I don't exactly remember when it was that I discovered I was pretty. Sure I received lots of attention when I was a 3-year-old blonde, blue-eyed girl; everyone at that age is adorable. But then I hit the awkward stage when I became 13. I was one of those unfortunate ones who developed bad acne. Not simply a zit or two, but for at least one full year my face was ravaged by those horrible little red bumps. I remember running from the girls locker room in tears, screaming that I would never take gym again even if it meant I would never get past the eighth grade, just so I wouldn't hear those taunts about my pizza face.
By the time I got to high school, nature had calmed itself down and given me just the occasional pimple or two that popped up at important events like the spring recital or the freshman prom when you wanted to look your best. But I was starting to become pretty. However, all I saw was that 13-year-old face whenever I looked in the mirror. Apparently my classmates did too because I never became the popular pretty cheerleader or homecoming queen. When I started receiving attention from boys it was from outside the school system. They didn't know me in eighth grade. Then I got to start anew when I entered college, a fresh playing field.
So that's exactly how I became pretty. I turned 18, wore make-up, and hung out in bars. It was like unleashing a caged animal. Men were buying me drinks, taking me out to fancy dinners, and I was lapping it all up. During the sexual freedom of the ‘70s, long before AIDS, I was lured into many a bed. Most of the time I was too drunk to notice what was going on. I was using my looks to be wined and dined with lobster dinners, first-class hotel rooms with breath-taking views, theatre tickets, and shopping sprees; the list went on and on.
However, I still did not feel pretty. It didn't matter that I had men desiring me wherever I went. I became like a drug addict, craving the attention. So I used men; I gave them my body to be worshipped over while I myself received no pleasure, no passion. I was an actress, playing out love scenes in my head. And while men were making love to me, I was picturing what I looked like, forever glancing surreptitiously into any available mirror to assure myself that my hair was tousled just so, my lips moist, my face flushed but not too red. I had to glisten, not sweat. I had to keep vigil over the positions my body was in lest one put a wrinkle here, an unflattering bulge there.
Then I discovered that being pretty can be learned because as I got older, I became prettier. I went through my 20s with youth on my side, but as I entered my 30s, I knew the benefit of hard work. I worked hard at being pretty because I was older and that meant grueling hours at the gym, the long blonde (from a bottle) hair, nightly eye creams, the subtle, barely there make-up with a hint of blush. I was told I had never looked more beautiful. But I had never felt more deceitful because I was deceiving myself. Underneath all the elegance I tried to attain in my 30s, I still felt 13.
Most people think that women who constantly need to look at themselves in the mirror are vain and conceited. Perhaps some of them are but sometimes it is the opposite. They are so unsure of themselves, so concerned that someone will see them as they see themselves. I had to keep looking in the mirror to convince myself that the 13-year-old face was gone forever, that face that I still see whenever I look in a mirror. I need to know that she will never return. I need to know that every hour of every day.
This is not an original story. The pretty blondes of the world have had their say over the dumb blonde jokes, over and over again ad nauseum. I will not talk about the intellectual woman I became, the straight A's I received in my master's degree, the awards I won in my career from sheer brainpower. I won't punish the world with my "love me for my brains not my beauty" banners. I will never garnish much empathy from other women. I don't blame them so I won't ask for it. Cosmopolitan still sells, and I buy it along with Statistical Analysis For Researchers Digest.
There are too many advantages to being pretty. Now that I am older I hope that I will use them judiciously. Despite the haunting image of my teens, I finally accept the fact that I am pretty and will probably always be so. I also know how many women fall into the "prettiness trap," which includes always having to live up to that image to yourself because all your life has been determined by how others see you. And it's a trap, like any trap you feel constricted, confined caught in a situation you weren't sure you knew how to handle and are forever stuck with. I am trapped in my own prettiness.
You will never catch me in the supermarket without make-up. I will always be glancing surreptitiously at the mirror. I will unceasingly wrestle with the conflict of seeing that 13-year-old face, knowing that she is gone forever and that I use my pretty face as an advantage to make more of my life that it otherwise would have been if I had been unattractive. The rest of my life will revolve around this issue.
But I must confess, I think it is a sad state to be in. I find myself wishing I were 60 and let the grey hair in, maybe it would free me because then people would have to see me and not my appearance. But who am I kidding? Ageism is as rampant as sexism. I think my life could be so much more if I weren't caught in the pretty trap but my final confession is that no, I wouldn't trade my prettiness in for self-esteem, financial independence or the Pulitzer Prize. My looks are what I know best. But I must also confess, that I am not proud of this fact.