There are many ugly truths about being female in this world. It’s 2014 and there’s still much progress to be made. To be female comes with a list of expectations about femininity that can feel oppressive. The most egregious expectation is that we should always strive to be pretty and if possible, very pretty. I never thought about it so directly until I read this quote on a photo of fashion icon Diana Vreeland:
“You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.’”
The quote was written by a wordsmith and dress-loving blogger named Erin McKean but because it has been reappropriated into a viral Internet meme over the face of Vreeland. For this reason, it’s often misattributed to Vreeland.
This is understandable because Vreeland had a way with words, and she did not mince them.
After the #yesallwomen
Twitter phenomenon, I read many many poignant messages about the state of being female in this world at this time and it was great to just feel validated and understood. That’s when I stumbled onto the “pretty” quote. Most of us sitting at computers reading blogs and writing them are lucky to have equal rights and vast opportunities but we also have the burden of inequalities and gender bias.
I could write a book on topic, but instead I wrote a column about this notion that women don’t have to be pretty. Pretty can be a distraction, a trap, a mirage, a detriment. Women need to feel comfortable in their own skin whether they are described as conventionally pretty or not. That’s where the progress lies.
One of the best compliments I got from the column was a note from a mom who said she cut it out of the paper and gave copies to her two daughters.