Ugly is a Matter of Perspective

The downside to 11-year-old slumber parties is clear – a very big mess, very little sleep and the very real danger of permanent hearing damage. If you have not experienced the extraordinary pitch and volume of excited pre-teen babble… well then, I’m happy for you.

On the upside, it’s a fascinating peek into the mind of children-becoming-women. I mostly hung out in the background at my daughter’s first sleepover party, as per her strict instructions. And if I happened to lurk in the hallway listening from time to time, who’s to know? After all, it is my house.

It’s a lot like I remember. A lot more OMG and iPod usage than I’d like, but the silliness and the shrieking and the inhuman levels of energy ring a bell. The enthusiasm of childhood intersecting with the concerns of growing up.

The birthday girl wanted a “fancy dinner,” so she and all her guests dressed up, then big sister played waitress and Mom played chef and somehow everyone got fed. There were candles and flowers and the good china and the good white tablecloth. It’s possible that more food ended up in the “wine” glasses than in their stomachs, but they weren’t complaining.

After cheesy party games, presents, a movie, pranking poor big sister and several hours of whispering (until Mean Mom made an appearance at 2:30 am), they managed to get a few hours of REM in.

Enough, apparently, that the next morning they found a few minutes to wax philosophical. They even asked me to weigh in on the conversation. I think the question had originally been asked in jest, but the discussion seemed pretty serious for pajama clad partiers.

If you had to choose,
one or the other for the rest of your life,
would you rather be pretty or smart?

On the surface, it’s a simple conversation starter. Like, what kind of superpower would you choose? Or where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? Fluffy and unimportant. But in this day and age, for a group of young women just discovering who they are, it’s a serious question.

What’s most important to you? Who do you want to be? Why?

Of course, this is a rhetorical argument – we don’t have to choose, though it may seem like it sometimes (but that’s a blog for another day). And on some level, our physical appearance and natural intelligence is not within our control. We are who we are. Accepting that is the first step to contentment. Still, we can nurture and enhance both our mind and our look. With limited resources, we tend to focus more on one or the other.

Our priorities and values, especially as women, can be largely determined by our devotion to either appearance or substance. It affects how we see ourselves and others. It affects our goals and our dreams and our sense of purpose. It affects how we spend our time and our money and our lives.

I gave the girls the “Mom Answer” they expected. Of course, I’d rather be smart. That’s what I was supposed to say.

Afterwards I wondered… is it really true? I mean, I definitely want to be pretty. I’d love to have movie-star good looks and wear size 2 and fend off drooling hoards of admirers. Who wouldn’t?

But would I trade the power of my mind, the things I know and have experienced, my connection with God, my common sense, and my hard-won slivers of wisdom for that? Even just a little bit?

Never. Not for all the pretty in the world. I wouldn’t lessen myself that way.

Yet, women do that all the time. We live in a world that tells girls, in thousands of different ways, that their value lies in how they look and what they weigh and how well they can attract a man. Sometimes we even slap a “feminist” label on it and call that power. But real power isn’t being noticed or shaking your ass – real power is being confident, unique and strong in a way that is MORE than skin deep. The world doesn’t need more pretty women, it needs more smart ones.

Without time to prepare, I didn’t offer the eloquent, inspiring comments I would’ve liked. I said something about looks being temporary. That I need intelligence to understand and enjoy the world. That I want to do something good and important and make the world a better place, not just decorate it.

One little girl looked at me, then said, quite sadly,

“But then you’d be ugly.”

There was a pause then, before other conversations intruded and crepes wanted flipping and sleeping bags needed folding and the party carried on.

I carried that sad comment with me all day. And I wondered about the nature of ugly, about the world we live in and the world we’re making.

If a girl chooses smart. If she chooses substance. Could that, ever, be ugly?

So here’s my answer girls: don’t pick pretty. Pick smart. Even better, pick kind or brave or outstanding. Because there’s nothing uglier than a pretty face with nothing behind it.

About So Here's Us.... life on the raggedy edge.

I'm a bookworm, nature lover, kick-boxer, candy fiend, sci fi geek, home body, progressive Christian and part-time student. I love my crazy life and the messy, fun, stubborn, silly, brilliant people who populate it. View all posts by So Here's Us.... life on the raggedy edge.

12 responses to “Ugly is a Matter of Perspective

  • weareeighty

    I love this. It brought a tear to my eyes, especially the young girl saying “then you would be ugly.” I agree, I am raising a five year old and the world that awaits her at times can be judgemental and cruel. I guess the best I can do, and I do it daily and I tell her that she is both beautiful and smart. Maybe the best of both worlds is better than choosing sides.

  • Janis Scott

    Have you ever noticed that some “beautiful people” loose their appeal pretty quickly once you get to know them? I knew a ‘beautiful guy’ and after he’d dated my room mate for a couple of months, I realized he was no longer beautiful to me-not physically, not on any level. His personality shone through and he was rather ugly. On the flip side, some rather ‘ugly and physically unappealing people’ at first glance have become beautiful to me. I’ve wondered when it happened exactly, but it’s not something you can pinpoint… the truth is, after a rather short time, your personality shines right through the physical. I think it’s part of the reason many beautiful movie stars have such short marriages. Beauty fades pretty quickly even if the physical looks exactly the same. I recall one silly 18 year old kid telling me she thought her boyfriend looked better than Tom Cruise…and in the days of Top Gun, I just couldn’t see it…but now I understand how Glen achieved this level to you!!

  • thisisnowhere

    Hey! Enough out of you, Janis!

  • Reyn

    Certainly a good question, and not at all gender or age constrained. It’s worth thinking about. Where do I want to invest my time? Do I want to appear more appealing or would I like to be wiser and more emphatic?

    Lucky are those born or grown into both, but without effort they can both fade.

    Well written, thanks for sharing.

    • So Here's Us.... life on the raggedy edge.

      You’re right, it’s definitely is a struggle for all ages and genders. It seems especially crucial at this “becoming” time. And I do think women face a lot more pressure to be purely decorative, though, sadly, men are getting into that more and more.

      Superficial looks fade. I’ve been thinking about that point and have to concede that smarts often do too. But the legacy we leave by virtue of our minds and empathy and wisdom last forever.

  • mewhoami

    Beautifully decorated party. I need some of your creativity to rub off on me. In regard to the rest, it is sad that the world is so focused on looks. That’s all you ever see or hear. Never on a commercial do they mention anything about intelligence or true self worth. Instead you see scantily clad women selling everything from makeup to potato chips. It’s not wonder there is so much depression, anorexia and even suicide these days. People are all trying to be someone else, instead of just working to be the best them that they can be. I hope that girl soon realizes that the most beautiful people are in fact the loving, sincere and compassionate ones.

  • Emma Dumitra

    Wise words. Although, not gonna lie, intellect is something that can be easily hid behind as well. Especially in school there’s a lot of pressure to be smart, or to maintain that smartness if people assume you are smart. There can be empty beauty and empty intellect, I think, and different people hide more strongly behind one or the other. I can find my value just as easily in my intelligence as in my looks. Ultimately, neither of those should define me.
    I’m not sure if I’m a bit off-topic here, those are just my two-cents.

    • So Here's Us.... life on the raggedy edge.

      I think that’s a really good point! Ultimately, I think smart outweighs pretty, but kind, compassionate, generous, loving, faithful, joyful (you see where I’m going here)… outweigh them both. I’ve definitely come across some “shallow” intellectuals at university. I can see how I could get sucked into that. Perhaps someone (cough*you*cough) should write an insightful blog post or poem about this… I’ll be pondering it.

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