Topic Tuesday: Self-Worth
“Pretty” (By: Alexis Ryan)
‘Pretty’ is a word you cannot use to describe most men. They will reject it at once. They will rear back and snort. They will scowl and shake their heads. They will swat the word away like a pesky fly. Why don’t they want to be pretty? Why do they hate being pretty?
You know what’s pretty?
Women are so pretty. Pretty like twinkling jewels, like sugared candies, like bright silks and satins. ‘Pretty’ is a word you can easily use to describe most women. Most women will let the word flutter down across their shoulders and wrap around them like a robe. Why don’t women mind being pretty? Why do they love being pretty?
Prettiness denotes worth in a woman. If a woman is pretty, she is worth something. What is she worth exactly, from being so pretty?
Prettiness denotes nothing in a man. A man’s worth is from his actions, from the things he creates, from the thoughts he thinks. ‘Industrious’. ‘Productive’. ‘Strong’. ‘Clever’. These are words that denote worth in a man. These are words you can use to describe a man. He won’t snort and swat them away. He’ll accept them. He’ll carry them on his head like a crown.
How, after all these years, are women still so pretty? And not the good kind of pretty, of course, not the kind that’s just one nice thing that a woman could be. I mean the bad kind of pretty… the weighted, mandatory, meaningful kind of pretty. The more important than anything else kind of pretty. The have it or pay kind of pretty.
Haven’t women sma
shed the glass ceiling and won the right to vote and become public officials and bread winners and astronauts? Haven’t women become more industrious, productive, strong, and clever… than pretty?
The suppression of women has been so great for so long, these steps we’ve taken towards gender equality are like climbing a foothill on the way up Mount Everest. Misogyny runs deep. Way below any broken ceiling or job title. It’s in our relationships. It’s in our identities.
Women should be pretty. They ought to be pretty. They better be pretty. Prettiness denotes worth in a woman. A woman is worth something if she is pretty, because a pretty woman is worth something to a man. A woman’s worth is bound up in the privileged, sanctioned, dominant male perspective.
Why don’t these privileged, sanctioned, dominant men want to be pretty? Why do they hate being pretty?
Because it’s beneath them. It’s a degradation. Prettiness is an accessory. A bauble. A bit of sparkly thread. A thing. And men know that they are more than that. They are taught that they are more than that. Women, of course, are taught how to be things at the earliest age. Pretty things. They learn how to objectify themselves. To be baubles, jewels, silks… things. No aspect of their own identity is worth as much to this world as their prettiness.
I had an eating disorder for fifteen years. For fifteen years I strove to be pretty. I strove for the worth pretty got me. I became a bauble. A thing. I did it well. Well enough to feel like I was winning at something, achieving something, reaching something. But what was it worth exactly… all that pretty? In the end, what was it that I won?
Anger saved me. Anger was the turning point in my recovery. So much anger at what I had endured as a woman in this world. How dare we be taught to be so pretty! How dare we still be second-tier after all these years! How dare someone suggest to me, for even a moment, that women have somehow gained enough to stop the fight, loosen the reigns, lighten up, settle down!
I gave up the eating disorder, but I kept the anger. It’s still my talisman. It reminds me that I do mind being pretty. It reminds me that until this misogynistic world stops equating my worth with my ability to turn on a man, it’s up to me to know better. To redefine my worth on my own terms. To stand up for myself in those dark, interior corners of the mind where self-hate dwells. It’s up to me to know that I am more industrious, productive, strong, clever, and a thousand other things… than I am pretty.
About the Author
Alexis Ryan lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her two fabulous brothers, who grabbed her little hands six years ago and helped lift her out of her eating disorder. She is happily recovered, in school studying to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and ferocious about gender equality and the defense of human rights.