Can Smart Girls be Pretty?

12_celebrities_favoritesVia Architectural Digest from the Life Magazine Archives

To be clear, when I say "pretty" I don't mean the lucky few born with perfect symmetry. As much as we can complain about how unfair it is, there is no denying that preternaturally beautiful people hold real power and that they didn't do anything to earn that power. Lucky for them. Sucks for us. 

Gallons of ink and blood and tears have been spilled through the ages because of extraordinary human beauty (see Troy, Helen of).

I don't pretend to be able to add anything to that discussion.

No, when I say "pretty" I simply mean a girl that beautifies herself. You might call her a girly-girl. One who enjoys fashion, perhaps, or who obviously takes care in her appearance. Maybe she has a smile on her face a lot of the time. She's not a vamp necessarily, or one of those natural beauties I was talking about earlier -- she's just, well, pretty. She works on looking unabashedly feminine and, this is key, enjoys it.

When you meet a woman like that -- one with perfectly manicured fingernails and lipstick -- do you expect her to be dumb? Silly?

Are you surprised when you find out that she's smart?

Or put it this way, how would you feel if your emergency room physician was a woman with heavy eyeliner and glossy pink lips? Would you worry? What if she was a cheerleader as well as a doctor?

Let me tell you a story: The OBGYN that delivered my first son is brilliant. An experienced (30+ years in practice) Columbia-trained doctor, working in one of Boston's best hospitals. A lecturer at Harvard. Do I even need to say that she's a feminist and that I love her? Well, when my first son was about to be born and she walked into the LDR, she checked me one last time and declared it to be showtime. I was ready, and so was the baby.

It was time to push.

"But first," she said, "I want to reapply my lipstick. I want your son to see a blonde with red lips as soon as he's born. That OK with you?" she smiled and comically batted her lashes at me. She wanted me to relax.

It was more than OK with me. Frankly, I thought she was a badass.

Tumblr_l7ejti67KL1qa1iiqo1_500I don't have daughters. But I have noticed the distress of people who do when someone tells their daughters that they look pretty.

"We don't want her to focus on her looks," they say. 

"We want her to be more than pretty; we want her to be smart," is what I imagine they want to say.

I don't understand why so many Americans worry that a girl can't grow up into a woman that is both.

We are a nation of extremes. Democrat or conservative. Anorexic or fat. Healthy or unhealthy. There is no in between.

Don't you know you have to pick sides?

We are uncomfortable with nuance. That is sad.

(Image of Marilyn Monroe reading the newspaper via Confectionary & Arsenic)

I have sons. I tell them that they are smart and funny and strong and clever. Because they are all those things. I also tell them that they look handsome when they do. It never occurs to me that telling them the truth as I see it will cause them harm.

I like to think that if I had a daughter, I'd be able to tell her that she looked pretty. The way I see it, if you don't tell your daughters that they look pretty, they'll find someone who will.

A lot of the times, that person (or that industry) doesn't have their best interests at heart.

Humans desire beauty. It feels good to feel attractive. Pretending it isn't so doesn't make it go away.

A lot of people (men and women alike) enjoy decorating themselves in ways that make them feel attractive. What does that have to do with their brains?


Beauty is fleeting, they say. But so is youth. So are your smarts (a lot of people lose intellectual capacity as they age). Life is fleeting. Does that mean you shouldn't indulge in any of those things either?