Not A Pretty Girl

I am so impressed with Ashley Judd’s essay in response to the media hullabaloo over her “puffy face.”

It ties perfectly into what I was already planning to write about this week.

Over the weekend I had two marathon days. I spent one surrounded by men while playing the “Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire” board game for 10 hours, and another mostly surrounded by men (with the exception of the hour and a half that Kayleigh and her friend Adrienne were helping out) moving our set pieces into the theater for 13 hours.

I was pretty proud of myself on Saturday. I held my own in the longest board game of all time and actually figured out strategic ways to employ my offense and defense (I traditionally hate a) board games and b) strategic games, so this was a coup). I knew 90% of the movies and games to which the group of guys who’d known each other for years were making references. I drank beer and cider and wine and mead and kept my head with the best of them.

At one point, one of the players mentioned that he hadn’t had his debit card for quite some time because he’d lent it to a girl he’d done improv with and she hadn’t gotten around to giving it back. I said, of course, that that was ridiculous and that it was her responsibility to return it to him. He said, “Yeah, but she’s not that kind of person. She’s…you know…pretty.”

And he went on to say that none of us in the room were the “attractive” people who didn’t have to face consequences, and that if he ever became a cop he would aggressively ticket pretty girls and never let them talk their way out of it.

I made a weak “Who you callin’ not attractive” joke, then thought about that for…oh, the next until-now of my life.

When I first discovered Ani DiFranco, much too late, my favorite song of hers was and still is “Not a Pretty Girl.” At the time I thought that it described me perfectly. I realized this weekend, though, that for the past few–six or so–months, there’s been a not-so-dormant part of me that has actively been emulating what I think of as a “pretty girl.”

Now. There’s nothing wrong with looking for a style update, or seeing something you like and trying to figure out how to do it. But I’d be willfully ignoring a part of my motivation if I said that none of my preoccupation with the stuff you find in the “beauty” section of StumbleUpon had to do with the perfectly-coiffed, “anyone-would-rate-them-as-a-10” women I come across at work or on the El.

Actually, what’s been surprising to me is how enjoying makeup and beauty products has gone from something aimed at the world outside to something that just makes me feel like I’m being nice to myself. I came at it from the outside-in, which is exactly opposite of what my feminist self would recommend to other people.

But see, a part of me wants to be a “pretty girl.” It wants that quite a lot. It wants to be the girl in the song, the enigmatic, sweet-smelling, soft-skinned and long-haired embodiment of the Feminine Mystique that no one of an appropriate sexual orientation can resist.

It’s hard, guys. It’s hard to see what the line is between “taking care of yourself” (no one likes someone who completely neglects personal grooming and cleanliness) and “trying to be someone you’re not.” Because guess what. Who you are is constantly changing. If you start wearing lipstick all the time, if you enjoy wearing lipstick, if you become good at selecting the lipstick that best suits the occasion, you get to become the person who wears lipstick, even if your younger self had no idea what was the difference between a nude look and 1950s red.

And when you’re playing around with looks, it can be hard to tease out the strands of your motivation and who exactly you’re doing it for. The thing is, my vision of the perfect woman doesn’t exist. These muses I try to emulate are either fictional or are real women with real flaws and problems who just haven’t yet been understood (by the songwriter, by the person lusting after them) to be the full human beings they are.

So listen up. Here are some things I know about myself that are never going to go away, no matter what I wear or how made up I am:

-I’m rarely as proud of myself as I am when I carry heavy platforms or set pieces into or out of a theater, and I’m not afraid to get bruised, cut, or covered in paint.

-I know how to use a screw gun and a hammer and I’ll take care of home repairs if you need them.

-95% of the time, I solve my problems. I don’t look for someone else to swoop in and do it for me.

-I love adventure, sci fi, fantasy, dystopia, and the superhero genre, and I’m not ashamed to geek out about it or to face off in quoting movies.

-If you hurt or threaten or mistreat me or mine, I will stand up to you. I will use reason and logic and I will do my best not to fly off the handle at you, but I will not just let it go.

-On that note, I’m brave. I soldier through new, scary experiences, especially when I know I have to do the right thing, and even if I shake the entire time, I get myself through.

I’ve realized–really I’ve always known–that it matters more to me to be strong, emotionally and physically, and to be smart and kind and loyal and brave and, I hope, just a little bit funny, than it does to be pretty. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that, but I always come back to it. So if not being one of the “attractive” people means that I get to fit in around the game board and that I’m expected to treat other people with respect instead of trying to get away with things because I assume everyone wants to sleep with me, I’m fine with that. Wearing foundation and mascara or wearing sweatpants doesn’t change who I am, what I expect of myself, and what I hope others expect from me.

I’m not a “pretty” girl. I’m not an “angry” girl or a “funny” girl or a “weird” girl, though at times I can feel like all of the above. I’m just Laura, and she’s good enough for me.

Sweats, puffy face, and all.


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