Pretty Is As Pretty Does: The Middle-School Moment

Illustration for article titled Pretty Is As Pretty Does: The Middle-School Moment

I recently saw a rerun of an interview with Goldie Hawn in which she said that, because she was a late bloomer, she developed an "ugly girl's personality." This was supposed to translate to "smart and funny," I guess. This was annoying because the implication was, of course, that she ended up beautiful anyway, so the "personality" was just gravy. Annoying as only celeb smugness can be, and yet what she said kind of played into something I've thought about a lot. I have long held a theory that there is a watershed period in a young girl's life that determines her self-perception; whether she'll view herself as a Pretty Girl, or as a woman who, while may or may not end up being conventionally attractive, views this, when she considers it at all, as incidental to her self-perception.This theory is a combination of hearsay, projection, speculation and the anecdotal, and may be complete hogwash. But think about it: those girls who had, by some miracle, achieved the alchemical combo of pretty, groomed and confident by middle school (or whenever sexuality became An Issue), whatever their other problems, seemed to have a certain unconscious assurance that never wavered. They were Pretty Girls. However life may batter and bruise them, whatever the ill-effects of such a definition, that is a part of their identity, their self-perception, the way everyone sees them. Even now, it's jarring to run into one of these girls on the street and realize that she'd not some Helen of Troy, but just a regular person - just as I'm sure it's disorienting to find me over four foot ten. Most of the girls I know, whatever they look like, don't think of themselves as Pretty Girls; they divorced themselves from such considerations at a young age and developed personalities apart from appearance. If they turn out to be 'conventionally' attractive? That's incidental; they are not Pretty Girls. A Pretty Girl, mind you, is not always "the prettiest"; but taking her attraction for granted is a god-given right, whether it's a confidence administered by parents, by boys, by adoring friends. I was friends with a Pretty Girl in high school. She wasn't mean; on the contrary, she was incredibly sweet. But unlike the rest of us, she knew herself to be attractive, and this gave her a serene assurance we found maddening. While we were scrambling to be the funniest, the strangest, the smartest, she didn't feel the need for this further definition. She had a place in the world. When you are not a Pretty Girl - and let me re-emphasize that this has virtually nothing to do with one's actual appearance - you do not take easy acceptance as your due. You don't assume the someone will buy your drinks, that you'll get an easy promotion, that other women are threatened by you. It is relaxing, in a certain way. You also don't fear time as much; as Moe put it, "beauty only involves deterioration" whereas the concretes you painfully develop in lieu of that temporary, easy assurance are good to the grave. But at the same time, a Pretty Girl's self-assurance is an amazing and rare thing, and something which, paradoxically, we could probably all stand to learn from. Entitlement should not be the product of beauty, but entitlement has its own inherent rewards; acting as though good things are your right (within reason) is probably healthier at times than the ten minutes of disingenuous self-deprecation we're all conditioned for in its stead. My boyfriend told me the other day that I mention being unattractive a lot, which I found shocking, because I wasn't aware I even thought about it, let alone gave voice to such things. And when I think about it, I know I'm perfectly normal-looking, and even clean up well. But at my core, I'm still the awkward, miniscule 13-year-old who developed an adult persona in lieu of that inborn confidence. It's probably the same reason I'm a good debater, do a really good Snow White impression and rule at Trivial Pursuit: Nostalgia edition. But when I see some confident Pretty Girl breeze into a party and commandeer attention through sheer force of confidence, it still wows me, and there are times when I wish I could go back 14 years and learn the secret to their enduring power. I do believe it's a genuine difference, the sort of thing men could never understand (my boyfriend stared at me blankly when I advanced this argument). We may at times hide in pretty shells, but Pretty Girls? Another species altogether.


Mama Penguino

This can span several different ways of being and it all relates back to junior high, again. I hit my stride at 13-14 yrs old and while not the prettiest nor the smartest, I was the funniest (and so voted in 8th grade). No matter how my weight has flucuated, my hairstyles have sucked or been supreme, that funny persona learned in junior high has stayed with me to the end. Well, I hope it's not the end, or even near the end, but you get my drift.

And in case you're wondering why I don't seem very funny on these comments, I'm a lawyer, people. I'm still recovering from having the funny beat out of me. Be gentle, please.