Thursday, January 24, 2013

I'm Not Here to Look Pretty

"Sorry to spoil those lily-white hands of yours, love, but you're a member of the working class now. You can forget about looking pretty."

A Little Princess

I was sick last week.

Stomach bug. Nothing serious. Just a few days of gastrointestinal misery, as happens to the best of us on occasion. It didn't prevent me from going to school, though it seriously decreased my enjoyment of wallowing in education, which is usually my very favorite thing to do.

While I was at school, sick and miserable, I kept catching glances of myself in mirrors, windows, and computer screens. I looked pretty awful.

I don't know about any of you, but when sick I have no desire to expend energy in prettifying myself. I don't even want to expend the energy needed to maintain prettification (i.e., remembering to not rub my eyes because I'll smudge my makeup and cause ten minutes of miserable stinging). It was impressive that I'd managed to make it to school at all, and even more amazing that I'd managed to change into something other than my pajamas. But still, I felt unhappy. Self-conscious. Guilty, even. Like the feeling that you get when there's a group project due and you haven't done your part. I felt like I was publicly letting down the university by appearing on campus looking like a sickie. I felt that I owed apologies to my classmates and professors by offending their eyes with my unbrushed hair.

And then something occurred to me. You know what? You're not here to look pretty.

The more I thought about it, the truer it became. It is not, in fact, my job to look pretty. That is not any part of what BYU expects me to do. They expect me to teach my class and grade their homework. They expect me to show up to my seminars on time and prepared. They expect me to learn stuff, and publish it as commendable research that will reflect well on the university. All of these things are my job. Being pretty is not part of that. If I were a model, it would be different. If I were a salesperson of any kind, that would be another story. If I were a dancing girl outside a Korean electronics store, a waitress at Hooter's, or a news anchor, then yes, 'pretty' would be part of my job. But I am an academic. My job is to work.

And then I took it further. If I'm not on campus to look pretty, is there anywhere that I go where prettiness is the expectation? Church, I thought. But . . . no . . . I'm at church to worship, serve, and edify. 'Pretty' is not part of my obligation to God. Dressing neatly and respectfully? Yes, sure, that's expected. But my physical attractiveness has no bearing on the quality of my worship and shouldn't impact the worship of those around me.

When I'm hanging out with my friends, am I there to look pretty? Certainly not. I'm there to have fun. I enjoy the company of my friends whether they are wearing makeup or not; I can only assume they feel the same.

When I'm dancing, am I there to look pretty? Not at rehearsal. I'm there to work. For performances, yes, but I'm there to look pretty as a Romanian, Croatian, or Bulgarian. American beauty standards don't come into play.

When I attend weddings? Maybe. To some extent. It is my job not to stand out in any photos. I accept that responsibility.

When I go to the opera? Absolutely. Dressing to the nines is de rigeur in that particular time and place.

But in the ordinary course of things, my day-in, day-out life, I am NOT here to look pretty. That is not my job. I have plenty of jobs to do, and my ability to do them is not affected at all by whether I look like a movie star or a hobo. I'm an academic. A teacher. A member of society. Not a painting, a potted plant, or a string of Christmas lights. I'm a student and a scholar, a friend and a sister, a designated driver, a cheesemaker, a lifeguard. I'm not a piece of modern art with delusions of grandeur.

So I'm taking the time I've been spending on makeup and I'm devoting it to reading 18th century plays. That is all. 

Teacher. Part-time.


  1. Me gusta. :-D I was confused, but rather relieved, when I found out that Ross actually thinks I (and women in general) look better without makeup. What a relief, not to feel expected to prettify myself! I wonder, how many other guys feel the same way, but just haven't mentioned it?

  2. I appreciate this post more than you can know.

  3. So true. I think part of the problem is that there's a fine line between putting lots of effort into appearances because we want to look good, and putting lots of effort into appearances because we're afraid of looking bad. I don't see a problem with the former, but society seems to encourage the latter.