06/14/2012 01:47 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2012

Why Do I Still Want to Look Pretty?

Concerning her new, "this-is-who-I-am-and-I like-it" look, Hillary Rodham Clinton told CNN:

I feel so relieved to be at the stage I'm at in my life right now. Because you know if I want to wear my glasses, I'm wearing my glasses. If I want to wear my hair back, I'm pulling my hair back. You know at some point it's just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention. And if others want to worry about it, I let them do the worrying for a change.

Now that statement alone should make me feel good about getting older and just enjoying being myself but sadly, it doesn't. While I admire Hillary's stand and, in my heart of hearts, believe she is absolutely right, I still want, very much, to look pretty. So do many other women.

My husband Alan 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. Makeup hides imperfections and sun damage 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 still 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 can accomplish for me. I found out that, no matter how much effort had to go into achieving it, I liked being pretty. But lately, I find that I'm beginning to resent the effort. I would like more than anything else to just get up and get on with my day instead of having to spend time making me pretty. However, the few times I tried to be "au naturel" turned out to be disasters.

The first time, 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, older!" The second time I went sans makeup with hair pulled back at a family gathering I was told 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 did. 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? 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 had more role models of women in their 50's and 60's who feel the same way as Hillary does 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 older celebrities 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. They make getting older a disease to be avoided at all costs -- rather expensive costs if we opt for plastic surgery.

Aging is not a disease but a normal process and it should be a time when we can accept who we are, love our bodies and images and for heaven's sake, enjoy all that is available to us and enriches our lives. We need to be role models in our 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's and beyond.

As for me, I think the time has come for me to emulate Ms. Rodham Clinton. I am going to try to use less make-up and go forth in my world with my naked face shining and fresh. The hair can be pulled away from my face and my only concession to pretty will be just a fringe of bangs. Perhaps, if there're enough of us doing this, we can reinvent pretty.

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'm happy!

Maybe always trying to be pretty is overrated and being happy should be our goal. I'm trying, it's hard, but I am trying.

© 2012 copyright Kristen Houghton

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