Before you read this post, you should probably read this. Otherwise, what follows won’t really make sense. Don’t worry, it’s not long. I’ll wait here.
Done? Ok, I shall begin.
When I first came across this Thought Catalog piece last week, I was ENRAGED. I wrote an email to Elise with many “ughhhhh”s, and made angry-feminist sputtering sounds alone in my room.
Now, a few days later, I feel only a wave of sadness and frustration. I am so bored of all the conversations about women that focus too much on their appearance, or on men, or on how not all conversations about women should be about their appearance or men. (Hypocrisy!) Granted, I am surrounded by this more than the average bear because, as an improviser in Chicago, I’m tuned into the never-ending dialogue about “women in comedy.” Are they funny? Can they be both funny and pretty? And if they do happen to be both, how does it feel to be successful in a male-dominated industry? Ughhh, enough! This is all a fucking snoozefest.
Back to the Thought Catalog piece. I will give the writer, Ofelia Green, some credit. I can’t speak to where she’s drawing from—her own experience, or a friend’s, or just that of women (sorry—girls) at large. But she is attempting to offer relief to girls whose confidence snags on their looks. I don’t deny that Sort-Of-Pretty-Girl Syndrome is a real thing. Movies have taught us that if you’re the wallflower-type, all you need is your Freddie Prinze Jr. to come along and make you take off your metaphorical glasses. Instantly, he’ll fall in love with you for who you are, and, even though he was only dating you on a bet, you’ll eventually forgive him and have serious make outs all over the place.
But I take issue with the so-called “implications” laid out by the author. The “sort-of-pretty girl” is independent and intelligent and driven, yes—but those traits are props to inflate her looks. Regardless of her achievements, she’s still easily humbled by a compliment and grateful for the unexpected attention. I won’t lie. I’m pretty smart. I have an embarrassingly good memory and very strong opinions. I did not choose to be this way. I just am. It has nothing to do with what I look like (which, by the way, is pretty ok, I think). But I was not always confident about my appearance. And more often than I’d like to admit, I’m still not. But I didn’t waste away reading the encyclopedia by flashlight because my face wasn’t symmetrical enough. (I read Ella Enchanted, thank you very much.) I went through the trials of things like high school and being a virgin for a while that shaped this fully-formed, radiant goddess before you.
In all honesty, I related to this article more than I wish I had, and that’s probably part of why it made me so mad. For fuck’s sake, I tried to plan the pick-up of my junior prom so that my date would first see me walking down a grand staircase. (My parents’ house does not have such a staircase. I had an elaborate plan involving multiple locations that was, rightly, shot down by everyone.) Once, I might have read this article and felt like it was written for me. But these days, I know it wasn’t, and I worry about any girl that thinks it was.
Why is our Freddie Prinze Jr. that thing we are taught to wait for?! Why can’t we live our lives, and push ourselves, and try new things without those becoming tools to find a Hot Date? Amy Poehler writes in her memoir Yes, Please that she chose early on to be the “plain girl with tons of personality.” Though this could be lassoed in with the thrust of Ms. Green’s article, it actually says very little about how Poehler feels about her appearance. It’s the mantra of a woman living with intention—she actively chooses her own “currency” in a room. Let’s do that, guys. And if, while living this way, we do end up meeting somebody worthwhile, it is a warmly welcomed side-effect of the lives we choose to live. It is not the endgame.
I know I’m not saying anything revolutionary. It just bums me out that I have to say it.