As society makes its rounds on the equality train, conversations are becoming more open around feminism, racism, and any other “ism” that has weaseled its way into our conscious thoughts and actions. My roommate once said to me that “there’s no such thing as an ugly girl.” I was obviously perplexed by what she said at first, but it made so much sense. There were two ways to look at this: One, this is true because sometimes it can be hard to be unappealing to the masses when there are so many things advertised to women that aim to “enhance” and alter their natural state. Two, what is ugly? I mean we all know the definition, but with a world of diversity and different interests and disinterests, whose criteria are we actually even basing prettiness on? If you ask me women are far too different to compare or categorize — an apple is an apple, an orange is an orange, how could anyone compare the two? Let’s honestly think about that, how can we have a definitive standard when personal preference comes into play?
I could blame capitalism, the media, or the patriarchy, but we have all played a part in this epidemic called “pretty.” Pretty has many definitions: moderately high-degree, attractive, pleasing, etc., all definitions except social construct. I am no wordsmith or have much knowledge about Latin routes, but I have noticed that “Pretty” without the ‘R’ is petty, which means of little importance and trivial – funny how that just so happens to be coded within the word itself. For ages, women have been subjected to being the later, the other sect of human that is diluted down to princesses instead of warriors, subjected to the pink aisle, brainwashed by sugar, spice, and everything nice. We are creatures separate from the male masses: Girls do not burp, slouch, have body hair, get dirty, they don’t sweat, they glisten, they don’t do anything that would taint all that is meant to be “pretty.” News flash: we’re humans too, not “airbrushed creatures of desire,” eloquently put by Tracee Ellis Ross.
Every day women are being told how to look and how to be a certain way as if it is our innate duty to be decorative. I can assure you right now that when I was a little girl my goal was not to be an ornament. If you’re a New Yorker, you’ve probably seen the fruit-breast augmentation ads on the subway with two photos of the same woman next to each other — the only difference is on the left side, she’s holding Clementine’s to her chest, pouting and on the right she’s holding up grapefruits and smiling. This is a form of oppression through the ever-changing and far-from-normal gender “norms.” I remember when growing up as a child, being thin was in and the common phrase of “does this make my butt look big” was a dreaded question of disapproval and size zero was a goal. Now, some women are paying thousands of dollars for larger body parts. As society’s fickle preference changes, so do we. Some of us go with the times, and cling to the trends, but what about what the individual wants?
This oppresses women: From advertising idealistic body types to telling a woman she’s too pretty to not smile on the street are all forms of oppression and dehumanize us.
To have a quick history lesson, look at Listerine for example; they launched an ad campaign in the 1920s and ’50s — “Often a bridesmaid, never a bride.” Yes, this was for mouthwash. “Like every woman, her primary ambition was to marry,” stated one of the ads with a woman faced down in a bouquet of flowers in despair, most likely crying. Although bad breath will never be (cue Mean Girls reference) “fetch” and the level of ridiculousness this ad campaign contained is laugh-worthy, it was indeed a form of oppression. These Listerine ads oppressed women with satirical headlines like “He’s not going to call”, “Let the tide take her out, I won’t”, “She was losing him…and she didn’t know why”, and my personal all-time favorite “And her mother was to blame.” Very seldom was I able to find ads that targeted men and bad breath; usually, the men were seen in Listerine ads that highlighted the brand’s versatile use for the common cold, dandruff fighting properties, and aftershave — but women could absolutely not have bad breath, otherwise they’ll be doomed to a singleton.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a manifesto about a Battle of the Breath via gender, but it does showcase the deeper-rooted issue that in order to sell something to women back in the day, they have to be taunted and their worth has to be threatened while male-targeted ads were to just serve as a confidence boost towards the male masculinity. Although ads have come a long way, there are still traces of this behavior —tell a man he’ll get women with a product, he’ll buy it, endanger a woman’s confidence by saying she’ll be less desirable without a product, she’ll buy it.
With a world tapping into our internalized misogyny 24/7 and the oppression to be appealing, it can be hard to not reach for your lipstick as a daily essential. However, we need to keep forging the road for the next generation of Boss Babes in confidence. Being pretty is what YOU want it to be, whether that be wearing makeup or having a fresh face, mixing patterns, or staying minimalistic, there are so many different things in play that factors into your own identity. There is no obligation to be pretty because you are female, in truth there never really was. So do everything you want to do, say what you want to say, and be whoever the hell you want to be for yourself, not for the patriarchy, or society, or even other women. Love who you choose to be regardless of anything around you because how you define “pretty” is completely up to you.
Written by Caela Collins
Feature image via Refinery29