The inspiration behind this article comes from a quotation that is often shared around on social media, “You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone,” which originates from a post by writer Erin McKean on her fashion blog. The concept behind this is that it often seems like physical beauty, or at least attractiveness, is something you owe to the people around you. It can feel like if you are not living up to a beauty standard then you have failed in some way.
This is definitely situation which can happen daily. Oftentimes I find myself apologising for the way I look – if I don’t have makeup on, or I didn’t get round to washing my hair, and may of my friends are the same. The cursory, “Sorry I look awful today, I didn’t have time to do my makeup,” is something heard all too often.
But the rhetoric whereby we need to be apologetic for not being at our most attractive has a deeper affect. To apologise for not looking pretty means you feel negatively about showing a ‘less attractive’ side of yourself. The link between beauty and self esteem means oftentimes, if you don’t look good, you don’t feel good.
Women are perfectly entitled to look terrible and still feel good about themselves.
Self esteem and looks are so closely tied together – to the extent that people will defend your appearance back to you, ‘No! Don’t be silly, you look fine!’ Guess what? You don’t have to look fine! Women are perfectly entitled to look terrible and still feel good about themselves. There is no reason at all for prettiness to be the currency for self worth.
When it is considered how ingrained this ideology is, it becomes more ridiculous. I find myself and others doing this all the time, in various forms. For example I’ll say to my flatmates, ‘Don’t look at my legs, I haven’t shaved’ or ‘Don’t judge my oily hair, I’m washing it tomorrow’. For one, there’s the fact this is another standard of beauty that no one should even need to adhere to anyway. But, when you’re sat on the sofa, watching TV, in your pajamas, why is it that you still feel a need to look presentable?
This idea that beauty as the norm, and anything less is failure, is in more places than you’d expect. For example, feeling uncomfortable when you don’t have makeup on, because it makes you look tired. You’re allowed to look, and be tired. There’s no obligation for you to hide evidence of being human, and needing sleep.
This isn’t to say you cant look presentable. I love experimenting with makeup, hair colour, and will always snap a few selfies when I think I look pretty. But there’s definitely an inherent assumption that we need look visually pleasing in order to feel okay, acceptable and at our best.
The author of the quotation, Erin rounds of this idea by stating, “I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.” I can’t reiterate this enough. I’m not suggesting for one second you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel good about yourself when you feel beautiful. But you also don’t need to feel beautiful or even look presentable all of the time in order to feel your best.