Is “Pretty” A Privilege? Thoughts From #BlogHer14

“A consequence of female self-love is that the woman grows convinced of social worth.” — Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

This isn’t an easy post to write, and certainly not one I imagined writing after BlogHer—but when you’re surrounded by inspiring women sharing their hearts and vulnerabilities, sharing what yours says only makes sense.

The conference was one of the most phenomenal events I’ve attended. Thousands of bloggers gathered to learn, laugh and mingle with likeminded others and have an overall uplifting time. On the second day, I read My Big Brindle Heart: A Love Story, the post I wrote about my bulldog Zoe, along with other Voices of the Year recipients.

As soon as I met fellow winner Ashley, aka The Baddest Mother, I was smitten. Her wit, contagious laugh, glowing smile and warmth put me instantly at ease. When they lined us up beside each other, I thought, “I’m so lucky to sit next to her!”

Voices of the Year crew

VOTY: Warming up for the show!

Little did I know until afterward that Ashley had a far different initial reaction to me. She hadn’t wanted to appear by me because I’m “so pretty,” she explained, then promptly added that the thought derived from personal insecurity. She was one of the first to hug and congratulate me after my reading, and I adore her even more for her openness and willingness to shift stances.

What “Pretty” Means

Being “pretty,” which I define as fitting society’s definition of physical attractiveness, is an odd thing. Writing about it feels even odder, particularly since I don’t feel more attractive than others. For many years, I felt ugly and awkward. I still occasionally feel that way.

Throughout my youth and into my twenties, I judged everyone’s appearance, especially my own. Because I struggled with body dysmorphia and poor body image, I often misinterpreted other girls’ and women’s discomfort regarding my appearance for dislike. I wanted people to like me, and felt few did—so much so that when I was nominated for Ice Age Queen during high school (so Minnesotan!), I thought it was a cruel joke.

Overcoming an eating disorder and empowering myself helped me reach a point of self and body acceptance I feel too few women, sadly, do. I no longer judge others or myself by aesthetics. I don’t look in the mirror and think, “Wow! You’re gorgeous!” (Does any woman?), but I do see beauty—real beauty, the kind that radiates from within and shines in the uniqueness we all have. I have “good hair days” and bad like anyone else, but I’ve learned to keep it all in perspective; in the grand scheme of things, our looks don’t matter—at least, they shouldn’t.

Here are some of the remarks I’ve heard women make about me, some frequently and from well-intended friends, in recent years:

“I want to hate you, but I can’t, because you’re too nice.”  OR simply, “I hate you.”

“I’d never let a woman who looks like her live near me.”

“Must be nice to be beautiful. You could write anything and people would buy it – it doesn’t even have to be good.”  (Said in response to a successful promotional event I ran for my novel.)

“You’re too pretty to be a writer.” 

“I’m so glad I’m not as pretty as you. It’ll be easier for me to get wrinkles, because I’ve never cared about my looks.”

“No one wants to hear ‘positive body image talk’ from someone who looks like you.”

“You look so much better now!” (Said to me after anti-depressants and binge-eating added 25 pounds to my naturally thin frame, mostly around my middle.)

Why It Matters

Trust me, I don’t mean to complain. I know that these comments have little to do with me, that many women face harsher criticism and that “prettiness” has advantages. “Pretty” women often have an easier time getting dates, make greater salary and receive better job performance evaluations, for example—largely because of the way we, as a society, perceive them, in my opinion. We’re not bullied for our appearances the way many females are. Without my looks, I never would have traveled the world as a model. As my first theatrical agent told me, “Pretty won’t get you jobs, but it will get you through the door.”

But “prettiness” also brings discrimination that goes beyond snap judgments. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychology in 2010 showed that when photos are included with resumes, “pretty” women are significantly less likely to secure interviews from female HR representatives than less conventionally attractive women. We’re also less likely to be taken seriously for jobs considered masculine and less expected to be intelligent, good lovers or nurturers of the self.

I’ve held back from openly addressing these issues due to my own insecurities—not wanting others to deem me vain, feel somehow shunned or that all of this seems trivial. “Attractiveness” has more perks than downsides, you may think, and you could well be right. Thanks to Ashley and other bold women who spoke at BlogHer, however, I’ve realized that they matter. If women can’t support fellow women, how can we move forward? Or expect negative stereotypes that affect all of us to change?

After speaking and serving on panels at BlogHer, I was blown away by people’s warmth. Many women rushed to me with open arms and shared stories of their own pets. A few cried on my shoulder. I reacted similarly to others’ posts and stories, including Ashley’s gorgeous piece, It’s All One Life. Connecting with other women in such personal ways strengthens all of us, and I feel so blessed.

Although this was my first BlogHer experience, I’m convinced it will be far from my last. Bloggers are a special group of folks, many of whom feel compelled to share their unique voices and stories. What a powerful way to change the world.


Fabulous related posts:

Baddest Mother Ever: The Woman Inside the Mirrror  (Ashley’s take on our shared experience. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with her, as I did!)

It’s a Dome Life: I’m Prejudice Against Beautiful Women

Jess Witkins’ Happiness Project: Top 5 Reasons to Go to BlogHer

Good Day, Regular People: BlogHer Timeline: Five Years of Gratitude (recap. 2014)