Pretty, Pretty Please

As I phase out of my teenage years and prepare myself to face my early twenties, I’ve noticed a lot of change.  People, places, and the expectations they hold for me are morphing.  The world feels different; I feel different.  And it’s not all bad, but sometimes I do feel like holding on to the old.  My old high school friends, my old room at my parents’ house, and my old lava lamp.  But there is one thing that I would love to change.

And that’s the way people describe me.

I’m told I am pretty.  I’m not saying this to brag about my bountiful beauty, or to fish for compliments.  I’m saying that I hear this way too often.

“Wow, Anna, you’re so beautiful.  The boys must be all over you.”  Thanks, grandma.  But let me first say that I don’t like anything about this compliment.  I do not want boys all over me.  They need my permission to be up in my grill, please and thank you.  Moreover, don’t you have anything better to say about me?  My beauty isn’t something that I have a lot of control over.  Tell me you like my fashion sense or my makeup style; compliment me for my actions.  Better yet, engage in intellectual conversation with me.  I think girls and women everywhere would like to hear they’re smart or competent or witty over attractive.

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There’s nothing inherently wrong about complimenting an individual’s appearance, and it can be done tastefully.  But when it’s the first thing a relative, friend, or total stranger on the street says to you, then it’s anything but.  It’s objectifying, even if it’s unintentional. All too often, I see women being sold as sex symbols.  It’s not just advertisements that are guilty of this.  Take almost any recent movie, old movie- any movie at all with a female love interest.  Now ask yourself if she was a well-rounded, three dimensional character.  Did she have a lot of screen time?  Did she talk to other women during the film, about something other than the male love interest?  Were the women both named?

The last two questions are known as the Bechdel test, named after the cartoonist Alison Bechdel.  It’s designed to examine the roles of women in fiction.

But seriously, think about the same movie.  Did two male characters talk about something other than the female love interest?  Were they named?  Did you think of them as something other than just pretty?

If yes, then maybe you can see why this is such an issue.  Girls are raised to think of their worth in terms of their appearance instead of their brains and contributions to society.  This problem further extends itself to the compliments we give and receive as women.  Is beauty seriously the highest compliment a woman can hold?  It’s something so subjective that it’s arguably meaningless, anyway.

What do we say, when a woman does something mindless, like drop her keys or miscalculate the tip at lunch?  Do we assume that maybe she’s tired, or just human?  Or do we smile, and say, “Oh, honey.  At least you’re pretty.”

At least you’re pretty, so you still have a place in our society.  At least you’re pretty, so you’re worthy of men’s attention.  At least you’re pretty; at least you’re not an average-looking girl with talent and brains ready to challenge the patriarchy.  At least you keep your damn place in society.  At least you don’t dare deviate from the norms we assign women.

So I ask, pretty, pretty please, the next time you meet a women or a girl, up your game.  Give them a better compliment, hold them to higher standard.  Engage in better conversation.  And I promise that womankind will not disappoint.

Are you sick of being just pretty?  Do you find yourself receiving shallow compliments?  How do you think we can solve this problem?  Let me know in the comments.  It’s time to destroy the patriarchy or whatever.