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.)