I love this poem and its amazing author. I’ve watched this video more times than I can count, and it stirs me every single time. This poem challenges the pervasive notion that women must do everything in their power to look as pretty as possible. At all times and at any cost – be it financial, personal, or emotional. Which is, as you all know, utter bullshit.
Before my blog even existed, Erin wrote this amazing post, in which she points out that no woman alive “owes” the world any amount of beautification, but also points out that pretty CAN be a choice. She says (italics her original):
I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.
And I think that distinction is well worth making.
You get to make your own priorities in life, of course, but I highly recommend “happiness” and its buddies “serenity” and “joy” as some possible list-toppers. I know from personal experience that happiness can be extremely hard to come by, and dedicating energy to finding, creating, and nurturing your own little supply is absolutely vital. Never doubt that, above all, YOU deserve to be happy. You. Yes, love, I’m talking to you.
Making yourself look pretty should NEVER feel like cultural or personal obligation, a resentment-generating chore, or a priority that eclipses cultivating overall well-being. And while I encourage all people to consider how clothing contributes to presentation of self, the bottom line is that what you wear is your business, as is WHY you wear it, and no one can encroach on that no matter how hard they try. Not me, not Tim Gunn or Stacy London, not your mom, not a single living being.
But, depending on how you’re wired, feeling and looking pretty can help you connect your mental and emotional selves to your physical self. There are a million other ways to foster holistic self-love, and I know loads of women who prefer to enjoy and celebrate their bodies through exercise, yoga, or other non-adornment-focused activities. But I focus on pretty around here for very personal reasons:
I spent years and years and YEARS of my young life leading an emotionally and intellectually rich existence, but I felt hollow and miserable much of the time because I didn’t understand or accept my body. As I’ve mentioned, I dieted myself into oblivion and eventually embraced exercise in hopes of forcing my body into a more “appealing” shape. And it shifted this way and that, but mostly stayed the same and I mostly still hated it. Until I began exploring style. Playing with clothes allowed me to express myself, adorn my unchanged body, and feel strong and radiant and grounded in new and exciting ways. For the first time, I was proud of my physical self. I didn’t want to hide my body or distract from it, and I watched in wonder as it began to merge into my identity. I had spent decades feeling smart and talented, but no matter how many lovers I took or how many compliments I racked up, I hated my body. Until I found pretty, all by myself. And it turned the tide for me.
As Katie Makkai so eloquently sings to us, pretty is not enough. Pretty should never feel like the end goal, or the underlying motivator, or the meaning of female existence. I defend pretty because it transformed me. But although feeling pretty, standing tall and admiring my own physical form adorned and celebrated, helps me to love myself better and stronger, it is not enough. It alone does not define me. Pretty is personally vital, yet it is merely one color in the ever-expanding prism of my identity.