I am a firm believer that inner beauty is much more important than outside beauty, but it is probably a lie to say only inner beauty matters. We all want to be pretty. When you hear the question “Do you think you are pretty?”, what would you say?
April, do you think you are pretty?
Before the age of 25, I would definitely say no. I wouldn’t call myself ugly, but for sure not a pretty one that captures people’s attention at the first sight, just someone in between. Growing up in a very education-focused culture, and raised by parents who were not into combing my hair or buying me dresses, I didn’t care much about looking pretty. I was average looking for many years, without the desire or knowledge of wearing make up, without good fashion taste, without a distinct face or body. And I was constantly being commented on my flaws growing up: my dark skin, my chubby body, my town-boy style forced by my parents, and my signature smile that pushed up all my cheek muscles and exposed my upper gingival.
But somehow, during those days when I wasn’t a pretty girl, not being pretty wasn’t really a big deal. I was aware of my flaws and would still be a bit conscious when people joked about them, but fixing the flaws wasn’t a priority of my life. Or more accurately saying, I didn’t know that should be a priority or even an option. Having an average look never really bothered me though: I LMOLed (Laughing Madly Out Loud) as much as I wanted, loved wearing my favorite dress, chased after the popular boys and dared to confess love to their faces, did cheerleading…Even when people made fun of my teeth, I did feel embarrassed but wasn’t thinking that I should make some efforts to change it.
After I started working I gained a significant amount of weight, thanks to not knowing how to take care of myself, I still somehow, miraculously now I think, found myself cute and even sexy as I was maturing. I remembered sharing a picture of myself riding a carousel on social media, only seeing a lovely girl having fun like a child, but an old friend commented “Since when did you gain weight?”, I didn’t even bother and dismissed the comment as something ridiculous. I thought my fat was perfect and gave me some curve that I never had before.
I wouldn’t say all of that was attributed to some rocket high confidence worth praising. Honestly, sometimes I still envied those pretty girls that were always under the spotlight and seemed to have everything. But I never knew becoming pretty could be a thing if I wasn’t born or raised that way, so I just kinda lived with what I had and still had fun with it.
However, life made an unexpected turn at the age of 25. Never have I thought this would happen, but If you asked me the same question above several months ago, I would say yes, I think I am pretty.
About two years ago, I started going to gym and eating healthy. As the stress of dealing with school and starting a career started to go away, I wanted to take better care of myself and add some structured routines to my life. After a few months of sticking with the new habits, I shedded about 20-30 pounds though losing weight wasn’t my original intention. And what came with that—a most unanticipated and unbelievable gift—was a brand new me revealed in my mirror as each day passed by: a fitter and leaner body, a slimmed down face, and a girl almost gorgeous. Everyday, I woke up and discovered tiny but pretty changes to my body. I was indifferent, coarse and unrefined for 25 years, and now I wonder how I stayed that way for all those years; how could I never try to be pretty?
Maybe at that point I still wasn’t sure I had made a pretty girl. Maybe what I saw in the mirror was just psychological. Only was I convinced when the speculation had been confirmed by the people around me over and over again. Random guys started to pick me up on street and ask for my number. The guys I dated after I lost weight always praised how pretty I was right away, while before guys mostly complimented me for my sweet and bubbly personalities. Whenever I stepped into a subway cart, I couldn’t help noticing stares from strangers. Somebody once said: “A pretty girl like you must be able to get anybody you want.” “Are you serious?” I couldn’t believe what I heard—some absurd claim that I knew only pretty girls hear all the time. But finally I was convinced, the pretty girl crown, for the first time in forever, was put into my hands.
I am not gonna lie. I loved this new title. Other than all the flattering compliments and unasked help that flooded into my life, I simply loved walking on any street like striding down a runway. Could never get tired of appreciating my lean and long legs whenever passing by a window. Clothes hidden at the bottom of the closet for years suddenly fitted my adult body again and everything effortlessly looked good on me. Being pretty really felt good.
Since then, I started to learn to wear the crown of a pretty girl, meaning stepping up the whole beauty game other than just hitting the gym and eating healthy everyday. To be a pretty girl is to learn how to find the right style and always show up in a perfect outfit, taking notes from fashion bloggers and stylish girls on street; To be a pretty girl is to do skincare religiously every morning and night, learning the difference between moisturizer, retinol cream, vitamin C serum and one thousand other lotions; To be a pretty girl is to throw away the cheap family size shampoo, upgrading to a good quality shampoo and conditioner set.
I used to not understand the motivation behind plastic surgeries and other unimaginable sacrifices for beauty, but now I do. Even though I realized being a pretty girl was hell of a full-time job, I wouldn’t go back to the old way, because life really is better being pretty.
You think the story ended right there—A pretty girl now with a pretty life. It could only go up from there. But now, ask me that question again, I will say no, I don’t think I am pretty.
The initial excitement of seeing myself transform each day has faded as now the “beauty” is the new “norm”. The changes are no longer dramatic, and sometimes I even revert backwards on the supposedly upward getting-pretty trajectory: gaining some pounds back, hitting by severe skin breakout, and let’s not mention the post-pregnancy body, wrinkles, loss of ability to exercise that are waiting for me in the future. The harder I try to be pretty, the more afraid I am that I won’t be able to improve or at least maintain it. There is a fine line under my eye, then let’s try different products to make it disappear, then it triggers break out or other skin problems, which makes it worse. Having gained a few pounds? Then go more hardcore on my workout routine and diet, but it is not working so effectively or even worse causing eating disorder. Not looking pretty in some of the pictures? I would be obsessed with examining every inch of my face, the quality of my skin, the hair, the body and asked what was wrong.
Along with other life purposes like achieving career goals, enjoying relationships with family and friends, being pretty has just become another priority. But suddenly being pretty is difficult, complicated, and damaging to my mind. I no longer see myself pretty because I am so focused on fixing my flaws, the imperfections that make being perfect impossible.
The idea of constantly having to judge myself whether I am really a pretty girl or not has exhausted me, and taken away my attention from enjoying other moments of life. Wherever I am, I compare myself to the girls around me: Who is prettier? Whenever I eat too much and feel bloated at a holiday party, I even lose the interest dancing because I don’t feel pretty.
The way I see and perceive the world has also changed. Unfortunately I’ve been taught the lesson that looks do matter in life, having personally experienced it myself. The belief that I held and lived up to for years that “A girl is pretty because of her personalities” is falling apart; Now I’ve learned to see the world in the lens of judging its outside, I can no longer unsee it, and suddenly I realize most people having been wearing those lens long before I noticed. I eavesdropped on a conversation between two guys the other day. A: “So I spent about $3,000 on that girl and the relationship only lasted for two months.” B: “At least she was pretty, right?” And at a party where a bunch of guys were watching a TV show, A: “Do you think the actress is pretty?” B: “Well she has a hot body, but she has a man’s face.” And you hear girls asking their boyfriends all the time, “Between me and that female friend of yours, who is prettier?” I feel more burdened after becoming conscious and aware that everyday, everywhere, everybody, including myself, is constantly being judged by this question: “Is she pretty?”
I want to free myself from constantly having to answer this question. I don’t want to label myself as a pretty girl or not a pretty girl any more. I haven’t figured out exactly the right ways to approach beauty—to enjoy it without being trapped in it—but I am trying to get there.
Here are some ideas.
- Reprogram our brain: Get rid of the one standard ruler for pretty; Know beauty really comes in all forms; Instead of thinking pretty, think in other adjectives: confident, fun, happy, sweet, and more.
We are so used to perceiving people and things as pretty or not, and we can call it out in an instant second without thinking because we have that one simple measuring ruler built in our brain. The answer is always straightforward: Yes or No. And we can easily compare two people against this ruler and know who is prettier. Most people probably have the same standard: structured face, big eyes, hourglass body (skinny body in some Asian countries), silky hair, but beauty should be seen like the spectrum of colors, the diversity of ecosystem. Of course there are evolutionary reasons that human brains are engineered to recognize the finest and the fittest; of course the second we see Julia Roberts we will never be able to help exclaiming: “Wow, she is so beautiful!”—but if she is the butterfly, I will proudly be the frog and see myself as beautiful as well. A world needs all colors; an ecosystem needs all species; while people may still adore perfect silky hair, I believe my natural wavy(and messy) hair has its contribution to the world of beauty.
And more than that, let’s try our best not to speak in the language of beauty all the time.
Is it possible when you see this April in the picture, “She is so chubby.” “She is so tanned.” “What is that smile?” not the first things that came to your mind? Can we appreciate the overflown happiness and the beautiful precious memories behind this picture?
Can girls stop constantly asking their boyfriends: “Between me and that girl, who is prettier?” We don’t want guys to judge us by our looks, and we don’t need compliments by bringing other girls down. Guys same to you, no need to compare your girlfriends with other girls just to flatter your loved ones.
- Trying to look good should be fun. Only do it because you want it and you love it, not because of pressures from the others. And give up the things that bring you more pain than happiness.
Ask what you truly want and what you love. Give things a try, but don’t feel obligated to keep going for any reason if it’s not for what you want. It shouldn’t be for anybody else but yourself. If something starts to bring you more pain than happiness, even it makes you prettier, let it go. I’ve tried to wear make up daily several times because that’s what most girls do, but always ended up giving up after three days. I just didn’t have the energy to constantly check in the mirror whether my eyeliner was messed up, so even though I was sure makeup would make me prettier I still gave it up. (But do wear makeup if it makes you feel good and happy! I admire girls who can master this form of art.) I tried to starve myself to lose weight. Yea, that would probably make me prettier, but I realized the misery and the health risk really wasn’t worth it.
I love looking good and feeling good, but whatever I do for that should always be fun. I don’t ever want to become a slave of my look. Enjoy my night skincare routine because it makes me feel pampered, but I am not going to carry my numerous skin products when going on a backpacking trip; Enjoy working out because it helps tone up my body, but I am not going to drag my butt to gym if I am dying from exhaustion.
Ask yourself among all the things you do to look good, what really makes you happy? I used to like shopping, but at one point trying on something new would only make me feel pretty for a few days, then I would be in the mode looking for something more exciting only to be disappointed and tired. I realized it was more fun to explore what I already had in my closet than constantly thinking I needed to add another piece; it was more challenging to my creativity to mix and match my old clothes than simply throwing on something I just bought and get tired of it after several days.
- Know your look is affected by many variables.
Nothing can be perfect all the time. You don’t always perform best at your job; the best athletes don’t win all the time, so allow your look to be offline sometimes too. Don’t make it a job to look good everyday. Your appearance is affected by so many variables, stress, sleep, hormones, seasonal change, and environmental change. Even if you religiously stick to your beauty routine everyday, sometimes you just won’t look your best and it is totally okay. Give yourself a break.
- Know sometimes not looking your best is for other priorities in life.
There are other important things in life than looking good, I remind myself. I am willing to not look my best to enjoy other important things in life. I will gladly put on some extra weight to enjoy the time with my family that I don’t see so often. I will leave my hair in a messy bun and go buy groceries in pajama when I have too much work to take care of.
- Embrace your imperfections.
Thanks to today’s consumerist culture, our journey to embrace our imperfections is ever harder. I was just paying attention to the ads on TV today, and all the marketing ideas were made to infuse a sense of insecurity into us that without perfect hair or glossy white teeth we can’t have a good day, therefore pushing products to us to fix the problems. But here is to my recent crazy skin breakout. I am showing this to the world as I tell myself imperfections are okay and I don’t allow them to bring myself down. On those breakout days, feeling-bloated days, too-late-for-makeup days, bad hair days, sweater and yoga pants days, don’t stop enjoying every moment of your life.
- Know being happy doesn’t require looking good.
I will always remember the me before 25. True I wasn’t a pretty girl, but I had so much fun; I had many love stories to tell. When I could barely fit into those tight jeans I would still dance the night away with my belly fat shamelessly exposed. I wasn’t conscious of my look before. Now I am, but thanks to the younger me for teaching me this very important lesson of life: You don’t have to be pretty to be happy. Keep laughing, keep being goofy, keep working hard, keep believing a girl is beautiful because she is beautiful inside.
- A pretty side is just one of the 100 sides that you can wear. Explore the other 99 other sides!
When you don’t feel pretty, just close your eyes and think about the 99 other sides you have. The you that won a competition and held the trophy on stage; The you that worked late into the night for something you cared about; The you that danced nonstop for hours at a party; The you that lived in a forest for 2 months despite of the harsh environment for a research project; The you that your parents and friends loved; A pretty side really is just one of the hundreds sides you can wear.
Confidence isn’t walking into a room thinking you’re better than everyone. It’s walking into a room not having to compare yourself to anyone. ——Unknown
Ask me that question again: “April, do you think you are pretty?”
I will hopefully say, “I like being myself. I like my body, I like my face, I like everything about me. And I have so much more to offer other than my look. So I don’t think that question is anymore relevant. “
渐渐的我看世界的角度也改变了。不幸的是，我通过亲身体验，被上了这一课，让我明白原来这个现实的世界里外表真的很重要。我记得小学时被班上男同学因为我的龅牙嘲笑还取外号，被班上的语文老师听见，他在上课前对全班说，“大家要知道，女孩是因为可爱而美丽的“，我很感动知道那句话是说给我听的，我一直记着，也成为了我成长过程中一直坚定不移的信条，但是现在这样的相信显得有些天真。现在我也学会了时刻检验这个世界的外表，我不知道要如何重新拥有过去我对外表总是有些无知的双眼。然后我才发现原来大部分人早在我意识到之前就已经在用同样的方式检验这个世界里的人了。有一次我偷听到俩个男生的对话。甲说：“我上次交往了一个女孩只交往了两个月，但是在她身上花了$3000。“ 乙倒吸了一口冷气，说：”至少那个女生是漂亮的吧？“ 又一次，我听到几个在看电视的男生聊天。甲说：“你觉得这个演员漂亮吗？“，乙说：”呃，身材不错，但是脸蛋像男人的“。还有你常常可以听到女生问她们的男朋友：“我跟你那个朋友相比，谁比较漂亮？” 慢慢的，我意识到每天每处每个人，包括我自己，都在无时无刻的被评判和评判他人：“她是否漂亮？”。这样的了解让我觉得负担和沮丧。