Fuck Pretty: My Struggle with the P Word
Updated: May 31
So I recently watched The Princess Diaries with Pookie. What? I’m down with the flu and that’s exactly what feel-good movies are made for. Pookie watched under protest – she wanted to watch the animated version of Julia Donaldson’s Room on the Broom instead. But we watch that EVERY friggin’ night, so we watched Anne Hathaway bumble adorably across the screen and I sealed my fate.
Before going to bed, Pookie declared she too wanted to be a Princess and wear lovely clothes and tiaras and everyone would have to listen to her and she would be pretty. My immediate reaction was to tell her not all princesses wear jewels, like Merida (thank God for Brave) and that being pretty wasn’t the most important thing.
Look, I get it. Most girls have a Princess phase. Some don’t outgrow it till their teens, after which it transforms into a mermaid fetish apparently, but that’s a different can of fish-food. No, my worry is the other p word: pretty.
See, Pookie isn’t even 5 yet and already she has this thing about being the prettiest. Whenever she dresses up – for someone else’s birthday party or a festival or a wedding – her question is always ‘Will I be the prettiest one there?’ Which is a ridiculous concern at any age, unless you’re a model-actress whose entire career depends on the answer to that question. But for a 5-year-old to worry about it? I feel like I’ve failed my feminist forebears. And this, despite all I’ve learned as a wannabe-pretty girl.
I was a nice-looking kid. I was told so. Then I achieved my now-famous dental troubles, got glasses and hit puberty, so that was that till I passed out of school. I was deeply conscious of my appearance the whole time and my self-esteem in that department was negligible. I was suspicious of anyone who said I looked nice – there weren’t many, if you didn’t count my grandma. And that low self-esteem, that feeling that somehow I wasn’t pretty enough, I think that was my undoing eventually.
See, if you don’t believe you’re pretty, if you want desperately to be seen as pretty, you are terribly vulnerable. To manipulation of the worst kind, because all that a clever opportunist needs to do is to convince you that THEY think you’re pretty. You feel SO grateful, you end up falling hook, line and sinker. And we know what happens to fish after THAT.
I’m not naïve. I know we live in a world where appearances, especially women’s, matter. I’ve worked on enough beauty brands to know that the market profits from women’s insecurities about their looks. But I had always assumed that these insecurities didn’t kick in till the hormones did.
So I’m worried. Worried that the need to be pretty has invaded my daughter’s mind far before her time. That I have no definite way of convincing her that intelligence, courage and kindness are far more important than beauty (my original plan was to read the Harry Potter books to her and let her pick a house). I don’t even know if I’m overreacting, if this is harmless vanity.
All I can hope for is a brainwave. While I’m down with the flu. Yeah. Seems doable. Sure.