I didn’t grow up as the “pretty girl,” and that fact has little to do with my physical appearance and more to do with the way I was raised. I grew up as the “academic girl” and while I’m positive my parents must have complimented my appearance from time to time – I can not for the life of me remember any specific instances. Instead, I remember being taken to dinner for good report cards and being asked by my older sister where the other 1.76 points were when I was elated with a 98.24 overall grade point average.
I was the student who tutored my classmates when the substitute teacher couldn’t get the lesson across. I learned 6th grade math in 4th grade and participated in academic olympics. And although I was self conscious about my body throughout junior high and into high school – it wasn’t a crippling detriment. I learned to deal with it, I assume, mostly because to society and my peers I had the type of body and appearance you are supposed to have. All of the dislike was coming from within – not from the outside world. One of my high school boyfriends even told me that a large part of what attracted me to him was that I had no clue that I was attractive in the first place.
Being complimented on my appearance made me uncomfortable. (Over 10 years later, it still kind of does.) I had attached being pretty with a negative stigma. After being scouted at age 16 by a Ford model at a dance recital – I took her modeling classes (at a discounted rate) and was easily offered a manager. But it never felt right and so I opted out, and went back to my planned route of college, honors classes, and books.
And for my college education, I moved to New York City and all of the sudden, my appearance mattered. As I matured and it mattered less to me – it mattered more to the people around me. Everywhere I turned, and every stranger I met – people assumed less of me – they assumed from the start that I was unintelligent. How could a tall, thin, well dressed woman supporting herself as a waitress also have a brain?
And please don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining about my appearance. I am a self confident woman who finally accepts her body and is fully aware that being society’s version of attractive has definitely helped her along the way. I am also painfully aware that it has been easier for me to shop, be hired, or even be approached by strangers because I resemble the images that are fed to us and the celebrities we idolize. And while I am happy that I ended up with a combination of my mother’s coloration and metabolism and my father’s jaw line and good hair – those things do not define who I am. They are at the bottom of the totem pole, quite honestly. And I’ve played the trophy girlfriend role – it does not end well.
So why is it – that when we see a beautiful women, in a fabulous outfit, who is radiating confidence – we assume that she must not be intelligent, talented, driven, or god forbid – interested in reading. Why don’t we see a put together woman and think – wow, she must really have her act together, I bet you she runs her own company. We always jump to the negative. And maybe that speaks to our own insecurities. We need something to be wrong with her – because then we will feel better about ourselves.
And as I sat, sipping a cider, and rambling passionately about SmartGlamour to my boyfriend and his friends – they nodded along – and seemed to appreciate what I was trying to do for women. They commented, smiled, and praised my ideas. And when one of them capped the conversation with – “Well, you are definitely going to have to get someone else to be the face of this,” I smiled back and replied – “If that is what you think – then you haven’t really been listening.”