Reader Request: Smart vs. Pretty

Reader Judy sent me this request via e-mail:

One of my fellow engineering students made the comment that girls in engineering are either “hot” and dumb, or really smart, socially awkward, and “ugly.” Upon remembering that I am, indeed, a girl, he babbled something about a happy medium, but the meaning was nonetheless clear. Time spent with power tools can limit my skirt and dress wearing, but I like to believe that I can be perceived as a woman, even an attractive woman, and also as competent and intelligent.

I’d love to see a blog post discussing looking and feeling your best while being taken seriously. How do we deal with the idea that a pretty face and a sharp mind are mutually exclusive?

Long, long ago I wrote on this topic – the infuriating notion that a woman can be smart OR pretty, but not both – but it’s a topic that is close to my heart and deserves revisiting. So let’s revisit … with the understanding that, for this discussion, both natural features and personal style contribute to our ideas surrounding “being pretty.”

Humans love to categorize and compartmentalize. Our world is big and complex and overwhelming, and if we stopped to consider every possible meaning for every possible symbol, event, and person, our heads would explode. So we apply broad labels to save time and energy. And it means that we generalize and make loads of incorrect assumptions, but it also means that our heads remain intact. Imperfect, but often necessary.

In my experience, stereotypes arise when we generalize our generalizations, or just devolve into judgmental laziness. It’s one thing to observe the world and note trends, it’s another to decide that those trends are immutable laws that cannot be bent or broken by individual acts or beings. It’s a fluid world, and making your beliefs inflexible will only lead to trouble and strife.

Somewhere along the line, someone noticed that many of the smartest women prized intellect over fashion and beauty rituals. Those in the sciences who must dress for lab work are especially inclined to eschew aesthetics when it comes to clothing choices, since safety is top priority. It makes sense that anyone truly immersed in academia, science, philosophy, or any all-consuming cranial pursuit would prefer to put the majority of her energy toward discoveries, experiments, and studying instead of … well, most anything else. And that includes finding the most flattering hairstyle for her face shape and scouting out the ideal lip color for her skin tone.

Someone else noticed that many of the most traditionally attractive and fashionable women focused on less intellectual topics and activities. I wish it weren’t so, but my experience and readings lead me to believe that women deemed beautiful by current social norms are often given more opportunities, treated more kindly, and showered with more attention than their less attractive peers. So, in a way, it makes sense that anyone with such natural advantages would choose a route that required less stress, struggle, and pressure to prove herself against biased peers.

And then yet another someone decided to mush these two already-overgeneralized generalizations together and say that smart girls can’t be pretty, and pretty girls can’t be smart. And smart women, pretty women, and smart-pretty women ALL get a raw deal because of this. Smart women are often teased if they dabble in cosmetics or fashion, can feel pressured to downplay their looks, and even encounter doubts about their intellects when they choose to don stylish duds or experiment with fun hairstyles. Pretty women are questioned when they assert their intellectual prowess among small-minded peers, feel trapped into leaning on their looks if other tactics fail, and are often bullied into succumbing to the stereotype of the gorgeous airhead. Women who are both pretty and smart seem to stymie everyone. No one believes that they can be beauties AND braniacs simultaneously, and in order to feel accepted many of them instinctively downplay their smarts or downplay their interest in aesthetics. It is both true and completely fine that some smart women couldn’t give a damn about personal style, and some pretty women couldn’t give a damn about o-chem or Nietzsche. But the ones who try to balance both worlds end up feeling like they don’t belong in either.

In our society, both intellect and physical beauty constitute forms of power. And I’m relatively sure that the reason why women who are both smart and pretty get teased and ostracized is because people are deeply uncomfortable with the notion that we could possess and wield that much power. One type or the other? OK, that’s not too scary or threatening. But both? No effing way. Tamp one kind of power down to keep that woman’s achievement potential and self-esteem safely in check.

And as passive as it may sound, I believe that the best way to combat this stereotype is to lead by example. Don’t allow anyone to tamp down your style or intellect, don’t allow anyone to tease you into submission, don’t allow anyone to tell you you can only be smart OR pretty but not both. And that’s a lot to ask, I know. Peer pressure is alive and well among human beings of all ages. Just as high schoolers struggle to dress and act as they wish instead of conforming to the will of the herd, adults struggle to dress and act as they wish instead of caving under the pressure of colleagues’ scrutiny and questioning. But as scary as it feels, we can push back. Gently, insistently, slowly, and steadily.

And we can support the smart, fashionable women that surround us. We can react with neither surprise nor hostility when confronted by people who simply cannot believe that we are both brilliant and gorgeous. Since normalcy is based in mutual agreement, we can help make the brainy/beautiful combination become normal through our reactions to disbelievers. And we can just be ourselves. We can present the world with that mind-blowing combination of beautiful and intelligent. Our articulate, curious, well-read, analytical AND fashionable, luminous, stylish selves can become the ambassadors of chic smarts.

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  • Here’s a whole group dedicated to breaking that stereotype:

    http://www.nerdgirls.com/

  • This is such a good post! The topic of smart vs. beautiful is so important, and there really shoud not be a “vs.” in this equation. I think a lot if it boils down to confidence. I am definitely confident when it comes to intellect, but not as confident when it comes to beauty. I know I am not ugly, but there are definitely days when I do not consider myself beautiful. So those are two different kinds of confidence. Women everywhere should be encouraged to merge these two kinds of confidence, because the result would be a “wholesome” confidence that is not just based on one part of the personality.

  • Hetty

    For some reason my husband thinks I am beautiful, but he also thinks I’m very intelligent. He claims to be shallow but he has never thought that one is exclusive of the other.

  • “So, in a way, it makes sense that anyone with such natural advantages would choose a route that required less stress, struggle, and pressure to prove herself against biased peers.” But that makes it sound as though a woman that chooses a less “intellectual” pursuit is not as intelligent. You can have a degree in neuroscience and decide that you’d rather decorate cakes for a living because it’s a passion.

    Much like you never hear a young man ask “how can I combine a career and family?” (Steinem), you never hear them asking how to be taken seriously in a professional setting. They just expect to be. A male software engineer can show up in a Thundercats t-shirt and still think they should be heard and their opinion is valid. So that’s how I feel we need to behave. Expect to be taken seriously and speak up if you feel you aren’t. If you got the job, obviously you have the qualifications. Use them.

    • Sal

      Hm. Not what I was saying. Merely that many women who are physically beautiful encounter social advantages, whether they seek them or not.

      • Kate

        The corollary to this, of course, is that many women who are physically beautiful encounter social DISadvantages. People assume you are not smart, PARENTS, relatives, and teachers – may not push that person as hard as they would a less conventionally beautiful person. And I think there is a lot to be said for that – the way that teachers often steer boys into “hard” sciences, teachers also tend to treat conventionally beautiful girls differently. Does that make sense?

  • I loved this post, and though I haven’t encountered this problem in as extreme a way I agree with your solution. Just don’t conform to the stereotype and if everyone does it it *will* eventually go away.

  • hey — this struck a chord with me in the same way that your initial article did, especially as I am a mechanical engineering student! I am not totally sure where I stand on this. I know in my mind that I fully support that beauty and brains aren’t mutually exclusive… but perhaps it is the selfish part of me that has always internally rebelled when I do see it because I think “why, why can they get both?” Probably because I don’t see myself as classically “beautiful” — stylish in clothing perhaps (sometimes!) but beautiful? I think I was brought up in a family where intellect was highly valued so beauty was never even really mentioned, except when talking about other people in the extended family, so it was never something I associated myself with…

    Ah! I ramble. I suppose the point is yes — I feel that often, society — and even I — expect beauty and brains to be mutually exclusive and when they are thrown together, it is “too good to be true”. I think the fact that I am Muslim and dress modestly (i.e. headscarf etc) means that “beauty” for my dealings with people may not come into the equation as often…

  • — But oh! How can we bust the stereotypes? Well, I guess by walking the talk. and not making assumptions of our fellow fabulous females…and by changing our discourse perhaps, to hopefully influence those around us?

  • Anonymous

    I feel like it’s also worth remembering that women didn’t always have a choice. Routes were selected for us based upon our physical beauty. Gorgeous? Well, she’ll get a good dowry price. Ugly? Too smart for her own good? Send her to a convent. (which, incidentally is where a lot of women in those days got their basic education or went if they also liked books–see Sister Juana de la Cruz for some absolutely brilliant feminist & scientific writings some 400 years ago, ultimately she chose the convent because it was the only place she was allowed to be that intelligent)

    I think today the dynamic you describe is accurate–women in science (or anyone who throws themselves wholeheartedly into a career or a calling) may not have as much interest in the rituals necessary to be a stereotypical beauty. I believe that today it is very possible to choose to have both, and you’re right that the concept that one person could have so much power is threatening to many. But let’s not forget that those nasty stereotypes are also built on centuries of history.

    • and further back, in 10th C. germany, Hrotswitha went to the convent and actually was a master of all seven liberal arts, both the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, logic) and the quadrivium (arithmatic, astronomy, music, geometry); two different approaches to higher learning (the medieval version of graduate school) that were only mastered in tandem by the elite few. Then she adapted Horace’s “dirty” comedies into Church-sanctioned pieces of feminist drama, etc. etc. Of course, it helped that she was from a social elite to begin with – in the Middle Ages it didn’t matter if you were super smart if you didn’t have the connections to get you *into* the convent to begin with! =)

  • First of all: Amen!

    Then, I don’t even know where to start. I am a good looking woman who works in a scientific/technical field. I know I am smart, and I have no intention to forget my love for style and fashion when I am at work. I don’t dress frilly or girly, but I try to be elegant and appropriate – and feminine! – always.
    I have seen the startled looks on the face of people who don’t know me well, when I point out a technical problem or I have a good suggestion – and somehow that gives me quite a bit of satisfaction.

    My strategy is – first, be nice with everyone and don’t behave as you are entitled to something just because of your looks. Show you have earned whatever position you have, don’t feel guilty for it.

    Then, be as collaborative as possible, but don’t let anyone treat you for less than you are worth. I find offensive, vulgar comments are often a strategy men use to disempower women – as if it was the woman’s fault that comment was born!

    It’s often a struggle, I sometimes cringe when I hear a comment about my looks/style because I am worried it could take something away from my professionality. I think the only ones who should give me compliments are my SO and my close relatives – or my friends.
    But I decide to not care, keep looking the way I want to, and keep doing my job well.

  • You know, I hate it that we are still uncomfortable with powerful women! And we don’t have a problem with a smart, handsome men, do we?? OK, got that off my chest.
    If I had to choose, I would nurture young women to be kick-ass smart, confident and self-directed, and ignore fashion/beauty. But since we don’t have to choose, I’d focus on the smarts anyway, ’cause our world needs more smart, confident people.

    I say this as a woman who loves fashion and style, enough to write about it in a blog. But there’s nothing more beautiful than a strong, brainy woman who loves what she does, and does it with a passion.

    If she rocks a great haircut and platform pump too, well, ain’t nothing wrong with that.

  • When I was younger (in elementary school) I made this type of assumption about myself. That since I wasn’t ‘pretty’ (i.e. tall, skinny, and blonde) that I would have to be ‘smart’, so I started really applying myself to school work, and reading all the time. By the time I got to college I’d met a few girls who were both incredibly intelligent AND beautiful. But I figured they were just aberrations in the equation. But then I realized that I can learn to do pretty much anything I want. It’s not always about being ‘traditionally beautiful’ but about learning to be confident, finding colors to complement your own skin tone and styles that suit your body type. And that since I was ‘smart’ I could learn to do ANYTHING, even how to be ‘pretty’.
    I do think that people assume that since I sometimes wear pencil skirts and mascara that I’m not as intelligent as that guy who never puts any effort into his appearance. But I also know that sometimes I get special treatment because of the way I look. I’m not sure which is more annoying, but I try to take a little advantage of both things. Not that I would ever ‘flirt my way to the top’. But showing up to a job interview and knowing how to present myself professionally is, I think, powerful enough to combat the ‘she is young and unintelligent’ factor.

    • Sonja

      My experience is quite similar to yours, Loren, but I still haven’t overcome my prejudices, at least when it comes to myself. I’m not beautiful in the traditional way, and at home my parents have always encouraged intellectual efforts, whereas efforts regarding beauty or fashion were considered shallow and superficial. I only realized about a year ago (and I’m 32!) that I have never started to wear make-up regularly because of the slightly negative comments my mom used to make about woman with “painted” faces. I’ve been experiencing with my look lately and I know that I look now more stylish and “attractive” in a socially accepted way, but I’m still not at ease with the (sometimes very blatant) compliments I hear from time to time: “Oh, you really have changed. You look SO MUCH better now.” Oh. Er, thanks? I’m more comfortable with people talking about my intellectual, professional and creative achievements.

  • Miss T

    In my experience, it’s other women who “enforce” these stereotypes. I would say that I fall into the “smart and pretty” category, and looking back on my career (I’m in my 50s) the only BS I’ve ever gotten about my style and clothing in the workplace (science/research) have been from OTHER WOMEN. There is much jealousy and competition in some fields between women and my experience has been that as women get to higher levels in the organization, they tend to bring along other women who are just like them. So, if you a stylish boss, you’re in luck — you can probably be stylish or not, that’s ok. If you have a female boss for whom style is unimportant, you might be in trouble if you decide to make a statement and express yourself through fashionable attire. On the other hand, with male bosses, I have always felt free to express myself anyway I want from a style perspective and I have not felt devalued as an intellectual contributor. Once in a while, I receive a compliment from a male boss, such as “that’s a nice dress”, and I feel great. Contrast that with the steely and silent up-and-down appraisal that I get from certain female bosses, and well, let’s say it’s pretty obvious that my appearance is being given an entirely different weight.

    • Katie

      I’ve experienced this on the workplace as well. I’ve never once considered myself pretty – or not even “that” smart. But my strength was that I was industrious and resourceful – and somehow I found myself in a predominantly male profession (web development/programming). Fashion/Style has always been my primary means of expression and I have a fairly good eye for form and colour (I’m a formally trained graphic designer). I worked mainly in the Marketing field where many women are beautiful with killer bodies and very well-dressed. Somehow, it didn’t add up that someone with a fairly good personal style could end up in web development. It wasn’t the men that questioned my abilities – in fact I’ve barely had any discrimination for men aside from some taking credit for my work. I’ve had more trouble with women as many of them question my suggestions and ask me to “check” with a male coworker of the same position. This riles me up a lot because technical women CAN be fashionable too!

  • I’m an engineer. I’ve been one for 20 years and I love to look beautiful and stylish while still growing. I actually rebelled against that notion that people won’t take me seriously if I dress or look nice at work. The day of my interview I wore a skirt to the interview and my boss to be told me not to wear skirts to work. After wearing khakis and steel toe boots for a while I decided I needed to go back to been my self and wear the clothes in my closet. I’m wearing a skirt today (Hope to post this later) I wear my heels to work and change into approporiate steel toe shoes or sneakers when I get to work (whichever matches my outfit)
    Kemi the beautiful and stylish engineer
    http://www.beautystyleandgrowth.blogspot.com

  • Mistie

    As a kid, I was told over and over that I was smart. My cousin was told over and over that she was pretty. Incidentally, we are ten months apart, and when we grew up, she thought she was ok looking but not very smart, and I thought I was smart enough to get by but not that pretty. The thing that makes me sad is that the family thought they were helping our self-esteems. In the long run, we both grew up with issues of self-esteem.

    I think one of the biggest problems I face in my own self-worth is the idea of comparison. I know that I am smart, but am I as smart as my big sister, best friend, the guy who always has the right answer in math class. I know that I am funny, but am I as funny as…. This litany is one that I actively have to fight against. It’s not a contest. I am intelligent. I am funny. I am beautiful. I have tasks to accomplish today. I can accomplish them. That’s what is important.

  • I share your dismay over the fact that yes, attractive people are statistically more successful. It seems to go against everything that’s fair and right, but it seems to be true nonetheless.

    I think we women have earned our fair share of the blame for the smart v. pretty fragmentation, and I suspect ugly competition is at the heart of it. Because if we do think another woman is very pretty, maybe we’d feel better about our own looks if we told ourself that she was also shallow and stupid.

    Which gets back to your advice exactly: lead by example! I don’t think it’s a copout; it’s the best way to go.

  • When I just got out of college and started my career in a public accounting firm, occassionally I had to speak to C-level executives. I wore my glasses and put my hair up in a french twist just about everyday. It made me look “older and smarter” than if I wore my hair down and wore contacts. I had people not recognize me when I had my hair down, which was very, very rarely. Now that I am older and respected in my position, I don’t give appearing “smarter” much thought. I think as a younger person, who has yet to prove what they can achieve, it is harder to be both smart and pretty.

  • As a female engineer, I think it’s important to note that there is more of a division of the types of female engineers in college than in industry. You’re not going to show up in a low-cut tank top to your job but a lot of girls feel it’s ok for class.

    One of the hardest parts about women’s fashion as an engineer is that the majority of your coworkers don’t understand it at all. They all wear jeans and a polo or a short sleeved button up. Every. single. day. Any time I wear a dress to work, it’s only a matter of time until someone asks why I’m so dressed up. If I can still fix my prototype in the lab and meet all the safety requirements (closed toed shoes), why does it matter if I’m in a skirt? But it’s not that they take me less seriously in a skirt; I think they do more when my outfit is nice and put together but I’ve gone grease and grime all over my face.

  • What a fantastic post! As a college student, this really struck a chord with me – I feel like a lot of young men (and women, too) separate college women into two categories: those they would like to date, and those they’d really like in their study group. Pretty and smart, essentially. As someone who can come down on either side of this fabricated divide, depending on the group I’m working with, I find it frustrating.

    I know I’m guilty of downpIaying my interest in academic pursuits sometimes – but I really try not to, because I agree that the best thing to do is lead by example. You might surprise people that way, but it’s good for them! And, to call people on it (politely of course) when they question your disparate interests. Yes, I am reading Kafka while my nails dry. Robin’s egg blue nails are in, you know! No, it’s not for school. Just interesting.

  • Colleen

    Fashionable neuroscience nerd here!

    I have been lucky to always have had male academic advisers who wouldn’t notice if I came into lab in a snorkeling suit. I do try to avoid ruffles, neon pink, and/or glitter on days where I have to present my work out of mindfulness that it can be distracting. Other than that, so far so good. I’ve tried to choose environments that allow for some fashion eccentricity (our department chair is in his 60s and wears purple stretch jeans).

    • Sonja

      The purple stretch jeans actually made me chuckle 🙂

  • Stereotypes are hard to break, they have the weight of history behind them. We as women also have to accept that we have played a role in this, both in our attitudes toward other women (culturally, not individually) and in the way we allow boys to grow up perpetuating male/female biases that we both rail against and subtly promote. Most of my issues in the workplace, and grad school, concerning style and looks in general were most fiercely promoted by other women. Working with smart men I felt free to be as fashionable or not as I wished. Respect was based on intellect and achievement, not on looks. There were so few women graduate students in engineering at my school that looks were irrelevant. The issue was just that many of my male colleagues were offended that a woman was smarter than they were, so yes, they would try to put me down however they could. To some extent, separating women into “smart” vs “ugly” at least acknowledges that women have earned a place at the table. In competition people use whatever ammunition they can to get ahead, we teach boys, and girls, that the smart vs pretty debate is a valuable weapon, and it works because we let it work. Attitudes are hard to change, they take time, but I do see some change

    I went down the “smart path” as a teenager and was encouraged to do so, although I thought then that I wasn’t any worse looking than anyone else. I still think all young girls are pretty and all old women are beautiful, and what happens in between is mostly a result of attitude, access, habits, and inclination aided and abetted by the leveling factors of personality, curiosity, and interest in the world.

  • Cel

    I totally agree! I’m a big history buff, as well as knowing a lot about nature and animals, among many other subjects that most people just don’t associate with me when it comes to how I look. I always get “You don’t look like you’d be into that sort of thing” comment, which is pretty silly. What’s how I look have to do with what I know, right?

    I’m just always quick to show my intelligence, sharing bits of information no one else around seems to know etc. I’m not shy about being smart, but I try to be gracious about it and not rub it in people’s faces hah.

  • As a biologist and museologist (two fields sadly not known for their sartorial prowess), I find this unsettling dichotomy extends not only to your physical appearance (those genetics over which you have little control) but how you dress. It’s incredibly frustrating to encounter snap assumptions about my background, knowledge or abilities because I’m wearing sparkly shoes or a twirly dress. I’ve been fortunate so far that I’ve always had the opportunity to prove those assumptions incorrect, but it does make me hesitate in my style choices when I know I’m going to be meeting new people. And that, perhaps, is the most frustrating part: I’m always professional but I hate feeling like I need to tone down what is quintessentially “Katie” about my style to give others time to become used to a variation in their expectations.

    Back in March, I wrote a Feminist Fashion Bloggers post about it: http://interrobangsanon.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/ffb-feather-boa-constrictors/

  • Thanks so much for this post! As a graduate student in a technical field (developing new hardware/software for music and theater performances), I’ve been quite aware of the difficulty of having a feminine, dressed-up, “pretty” style while not coming across as “less smart” due to those style choices. I’m curious what portion of the “pretty women aren’t smart” stereotype is associated with pretty/feminine-dressing/sexy/what-have-you women clearly being identifiable AS women…and therefore, stereotypically, less good at math, science, and engineering than men (whereas the woman in the t-shirt and jeans and sneakers more easily blends in with her fellow male programmers in their t-shirts and jeans and sneakers). While I was studying computer science in college (and the only female major my year), I know I toned down my clothing choices a bit so as not to be as actively perceived as “feminine/female,” lest that recognition caused others to be skeptical of my programming abilities. Now, in grad school, I’ve made the change to actively embrace my interest in personal style and attempting to dress my best/present myself in ways that please me. I’d prefer to set an example by wearing a pretty dress while debug a program, or by soldering circuit boards in high heels. At first my coworkers frequently asked me why I was so dressed up (like Carolyn experiences!), but now it’s been a long enough time that they instead point out and comment on the times when I just wear jeans.

    I think something else that is important is modeling for younger girls that there doesn’t have to be a social dichotomy between smart and pretty/feminine/stylish/etc. When I do occasional presentations of my work for elementary school students or middle school students, I make very sure to be wearing a dress or a skirt…let them unconsciously pick up that they don’t have to make a choice between dressing in stereotypically feminine/pretty ways and having a career in a “smart” field. The more we can set stereotype-breaking examples for younger girls (and boys!), the less women will have to deal with the stereotypes later…

  • benny

    I am a scientist by trade, and have been for over 20 years. I am also a fashion fanatic, and love to wear beautiful clothes and nice accessories. I do my hair and makeup every day, and work out and run to stay in shape. If I have ever been made fun of, it was behind my back, and I’m not aware of it. I have continued my education and gotten advanced degrees. I have been in management for the last 10 years. Even though the presentation of a confident image is very important, especially when speaking to a group, performance counts. If I were to give a lecture or present my latest project, and it was done poorly, then I would not earn respect. So I keep that in the forefront of my mind, always. One concession that I do make is when I go to a senior leadership meeting, I wear something very tasteful and elegant. I reserve my more outlandish looks for the evenings or weekends. But that is simply respect for my peers and position. So I would advise any woman to do what makes her happy in terms of her looks, but always back it up with intelligence and grace.

  • Leah

    I have just recently lost a whole lot of weight and have started to fit into the “smart & pretty” category. I will say I have been treated very differently. People like having you around more, but listen to you less. They also seem to laugh a lot louder at my jokes, which is odd. I haven’t felt social pressure to dial down my intelligence, but I have felt like decoration on more than one occasion. I have had more doors open for me that would have been closed before, which is a sad thing.

    I wonder how different would I be if I had been born into the “pretty” category instead of reaching it as an adult. I feel like “smart & pretty” women can use their gifts and our skewed perception of them as an advantage – I say milk it
    for all it’s worth. *We* know they are smart enough to, let the others work it out for themselves.

  • Jessamyn

    this is a post i find fascinating! i’m a liberal arts graduate student, and in my field, i find that to be truly taken seriously, you must be both smart and “pretty” or at least, put together in a particular way. what i’ve noticed is that the judgement is much quicker for women who look “hot,” whether that comes from wearing low cut clothes, excessive eye make up, super high heels, etc. but i have a friend who just can’t be bothered to pay attention to her appearance at all, and people don’t take her seriously. its a fine line between caring enough and not caring at all, but i have found that by being confident about both my looks and my smarts, i am able to win the respect of the undergraduates i teach, my professors, and my colleagues.
    my footnote to this is that i don’t actually talk about my appearance. i wear a cute dress, but don’t talk about how i chose to accessorize or where i got it. i might get a haircut, but almost no one will comment on it. i feel most awkward when people bring up appearance-related conversations while on campus, because it is in talking about fashion, style, or looks that i feel most marginalized. i almost feel like i’m expected to be “pretty” but not allowed to spend any time or energy making it happen. i’m supposed to be pretty enough that my appearance draws no notice, not too hot, and not too girly about it.

    • “i’m supposed to be pretty enough that my appearance draws no notice, not too hot, and not too girly about it.”

      This pretty much sums up professional dressing. And it’s a bear of a line to walk. Because one person’s conversation is another person’s annoyingly girly nattering. One person’s put together is another person’s self absorbed.

  • Tab

    When I was very young I was smart as a whip, confident and had the body structure models dream of. Some of that had to go away didn’t it? I grew up, gained weight (didn’t make me ugly but people treated me as if I was because there again we can’t have big and beautiful women right?), I was still very intelligent and I had no self confidence at all. Then came college, I went 2 years early to get away from high school and learned to be confident and intelligent. When I transfered schools I moved to a much more stylish area of the country and started taking more of an interest in my looks and thinking I was beautiful. Oh no!

    I got my bachelor’s in both business and audio engineering and let me tell you I was breaking stereo types in both. Straight women didn’t stick with audio engineering. They quit and would switch to music business or commercial song writing as if being a heterosexual woman made them less suitable for engineering. I also wore skirts to class unless I knew I would be crawling around the studio and got picked on by my male peers until we turned in our final projects and they realized what I was capable of. I was a fashionista and I have talent in the studio! Also, the business classes most of those students (male or female) did not have good grades. In fact most of the school thought any one in our program at all was stupid, anyone that chooses a mass communications field must be less intelligent than someone in science, right? There were very few males in my business classes and a bunch of fabulously dressed women. Because I looked like them, I was easy to approach…until I began kicking ass in class also. Thankfully, I met some friends that were not afraid, and did not treat me differently because they were the same way! Intelligent, talented, and awesomely good looking!

    Finally, (sorry so long) I began to be a stage hand after class. Again, most of those women don’t take an interest in style and manual labor never really leaves people thinking any of us our intelligent (men or women). My husband however, does the same thing and has 3 degrees and speaks 2 languages fluently and another 2 not quite as fluently. There I drove the guys crazy. I worked in athletic clothes and I talked a big game and then I backed it up. At night, I showered and put on dresses for my hubby and I to go get dinner and I got double takes and dropped jaws. I was something most of those men had never seen but instead of being scared they gravitated towards me (to the amusement of my husband). We need people to act like that, not scared, but gravitate towards those who are openly smart and beautiful. That way more people will realize it’s ok. Be smart, in your own way. Be your own beautiful. Most of all be confident!

  • Anne

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I teach a gifted and talented program at our neighborhood elementary school. It is an after school program and the attrition rates go up as the school year gets busier. It is always the girls who drop out in the biggest numbers. Most of these kids downplay the fact that they are in GATE but the girls seem to struggle with it the most. From what I can tell, it’s their own girlfriends who discourage them. It’s not just beauty vs. brains, it’s popularity vs. brains. The boys don’t seem to struggle with these issues to the same extent.

    As a parent and a teacher it bothers me that we are still not sending boys and girls the same message. I’ve really tried to establish and environment where the discovery process and the thinking are more important then being right. And I work very hard to include many disciplines (art, music, science, literature) in my lesson planning. Still, the boys seem to understand that they can be smart and athletic and a bit goofy, but many girls are still primarily concerned with being popular.

    Over the past few years there has been much attention paid to getting boys to read. We need to shift some of that effort to convincing girls that being smart is cool and that beauty is not one size fits all.

  • misti_hope

    Whenever I’m told I can’t be both smart and pretty or good and sexy or whatever dichotomy I’m assigned, I like to listen to Robyn – Who’s That Girl?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYomJbEZG54

  • As a female engineer (and one who has been told that she looks too pretty to be smart while on the job…) I wholeheartedly empathize with the reader who wrote in.

    As far as how I manage it? Right now, it’s a work in progress. I never cared about clothes/makeup/hair as a kid– the “popular” girls (ie: the “pretty” girls were cruel to me and my mother’s fashion sense ran to jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. I was always try to prove myself “one of the guys” so I eschewed pink, dresses, and frills from an early age.

    In college, I started taking an interest in fashion (Thank you What Not to Wear) but it wasn’t until I had graduated and was making a decent living that I could afford to start trying to build a better wardrobe. I’ve gotten to a point where I am confident in my choices for casual clothes and know how to accessorize them. My idea of casual has morphed into an elegant, put-to-together style that has earned me a reputation as stylish (much to my shock). At work however, I’m still figuring it out. I do have a few self imposed rules–no skirts, no peep toes, nothing sleeveless, no cardigans, and absolutely zero cleavage. Peep toes and sleeveless shirts are too unprofessional (imo), cardigans (because I am young) make me look more like an admin than an engineer. Cleavage is potentially distracting to the people around me (95% or more male). And skirts, well a couple of reasons. I do work in an environment where I might be called on to be out in the shop or at a client’s site with little forewarning, it’s just not practical to be scrambling along the floor in a skirt. But mostly? I love to wear heels to work and I think the heels and skirt combo is way too much sex appeal when you have nice legs (I do) and want to be taken seriously by a bunch of blue collar guys. Could I be “prettier” at work? Absolutely. But I fear it would undermine my professional capabilities if for no other reason than reminding my colleagues that I am female in a region where notions of chivalry often result in women being singled out and treated differently already.

    As a side note–there are other things I choose not to do because I think they would undermine by professional reputation, but many people would think they were the antithesis of pretty–coloring my hair wild colors, additional non-ear piercings, visible tattoos, etc.

  • This article made me think of Hedy Lamarr whom I recently read about. She was a great beauty and obviously one of the sharpest knives in the drawer. There sure were some questionable parts in her beliefs, but she no doubt was both beautiful and brainy.

    Relatable Style

  • Diana

    This is a topic very near and dear to my heart. In my field (academic science) being a pretty girl or one who is interested in style and fashion is not necessarily considered to be a good thing. I think that some people take you less seriously in this field if you are stylish and obviously care about fashion. It’s almost as if everyone is playing into the awkward, unstylish scientist stereotype. I don’t really feel the need to tone down my style from day to day, since I mostly just see the people in my lab and department who have seen me every day for years. However, I do go for something conservative if I am, for example, giving a talk or an interview or something.

    I think the biggest single thing we smart, pretty women can do to break this stereotype is to not be afraid to show our style!

  • Alison

    Like many others who’ve commented here, I’m a grad student (social sciences) who has, from time-to-time, felt self-conscious about being taken less seriously because I am interested in fashion and makeup.

    Seconding what a previous commenter said, I feel like a lot of the criticism I hear about female students’ appearance actually comes from other women. I’ve heard female faculty members make jokes about a fellow student who wears a lot of pink, and I’ve taken some teasing about my love of bright makeup. Most of it is from my advisor, who I actually have a very good relationship with. I think she means it in good fun, but it does make me worry sometimes that those who don’t know my abilities as well as she does will make hasty judgements about me based on my appearance.

    I try my best to fight stereotypes by just being myself. On a day to day basis, I dress and do my makeup however I want, and I think that the people who see me daily are used to it by now. But I really do wish that 1) people, especially academics, who are supposed to be rational and logical, could suspend their judgement of others based on outward appearances, and 2) women would stop being so hard on each other! We’re all colleagues and are sharing a common experience of trying to get ahead in our field while combating sexist prejudices that, sadly, still rear their ugly head from time to time. We should be supporting each other!

  • erin

    does anyone else, when confronted with these criticisms, have a very strong and sometimes uncontrollable urge to just raise an eyebrow and say “well, obviously i’m just better than you?”

    if you are trying to prey on my self esteem, why should i protect yours?

  • I completely agree with everything you’ve said. While I am studying to be in a decidedly non-scientific field I believe that the same can be said about almost all communities where women are trying to be taken seriously. Women can’t be pretty and good at their job, whatever that job may be.

    I’ve also found a disturbing trend in my department (television) of women being sexualized for no good reason. I’ve shown up as a Production Assistant multiple times and others will make sexual comments about me even if I’m just in jeans and a t-shirt. I’m good at what I show up to do. I can design a lighting plot, wrap audio cables, and control a camera just as well as any of the guys there, often times better.

    It’s frustrating that even though I’m good at it the only thing the guys see is a pair of boobs or an ass that they’d like to tap. It’s frustrating that the majority of people who are well known in the position I want to be in (television writer) are older, chubby, white men. It’s frustrating that I can’t think of anything I can do about it other than grit my teeth and refuse their advances.

    This isn’t to say that I’m perfect. I have used this to my advantage a few times. But every time I do I wind up feeling shitty about myself afterward. The first ones to take me completely seriously were the female professors in my department. And as much as I appreciate that it dosen’t feel like enough.

    Whoa, I guess I had a lot to say about that. Sorry about the language, but this is something I feel very strongly about.

  • Hope

    When I was in middle school, a boy I liked said I was “too smart ” to date, so for years I downplayed my intelligence (or tried to.) I married my husband 25 years ago because he stood out from the crowd as a man who respected my mind.

    Now I’m close to 50 and feel I can safely “own” being both smart and cute. Part of that is the reality of middle age making me, ahem, less cute (but more stylish). And, I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t still dial my intelligence back. My dear husband cautions me that I can be intimidating, and my last boss — a woman with whom I enjoyed a very good relationship — called me intense.

    With close friends and family and poets and younger people, I can be totally myself — as smart and sexy as I feel. For most “audiences” however, especially work, I still feel like I need to reign in one aspect or the other.

  • Judy

    Sal, thank you for this post!
    As the writer of the email, it’s great to see in the comments all the other ladies working with the same issues.
    I’m looking forward to the start of the fall semester- and I’ll keep wearing skirts to class when the mood strikes. Just doing my stereotype-bustin’ duty 🙂

  • Monday

    Crucial topic, and great post. I care a lot about this as well. I’m an academic in the Humanities.

    You asked what readers do to try to break down the dichotomy. Over many years of struggling, I have tried to intervene whenever I find myself being “typed” either pretty or smart. I make a point to be right up front with what I’m working on, what I’m thinking about, etc. when I’m talking to a guy who I feel is at risk of seeing only my face value. If he’s put off by it, that is his problem rather than mine. Meanwhile, among colleagues and friends of any gender, I make a point not to cover up my interest in fashion, beauty and so on. I used to hide my style magazines when I had people over to my house–no lie! Now they’re right out on the coffee table. The labels show I am a subscriber. In sum: I try to hide nothing, and have no shame, about either my intellectual and career goals OR the fact that I care about being “pretty.” I hope that my friends and my students will look at me as an example of someone who pulls off both.

  • J.B.

    My painful experience with stereotyping came from my own family. In a family, particularly a big family, there is a tendency to want to label and stereotype everyone – she’s the “athletic one” or the “stubborn one” or “the sensitive one” (all labels that got thrown around in my family. Well, there was two girls in my family, my sister and me, so I was the “smart one” and she was the “pretty one”. This haunts us both to this day. Never mind that my sister is a math genius with a master’s in engineering from a prominent university, or that I hit the jackpot in the attributes our society deems conventionally pretty (tall, blond, thin), she stills is insecure about her intelligence, and I am still insecure about my looks. I really hope I don’t do this to my kids!

  • Kathleen

    My experience in the legal field (biglaw firm, very tough, everyone is *very* smart) has been that being “put together” and tailored is a huge plus, but being too “girly” stands out as being less-than-serious. So a sharply cut pencil skirt and jacket with perfect makeup (which I thunk is very pretty!) = smart and professional, but a dress with some ruffles and lipgloss = perhaps not serious. Anecdotal though it is, that’s my view of the debate.

  • yeah, I’ve talked about this with a certain (male) professor, who says that this binary is disappearing, in his estimation, that a smart woman will always be respected for her mind no matter how she dresses … but last year, at a round-table meeting in which we met our new first-year classmates, everyone else (men and women; women outnumber men in our department) was introduced according to their research interests. For me? “Sarah got *married* over the summer … and she cut her hair.” Wow. Nevermind the fact that while honeymooning in Prague I’d been asked by a famous Czech dissident to contribute my research to the library of samizdat (underground press) books that he founded … yeah, right.

    Well, whatever. You just keep knocking at that door, right? Sometimes you kick.

  • Sonja

    By the way, in this post
    http://www.thestylerookie.com/2011/06/when-i-was-just-little-girl-i-asked-my.html
    Tavi Gevinson, the 15-year-old style blogger and internet celebrity, struggles with her opposing desires to look pretty and maintain her signature look of a quirky nerd.

  • Megan

    Thank you so much for this post!

    I worked in an engineering firm where management would comment each time I wore a skirt or dress. For years I have been asked if I was a secretary at the chemical company rather than anyone assuming that I could be an engineer. I have learned to brush most of this off, but it still feels a little hurtful that people assume I cannot be an engineer. I have a very supportive future husband who encourages me not to let what others assume affect me and to try to be comfortable with myself, which is not easy for me.

    I think that women just have to be true to themselves in their fashion choices because being comfortable in what you are wearing makes things easier to deal with. Nerdy girls can be fashionable too and there is nothing wrong with that. Hopefully the stereotypes will eventually shift.

  • In a world where women aren’t supposed to be intelligent *and* pretty, what does it mean when glasses (strongly associated with intelligence/academia/etc) are presented as stylish? It’s not just a hipster trend any more – J. Crew have styled some of their models with oversized glasses in the last year or so. When I see photos like that, I don’t know whether they’re trying to say “you can be smart and pretty” or “you can *look* smart, just as long as you’re pretty too”. I feel like the fashion industry drawing on stereotypically smart/nerdy aesthetics doesn’t really imply a shift in the way smart women are viewed, but I could be wrong.

    • Sal

      Interesting question. The entire “geek chic” movement could be examined under the same light, perhaps.

  • Interesting discussion! Although I’m aware of the smart vs pretty dichotomy, I have to say it’s mostly been from movies and not so much real life, so I’m very interested in what everyone has experienced. I guess it’s sort of hard to objectively know where I fit in the continuum, but I think I’m reasonably smart and reasonably pretty. In college I thought it was wrong to spend any time thinking about your appearance, but that was mostly self imposed. Once I shook that off, I never had anyone take me less seriously. In some cases, I think I have gotten more respect (I am a little young looking and can be easily mistaken for a college student in tshirt/jeans). I have a PhD in engineering from a prominent university and the goal for many of the women I knew was actually to be both smart AND pretty. But mostly, it was much better to be smart; what you wore was on a sliding scale and almost anything was fine. This feeling was also very much reflected in my upbringing (I’m first generation Asian). I do think it’s true though, that it is much harder to be taken seriously if you play up your sexuality. But to be stylish and to wear makeup if you choose to do so, was totally acceptable. In my environment, everyone was assumed smart until proven otherwise. I’m still in academic research as a postdoc, now in a developmental biology lab, and I hope to obtain a faculty position in a few years. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky but even in my new environment this smart vs pretty thing has never come up.

  • Anonymous

    Wow…this made me remember something I’d not thought about in years. I’m in my 40s, and in my 20s had days where I’d passionately wish that, just for ONE DAY, I could experience what it was like to be not-smart and beautiful. It seemed like women of average intelligence who were merely cute (not even beautiful)

  • Chelsea

    Stereotypes are so damn frustrating. The older I get the more I realize that people believe what they want to, in spite of reality. If they meet someone who is conventionally attractive AND intelligent they will think of that person as an anomaly instead of part of the norm or, even worse, they won’t even acknowledge her intelligence. It’s awesome and admirable how some women to keep doing what they do regardless of stereotypes, but even if they try not to let this get to them colleagues perception still affects promotions and professional opportunities in a very real, insidious way. I think society would change for the better if everyone was better at questioning their own and other peoples’ assumptions, instead of mentally collecting evidence to support their own narrow views.

    • AtlantaITGirl

      I agree with you totally and you hit the nail on the head! It’s one thing to be stereotyped. It’s another when you refute the stereotype, but is still judged. I have a boss that no matter what I do- he still doesn’t give me credit for being intelligent. In convo, he looks at me irritated if I say something smart. I have a very smart co-worker who will engage me in convo about any benign subject, but if I start speaking intelligent, he looks at me like i have 3 horns. Another co-worker looks at me like I’m a 3 year old. Oh, look at the little girl who said something smart. Another female, when I started speaking intelligent, she kept looking at me irritated and kept looking at my hair (long and blond) as if to say, you can’t be smart with that hairdo! I get corrected a lot, in rude unnecessary ways. If a make a smart comment, they respond like I was asking a question and they’re trying to help me out. I think in that situation the best thing to do is to assert some intelligent aggression, but without being rude. But I so hate being rude to people! I’d almost rather let them get the upper hand cause I understand their intimidation. I never want to intimidate anyone! But at the same time, I do want to be respected! It’s a thin line between assertive intelligence and humble humility.

  • Kate

    This discussion is endlessly fascinating to me, if only in a selfish way. Another thing about being a smart, pretty woman is that I feel a lot of pressure to ignore that I’m pretty. It can often feels like playing dumb to ignore the fact that I’m treated differently than others. I feel this pressure the most in work situations where I’d like to be primarily identified by my intelligence.

    • Kate

      Of COURSE there is a typo in my post asserting I’m smart. Of course.

  • Pearl

    As an academic and a feminist who loves clothes and personal style, I wish I could say that being smart and attractive was okay in the Ivory Tower. There is still suspicion–among women and men–when someone who defines herself as an academic and a feminist has a coherent and successful personal style. It is considered frivolous and somehow giving over to non-intellectual values, signaling your lack of focus and intellectual prowess. Unfortunately, for the young women we teach, this often translates into obvious examples of the segregation of “pretty” and “smart.” There is also a sliding scale depending on your discipline and how “serious” it is perceived to be within the academy. This is sad, but still very very true. And not true for male academics.

  • Thank you for writing this, Sally. Unfortunately stereotypes persist and it is a false dichotomy. See Joanne Loves Science http://www.joannelovesscience.com if you haven’t already, just one example.

  • Jen

    I’m a corporate manager, have been a leader in primarily male-dominated technical and physically aggressive fields for the majority of my career, and I’m told that I’m pretty. I have some killer critical-thinking skills, and I love vintage fashion. I’ve found that being a pretty woman who leads men in male-dominated arenas, makes many men (and women, for that matter) feel intimidated, so I try to downplay my appearance when I’m at work, and downplay my professional achievements when I’m being social. It would be wonderful to be accepted just as I am.

  • Anuja

    Like many others who have commented, I went through a glasses-braces-ugly-clothes stage from about ages 9 to 15. At that age, being athletic is really important to girls (at least, at my school) and since I was neither athletic nor pretty, I decided that “smart” was all I had. Everyone else decided that too. So even though boys could tell me that I was “butt ugly” to my face, it didn’t really bother me much.

    Then came high school. I got contacts, lost the braces, and started dressing a little better. Unfortunately, that’s when the concept of “smart” started to crumble. I got rejected from my first, second, and third choice universities. I would spend whole weekends studying for the week ahead and still bring home B’s. And now, in college, I’ve seen myself passed over for scholarships, fellowships, and publications.

    I think the reason I am ever inclined to think of beauty and intelligence as mutually exclusive is because it doesn’t seem fair when I have only ever had one and not the other. They’re mutually exclusive to me, personally. I am happy with how I look – good skin, good hair, slender hourglass shape. Being America’s Next Top Model is (technically) attainable; being a MacArthur fellow doesn’t seem to be.

  • Well. Um. I’ll be back. If I’m brave, that is.

  • Kris

    I work/take classes in cell and evolutionary biology, and I actually think it’s funny when everyone stares at me as I walk down the hall barefoot in a sun dress. Closed toe shoes go back on at the door of the lab, of course, and the lab coat usually goes on as well, but it’s entertaining to see what peoples reactions are.

    Most of the students I see wear cargo shorts, jeans or leggings with tank tops or t-shirts. Or plaid. There’s also lots of plaid. And I haven’t seen a guy in leggings yet…

  • Natalie

    Thanks for this post, Sal! As a scientist, I especially found this: “Smart women are often teased if they dabble in cosmetics or fashion, can feel pressured to downplay their looks, and even encounter doubts about their intellects when they choose to don stylish duds or experiment with fun hairstyles” to be true, at least for myself. Sometimes the worst offenders are other women, who have embraced the idea that as intelligent women, they are above trivial things such as fashion and beauty, and so judge women in their field who are into fashion harshly. Other times I’ve felt that pretty/fashionable women in traditionally male fields face harsher sexism than their less traditionally feminine peers, I think for the reasons you’ve stated. Allowing a woman to be both smart AND beautiful gives her too much power, and so she must be torn down more so than other brilliant women. It’s especially frustrating because there is no male equivalent: I’ve never heard anyone express the belief that a handsome guy can’t be smart.

    As for solutions, the only one I’ve found is what you’ve suggested: be strong ambassadors for the cause. We can be women, we can be beautiful, we can be intelligent, we can be strong, and we can be feminine, ALL AT THE SAME TIME! The more we challenge sexist stereotypes by being both smart and beautiful, the sooner they will fall out of style.

  • Pingback: Candy Dish: Fashion and Beauty Overload : College Candy()

  • Anonymous

    Like many others, this article definitely resonates with me. I have found that I have always dabbled the line between being “smart vs pretty” and I find that even I assume these stereotypes, such as when I see a pretty girl who wears excessive makeup and assume that she can’t be that intelligent. In high school, I was known as being the smart girl who happened to also be pretty…but I downplayed trying to be attractive and didn’t get much male attention. I did, however, put a lot of effort into my wardrobe and was considered very stylish, but not really in a way that people at my high school deemed as attractive. I was respected as a smart girl, though, and many guys knew that I was smarter than they were. I entered college and was immediately cast as a “pretty girl” and I think I downplayed being smart and my formerly studious habits in exchange for the prettier, more social lifestyle. I’m still in college and trying to find the medium between being an attractive “pretty girl” who is still respected for her brains. I definitely understand both sides of the divide though, and being on either side of the spectrum is not enjoyable as someone who is proud of her intelligence

  • Wow, so great to see how many (smart AND attractive) female engineers are out there, makes me feel a little less lonely in my office.

  • Smartsome

    I’m a really smart guy. And thats just amazing, a blessing really. But I’m also really handsome, above average. This is even more amazing. But, believe me, I have had many shitstorms in my life to deal with just because of that combination. I have come to find that being both very attractive and smart is a big persona to fill and a lot of responsibility. People like me tend to intimidate people without even intending to do it. I have had to deal with so much jealousy its not even funny. Girls were never a problem until they all of a sudden became insecure around me. I’ve tried to be as friendly as I can just so that I can fit in normally like everyone else. But, people have hated me for no reason and were always quick to call me arrogant. I’m just saying this life isnt exactly a bed of roses. Its tough and demanding and can tire you. Being smart and beautiful is a great responsibility.

    • AtlantaITGirl

      “I have come to find that being both very attractive and smart is a big persona to fill and a lot of responsibility. People like me tend to intimidate people without even intending to do it. I’ve tried to be as friendly as I can just so that I can fit in normally like everyone else. But, people have hated me for no reason”
      So true! Yes I feel it is a blessing and will gladly deal with the situations! The hardest part for me is, I can be a little shy if I feel I’m not being accepted. And people take shy in attractive people as being stuck up. Or, they recognize your shyness and make you pay for it if you try too hard. If you go off to yourself, instead of reaching out, they will just assume you’re being stuck up. But, I will try even harder. I think for some, no matter what you do it doesn’t matter. I can get that, making the pretty skinny girl pay for being that- you have all that, if I can you make you a little unhappy I will. You don’t want to be strong you’re not affected and don’t care though, right?? I think humor is a good tool. I think telling jokes and making people laugh definitely makes one more personable and desired to be around, no matter what.

  • Anonymous

    These stereotypes are so frustrating!! People never take me seriously because I am blonde, reasonably good looking, and have a strong interest in fashion. I also love to laugh, which can make me come across as dumb, even though I am actually very intelligent. People need to realize that pretty and smart are not mutually exclusive!!

  • Nadila

    I personally am a ‘smart’ girl; I’m interested in physics/biology, write often. I pick up things quickly, and am at the top of my class.
    However, I’m not pretty in any way. I have frizzy hair, dark hereditary under eye circles, a few pimples on my forehead, and a rather fat stomach. There are many girls I know who are also very smart, and also just so happen to be blessed with model-good looks. I can’t help but feel very jealous, especially since most of them are so nice to top it all off. but I oftentimes feel incompetent. If these girls can do the same thing I can academically, yet look better, what’s the point of me being there? Many of these smart-pretty girls are offered special positions first, are favored, and can even use their good looks to their advantage in getting ahead. I have no such luck, so I feel like I have to work even harder at some points to be noticed.
    Of course, everyone has a different situation, but for me I’ve noticed my less-than-average looks have disadvantaged me, while my prettier peers have flourished. A pretty girl in my class is hardly ever judged negatively for her looks; if anyone says anything doubting her intelligence due to aesthetics, everyone is quick to jump to her defense.
    Hope I didn’t offend anyone. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in today’s culture, people oftentimes focus on looks; a girl and I may be equal in our performance, maybe my work even superior, but if she has clear skin and an hourglass figure she will be considered first.

    • AtlantaITGirl

      “There are many girls I know who are also very smart, and also just so happen to be blessed with model-good looks. I can’t help but feel very jealous, especially since most of them are so nice to top it all off. If these girls can do the same thing I can academically, yet look better, what’s the point of me being there?”
      This is an interesting insight. Especially the part about them trying to be nice. Which I have noticed gets even more animosity. But in some sense one has to go with the flow. I work at trying to look my best, and it costs, both financially, and physically. So I say work to step it up more on that. Not everyone finds me attractive, so I do work harder at it- and yes people treat you differently. But at the same time, you do have to show and prove with intelligence. Not everyone values the “look”. Whether it’s a man who had a crappy relationship with a beautiful woman, a woman who’s man cheated on her with a beautiful woman, or a co-worker who’s experienced what you said, those people would not be drawn to the attractive woman, and you would fare better.

  • Just found this article as I was inspired to look up the topic since my daughter who has recently turned 4 years old said the strangest thing. She told me she did not want to be pretty anymore, she wants to be smart. I am really happy that she values being smart above being pretty but at just 4 years old how did she come to the conclusion that she could not be both? I asked her if someone had told her this or if it was something she saw on TV but she said no…?