Jan '11

Pretty by Katie Makkai

I came across this poem a few months back through one of my tweeties, @RandomShelly. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I’ve become fascinated by the amount of time and energy that women I consider wickedly smart, talented, and totally kick-ass, spend on being considered “pretty” above anything else.I have begun to see how much energy I have spent over the years making sure my own daughter knew she was “pretty,” especially since I was never considered as such.

I’ve become acutely aware of the damage pursuing “pretty” has done to our consciousness, especially as we age.

I’ve been asking a lot of questions, too. Tomorrow I will share what’s come up for me.

For now, let me know what you think about “Pretty.”

(Special thanks to Diana at Diana’s Many Lifetimes for typing up the poem. Rock on!)

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “What will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?

What comes next? Oh right, will I be rich?” Which is almost pretty depending on where you shop.

And the pretty question infects from conception, passing blood and breath into cells. The word hangs from our mothers’ hearts in a shrill fluorescent floodlight of worry.

“Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty?”

But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dryad: teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long and pox-marked where the hormones went finger-painting. My poor mother.

“How could this happen? You’ll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist. You sucked your thumb. That’s why your teeth look like that! You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were 6. Otherwise your nose would have been just fine! Don’t worry. We’ll get it fixed!” she would say, grasping my face, twisting it this way and that, as if it were a cabbage she might buy.

But this is not about her. Not her fault. She, too, was raised to believe the greatest asset she could bestow upon her awkward little girl was a marketable facade. By 16, I was pickled with ointments, medications, peroxides. Teeth corralled into steel prongs. Laying in a hospital bed, face packed with gauze, cushioning the brand new nose the surgeon had carved.

Belly gorged on 2 pints of my blood I had swallowed under anesthesia, and every convulsive twist of my gut like my body screaming at me from the inside out, “What did you let them do to you!”

All the while this never-ending chorus droning on and on, like the IV needle dripping liquid beauty into my blood. “Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Like my mother, unwrapping the gift wrap to reveal the bouquet of daughter her $10,000 bought her? Pretty? Pretty.”

And now, I have not seen my own face for 10 years. I have not seen my own face in 10 years, but this is not about me.

This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those 2 pretty syllables.

About men wallowing on bar stools, drearily practicing attraction and everyone who will drift home tonight, crest-fallen because not enough strangers found you suitably fuckable.

This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, “No! The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.

“You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you, will never be merely ‘pretty’.”


13 Responses to “Pretty by Katie Makkai”

  1. Alisha Says:

    That's really powerful. And it's something I really worry about, especially since the birth of my daughter. I want her to realize that she is more than just her looks. But, realistically, I think it is unavoidable as our society continues to condition us to behave this way.

  2. Thanh Ngoc Says:

    Lisa, I was put through a whole series of face masks and acid peels when I was a teenager because of the well-known pimple problem.

    Unfortunately, I was told to leave an acid peel on overnight and woke up to my face burning. The acid had burned the skin on my face and luckily it was not too superficial, but it looked terrible!

    I'm come to realise over the past few years that concentrating on outer beauty doesn't make you happy. You need to surround yourself with people who make you happy (e.g. my fiance Peter) and you really do feel beautiful and worth it.
    My recent post Ebook Review- The Inspired Eye- by David duChemin

  3. Carol Hess Says:

    My definition of pretty? I hear my mother's voice saying, "Pretty is as pretty does." I've decided to believe she meant that our actions are more important than our looks. Of course Mom's definition of "pretty" actions and mine might be two different things. I think each generation of women learns to look less at the mirror on the wall and more into the mirror of the soul.

  4. Kathryn Hunter Says:

    I know I'm more than my looks, but still… ohdeargod, hammer-nail-head! If something happens, if I'm no longer pretty, what will I be? I'm smart and I'm pretty, if those things were to change, then *who* would I be?

    Those questions are not the focus of my life, but when I notice them in passing, they scare me. My monsters talking, apparently we need to have a chat. Thank you for bringing this up.
    My recent post One Tiny Thing Thursday- 2 Financial Futzing

  5. Kathryn Hunter Says:

    Powerful and also difficult: RT @LisaMilesBrady: Pretty by Katie Makkai

  6. Jenny Bones Says:

    RT @KathrynTHunter: Powerful and also difficult: RT @LisaMilesBrady: Pretty by Katie Makkai

  7. Tex In The City Says:

    I am not pretty. I clean up well and on a good day I am cute. LIke the poster above me, I know that I am more than my look but just ONCE I would like to be more than, “She has a GREAT personality.”

    I am PMSing. Maybe it’s the hormones talking.

  8. PeggieArvidson1 Says:

    It's recently occurred to me how much "pretty" has run in the dialogue in my head. not only that – THIN. I remind myself to always focusing on clear and approachable. Because you know what, people do take notice to first impressions (like it or not as I always told those collegians) but that doesn't mean you have to be a copy of anyone else. You just have to know that you are worthwhile and that how you present yourself is important. You know? Not about the birken or the hair extensions but about clothes that suit and makeup that suits (or not)…

    My recent post Welcome to Project Help Yourself

  9. Alana Says:

    <div id="idc-comment-msg-div-121504256" class="idc-message"><a class="idc-close" title="Click to Close Message" href="javascript: IDC.ui.close_message(121504256)"><span>Close Message</span> Comment posted. <p class="idc-nomargin"><a class="idc-share-facebook" target="_new" href="; style="text-decoration: none;"><span class="idc-share-inner"><span>Share on Facebook</span></span> or <a href="javascript: IDC.ui.close_message(121504256)">Close Message oh yes. this poem hit me like a ton of bricks when i saw it last year. the story i have heard since birth is that i was a beautiful baby. i got a lot of male attention for my looks through my teens and twenties. i cut off my hair at one point because i didn't know if i would exist (i.e. be pretty) without it. funny thing is, i never believed any of it. never believed i was pretty. it's only now, in my late thirties as i live in a body that has given birth to both life and death, that carries the weight of many things, am i learning that i was pretty and there were advantages to that but now, now when every eye goes to my daughter and not to me, i am learning i am beautiful from the inside and that feels so much better than pretty. and i wonder, daily, how to raise my daughter so that she is not tortured by pretty the way i was. how do i keep that inner confidence in her own worth alive so that pretty is just something she is, not who she is? thank you for bringing this question to the forefront again. it is a vital conversation for women – and men – to have.
    My recent post <a href="; target="_blank">Another change

  10. Alana Says:

    p.s. it feels very scary to admit to being pretty (though at almost 40 i wouldn't use that word to describe myself) – i wonder if people will sneer, or dislike me for it. i wanted to be loved – to be liked – and i think i used "pretty" to try and find that, but because underneath i felt ugly, i allowed myself to be violated time and time again. the thing is, there will always be someone prettier, thinner, richer…so the question is, how do i live in my body and my life so that i love who i am, without attaching my worth to a label or comparing it to someone else? I'll stop…i could go on and on… 🙂
    My recent post Another change

  11. susan Says:

    But I like pretty. I like pretty flowers and sunsets, pretty clothes, pretty jewelry, pretty art, pretty butterflies. I like to feel pretty – inside, as well as out. While I don't think it's the end all, be all, I still like pretty.

  12. Shelly Says:

    Wow – imagine my surprise as I’m catching up on my reading to see my name in this post!! Lol – that is SUCH a great piece isn’t it – not only the words but the passion in her delivery!!!

  13. lyricallymute Says:

    “You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you, will never be merely ‘pretty’.”