Thursday, May 20, 2004

Note: This is just a rough draft of some thoughts I've had...I don't usually post unfinished stuff, but frankly, I'm too busy to write anything else!

Random and Disjointed Reflections On Being A Pretty Girl

The other day I parked in a pay lot downtown and went into a store that validates for that lot. I did my shopping, but when I left the store and was about to present my ticket to the lot attendant, I realized I had forgotten to get it stamped. Damn, I thought, I don't want to go all the way back in there now. So I fluffed out my hair a little and smiled winningly at the attendant and explained how silly I'd been, could he please let me slide this one time?
I felt his eyes flick over me, and he smiled back, almost ruefully. "Yeah, all right, go ahead", he said. We both knew - it was a Pretty Girl Moment.

Before we go any further, let me make a few things clear. I can't even try to codify the difference between words like "pretty", and "beautiful", and all the other terms used to describe the physical manifestation of feminine charm. And it's definitely not within my power to define exactly what any of those words encompass. Prettiness has been defined a thousand different ways ever since people first began putting words to their own particular feminine ideal. I know that if you asked any two random people to describe me, one of them would say I have the face that launched a thousand ships and the body of a goddess. And one of them would shrug and say, "Matisse? Yeah, she's nice-looking, I guess." You cannot measure what's in the eye of the beholder.

But the majority opinion seems to be that through both a lucky spin on the genetic roulette wheel, and a lot of diligent care and maintenance, I am a Pretty Girl. And as I move through the everyday world, that's made my life easier on thousands of different occasions. University administrators, traffic cops, doormen, job interviewers and employers, apartment managers, auto mechanics, waiters, taxi drivers, hotel clerks – these are just a few of the types of men who've overlooked small transgressions, given me extra perks, or somehow gone out of their way for me because I'm a Pretty Girl.

I'm not talking about my career as a sex worker, you understand. I gave those men nothing except my smile and wow-you-are-such-a-great-guy gratitude. And most of the time I was perfectly sincere – if someone gives me a break, especially when I know I don't necessarily deserve it, I am grateful to them. So I show them a picture of themselves in my eyes, surrounded by a rosy glow of Great-Guyness.

Pretty-Girl mojo doesn't always work, of course, even when you really try. Being a Pretty Girl is sometimes like having been given a gift card without knowing precisely how much credit has been loaded onto it. It gets you things, but you know that at any moment, the store clerk could shake their head at you and tell you that you've reached your limit and you're out of luck.

And there are times when being a Pretty Girl is a pain in the ass. When I'm pumping gas into my car at 2 am, for example, and a car full of drunken teenage guys pulls into the gas station, it's a serious inconvenience. There have been many moments in life when I really wished I was invisible, because the way I looked was drawing me attention I didn't want.

But I know that someday, I will become invisible, because I'll get old. Perhaps I'll find that I have Cool-Old-Lady mojo then, but I don't know. I do know I'm going to delay the whole process as long as I can, though. I was at the gym recently, running on the treadmill, and I saw former sex-symbol Raquel Welch being interviewed on TV. She's sixty-two, and damn, she still looks pretty good. If she can do it, I can do it, I thought, kicking up the speed another notch.

I wonder a lot if other pretty girls are as aware of their Pretty Girl-ness and what it means, as I am. But it's hard to talk about this without feeling like you're coming off as some kind of Stepford Wife. So I've really only talked about with a few other women, close friends, who know that I really don't believe that my only value as a person is the way I look.

But I look at other women sometimes – women who, to be blunt about it, aren't pretty at all – and I feel slightly guilty. It's same kind of guilt I occasionally feel about being white, or coming from an upper-middle-class family, who could afford to send me to private schools and buy me a pony. I got something you didn't get.
And it doesn't seem like an easily rectifiable imbalance. I believe in self-improvement, but some things can't be changed - short of auditioning for shows like Extreme Makeover. What can they do but just live with it?

I also wonder exactly how my life would be different if I were exactly the same person on the inside, but I wasn't pretty on the outside. But I wouldn't be the same person, really, because who I am has been influenced by how people treat me, and how people treat me is influenced by how I look.

I think the bottom line is: I'm fascinated by power dynamics in general, and I think that the power of personal attractiveness is one of the most basic and undeniable examples of power dynamics I know.

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