What’s your idea of pretty?

barbieI was talking to a college teacher yesterday. As an experiment, she had her students list the attributes of someone who would be considered “pretty.”

The consensus they came up with: white, slim and blonde. With big breasts.

What’s interesting about this assignment is that her class is quite diverse. Students who happened to be African-American, Hispanic and Asian and Caucasian, students who were NOT slim and NOT blonde and girls who didn’t have big breasts all came up with the same picture of what is acceptably attractive.

Then the teacher asked the students how many of them fit the “pretty” picture. None felt that they did.

Does pretty really matter? Unfortunately, for females, it (still) does. Our self-esteem is based on many factors. I like to optimistically think that appearance plays a smaller part in what we think of ourselves than it did in the past, when women were largely judged on the way they looked. In decades past, intelligence and talent had to be downplayed if you were going to fit in and attract a man. Career capabilities were only going to be used temporarily – until you had children and left the workforce – so they couldn’t factor into it.

Now things are better, right? We don’t base our happiness on whether or not we fit some definition of pretty, do we? For the sake of those students and of young people everywhere who don’t fit some rigid notion of it, I hope not.

By the way, I’m not deliberately leaving men out of this discussion. I just don’t get the impression that looks play a big role in their self-confidence. Not for most of them, anyway. There are exceptions. The domestic terrorist attack in Toronto recently did reveal the existence of a shadowy online community of men who regard themselves as unattractive and unable to get women. They call themselves “incels,” for “involuntary celibates.” That’s sad. They regard the man who mowed down people with a rental truck – who was one of them – as a hero, because he found a violent outlet for his anger.

That’s frightening.

 

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