A friend posted this quote from Diana Vreeland on Facebook:
“You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone: not your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not your co-workers, especially not random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother; you don’t owe it to your children. You don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.’”
When I first read it, I thought . . . “OWE prettiness? What does that mean?”
I tried to break it down.
: to need to pay or repay money to a person, bank, business, etc.
: to need to do or give something to someone who has done something for you or given something to you
In some sense, I do “owe” it to my boyfriend/spouse/partner to be pretty. If I want to keep him, I need to at least maintain the level of attractiveness I had when we met. That’s part of the trade of being in a relationship. If I become a fat slob, I can’t expect to keep the attention of a fit, successful guy, and it would be absurd to expect to. (Of course, I expect the same from him!)
But to call it “owing” still struck me as odd.
I don’t make myself more attractive because I feel like I have to “repay” someone … I do it in part to attract the best guy I can or to keep the high value one I have. That is, I do it because I value what it gets me. Not because he wants it or expects it or has created a debt by attracting me.
But there’s more to it than that, too. To put the reason for it entirely on attracting or keeping a man would be missing the point.
If I “owe” it to anyone to be pretty, it’s to ME.
I want to be pretty. I like to be pretty. Being pretty is good.
What is being pretty related to? What makes a woman pretty? Let’s break THAT down.
Biologically, both genders select sexually for whatever’s going to be best for the resulting children. That’s how evolution works — healthy, healthy babies are the desirable outcome for everybody.
So for women, it’s about a man’s ability as a provider and his long-term stability and less about his looks. But for men, it’s about a woman’s markers for good health and high fertility. That has something to do with looks.
Long, shiny, wavy hair indicates years of good nutrition and proper care. Rosy cheeks and a fit body (not too fat or too thin, but a fairly wide range within) are attractive signs of health. A hip-to-waist ratio appropriate for bearing children matters.
You might want to argue that there’s nothing you can do about some of these things, but look again. Everything on that list can be affected positively by taking good care of yourself — eating right, sleeping enough, building muscle. And doing those things does, in fact, influence your fertility.
BEING PRETTY HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH TAKING GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF.
Who would argue that that’s a BAD thing? Taking care of yourself?
What would you think if the quote read, “You don’t have to take care of yourself. You don’t owe it to anyone to take care of yourself: not your boyfriend, not your co-workers, not random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother; you don’t owe it to your children. You don’t owe it to civilization in general. Taking care of yourself is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.’
Well, I guess technically you’re right, I don’t owe it to anyone, not even myself, to take care of myself, but sure as hell Imma do it anyway, cause I have a happier life when I take care of myself than when I don’t.
But even THAT’S not the whole story, because being pretty isn’t only about looks.
Your appearance may sometimes be what catches people’s attention, but there’s something else that’s just as important in play: your attitude.
Whether or not you’re pretty has a lot to do with how you present and conduct yourself, and that can overshadow your looks.
A smile is pretty.
Saying thank you to someone who gives up his seat or holds the door for you is pretty.
Cheeky flirting just for fun is pretty.
Standing up for what’s right is pretty.
Knowing who you are and having standards is pretty.
Guess what? — all of those things make me feel good about myself, too. Not bad. Not resentful of guys because they like that I’m pretty. All of those things are part of taking care of myself, too.
I don’t always make an effort with my appearance. Some days (a lot of them lately, as I work on putting everything together to launch this blog), I decide it’s less important to me than something else (like getting more work done or getting more sleep in the morning because I stayed up too late last night working).
But I usually come to a point after a certain number of consecutive days of wearing the same thing and throwing my hair up in a bun where I yearn to dress up and do my hair nicely and wear special makeup. I want to be pretty. I want to be happier with myself in the mirror. I want to get more flirty attention.
Not because I’m paying a debt, but because it means I’m healthy and happy and enjoying being me.
It means I’m taking good care of myself.
I live in a city where I’m around millions of people every day, and I have plenty of days where I don’t want people looking at me. But … what I’ve learned is that, when I make an effort to look better, and I get more attention, a funny thing happens.
I like it. It makes me feel good.
I strut a little, and I get even more attention. I laugh, and sometimes I answer back to men who call out. We play, and it’s fun.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be SEEN, as a woman. It’s in your nature.
There is nothing wrong with men wanting to SEE you — it’s in theirs.
So, when someone says, “I want to be pretty,” I take that to mean, I want to be my best self.