write the more I worry that some weird encounter I’ve had with you in the past will be used as fodder for your next blog. Like that mean boy you wrote about in Tales of a Gym Class Freak who teased you. Are you going to write his name in a future blog and publicly shame him?
Me: It is not my goal to ever publicly shame anyone or judge someone on something they did over 20 years ago (or yesterday). I will always carefully consider the feelings of those I write about. So, while the name of the bully who taunted me in high school is permanently etched in my brain, I will not ever disclose it publicly. Private messaging on FB is a different story 🙂 .
Imaginary Critic: This blog post resembles a lot of stupid after school specials and sitcom episodes that depict the “pretty girl” as being so intimidating that no one asks her to the prom and she sits at home like a loser on Saturday nights. Is this alleged “friend” of yours an actual person, or are you just really good at Photoshop?
Me: Corrie is 100 percent real and she did go to her prom! I on the other hand, went out with some fellow dateless girlfriends on prom night. As for Photoshop, I can assure you that I have never used it, nor do I know if I even am mentioning it in the proper context. Have you seen the jagged, hand-cut edges on the photos I post on this blog?
My Other Friends: Lisa, are you saying I am not as pretty as Corrie or that I haven’t overcome as many hurdles? Why didn’t you pick me to feature in this post? My life has sucked plenty of times!
Me: All my friends are gorgeous both inside and out. Don’t pull a Jan Brady, your turn will come. I think you missed the point of this post. You are supposed to read this and feel confidently radiant. Get with the program, will ya?
Dear Lisa, I read this tonight after spending another afternoon at the ER. I was feeling sorry for myself. Seeing a glimpse forward into senior life. Thank you for letting me see I was feeling sorry for myself but it was ok. Hope you had a wonderful holiday. Keep writing. Love Beth Joyce
Sent from my iPad
Sometimes on the days that every joint in my body hurts, I think about your blog and think that no one can see how I feel if I smile and just keep going. So I guess that I am lucky, though luck has nothing to do with how I feel. I have discovered that if I just keep going and doing, it helps me to forget how I really feel and i feel better. My sports are gone with the arthritis but I can still draw, Pain has not taken that away from me. Need a picture, just ask!
As your “critic”/sister I will have you know that growing up I was always jealous of your platinum blond hair and cat green eyes! 🙂
Pain prevents you from having a lot of good, positive thoughts about oneself. It is a thief that comes through the tiny space beneath your door and comes to rest in your brain where other, more positive memories should be resting. Did G-d make a mistake and forget to fix me, or did he think I possessed the wherewithal to handle it myself and become a stronger woman from it? Whatever he did, I have spent almost 7+ years of my life trying my best to become that stronger woman, to fight that pain, to hold back the tears that threaten to spill over each time one of my doctors give me the latest news, always ending with, “But, then, THIS is YOU!” I HAVE learned an important lesson over the years that I have lived with my chronic pain. That is that there are no answers to the WHY, WHEN, WHERE, HOW MUCH, or HOW LONG questions. If there were, G-D would have included a manual with each of us when we were born! At some point, we either all have to gather our strength and do what the doctors tell us needs to be done, or do what seems to work for each one of us as individuals! I am the first to admit that sometimes my shoelaces break and it takes me a while to get a new pair, but, in time, I have to get them and continue where I left off! Quitting is not an option!!!