I read this in the F Word recently, one of a spate articles dealing with different aspects of the same thing including this piece I wasn’t that impressed with in the Salon. I am one of a generation who have been brought up terrified to age, terrified to lose the one thing that apparently makes us valuable, taught to chase that perfect look and while I long ago lost the ability to partake of all that(motherhood and being skint will do that) quite recently I have had cause to consider the privilege of pretty.
I picked up a pair of jeans to wash and realised they were more a selection of holes held together by thread, by daughter regularly asks whether I will brush my hair today, and my skin doesn’t see make up for months on end. It turned out somebody believed I was in danger of ‘letting myself go’ and what I had to explain to them was that far from letting myself go, I have found a look that sets my whole life free.
I discovered in the last few years, that my life is easier if my clothes are about what I am doing, and not about attracting approval of others. If I have jeans I can wipe something noxious on, it is convenient, if I don’t dress the way I dressed in my twenties, it goes way beyond that. I don’t get catcalled, I don’t get harassment that wants me to consider it a compliment, and I don’t get the attention of the type of people who really are not worth my time and only spell trouble because they can’t see me at all. My life is nicer and more pleasant if I don’t fit those ideals.
I can’t fake illness by leaving off make up and if I lose a few pounds it shows quicker, as do those sleepless nights, but my face looks alien with make up on these days and I like that, even with the crows feet that are starting to appear. I like the way I look without the mask. I look better without, even if the make up is skilfully applied and the clothes are carefully chosen.
Women are nicer to me, because my clothes do not suddenly set me in some kind of competition that a magazine has told them to assume they are in. Looking shit is the new black and it will assist your life in a day to day way that no LBD could achieve.
The privilege of being pretty is not as sold, it never was. It is the thing that made generations of women accept abuse and harassment from the first sign of breasticles till they become invisible when they no longer fit that narrow version of ever younger beauty. It is accepting your space be defined by others and their treatment of you will be guided by something you aren’t even allowed to acknowledge..
I look at images of designers like Karl Lagerfeld stood with emaciated universal barely girl’s presented as the women his entire career is a projection of hatred on to, it seems to me that pretty is as pretty does, and what it does is make generation after generation of women feel they are in competition with other women, while removing their right to complain about abuse and poor treatment and teaching them to internalise other people’s hatred.
I look at pictures of me as a teenager and in my early twenties and remember the bewilderment that came with the way people treated me at random, and it did not occur to me that the privilege of prettiness, you are socialised into being too insecure to see, is not a privilege at all.
And god forbid a woman identifies that being pretty is not as sold, because she will be destroyed for her arrogance in saying so. The attention pretty brings in this world is unpleasant and justified by the cache that being pretty is mythologised to bring…