I was a pretty girl, and a pretty woman for some time thereafter.
I need to say something.
I’ve thought long and hard about this post. But it’s always hard to talk about one’s ostensible good fortune without sounding like a jerk, and even harder to describe ambivalence around that same good fortune. I ask you to give me the benefit of the doubt. Thank you in advance.
Back to pretty. You all have been so kind when I post self-photos. This has made me think a lot about what I have to say about Pretty, globally, if you will. Here’s what I know.
- Pretty is only good if you own it, and can be harmful if you don’t.
- Pretty is not the same as Attractive (as Deja often points out).
- As we get older, we converge. Each and every one of us can be equally attractive, if we want.
- Probably we could all have been attractive when we were young, but the dual fires of youth and culture roared through. Some escaped, by indifference or mastery, doesn’t matter which. The rest of us carted a lot of cinders.
Tenet #1: You have to own it.
That’s me in the candid, blurred photo up top, at 25. No beauty, but pretty enough to register in the category. I can say now surely that Pretty got me pretty much nothing of value. Men paid attention, but mostly for the wrong reasons. I got job interviews, but jobs that contravene your skills or temperament stink for both you and your employer.
Had I been a stronger character, less prone to youthful overwhelm and anxiety, I might have capitalized on my looks. If only for entrée into cool nightclubs. As it turns out, college guy popularity and random dates with movie actors don’t compensate for self-doubt.
Tenet #2: Pretty is not the same as Attractive.
While both Pretty and Attractive may be culturally determined, Pretty is genetic, Attractive a signifier of intent and artifact of Style. You can be Pretty, and not Attractive. You can be Attractive, and not Pretty. I’d provide further analysis but my guess is that the distinction is already clear in your mind.
While some manage both Pretty and Attractive, it takes a lot of youthful wisdom and purpose. Attractive is, most often, the stronger position. You can also refuse altogether to participate in the Looks Rodeo. Often that ostensible refusal is, of itself, Attractive.
Tenet #3: As we reach middle age, pretty fades, attractive sticks around, if we make it welcome. Our physical presence finally belongs to us, and us alone.
Pretty fades. A candid blurred shot below, at 54. T-shirted as at 25, hair damp as at 25, glasses for middle-aged sight. At this point in my life I can pass through the world almost wholly invisible, if I so choose.
Or I can put on the dog and reappear. At this age, finally unafraid of my cleavage.
I can’t even tell you just how much better I feel, now, at 55. No longer beset by Pretty. Nor how strongly I believe that at our age anyone can put on their own particular dog if they want. That’s what the blog Advanced Style is all about. We can make a statement about Attractive that has little to do with genetics, background, or that old devil fertility.
For clarity’s sake, and the purity of this argument, I will not discount the Pretty traces that remain in my case. Avoid the disingenuous at all costs. I recognize the effect of good hair, minimal sun damage, and fairly constant body weight, excepting of course the 50 pounds I put on and took off for each baby. Even so, I can now disappear if I choose, or show up. If I choose.
At 55, maybe Pretty becomes just another style. People might think, oh, she’s good at Pretty, given her age. Not she is pretty. Just as another woman might be good at the Style of Dramatic Color. Or the Style of Artistically Layered Silhouettes. Or Style of Jackie O, Babe Paley, Slim Aarons. Choice, my friends, choice.
Tenet #4: Learn from us, oh young ones.
And here’s where this logic leads me. If all of us can be attractive, once Pretty is gone, the same ought to be true even when Pretty is still possible. That is, of course, if you take hold. That is, of course, if you want it, which I would be the last person to require. It may be harder to focus on Attractive, when the Game of Pretty is underway, it may take grit. But it should be possible. I wish I’d known.
The good thing about Attractive is, since you build it, you own it. Pretty, without concomitant strength, gets eaten up by biology and the crowd. Enough said.