My husband and I get up at 5:30 every morning to begin the day. We dawdle over coffee and the news and then go to our respective bathrooms to get ready for work. It takes my husband 30 minutes to shower, shave, brush his teeth and dress -- and that includes styling his hair and knotting a tie. Me? Let's say I need a good hour.
It isn't the showering and the teeth brushing that holds me up nor is it the getting dressed; it's the time spent doing my hair and putting on makeup that is time consuming. Whether I wear my hair up, down, or pony-tailed, it still needs a little something extra to look pretty. This involves using a curling iron or flat-iron. Brushing on a mineral make-up hides imperfections, freckles, and gives me a healthy glow. A dab here, a dab there and blend it all together. Whew! The point is that if I think I look good, I feel good. And damn it, I want to look pretty.
I think back to my all-girls' high school and a philosophy teacher who asked us to describe what we prized most about ourselves. While many girls said they prized their hair, smile or eyes, there were a few of us, including me, who said we prized our intelligence the most. I was a serious girl back then who wore glasses and only lip-gloss, pulled my long hair into a pony-tail and believed that my intelligence was the best thing about me. I still do. But...
Somewhere along the road to adulthood I discovered what being pretty could accomplish for me and I used it to my advantage. I found out that, no matter how much effort had to go into achieving it, I liked being pretty and better yet, thought of as pretty. It worked well for me.
I do admit that there were times when I found that I resented the effort and extra time needed for pretty. However, the few times I tried to be "just me" turned out to be disasters.
The first time I went au naturel, colleagues asked me if I was "alright." A very tactless woman at work said, "Oh my God Kristen, you look tired and, I hate to say it, sickly." The second time I went sans makeup with hair pulled back was at a family gathering where several well-meaning relatives told me that I didn't look "as pretty as you usually do."
Okay, I know I'm an adult and I shouldn't let the petty comments get to me but, I have to admit, they do. It seems that no one wants me to just be the real me. I'm beginning to have a love/hate relationship with pretty.
Why is being perceived as pretty so important to me and to countless other women? Is it because at some point we girls, who believed our intelligence was the key factor to success, were led astray and made to believe that being pretty was more important? Can it be that the media with all their air-brushed models and celebrities has made us think that brains without beauty is not acceptable? That a girl who is lauded for her brains is a myth and not a reality? It makes me wonder if I got my first job because of my brains and spunk or because the man doing the hiring said I was "a pretty lady."
Why do we want to be pretty at all the stages of our lives? Brains beat beauty in the real world, but try telling that to a young girl who is influenced by all the hype of how she needs to look to get ahead. It's difficult and unfair and it never seems to end. At the end of her life, my mother still put on lipstick and blush; that's telling. She still wanted to look attractive.
Perhaps if we have more role models of women who don't go in for the well-made-up, perfect for the camera look we wouldn't worry about being pretty. Dressed well, yes; healthy, of course, but without all the tedious prep that make-up and hairstyling bring. It is unfortunate that the majority of celebrities, of all ages, who could be role models have chosen to have cosmetic surgery, lied about having had it, and then proceeded to tell us that their "look" is due to a healthy diet and exercise regimen.
The thing is that I like being pretty and I want to continue doing things that make me look good. On the other hand, does being pretty equate to happiness? Judging from my own life, no, not really. There's a picture of me that I find very telling about what the word pretty means. On a dive boat, after being in the water for hours, my face is in its natural state and my hair is slicked back by the ocean. It's not a glamorous picture and I think I look like hell but, guess what? I look happy!
Maybe I need to try to combine pretty and happy; that's a potent combination. I'm checking out of pretty and focusing on happy. Life is for living.
2013 copyright Kristen Houghton
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