On Being Both Smart and Pretty

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By Sky

On my latest foray into reality television, I decided to watch half an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a TLC show talking about the world of childrens’ beauty pageants. Naturally, I’ve heard lots of things about this show, and even on the Netflix description it says it’s “bizarre.” I expected the show to be disturbing because of the toddlers’ appearances, but the disturbance was more subtle.

In the first episode, one of the fathers says he is doing this pageant business to give his daughter opportunities. Mainly, college scholarships.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on.

I understand wanting your child to have a bright future, but using their beauty is not the only way.

The father from Toddlers and Tiaras made a comment about how when he found out he was having a girl, he immediately thought that he needed to get her involved. (I presume with the beauty pageant stuff.) It seemed as if he thought her only option in life to be pretty–never smart. Just pretty. And that was going to give her success in the world.

This revealed a disturbing commentary regarding our society: girls’ worth is wrapped up in their beauty. Rather than value our brains, our quick wits, our souls, our deep thoughts, we’ve decided to focus it all on outward appearance. Because that totally makes sense.

Where are the sons being entered into pageants so they can win scholarships? Why is it that to get a scholarship, little girls must be… beautiful? Whatever the hell that means?

What if this girl from Toddlers and Tiaras is extremely intelligent, and yet all she can see herself for is how pretty she looks because people have reduced her to her outward appearance? Wrapping a person’s worth up into how beautiful they are is a train on the fast track headed straight for disaster. So many people look at girls for their prettiness, our beauty. In doing so, they miss our souls. Our brains, our intelligence, and our hearts.

Another point that this brings up is that it seems that being pretty and being smart are mutually exclusive. I even fell into it myself earlier in this article when I worried the world would only see the pageant contestant for her looks, not her brains. Why can’t it be both? Why can’t we be both smart and pretty? Women are not three-dimensional caricatures–and that’s a message I wish I could proclaim clearly every fiction writer in America. Actually, every person in America, frankly.

I love the show The Big Bang Theory, but even that show sends a bit of an alarming message. Penny, who is arguably the hottest woman on the show, is seen as the dumb blonde. While Bernadette is pretty and a scientist, which I do appreciate, we then have Amy, who is extremely smart and yet comes across as the frumpiest on the show. (She also has the most unlucky sex life, no thanks to Sheldon.)

I understand that there are extenuating factors, such as Mayim Bialik’s personal clothing standards and the mindset of the writers and designers of the whole show. I do understand and respect that. I’m also not even sure that Amy should be changed at all, and it is refreshing to see a character whose looks aren’t emphasized. But I have to ask, what kind of message is that sending? That if you want to be a smart, scientific woman, you are doomed to a life of being perceived as ugly and undesirable? Why are these two things seen as mutually exclusive? Why is being “beautiful” (which is a highly subjective term) even a factor at all?

On the flip side, women who are pretty are not dumb. However, the beautiful yet stupid woman is is a trope and stereotype used throughout society and numerous characters, and it’s really sad Like I said: these two things are not mutually exclusive, and I believe we should have the freedom to be both, as well as any other adjectives we so choose.

I think we need a major overhaul of the way we view prettiness. It is not something that automatically makes you a woman, and it is not the only thing that makes you worth something. In fact, it shouldn’t even define your worth at all. It’s subjective; it is not reality, and it does not matter when looking at your worth as a person.

The only time it should matter when you personally look in the mirror and feel beautiful. Actually, when you look into the mirror and feel smart, sexy, intelligent, wonderful, and whole. You are a whole person, a human being. Not just a pretty girl. Not just a woman. You are a woman, and you are beautiful, and fabulous, and badass, and you are three-dimensional. (Feel free to insert any other adjectives in the past paragraph to suit you.)

You do not have to be pretty to win a scholarship, but you can be. You do not even have to be a “hot scientist” by the world’s standards, but you can be. You can just be a person: a woman, who is pretty, and a host of other adjectives. Be you.

I don’t want to bash those who do get scholarships from winning pageants. I’m not against being beautiful at all, and I certainly don’t want to imply that models or girls in pageants are wrong somehow. I’m more frustrated with the unrealistic expectations of beauty and just wish being “pretty,” by the world’s standards, wasn’t even a factor at all when it comes to determining the worth of a woman. The fact that we even have these measures of beauty is messed up. We don’t have to be just beautiful; we are not objects to look at. It’s not wrong to feel beautiful or to want to–I definitely do want to feel that way! I think every woman should feel beautiful. But the important thing to remember is that is not all we are. It is not who we are.

Anyone who pretends to think you’re ugly, unpretty, or undesirable is ridiculous and should be quieted immediately. You are already beautiful. You are beautiful, completely and thoroughly. Embrace it. Forget the world’s standards are beauty, and know that you are pretty, smart, beautiful, and all of these things–simply because you exist. There is no standard you need to pass. In our finite human minds, we fall into judging people too quickly. I’m sorry for that. But that’s not your fault, it’s theirs. If someone can’t see you–all of you–for who you are, they clearly have no taste whatsoever. So you just keep being awesome.

Basically, just do what you do, and embrace the fact that you are a three-dimensional human being. There are no restrictions. Just be you. And if that includes being smart and pretty? You go for it, kid.

(The mutual exclusivity about girls not being able to be perceived as both smart and pretty was first showed to me by articles by others. I don’t remember the names now, but some of them quoted the Verizon ad campaign talking about girls and science, and I think it’s a powerful message. Check it out here.)


Learning to Love Ourselves

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by ariela

I believe that loving your own body is one of the hardest things for a woman to do. Granted, it might be easier for some women and harder for others, but overall I get the feeling we women simply struggle with loving themselves and embracing their bodies.


There are many reasons, and depending on the culture you grew up in might affect how you view yourself. A conservative, nondenominational, homeschooling, and patriarch-supporting family like mine? I grew up being told that my body was a stumbling block for men and therefore I needed to cover it up. Skirts had to be below the knee and all shirts had to pass the “tummy test”. If you aren’t familiar with this degrading dressing room ritual, it’s where you do various things such as bending over to make sure the shirt doesn’t pull up to reveal your back/butt, and raising your hands as high as you can to make sure no stomach is revealed at all. Once I turned 11, shorts were pretty much a no-no, because puberty was coming. I’m in my early 20s and it’s been almost 11 years since I last wore a pair of shorts.

Because of all the shaming, I have believed for many, many years that my body was a lean, mean, seducing machine. Unless I covered up, men would stalk me, just waiting for a glimpse of sinful flesh that would instantly make them rape me.

It’s dangerous. And to top it off, I’ve always been slightly overweight, so there has been the added pressure of losing weight to have a “body that pleases the Lord”. Because, you know, Jesus ONLY loves women who wear size 0.

Too fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too curvy, too straight. Your boobs are too big, your boobs are too small. I’ve heard it all.

Is it any wonder we struggle with loving ourselves?

I almost feel like a parrot, because this subject has been written about so many times. But maybe if we keep talking about it, things will begin to change.

Things have already begun to change for me. A few days ago I had my hair cut into a bob, which I’ve always wanted. My grandma is completely ignoring it and my dad can’t bring himself to say he approves.

But I realized that I don’t care anymore. It’s my body, it’s my hair.

I tried on a new shirt a couple of weeks ago and looked in the mirror. The shirt really looked good on me so I told myself something; I spoke out loud and said “Damn, woman, you look sexy.”

Do you know what happened? No, men didn’t come leaping out of the crevices to attack me. The world did not explode. The Lord is still on His throne.

But I felt a surge of confidence come over me.

It’s my body. Why shouldn’t I love the curves that form me? It’s me, after all.

Do yourself a favor, dear. Look in the mirror and even if you don’t believe it, look yourself in the eye and tell yourself how sexy you look. I can’t see you but if I know I would agree with you.

Haven’t brushed your hair in two days and still in those ratty sweatpants? Love yourself anyway.

Just dropped a couple pounds and wearing a new dress? Love yourself anyway.

Overweight, with bags under your bloodshot eyes and a stained tee shirt? Love yourself anyway.

Get picked on at school for wearing that outfit because you have a tiny build and need to gain a couple of pounds? Love yourself anyway.

As I learn to love my own body more, I hope to keep writing on the subject. Meanwhile, keep telling yourself encouraging things. What do you want to hear someone say about you? Why don’t you say it to yourself?

“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?”

— Maya Angelou

“The Period Poem” by Dominique Christina

“The Period Poem” by Dominique Christina


So let me be very clear. I wrote this poem with a very specific intent. I have a 13 year old daughter. It is important to me that I throw every part of my experience, whatever wisdom I’ve gleaned from that, every part of my backbone, toward her, to sustain her, to offer her language that lifts her up and keeps her up.

That said, there is for me, a necessary conversation that seeks to undermine the shaming that happens to some girls around menstruation. I had that experience of starting my period in 7th grade, boys, finding out that I had started my period. And then it was some shit, like I’ve been to class with the frantic, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom now,” waved and they’re like, “You’re on your period, aren’t you?” You know, that dumb shit.

And so then my daughter, like she starts her period and she’s stricken and walks out the bathroom looking like she’s died or something, and I wanted to undermine that. So I threw her a period party, my home is red up, dressed in red, and there was red food and red drinks. It was great.


It was great. So all red, everything. I loved it. So, that’s what it was and it was wonderful. And then, when I was in Austin, Texas for Women of the World this year, she sent me a screenshot of a tweet and in 140 characters, this dummy, damn their, undermined my legacy. This is my response to the aforementioned today. You’re welcome.

The dude on Twitter says: “I was having sex with my girlfriend when she started her period, I dumped that bitch immediately.”

Dear nameless dummy on Twitter: You’re the reason my daughter cried funeral tears when she started her period. The sudden grief all young girls feel after the matriculation from childhood, and the induction into a reality that they don’t have to negotiate, you and your disdain for what a woman’s body can do. Herein begins an anatomy lesson infused with feminist politics because I hate you.

There is a thing called the uterus. It sheds itself every 28 days or so, or in my case every 23 days, I’ve always been a rule breaker. That’s the anatomy part of it, I digress.

The feminist politic part, is that women know how to let things go, how to let a dying thing leave the body, how to become new, how to regenerate, how to wax and wane, not unlike the moon and tides, both of which influence how you behave, I digress. [laughter]

Women have vaginas that can speak to each other and by this I mean, when we’re with our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our menstrual cycles will actually sync the fuck up. My own cervix is mad influential, everybody I love knows how to bleed with me. Hold on to that, there’s a metaphor in it. [applause]

Hold on to that. But when your mother carried you, the ocean in her belly is what made you buoyant, made you possible. You had it under your tongue when you burst through her skin, wet and panting from the heat of her body, the body whose machinery you now mock on social media, that body, wrapped you in everything that was miraculous about, and then sung you lullabies laced in platelets, without which you wouldn’t have no Twitter account at all motherfucker. I digress.

See, it’s possible that we know the world better because of the blood that visits some of us. It interrupts our favorite white skirts, and shows up at dinner parties unannounced, blood will do that, period. It will come when you are not prepared for it; blood does that, period. Blood is the biggest siren, and we understand that blood misbehaves, it does not wait for a hand signal, or a welcome sign above the door. And when you deal in blood over and over again like we do, when it keeps returning to you, well, that makes you a warrior.

And while all good generals know not to discuss battle plans with the enemy, let me say this to you, dummy on Twitter, If there’s any balance in the universe at all, you’re going to be blessed with daughters. Blessed.

Etymologically, bless means to make bleed. See, now it’s a lesson in linguistics. In other words, blood speaks, that’s the message, stay with me. See, your daughters will teach you what all men must one day come to know, that women, made of moonlight magic and macabre, will make you know the blood. We’re going to get it all over the sheets and car seats, we’re going to do that. We’re going to introduce you to our insides, period and if you are as unprepared as we sometimes are, it will get all over you and leave a forever stain.

So to my daughter: Should any fool mishandle that wild geography of your body, how it rides a red running current like any good wolf or witch, well then just bleed, boo. Get that blood a biblical name, something of stone and mortar. Name it after Eve’s first rebellion in that garden, name it after the last little girl to have her genitals mutilated in Kinshasa, that was this morning. Give it as many syllables as there are unreported rape cases.

Name the blood something holy, something mighty, something unlanguageable, something in hieroglyphs, something that sounds like the end of the world. Name it for the war between your legs, and for the women who will not be nameless here. Just bleed anyhow, spill your impossible scripture all over the good furniture. Bleed, and bleed, and bleed on everything he loves, period.

Sky’s thoughts:

To be honest, I just got done watching this for the first time, and I’m a mess.

I never really realized how much shame I feel about my cycle, how I feel embarrassed when I ask for someone to grab me a pad or when I bleed on my favorite pair of shorts. But it’s real and it is there.

And it makes me angry.

How dare we be thought of as the inferior sex when we bleed every month for days at a time? I swear, that’s hardcore. Most times when people bleed for seven days straight, they die. We don’t.

There’s something in that, I think. We don’t die. We continue to live. Women know how to rise and rise again. We should be down, but we. are. not. We are resilient.

A while ago, after watching the first season of Teen Wolf, I commented to myself that women are like werewolves. Every month we turn into a monster and act in unnatural ways. I said it negatively, feeling shame over my cycle, but now this video has flipped that idea on its head. We do not turn into monsters. We turn into wolves. Wild, strong, and brave.

My favorite line of her video is this: “And when you deal in blood over and over again like we do, when it keeps returning to you, well, that makes you a warrior.” 

I’ve always wanted to be a warrior, brave and strong. But every month, now I can be reminded: I am. You are, too. Remember it. Claim it and drive your stake into the ground. Mark your territory and roar as loud as you can. Be a lioness. Make up your own battle cry.

And sometimes, bleeding means being vulnerable. Asking for help, appreciating feminine things, crying, and not being unbreakable 100% of the time is absolutely okay, as much as the world may tell us they are not. Doing these things does not make you less of a woman. Nothing should.

You are whole. You are not broken, you are not a screw-up, you are not a burden, you are not less: you are a woman, and I am proud of you, I am proud of us. The world can tell us there is something wrong in the way we were born, because of the fact that we don’t have a penis. Frankly, that is bullshit. You are enough, and there is NO SHAME in who you are. Accept and be proud of the fact that you have a vagina, you have curves, you have a period, you have hormones; you are a woman. Be proud of yourself. Don’t be afraid to bleed, whatever that looks like for you.

And if you are afraid to bleed, that’s okay. We’re here right alongside you.

(P.S. – As Ariela said, our periods are bloody beautiful. See what she did there?)

Respect Yourself

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By Leigh Camacho Rourks

The woman at Dillard’s is being helpful.

She is motherly. She is smiling.

She would like to measure my breasts. “So many women are wearing the wrong sized bra, dear,” she says. She actually says “dear” while eyeing my cleavage.

I know I’m wearing the wrong sized bra. That is why I’m at Dillard’s. I’ve gained some weight. My underarm flab is pooching around the band of my current bra, and I am afraid to check if the pudge I feel straining the hooks, encouraging them to jab and poke, has become full-fledged backfat. My right boob, the big one, is bouncing between unattractive double boob and all out escape. I have put this off far too long, and I am completely demoralized. Despite the fact that I do know the proper way to size a bra and have a fairly good idea of what size I need, 44DD, I say yes. I want to be pampered. I need this kind woman to fuss and measure. To make me and my breasts feel better.

That is not what she does.

Forget the fact that she will not leave the room as I wiggle into bra after bra, eyeing me and my swaying double Ds, forget that, over and over, she tries to physically put each of my boobs into its cup (I want to ask her to buy me dinner). Forget that every single bra she brings me is large and reinforced and horrifyingly ugly.

What sends me to my car, desperate to not rage-cry in public, is her insistence that what I really need is a minimizer.

A minimizer is a bra designed to hold your breasts down, to make them appear daintier. Less obtrusive. It is like a leash for the most unruly boobs. It keeps them under control. For those on the search for a smaller rack, minimizer bras are the perfect solution. I was on no such search.

The first time one was ever suggested to me, I was about 16 and the adult who advised I compress my breasts did so with nothing but love. “Your clothes will fit so much nicer,” she said.

Over the years, I have learned it is code for, “You look kind of slutty with them big ol’ titties.”

At the time, all I heard was, “Good god, freak! Get a hold on those unwieldy things.” It felt like I was walking around with a couple of baby Godzillas strapped to my chest. People even suggested I consider surgery. And all I could thing was, “Come on, y’all. They aren’t that big.”

I pretty much liked how my clothes fit. I liked my body and I chose to wear clothes that didn’t hide it. Yes, you read that correctly, I was sixteen and I liked my body. A damn, short lived miracle. It was this glorious point in my life where I stopped starving and binging long enough to marvel at the beautiful breasts that had been growing non-stop for four years. The lovely hips that had turned baby fat to hourglass. I had nice legs. Cute freckles. I was going to be okay. I stopped hiding behind oversized shirts and crossed arms and started wearing things that fit my shoulders, my waist, my back, and yep, those breasts.

The thing is, if a flat chested girl wears a shirt that fits her breasts, even if it is low cut, she looks “tailored.” If I do, I look slutty. The more boob you have, the more baby feeding flesh people are afraid they might see. And apparently, that shit is ugly. I should know. People have been helpfully suggesting I “respect myself” and hide it for as long as I can remember.

I can’t imagine any of my progressive, feminist friends suggesting to a young girl that she show a little self-respect and cover her beautiful brown eyes. Maybe she could learn to love herself and hide those shiny locks. A little more self esteem and maybe she wouldn’t feel the need to flaunt her athletic legs! Slamming collar bone? High collar for you. Delicate neck? Get a scarf!

But, many are willing to tsk at any overly exposed boob not feeding a child. It is the juncture where a lot of conservatives and liberals find common ground: Teach your girls to love and respect themselves and dress appropriately. The bigger the boob, the more self respect that is required.

It isn’t just the soft, round bits either.

I was at work one day, wearing a mock turtleneck that literally covered me from chin to hip. I have, this time, lost some weight, so not only is the shirt not skin tight, but it sags a little at the boob. I look sloppy and I know it. At least I am SFW, safe for work.

A friend, a fierce feminist, leans over and quietly advises me that my nipples are showing. Afraid that my black top is so old and worn that it has actually given up and become invisible, I scuttle to the bathroom, cursing my inability to throw anything away.

Nope. It is just a bit cold in the building. And my nipples, cute little arrows that they are, are doing what chilly nipples do. The sag in my shirt is no match for their eager salute, and I am left to wonder what on earth I am expected to fix. I don’t even really understand the problem at hand (or nip). I am not, after all, a Barbie doll, smooth and plastic.

I do nothing except move them around so that they point in the same direction.

Barbie’s breasts were shrunk years ago, giving her a more realistic, athletic build. I wonder if she is the future. Her smooth, large-but-not-too-large rack is already the politically correct fashion. It sits still, each well mannered boob in its own space, no real cleavage, no nipples, no jiggle.

I have fine breasts. So far, they are healthy. They no longer sit as high as they once did, sliding into an armpit if I lay down, or as firm, my bounce now pure Jello, but they are fine, lovely girls. They are one of the few things I really like about my body. And when I wear something that shows them off, it isn’t a lack of self esteem or daddy issues that prompted the plunging neckline and tight bust.

The only “respect” my breasts really need from me are check-ups, mammograms, and some armor if I decide to go in for a contact sport. The only respect they need from you is your lack of judgment.

rnotion - leigh camacho rourksLeigh Camacho Rourks lives in South Louisiana, where she is the assistant editor of Louisiana Literature. Her stories have been chosen as finalists for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Fiction Contest (2012) and The American Fiction Prize (2013), and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals including Kenyon Review Online and Prairie Schooner. You can follow her on twitter @ScaredWriter or visit her website and blog at LCRourks.com.