Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pondering "Pretty"

In the past few days, both Jennifer and Anno have both discussed an issue that has been swirling around the back of my mind, even in the midst of the long list of logistics that are firmly planted there these days.


It's a word that elicits a visceral reaction from any female (or male, for that matter) over the age of three and a half. These days, it's a word that makes me want to hide. It's a word that makes me feel apologetic, as if to say, "I used to be pretty; I apologize for..."

For what?

For getting old? For not clinging to "pretty" for dear life? For not gracefully bringing "pretty" into my fifties with me, like Michelle Pfeiffer and Christy Brinkley have been able to do? For being willing to bid farewell to "pretty" in favor of, perhaps, "creative" or "smart" or "loving"? (Which really aren't such shabby traits, are they?)

Let's just get one thing straight right here: I'm not willing. I liked "pretty"! It was protective and secure. It gave me confidence that I took completely for granted, a confidence that I now see in my (very pretty) daughters. When "pretty" smiles, the world smiles back. That's just the way it is. Right or wrong, "pretty" works. The world is just a slightly friendlier (and easier) place when you have the pretty thing going.

When I was my girls' age, I did exactly what they do now: I surveyed myself in the mirror and then judged myself, accepting some physical traits and rejecting others. I accept my tiny waist, I'd proclaim silently to myself, but I reject my thighs. Or, eyes OK today... bad hair day. I was my own worst enemy and there was NO way I could appreciate then what I so miss now -- simple, pure, unadulterated, unaltered pretty.

The thing is, "pretty" isn't real. It's a construct manufactured by society and media and giggly 5th grade grrrrls (and 6th grade boys) who are the self-proclaimed judges of "pretty enough?" and who get under our skin and never, ever leave. They're still there as I approach 51 -- and these days, instead of nodding in approval, they're insisting that I'm old and that I "let myself go," and oh-my-god-don't-even-try-be-sexy!

I want to fight them, really I do. But there's that double-wammy that us 50-year-olds are dealt: menopause wreaks havoc on pretty. And on sexy. Have I approached that dig-deep-to-find-inner-pretty-and-inner-sexy stage? And what the hell does that mean, anyway? Isn't it just another way of saying, Uh, lady... you ain't got the pretty thing goin' no more... better find sumpin' else"?

How cruel!

If you know my work as Executive Producer of FUEL, which addresses girls' self-esteem, body image and the media, you're probably shocked at my lack of self-esteem in the "pretty" department, probably disappointed that I haven't heeded my own message of learn to love the YOU who you are. But let's be honest -- we all aspire to be pretty, and we all mourn its eventual demise. Given the choice, I'd like to be creative, smart, loving AND pretty.

For me, the self-esteem (or rather, lack thereof) issue is loudest around things I DO have control of, but choose not to exercise that control... with exercise being the operative word. I know that I'd feel a lot better about myself if I'd move more than I do. I know that exercise is critical to my health as well as to my emotional well-being. And yet, for some reason that I'm sure is deeply psychologically poignant, I choose not to get enough exercise.

So if I were smart and logical and confident about this whole issue (is any woman smart about this issue?!), I'd let go of the "pretty" part of it and focus on the "healthy" part of it. I know that. If I would just get my butt out of this chair and move, the "pretty" feeling might even come back. And I wouldn't mind that one bit, because really, way deep inside (and right out here on the surface), I'm still a 5th grade girl, still wanting to get the attention of the popular 5th grade girls... and the ever-so-cool 6th grade boys.

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Anonymous said...

How very, very hard it is to let go of the "pretty". While I was not conventionally pretty in my younger years, I had a killer body, legs that went on forever and a great smile. Now lots of pounds later, with wrinkles on my face and hands (which bother me more than the ones on my face for some reason), nobody will ever look at me with desire in their eyes again. And, being overweight, I am actually invisible to a lot of people. They just don't see me. I know this should not bother me--it's life. But it still hurts.
And the really funny thing is that, while I had the "killer" body, I didn't even appreciate it. i took it for granted and scoffed at other women and their constant "diet talk".

swenglishexpat said...

Carol, forget about pretty. It's superficial. As a mature adult (read 'old') I know a thing or two. We all try our best to keep our looks as we get older, but as you know very well, it is 'the inside' that really matters in the long run. It sounds like a cliché, but who would you prefer to be stranded on a desert island with, a dim, pretty person or...?

Blog Antagonist said...

What a thought provoking post! I'm almost 40, and of course, things are changing. And it bothers me. It bothers me that it bothers me, because although I've always been fastidious about my appearance, I also knew that I was more than the face that I presented to the world. I prided myself on attributes other than physical. So why in the world are the wrinkles and cellulite and chin hairs making me feel so...gross?

I think it's just another life phase and it's one that really challenges our perception of self.

I'm still struggling but I hope I will get to a place where it doesn't matter to me anymore.

Jen said...

I think I'm with swenglishexpat on this. Excellent post, but one of the things I like about being 48 is moving on from "pretty" to other things. And I take genuine joy in seeing all my exchange daughters looking pretty and enjoying pretty, as I did when I was their age.

anno said...

Carol, what a wonderful addition to the conversation Jennifer started when she first mentioned that loaded word, "pretty." Great post!

Rebecca said...

great, honest post Carol!

jennifer said...

Wonderful reading Carol. Isn't it funny how this topic just seems to be a never ending roundabout. We're all on it, driving round and round. I really hate myself and judge myself for even thinking about it...
Thank you for you most insightful reflections

Unknown said...

Maybe it is your definition of 'pretty' that is bothering you. I'll bet a lot of people would still consider you pretty. I am in my early 50's and, like you, I don't always like what I see in the mirror. But just the other day, while I was getting my oil changed, a guy tried to pick me up. I told my partner about it and he seemed shocked that I was suprised by the situation. I remember thinking just before I turned 40 that my youth was gone and that no one would ever notice me again. Then I found a whole new life, dated a lot in my mid forties and I have pretty much learned to accept what ever comes along. I have friends older than me that I consider down right beautiful. Pretty just doesn't begin to describe them.

Betsy said...

This was a great post, Carol! And a great addition to an interesting dialog.

I think having young adult (pretty) daughters probably makes it even more difficult to accept the changes that life and aging force upon us. In some small way they are a daily reminder of our firm(er) fleshed youth.

I'm with you on the healthy vs. pretty thing. I keep telling myself that healthy is more important, yet am very conscious of the fact that those kilos I want to lose have more to do with vanity than anything else. I am already fit and healthy, and yet it doesn't seem to be enough-- I am still obsessed with the glowing red numbers on our bathroom scale!

I wonder if your self-esteem issues go deeper than just worries about skin-deep prettiness? You seem to be going through a lot of life changes right now: job changes, kids leaving the nest, menopause.

Don't underestimate the impact of these milestones!

Individually they have the power to shake up one's self image and undermine self esteem. I can't imagine how hard it must be to go through them all at once!

I'm sending a great, bit virtual hug your way. I wish you smooth sailing on those choppy seas. And look forward to the second part of this post. The one in which you have found your groove again and are feeling beautiful. Both inside and out... :-)

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