Louis asks me this question every day, multiple times. “Are you pretty?” This is his latest phase. He also asks if he is pretty, if Elena is pretty. This morning he wanted assurance that yes, in fact, his undies were pretty.

smiley elenaIs Elena pretty?
May she rarely need to ask.

I tell him yes, straight up, every time. Is Daddy pretty? Absolutely. Is Mummy pretty? Yes. I try not to pause. But it is strange to answer the question with confidence. Blame growing up in a society with serious tall-poppy syndrome. Blame the media warping my ideas of beauty.

Thing is, I’m aware of all that. I taught whole units to my media studies classes, aimed at convincing teenagers that you can be beautiful and bear no resemblance to either Brad Pitt or Angeline Jolie.

Is it worth mentioning that jolie is the french word for pretty? Joli (without an e) is the masculine form.

Anyway, this barrage of questions and my steady affirmative response is making me realise a few things…

– KNOWING that beauty is predominantly a construct doesn’t mean I don’t want to be beautiful.

– Being ‘pretty’ is important to me. Too important in fact. I think about it quite a lot. Is that a window? Hey, look it works like a mirror. And judgey-judge-judge-judge. This scrutiny is of course not reserved for myself. I judgey-judge-judge-judge plenty of other people too. Not good.

– How I actually look doesn’t correlate directly with whether or not I feel pretty.

– How pretty I feel DOES affect how I feel about myself in other fields. I approach my writing, my family, my friends, learning french, housekeeping… basically everything with a better attitude, so long as I feel pretty. (I’m sure there’s a tipping point where being just-plain-conceited makes me unbearable…)

Pre-occupation with appearances, especially coupled with a narrow definition of beauty, is a problem, obviously. But I don’t know what to do about it. I consciously avoid fashion magazines and all that propaganda but perhaps it’s just too late, the damage is done.

The thing is, I’m not convinced that the solution is to somehow feel pretty all of the time. It’s just not that important to look good! But tell that to my unconscious. Jeez. It’s as stubborn as a two-nearly-three year old.