Saturday, May 2, 2009

On Being Pretty - Or Not

Society places such importance on beauty that it doesn't seem fair to those of us who were not endowed with the requisite large eyes, shapely figure, or other attributes deemed necessary to popularity.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; so goes the old saying. Not so, if you're a vulnerable teenager. Some people never grow up and keep judging people by physical attractiveness. (The boss who promotes the cute secretary who can't type, the jerk who hires an attractive unqualified applicant over a plain one who has the experience, etc., etc.) Well, you get the picture.

You have all heard the old joke, "When they passed out noses I thought they said 'roses' and I asked for a big red one." I think that must have been me. Apparently my hearing loss started in the womb because I certainly didn't intend to ask to be plain.

There are some very attractive physical features present in my ancestry. There are also some not-so-attractive features; apparently I chose those. Why didn't I inherit my father's beautiful shapely legs? No, I got my mother's small calves. Why didn't I get my great aunt's beauty or my father's handsome face? Nooo, I got a combination of those features, but not in the most pleasing manner. And why didn't I inherit my grandmother's lovely figure? Nooo, I got my grandfather's sway back and the resulting big bum.

As if my physical appearance wasn't burden enough, I had Nystagmus and my eyes looked like they were trying to find a way out of their sockets. (I exaggerate for literary emphasis. My eyes do, sometimes, move involuntarily.) To my embarrassment I was constantly asked by my contemporaries, "What's wrong with your eyes?" At long last a very nice girl said, "Darlene, your eyes dance." I loved her fiercely from that moment on. One kind remark can stay with you a lifetime.

I had one redeeming feature; my hair was my crowning glory. It was thick, held a curl for a week (if necessary) and had red tints that gave it highlights. A neighbor gave me a left handed compliment once and I have never forgotten it. She said, "If Darlene's hair looks nice she does also." The unspoken half of that statement is, of course, that if my hair needed styling I was an ugly duckling.

It doesn't take long for the message to sink in that you are not beautiful and by High School you don't expect to be popular; and you aren't. How I envied those cute cheerleaders in their short pleated skirts who got to wear the letter sweater of the handsomest jock. How I wanted a boy to ask me to go steady. Never happened! I wasn't a complete washout. I did have some dates, but none that were exciting. (Well, there was one boy that I will never forget, but that's another story.)

There are exceptions to
beauty being the path to popularity. One of the most popular girls in my High School was overweight, had a swarthy complexion and was not pretty by anyone's standard. Her popularity was based on the fact that she had such high self esteem and was so genuinely nice that everybody loved her. How could you not? She was the real McCoy and it showed. Even shallow youth rec0gnize someone who has the maturity to be comfortable with who they are. I'll bet all of you have known such a person and you know what I am talking about.

It wasn't until I gained the wisdom that comes with hindsight that I discovered those cute cheerleaders quite often ended up in bad marriages because they were so self absorbed they had not learned that the world stopped revolving around them. Many of the girls who were wallflowers went on to become successful women in their chosen fields. Sometimes life offers compensations.

[Of course there are also some beautiful people who are also genuinely nice. They are the cream of the crop. They are not the ones I am talking about when I point out that some people who are stunners trade on their beauty and never develop the other necessary tools to living a successful life.]

After I graduated I had acquired some social skills that enabled me to become more popular. I had many dates and quite a few marriage proposals. I am not sure just how serious some of them were, but it was flattering to be asked. I felt redeemed.

As a further explanation as to how an ugly duckling suddenly became a swan, I should add that I lived in a military town during WWII with a lot of lonesome GI's who knew they were headed for war. It was not hard to get a date.

Only in retrospect do we see how fleeting is beauty and how those who have to work at being popular develop hidden strengths in the process. We try to tell our daughters what we have learned about how outer appearance does not define who they are, but it is something that they have to learn on their own. After all, what does a mother know when you are a teenager? As Mark Twain remarked about his father, "It's amazing how much smarter my father became by the time I was twenty." (Or something like that.)

After accepting the fact that I did not turn heads, I quit obsessing about it and became more content as I matured. I learned that everyone possess strengths that make us unique and we are all special in some way.

The pretty ones may have a head start, but most of us find ways to compensate as we gain wisdom. And most of us learn that being beautiful can sometimes be a burden. Inner beauty becomes much more important as we age and makes us beautiful in the eyes of our loved ones, no matter what the rest of the world thinks.

And finally the last word.

A man said to his wife: "How could God have made you so beautiful and so stupid at the same time?"

The wife replied, " That's easy. He made me beautiful so you would be attracted to me and he made me stupid so I would be attracted to you."

That blond wasn't so dumb after all.


Ronni Bennett said...

Wonderful post, Darlene. For so long I envied the girls and women who didn't have to work at it to be attractive. And you're right, mothers can't tell teenagers anything - we had to find our own way, learn our own lessons.

But damn, it takes a long time...

Betty said...

Great post. I enjoy reading your blog.

I'm still hoping to become a swan, though I fear it's not gonna happen.

Rain said...

Something I find interesting to add to your thoughts. Often how we see ourselves is not how others see us. So I have met women who are not remotely pretty by features and yet see themselves as gorgeous. Does it cause others to see them that way? Where did they get that confidence? Then there are those, and you are not the only one, who see themselves as plain but do not appear that way at least not to me. Why do they feel they are unattractive when others see them as attractive? It's a bit of a mystery.

Yes, there are a few who are beautiful and know it but more who might be but don't know it... or might not be but do know it. Could it all be taught in childhood and the physical reality doesn't matter at all because it's that internal belief?

Looking at people's features from the perspective of an artist, I prefer interesting features to what some might call perfect ones that can end up pretty blah. I could name some celebs that fit both those criteria but won't as I think you know what I mean. Of course, what is interesting opens another can of worms.

Darlene said...

* Ronni - Rain's comment below is spot on. We often don't see ourselves as others do. You were, and are, very attractive and I can't believe you had to work at it. Somehow, I think you didn't know it. Maybe that's the clue to the beautiful people who are also nice. They never realized they were beautiful.

* Betty - Thank you. I'll bet you are a swan and just don't know it.

* Rain - You make a very good point. I wish I had thought of it.

Anonymous said...

In high school, a girl in my class who was considered "nice but not attractive" won a contest to be in a dance troop. Looked at through awakened eyes, we saw that she was, indeed, beautiful.

Fifty years later: A woman with whom I worked (again, "nice but not attractive") ran for Mrs (our State)--and won! I still don't see what the judges must have seen; but, I was thrilled for her--when I learned about it some months after the event. (She had lost 40 pounds to enter and I hadn't even noticed, believing that she had always had a wonderful figure!) She wasn't the bragging type and, it was nearly apologetically that she showed me her videos of the Mrs America contest in which she participated.

Who knows which of you would have won similar contests to those in which my two acquaintances participated--had you had the self confidence to try. Self confidence is more important to how others perceive us than our physical appearances--to a certain extent, at least.
Cop Car

Granny Annie said...

I still cannot read Ariziona Spring but I'm glad I could read this post. My mother told me not to keep pointing out my inadequacies because no one would notice them unless I kept talking about them and that would be all they would notice. I still complain about being fat and bald because I doube my spouse fails to notice that! LOL

Xtreme English said...

This is a can of worms I hardly ever think about, but so many of my beautiful friends are CONVINCED they're ugly! So sad. One of my brothers once said "I think mary ellen is going to be one of the best-looking girls at ________(high school)." and before i had a chance to absorb the compliment, my mother jumped in with "oh, come on, now. let's not get ridiculous." POW! BIFF!! needless to say, that was the end of my glory days....

Tabor said...

This is so true. We are prejudiced without knowing it against people who are not perfect in shape and beauty. We strive for good looks. Our culture enforces it. And yet, people with self-confidence, like Barbara Mikulski, are loved and admired because of their truth and self-esteem, so there is hope.

Nancy said...


I have noticed all of my life that the "Beautiful People" seldom have a nice personality or are fun to be with or are even smart.

I suppose it is because people have always flocked to them because of their looks and therefore they had no need to develop a nice, pleasant personality or be prepared to have an intelligent conversation.

Us "Normal" looking folks had to attract friends by making others feel good or making them laugh, or engaging them in a stimulating debate; thereby developing our personalities.

I truthfully think it's better this way. Can you imagine a World full of nothing but Miss Americas?
Or Mr. Universes?

la peregrina said...

Great post, Darlene. I wrote about the same subject about five years ago. I had found an old photo of my self when I was younger and was surprised to find I wasn't ugly like I thought I was at the time. As others pointed out, self image is a funny thing.

ugich konitari said...

Very interesting post, and something that is very much a function of something that has to do with the sort of society you grew up in. I had a very different view about things as a young girl, very much conditioned by a strict middle class milieu in a culture so different from yours.

I have enjoyed reading your post and the comments made by so many others here .....

One Woman's Journey said...

Darlene, a wonderful post that I enjoyed reading. All has been said in your comments so One Woman will just say to you again "a great post and so true".

Kay Dennison said...

What Ronni said. What made life difficult for me was being too dang tall and gawky. My mother was not a self-esteem builder. I got teased a lot. I still have total strangers ask how tall I am though not as often as 40 years ago. (I tell people that I'm
5'10" and shrinking.)

I think Rain is right -- it really is about self-esteem and mine always has been lacking.

20th Century Woman said...

When I was a kid I always thought I wasn't pretty, and all through my teen years I fretted because my hair wasn't curly and my boobs were almost invisible. I guess when I was in my 30's I realized that, while I was not by any means beautiful, I wasn't so bad either. I don't know whether that made me any happier.

I do know that I never found a trustworthy man who was good looking. My advice to any young woman would be to avoid the handsome man. Agree?

Looking to the Stars said...

Darlene, wonderful post!When I lived in Calif. I had the chance to meet 2 of my idols, one a man, one a woman. They both were stunning in appearance but when they opened their mouths they were ugly negative people. The outside disappeared and I saw ugly, I've never been able to see them any other way after that no matter how the outside is spruced up!

kenju said...

Excellent post, Darlene. And I agree with your assessments.

Joy Des Jardins said...

I'm sorry I'm so late getting here Darlene...but what an excellent post! I was one of those girls who used make-up wisely and was always aware of how I looked. I had a great school experience; but maybe it is a combination of attitude and lessons learned. I'll tell you one thing...I'm much more laid back about it all as I've gotten older. Gee, I wonder why? To be honest, I feel the person I've been as I've grown older is much more appealing...extra pounds, wrinkles and much more appealing than the younger version. I guess life's experiences had something to do with that.

Darlene said...

*Cop Car - We do see ourselves differently; sometimes to our detriment.

*Annie - You had a wise mother.

*Xtreme Englsh - Could there have been a bit of jealousy on your mother's part?

*Tabor - Self esteem is the most important asset.

*Nancy - Diversity is absolutely necessary and a bunch of conceited Barbie's would kill the party.

*la peregrina - You are so right. (Sometimes it's not so funny.)

*Ugich konitari - I can see how culture would change the situation. Unfortunately, our culture worships youth.

*One Woman's Journey - Thank you. You always say the nicest things.

*Kay - Tell them you enjoy parades - too bad they are so short. ;-)

*20th Century Woman - See my e-mail to you about handsome men. I agree, they are usually jerks.

*Looking to the Stars - Inner beauty has it all over superficial appearances, doesn't it?

*Kenju - Thank you so very much.

*Joy - You are one of those special people I mentioned. Nature gave you outer beauty but nurture added to it with inner beauty. That's the best kind.

Anonymous said...

I really must disagree with the plaint that handsome men are mostly jerks--just as I disagree that all beautiful women are whatevers. I've known handsome men who were/are principled, honorable, good men. can I know? Perhaps I find them handsome because they are principled, honorable, good men. And...perhaps my beautiful women friends are beautiful because I find them principled, honorable, good women.
Cop Car

Lydia said...

I have a 13-year-old neighbor who is one of my Facebook friends. Her comments are usually really upbeat. Last week she posted results to a quiz she took and one of the questions was to describe yourself in one word. She wrote "ugly." What an insight, and what a wake-up call for her parents (her mom is on Facebook too) and even caring neighbors like me.

She was a beautiful little child who is now a cute and athletic-looking young teen. I always compliment her when she stops by and now will pay even better attention.

Darlene said...

* Cop car - Please note that I said handsome men are USUALLY jerks. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but when a man looks like a movie star women flock to his side, whether he is married or not. My father was just such a man, so I am probably prejudiced. He was a womanizer who gloried in the attention. Yes, I have known some really unattractive men who were adulterers also, but it is so much easier for handsome or powerful men to be so.

When it gets right down to it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

*Lydia - Isn't it sad when attractive teens think they are 'too fat', 'too skinny', 'not cute', etc.? In reality, they are usually lovely looking kids.