Privilege Blog

Fierce At 50 Is Way Better Than Pretty At 25

I was a pretty girl, and a pretty woman for some time thereafter.

I need to say something.

I’ve thought long and hard about this post. But it’s always hard to talk about one’s ostensible good fortune without sounding like a jerk, and even harder to describe ambivalence around that same good fortune. I ask you to give me the benefit of the doubt. Thank you in advance.

Back to pretty. You all have been so kind when I post self-photos. This has made me think a lot about what I have to say about Pretty, globally, if you will. Here’s what I know.

  1. Pretty is only good if you own it, and can be harmful if you don’t.
  2. Pretty is not the same as Attractive (as Deja often points out).
  3. As we get older, we converge. Each and every one of us can be equally attractive, if we want.
  4. Probably we could all have been attractive when we were young, but the dual fires of youth and culture roared through. Some escaped, by indifference or mastery, doesn’t matter which. The rest of us carted a lot of cinders.

Tenet #1: You have to own it.

That’s me in the candid, blurred photo up top, at 25. No beauty, but pretty enough to register in the category. I can say now surely that Pretty got me pretty much nothing of value. Men paid attention, but mostly for the wrong reasons. I got job interviews, but jobs that contravene your skills or temperament stink for both you and your employer.

Had I been a stronger character, less prone to youthful overwhelm and anxiety, I might have capitalized on my looks. If only for entrée into cool nightclubs. As it turns out, college guy popularity and random dates with movie actors don’t compensate for self-doubt.

Tenet #2: Pretty is not the same as Attractive.

While both Pretty and Attractive may be culturally determined, Pretty is genetic, Attractive a signifier of intent and artifact of Style. You can be Pretty, and not Attractive. You can be Attractive, and not Pretty. I’d provide further analysis but my guess is that the distinction is already clear in your mind.

While some manage both Pretty and Attractive, it takes a lot of youthful wisdom and purpose. Attractive is, most often, the stronger position. You can also refuse altogether to participate in the Looks Rodeo. Often that ostensible refusal is, of itself, Attractive.

Tenet #3: As we reach middle age, pretty fades, attractive sticks around, if we make it welcome. Our physical presence finally belongs to us, and us alone.

Pretty fades. A candid blurred shot below, at 54. T-shirted as at 25, hair damp as at 25, glasses for middle-aged sight. At this point in my life I can pass through the world almost wholly invisible, if I so choose.

Or I can put on the dog and reappear. At this age, finally unafraid of my cleavage.

I can’t even tell you just how much better I feel, now, at 55. No longer beset by Pretty. Nor how strongly I believe that at our age anyone can put on their own particular dog if they want. That’s what the blog Advanced Style is all about. We can make a statement about Attractive that has little to do with genetics, background, or that old devil fertility.

For clarity’s sake, and the purity of this argument, I will not discount the Pretty traces that remain in my case. Avoid the disingenuous at all costs. I recognize the effect of good hair, minimal sun damage, and fairly constant body weight, excepting of course the 50 pounds I put on and took off for each baby. Even so, I can now disappear if I choose, or show up. If I choose.

At 55, maybe Pretty becomes just another style. People might think, oh, she’s good at Pretty, given her age. Not she is pretty. Just as another woman might be good at the Style of Dramatic Color. Or the Style of Artistically Layered Silhouettes. Or Style of Jackie O, Babe Paley, Slim Aarons. Choice, my friends, choice.

Tenet #4: Learn from us, oh young ones.

And here’s where this logic leads me. If all of us can be attractive, once Pretty is gone, the same ought to be true even when Pretty is still possible. That is, of course, if you take hold. That is, of course, if you want it, which I would be the last person to require. It may be harder to focus on Attractive, when the Game of Pretty is underway, it may take grit. But it should be possible. I wish I’d known.

The good thing about Attractive is, since you build it, you own it. Pretty, without concomitant strength, gets eaten up by biology and the crowd. Enough said.


107 Responses

  1. I agree with all that you said here. I was never pretty, so I don’t have that sort of baggage to get over. I have always been told that I’m attractive, so in some ways aging for me has been no big deal. Just more of the same– with wrinkles and graying hair.

  2. Love the strong candid tone of this post! Thanks for sharing your insights with me – us young’uns have a lot of learning about life to do still.

  3. This is such an intelligently written post. It reflects what I have come to know and to understand, not at all the same things. I’ve forwarded this post to my young nieces (all pretty)for present and future reference. Thank you so much, Lisa.

  4. I never thought I was pretty although I was told that I was. I knew I was fairly intelligent and that combined with being reasonably attractive gave me more opportunity than most people that I knew. I found out that it is a package deal and self confidence in your abilities will always stand you in good stead. I think I was more fierce at forty. The backside of fifty five is not nearly as appealing. Too invisible sometimes.

  5. Pretty? Once, yes (although never afraid of my cleavage; it’s always been one of my greatest assets). Attractive? That’s one of the things I struggle with the most as I approach 50; the knowledge that while I’m still an attractive woman in middle age, I no longer make heads turn. Men no longer stop me on the street and ask for my phone number. The memories are there, though, and as long as my husband finds me attractive and desirable, who am I to complain?

  6. Ah, here’s where we disagree. I think one can be pretty and beautiful at any age. In fact I know many pretty and attractive women who are middle aged or older. I’d toss you into that category. Oh please, really, keep your comments and objections to yourself. My grandmother, whom I’ve written about often and lovingly refer to as La Jolie Grandmere, was indeed pretty. Beautiful. Sorry, but I completely disagree here!. And I do hope that in 10, 20, even 30 years from now people will say that I’m pretty.

  7. This is such a wonderful post. I was also a woman who was pretty at 25 (maybe even beautiful), but being a Berkeley person, people didn’t talk in those terms, and so while I knew I was attractive, it seemed a marginal quality. And I think that was a wonderful thing in hindsight. Now, I’m like you: an attractive 55-year-old woman who can, on occasion, turn a head, but by and large I “swim” through life without too many ripples. While I was quite attractice, my daughter is stunning, however, and it’s been a long hard road to keep reminding her from expecting her looks to get her where she wants to go. Because our society and its now unholy emphasis on how you look is working against her. You and I didn’t have the same youth culture, looks culture, body weight obsession dominating our culture at the time. She does. Again, wonderful post!

    1. Today’s culture does add another dimension to it all. Can anyone explain to me the depilation craze?

  8. Awesome piece! So well said. Pretty at 25 can be pretty at 55…but it’s pretty with wisdom. Worldliness.

    When I was 25 I was pretty…I still get called pretty…but it’s so much easier to stomach now! I didn’t know what to do with my 25 year old pretty and I was a mess on the inside. I much prefer 40 and attractive…or good looking or whatever else isn’t cutesy girl next door sounding…I need some credit for my years ;o)

  9. The good thing about Attractive is, since you build it, you own it. Pretty, without concomitant strength, gets eaten up by biology and the crowd.

    This statement perfectly articulates my experience. I feel better at age 43 than I ever did in my 20s.

  10. I was never pretty so I always put the accent on funny and smart, depending on the situation. Funny got me dates, smart got me jobs. I am happy like that :)

  11. So well put Lisa. I also feel that with age we gain an inner glow that shines out to the world, exuding confidence, wisdom, something being pretty certainly did not accomplish.

    Art by Karena

  12. I had a confusing time in my teens when I wanted very much to be cute, but “cute” isn’t applied often to tall women. While I was pregnant my mom said I was “majestic,” and now I think I like that. I could grow into majestic. Although I admit that attractive might be a more realistic expectation.

  13. Another timely post! We were just going through boxes of old photos, and while it was clear Younger Me was pretty, she certainly was not what I would consider Attractive. Not by a mile! I (perhaps delusionally) feel like I look so much better at 44, despite having much less “raw material” to work with.

    On another note, Advanced Style makes me ridiculously happy. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be a fabulous older person at the rate I’m going :)

  14. I was always cute, never pretty, and that’s OK, well more than OK. Hopefully, in May, I will be a cute 50 year old, if not, there’s always wine!

  15. Pretty fades, as it is immature. Beautiful never fades (or attractive, if you please) but it comes from the soul and intelligence and effort.

  16. I was moved by this post and it inspired me to reflect on myself and write about it.

    Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability.



  17. Thank you! I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be pretty.

    I had a taste of it when I was traveling alone through South America when I was 32. Men kept bothering me because they thought 1. American 2. traveling alone = 3. Easy.

    I got to the point where I would say – because they didn’t understand the American code that I had vaguely picked up on of how to politely discourage a man – I hadn’t ever needed it in the States – “Go away. I don’t want to talk to you.”

    It was very hard to do, because I don’t think our conditioning works that way.

    I didn’t like that little bit, but I still have wondered what it would be like to be pretty in the US as an everyday thing, where one was already used to it and knew how to use it and deal with the complications.

    1. Good point, Flo! “Attractive” seems Sturdy because you build and own it yourself.

      It’s Sturdy as a sense of self, not just a style.

  18. Well said indeed. I have never really quite crossed into the realm of pretty or beautiful, but have often gotten “stunning” (which i read as different but not a looker) or “statuesque” (which I interpreted as “fat”, which I am not. If only I could go back and tell my 15 year old self that these were indeed complements and that they are , as complements go, better than pretty. I still look at photos of myself and think that I am not as pretty as I ought to be, or perhaps as pretty as I think I am in my head. But youth is wasted on the young. At 40, This sentiment is now a mere fleeting sensation as opposed to the angst of teenagedom

  19. I was almost completely unaware of my looks when I was young. I was nerdy, weird and quirky, which masks almost all conventional good looks.

    I strongly believe this was, and still is, a blessing.

  20. I am neither pretty or attractive and am happy to remain invisible swimming through life nudging 60.
    I do own my cleavage though, does that count?

    I do appreciate those women in Advanced Style they are making bold statements about who they are and don’t they “own themselves” well?

    Great post Lisa!

    1. I don’t agree, Lesley. Although we haven’t met in person, it’s very clear from your photos that you are Attractive. And it’s clear from your steadily increasing readership that your powers of attraction extend beyond your visible self . . .

    2. I disagree. I think your personal style puts you in the camp of attractive, and I’m sorry if you don’t reap the benefit of enjoying it. If you don’t have fun with it, who will?

  21. Great and honest post, you do them so well Lisa. I was also ‘pretty’ when young. I realized recently that I did rely on ‘pretty’ while going though life (even if I preferred to think of myself as ‘smart’, rather than ‘pretty’). Because of that I struggle a little with this stage in my life (I am 44) when pretty does not come so naturally anymore. But the truth is, that I finally feel ‘attractive’, something I never ‘owned’ in my 20s or even 30’s. So I just hope to be fierce at 50! Thank you for writing this.

  22. It is a good distinction you make, Lisa, and I believe that Pretty got me nothing of value either (I’m not sure I ever was pretty beyond 10 years old) but Attractive certainly did – it got me a launching-board into societal situations at the level at which I wanted to set it rather than a predetermined height, and was worth the effort. Owning our own images in a non-overt way is an utter boon of age.

  23. One of the best posts I’ve read in the blogosphere in a long time. Love the line, “The good thing about Attractive is, since you build it, you own it.” Well said.

  24. I was pretty. Now, I’m smart, attractive, and far more interesting and discerning than when I was pretty. Pretty did me no favors and created more problems than opportunities. I’m (thankfully!)much better now. I see you are, too!

  25. Oooh, great subject and well handled! I am speaking as a formerly pretty woman who now owns her style, imperfections and general looks (well, except for some weight I would like to see disappear). Guess that makes me attractive too!

    Thank you Lisa, your blog is oh so wonderful!

  26. Yup – very similar analogy to smart and intelligent for me. Intelligent is genes, smart is “built”. I remember realizing the pretty vs. attractive dichotomy when I was 14 on a transatlantic plane for the first time and noticing a stunning older woman with a perfectly blunt cut silver bob and thinking how incredibly attractive she was. And she most definitely owned it.

  27. This is brilliant. There is an enormous difference between pretty & attractive, the secret hidden within one’s self-image. If you don’t feel it you can’t own it, and that is tough when you are 25. :)

    Thank you for synthesizing a very tough and complex subject Miss LPC. (Might I add, you look fabulous.) :)

  28. This post is both emotional & thought provoking for me…
    Now looking at the pictures of my younger self I can state with confidence that I was VERY PRETTY. When I was pretty I could not see it. My parents left me after their divorce. I grew up with overwhelming feelings of inferiority and inadequacy.

    I did not capitalize on my looks and somewhat regret it…
    I would like to make up for the loss by building ATTRACTIVE.
    Dear Lisa, perhaps you could please consider a series of post s on a subject of BUILDING ATTRACTIVE (both internally & externally).
    Thank you.

    1. This is more like my experience. I got glasses when I was sixteen, overheard a few snide remarks from the boys and felt ugly for years. Looking back at photos, yes I was pretty.

      Now that I feel that I’ve lost whatever (sexual?) attractiveness I had I just feel invisible much of the time. Friends and even the odd man have told me I’m good looking and still noticed, but I look at my face and thickening body and don’t buy it.

      Reading and participating in this blogging world has helped, perhaps there is still hope for me to own just a little ‘attractive’ now.

    2. I have begun to think about this. Thank you for the request, because it brings up all sorts of hidden complexities.

  29. Really well-written, Lisa, and, in its way, brave (it takes guts to own “pretty.”) Your observation that “as we get older, we converge” rings true, and it feels wonderful to express one’s unique style and presentation and stand out (without being “mutton dressed as lamb,” to use that very colorful old expression). I really enjoy dressing attractively, and this is in real contrast to my style as a young woman, coming of age as we did in an era of unstylish, tomboy grunge. I was grateful for that style at the time, as I wasn’t ready to own either “pretty” or “attractive,” and was interested to observe who discerned beyond surface trappings. Being attractive now is more than how one looks: as we make peace with who (and how) we are, and move beyond self and family to give back to the world, we also become attractive in word and deed. Cheers!

    1. Cheers to you too. I remember what you looked at like at 21, so this is another layer in the whole subject. Thank you.

  30. Thought provoking words indeed – at 25 I think most of us don’t appreciate our biggest asset of that age – youth. It’s only as we get older and wiser that we realize youth is wasted on the young! I love being 56 – am more comfortable in my skin – and notice how my daughters 26 and 28, have such unnecessary angst… and far too much pressure from the media to look air-brushed. We only had Twiggy’s stick thin figure to contend with!

  31. Lisa
    You always inspire me with your analysis of life and womanhood.

    To me, the beauty of growing older is realizing that there is so much more to beauty than the first flush of prettiness of a younger woman. There is something so much more real, rewarding and grounding to have aged well beyond ones youth.

    Pretty is given out so freely but to grow older and gain attractiveness and self confidence is an achievement I value more.

    SSG xxx

  32. This is a great post, Lisa. So honest and brave.I think “owning it” is the hardest part of all. And totally agree on the distinction between pretty and attractive. It takes forever to figure out the difference. Thanks for putting this out there.

    Delia Lloyd

  33. This post is fabulous. I’m learning! I’m working on my fiercely attractive! I’ve never really been a fan of Pretty anyway.

  34. I have to admit that I took pretty for granted as a young woman and did not work on attractive. Through the years of raising children, I was mostly (but not always) neither. Attractive is something I notice in others now–and do not take for granted. It is often hard won and, I agree, even better than pretty.

  35. Will the whole concept work if you substitute smart & intelligent?

    I nevre had an issue with pretty/attractive but spent a lot of my youth in awe of women who were better students that I was. When I read this I’m taken back to that issue.

  36. Nope, sorry – you’re still pretty and eloquent as always.

    And – blast it – I continue to be resolutely unafraid of my cleavage, yet it stubbornly keeps refusing to appear. Sigh.

  37. I was always the ugly duckling. I worked hard to develop my smarts because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to rely on my looks, and my dad said over and over and over that smarts were the important part. In fact, now that I type that, I realize it was my dad who, in so many words, told me I wasn’t pretty.

    Now my daughter is obsessed with my high school yearbooks. Looking back at my photos with her, I realize I was pretty after all. Shy, nerdy, awkward and blessed with acne, yes, but underneath it all, kind of pretty.

    What a shame to finally recognize that now, when I am nearing fifty and it is all gone. Or is it? Will I at eighty look back upon myself at fifty and think, “doggone it, I was pretty back then!”

  38. This post so resonates with me. My younger sister won Miss Missouri Teen when I was just 19 and to survive, I took the route of education and became the “smart” daughter, as though both sisters could not have been smart and pretty. I have discovered an interest in presentation so late in life–some damage has been done (due to habits/lifestyle) and yet, it is possible to make one’s presentation interesting. I know I have received more compliments in the past two years on my appearance than I did in the previous 30. My sister remains both pretty AND attractive, and tells me she wishes she had gone to college.

    What I most like about the insights in this post is the recognition that we can choose to be visible or invisible.

  39. GREAT post.
    Please do a series as suggested by Beau.

    All of this wisdom has been forgotten by society today or not valued. We need to own our place.

  40. I enjoyed reading your post. I liked reading all the comments. I don´t know what write down myself.
    Pretty, nice, great, beautiful, stunning. These words are used so often. Maybe too often describing the looks of a person.
    I can easily use any of them describing an object, but describing a person – more difficult; let alone describing and seeing myself.

  41. I low this post so much, and I’m going to be sharing it with a lot of women in my life.

    I’m in my thirties, and in my opinion, look much better now than any time in my twenties. I can see now though that I was prettier in my twenties than my twenty-anything self could see. I think that’s so much of it.

    Rule #1about owning pretty really hit me hard, and it’s something I’d been trying to it into words. I have a friend who was a wonderful girl from a messed up family, and she was truly stunning. Even in high school, she was all curly blonde hair, quirkiness, and casual glamour on top of a very kind and lively spirit. As the years went by though, she never owned any of that, and has moved from man to man, each one newly intoxicated with her and giving her a lot of adoring adjectives about herself that she shouldn’t have to get from anyone else. At 32 she’s been married three times. We’ve lost touch, but I sincerely hope that she’s settling into herself and owning her wonderfulness.

    For young wooden today, there’s even added hardship from some of the directions that our culture is heading. I felt this prizing of “hotness” over pretty to an extent in my high school and college days in the ’90s, and from what I can tell, it’s accelerating. There are some issues with the male point of view and role or value of innocence mentioned in this article, but I think that it raises a really good point, and some things to keep in mind as we talk to young women:

  42. I’m not sure I quite agree with you. I think that natural beauty – “pretty,” in your terminology – remains, but that the scope of what is attractive or even beautiful expands as we get older to include women that might not have seemed naturally pretty. I think I was very lucky to have been an ugly duckling when I was young, so that when I turned into a swan (as I now I see I was) in my late teens I didn’t realize how pretty I was and therefore still worked at making myself attractive in more important ways. I have seen too many examples of girls who were beautiful at 14 and whose lives were ruined as a result of being targets of older boys when they were too young to cope with it.
    Now at 61 I find it amusing to be able to disappear or turn heads, depending on how I feel – although the heads that I turn are middle aged or older (which is just fine with me).

  43. I wish I felt as you did, not “beset by pretty”. Maybe it’s my approaching 60th birthday, which is the first birthday milestone that has jolted me, but I’m beginning to miss my youth, and the feeling of so much time and so many possibilities ahead of me. I would like to relive it, armed with the knowledge I’ve gained over the years. I am working hard on “acceptance” though, and hoping that my feelings of the moment will pass. Is this off-topic a bit? Maybe. But, these are the feelings your really interesting post has brought up in me.

    1. Kathy, I don’t like aging, because I don’t like aches and pains, and I don’t want to die. But the passing of “pretty” I am OK with.

    2. Kathy
      Sitting in my office and your post brought tears to my eyes as I so identify with your articulation. I am 61 and can hardly believe it and am working on accepting the truth that current photographs show — my unattractive features have only been exagerated with age and my attractive features (full lips, expressive eyes) have diminished with age. I am stuggling with acceptance – and more to the point – what this struggles says about me as still, after all these years, unable to be comfortable in my own skin. Lisa, provacative post and – I am being candid here – I often look at your images and think how I admire your ability to not be overly concerned about how you look while bringing a sensibility and exact right mindset into how you present yourself to the world. Thank you.

      1. You only owe comfort in your skin to yourself. You fail no one if you don’t find it. Beyond sending you a hug, I’d say only that attractive trumps features. No matter the havoc wrought on features, there’s still style, if you want it. Thank you very much for your comment, and you’ve provoked a thought on my side. Perhaps finding out the dangers of pretty early made me not more confident, per se, but just more prone to look elsewhere for self-assurance, i.e. right mindset and usefulness. Thank you again.

  44. And one more thing: it is a little disingenuous to pretend that the advantages that accrue from being pretty disappear as you get older (not that I’m accusing you of doing that). Fierce at 50 is indeed way better than pretty at 25, but pretty at 55 and owning it, as you are and do, still gives you a leg up in many situations.

  45. You have certainly got us all thinking about our prettiness , probably something few of us have thought of for some time . Personally , I was another ugly duckling as a child with an incredibly pretty cousin of the same age who was also my best friend . We got along well but I was always aware she was the little girl everyone homed in on . I realised at a very young age that I would have to develop in different ways . I worked hard at school , read any books I could lay my hands on & realised humor & wit could balance a lack of prettiness . Then in my late teens I realised that being skinny was actually fashionable & my big mouth & straight hair was ok for a 60 s girl . So much so ,the gorgeous guy I secretly stalked for months finally noticed me & we have been loving & laughing together now for almost 45 years . My cousin is now a beautiful lady & nice too , but I think sometimes early prettiness can make things a little too easy & you can come to depend upon it . Also, when the prettiness ,which becomes beauty fades , as it must , it can seem like a terrible loss . In life , a bright mind & a good sense of humor can really help you to enjoy the years when pretty has gone .

  46. Much admirable and thoughtful honesty here, but as with Duchesse’s post, I’m going to be reserved in my response. I appreciate the way such posts open discussion, but I end up feeling as if the room for the conversation is limited here, deserving of much more back and forth than generally gets sustained, in my experience, over even the best blog forums (of which I do consider yours such an example).
    Here are a few of my concerns, as someone who only retrospectively recognizes that I actually was pretty: First, does the “Fierce at 50” have to be “way better”? than the earlier prettiness? I know you want a catch title, but I wonder if the comparison/competition is desirable or even truly possible. the apples/oranges thing. . .
    I also wonder about how much earlier prettiness it takes to be confident enough to be Fierce at 50. . .
    And just a silly niggling thought — although I get, and often quite like, the term “Fierce” for its style connotations of a bold, confident, sexy attitude and look, I can’t help hearing its original meaning as an adjective, and I wonder why the feral has to appear for us to feel better about surrendering our youth, prettiness.

    Again, I applaud the honesty and I agree with what you say about the possibilities of retaining and/or reconstructing our attractiveness as we age.

    1. I have to agree with this. I don’t think, and I don’t honestly believe that it’s way better to be fierce at 50, rather than pretty at 25. They each have their benefits and their problems. As I mentioned, I wish I could truly believe that it’s “way better”, but I don’t. Would make aging easier.

    2. I use Fierce as per Christian Siriano – meaning – looking great. And for me, unequivocally the attractiveness I can muster up now trumps my early native prettiness without even trying. That’s just for me. Others might have felt differently. I agree that it’s tough to have these discussions as fully as we want to, in the asynchronous Internet mode, but I’m getting used to a less logical narrative, I guess.

  47. Jane Austen writes beautifully in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ of the bloom of youth that fades. With retrospect it is easy to appreciate a certain prettiness in all young women. The danger of ‘prettiness’ is the degree to which the value placed upon it generates a sense of ‘currency’. I believe this is implicit vs. explicit. As ‘pretty’ fades, if there is nothing else to replace it the aging process can be very difficult for some women. ( I witnessed this growing up with my step-mom, and see this with my sister, now.) As a 45 year old I bless my younger gawky plainness and the relatively little distress that not being pretty in my 40’s is causing me. I wasn’t pretty at 20 so why should I be now. What I am now, however, is a woman who has cultivated her assets both physical, intellectual and emotional. That,I believe, makes me an attractive woman; as a wife, mother and friend. A multifaceted perspective on attractiveness makes it much less vulnerable to age related disintegration.

  48. Recently was called “pretty” and it rankled; I thought, “Dammit, I’m no longer Pretty, I hope to have grown into Interesting!” The woman who called me that, intending a compliment, is most concerned about aging. Pretty is a proxy for Young.

    And Pretty does get you somewhere; see data about the average lifetime incomes of
    good-looking people. One summary:

    You do look splendid in a little décolletage. As they say here, “Il fait chaud au balcon.”

  49. Intriguing post. I’ve been fighting “pretty” since age 17 when I cut off all my waist length blond hair. Sometimes it is hard for people to see beyond pretty. However, I agree with materfamilas that early prettiness may inspire later confidence. Doesn’t one takes a lot for granted? It seems, on some level, pretty is what you are born with, but maybe also state of mind. Can’t we convince others of our prettiness, if we are confident of it ourselves? Maybe not. Maybe we can only convince them we are attractive?

  50. I have never been the girl that every guy was after, but those who liked me liked me a lot. I suppose this has been true of my female friendships as well. I have always found that men who were attracted to me tended to be more interesting anyway. I’ve sort of considered them to have an appreciation for nuance. A taste for well done brussel sprouts or tasty sole, as opposed to chocolate pie or ice cream. Not that there’s anything wrong with chocolate pie or ice cream. They are widely appreciated for good reason!

    Still in my twenties, I hope this bodes well for attractiveness over prettiness, even as I appreciate the luxury of being pretty and youthful. I was raised with the phrases, “Pretty is as pretty does” and “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone.” I’ve always aspired to being a good looking older woman and now appreciate my grandmothers’ (both deceased) aptitude for attractiveness even more.

    Back to your post, do you find the same to be true for men, to a certain extent? I’ve always thought of my husband as “good looking, but not too good looking”, which I consider to a be a blessing. When I was dating, I was leery of men who were too typically handsome because I found them to be, with rare exception, boring. These men do not have build themselves, their conversation, their experience and their values in order to attract women. Likewise, it seems they are less likely to appreciate these qualities in a woman.

  51. Can I just say, Privilege, you’re awesome. And pretty. And attractive. :-)

  52. I’ve always thought Sonia Rykiel’s musings in the Guardian’s “What I see in the Mirror” hold much truth. She says:

    “I don’t think I’m beautiful but I do think I’m special. … You have to learn to deal with who you are. It’s hard work, in a way, but somebody has to do it.”

    I admire her no end for this pragmatic, intelligent, “work with what you’re given” attitude. Awesome and life-affirming and true at any age.

  53. Like the commenter above it was my father who told me I was not pretty, and in some sense he was right. I was not the blond, blue-eyed, cute nosed symmetrical standard that is called pretty. But honestly, I thought I was as pretty as most others and looking back at pictures I can see that I was in fact prettier than I gave myself credit for, but I had decided to pursue other avenues and even found that, for a short while at least, being a wallflower served certain purposes. As long as I didn’t lock myself into that role.

    But I long ago learned to work with what I had, or at least I hope so, and I discovered that all young girls have some percentage of “pretty” although some have more than others through the blessings of genetics, and some are completely unaware of what they have.

    I think of pretty as a promise, as potential if you will. Once you grab hold of your pretty and own it, it begins to move into something far more interesting and with far more power. I still think of pretty as something shallow and ephemeral and in some sense limiting, although it does open doors. But you have to learn which doors need opening, and which are best left closed. If you are smart and perhaps lucky, you learn when it is best to pass anonymously through the crowd and when and how to draw the attention you want.

    Like Duchesse I find that being called “pretty” now rankles. I would rather be attractive or interesting, or yes, I suppose we all yearn for gorgeous or beautiful some of the time. Once past a certain age “pretty” seems to me to be dismissive, to objectify. But that is just me.

    Fabulous, thought-provoking post. I suspect I shall be thinking about it a long time.

    1. I don’t find this remotely long-winded. And I wish all young girls could understand just how “pretty” they are without having to lift a hand.

  54. Lisa, I love this post so much I just want to give it (and you) a great big hug. More thoughts bouncing around in my head between this post and mater’s from a few days ago, think I’m going to have to respond instead with a post of my own.

  55. I’m back just to say that I apologize for for that longwinded nonsense, which I wish could take back. I find the subject so confusing in so many ways that I wish I could take that comment back, as it addressed my own muddled feelings more than your post.

    A big hug. And I still think you are, in many ways, the bravest person I know.

  56. Lisa, I loved reading this post and all of the comments. I’m sorry I don’t have time to write a thoughtful comment now — we’re still buy in Paris — but many of the commenters have already expressed the thoughts that went through my mind reading this, especially Mardel’s comment that “if you are smart and perhaps lucky, you learn when it is best to pass anonymously through the crowd and when and how to draw the attention you want.” I look forward to Pseu’s post. Hugs, Susan

  57. “The good thing about Attractive is, since you build it, you own it. Pretty, without concomitant strength, gets eaten up by biology and the crowd. Enough said.”

    Oddly enough, Mom’s selfish reinforcement that I didn’t fit in the “pretty” category paid off for me over the years in ways I think even she couldn’t grasp, as biology and the unforgiving mob left her in the dust.

  58. This post is just terrific for so many different reasons. Thank you for writing it.

    I must have read it (and re-read) it four times. I found the messages in this post very objective and empowering.

    At what point in your life did you become so objective about your appearance? Please, share how you got there!

  59. When I was young and pretty, I didn’t think I was pretty — I was “the smart one.” So it was all brains, all the time for me. This didn’t get me so much as arrested in high school, but college was another thing entirely.

    Now I own both aspects — the brainiac and the beauty — think cleavage and tortoise glasses. Add to that some hard-earned wisdom, and I think the end result is rather attractive, if I do say so myself.

  60. Fantastic post, interesting comments – the whole thing raises interesting thoughts for me. I’d love to sit around in a room with you all and a glass of wine or cup of coffee and a chat.

    I’m quite divided over the pretty/ attractive thing. I’m 35. I’ve always presented myself well, taken care over my appearence etc. and got compliments on that basis (as well as any natural beauty I happened to have).

    Now in my mid-30’s, I’m finding presentation taking more work. I’ve got wrinkles (including on my chest!) and a big sun spot on my cheek. I’m getting increasingly noticable grey hair (dyeing used to be for fun and a change – now it’s so I don’t look ancient!). I still get pimples, dammit.

    I’m not really resigned to looking ‘good for my age’ – I just want to look good! And I’m afraid I can’t see wrinkles, sun spots and grey hair in your 30s as part of looking good.

    I’ve been struggling off and on with aging since about 29. Maybe some of that is relying too much on ‘pretty’…?

    I have to say, losing 15 pounds (so far) has helped my body image quite a bit. I feel a lot less frumpy and a lot more proud of myself, so that’s something.

    Anyway, thanks for this. I too, would enjoy posts on ‘building attractive’.

  61. Another request for a series of posts on ‘building attractive’. Perhaps the series could include guest posts?

    In trying to work out what else I wanted to say in response to this excellent post, I’ve started and deleted many further sentences. Many, many. In the end, I hope that a simple thank you will suffice – to you, Lisa, and to all your thoughtful commenters. (Also to Duchesse and Pseu for the linked posts.)

    1. Lovely post! As my ‘significantly older than me’ significant other says, ” aging is all about being old enough to know what one wants and feeling young enough to get it”.

  62. And honestly Lisa, your prettiness is what stands out (to my eye) in your photo from the youth, but your joy. Pretty is a cultural construct, buy joy is a human one. You look wonderful!

  63. Interesting post, I have been thinking about it since you posted it, thank you for writing it.

    I just read an article by Judith Thurman in this week’s New Yorker about Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli, who are being featured in a Met Costume Institute exhibit, and I think it touches on a bit of what you talk about here, but goes further to discuss ugliness and “jolie laide.”

    I thought these two quotes were particularly fitting:

    “…one of the most memorable jolie laides in France was Schiaparelli’s muse María Casares, the great Spanish actress who played the role of Death in Cocteau’s “Orphée.” Their charisma as performers gave a radiance to their witchy features that makes the prettiness of a perfect face seem insipid by comparison.”

    “It isn’t that Prada undervalues beauty’s power — both she and Schiaparelli have dozens of ravishing ensembles in the show. But the old radical, you suspect, resents it as an unearned asset of the one per cent, and the brainy feminist wants you to understand its pathos as a love charm doomed to expire. You shouldn’t need it if you love yourself.”

    Here is a link to the article:

  64. Abby, thanks for the link! Great article. I would love to read reactions to it, but don’t know if this is the appropriate forum? Maybe at least Lisa will post her thoughts?

  65. I loved reading this post and the comments. I appreciate your honesty and the courage it takes to be so introspective in public, Lisa. I have lately wondered if aging is harder on pretty people (obviously purely from a vanity perspective), and I will very soon find out.

    Like you, I have minimal sun damage (virtually no wrinkling), but my skin isn’t as tight as it once was, especially on the eyelids and throat, and I can tell I am going to be a sagger, not a sinker. I now have about 10% grey, and no one was more surprised than I to discover that I like it. I like how the silver strands harmonize with my cool pink-porcelain skin, and I am thinking of letting it grow in—even though that’s a bit of a risk in the very young industry in which I work. But the thought having to see my colorist every 3 weeks once my hair turns fully grey exhausts me now.

    My mother, who was cute, used to tell me I was beautiful, but I never believed her until my mid 30s, when I finally owned my looks, said “Yup, I’m pretty” and moved on. I was taught to emphasize my best features, but I never gave my looks much thought other than the acceptance that I was pretty and pretty opened doors. Good or bad, it did. Pretty was just a fact, not something I flaunted or cultivated, and about the only time I ever thought about it was each morning, when I put on my makeup before work. I enjoyed those self-affirming moments when I indulged myself, briefly, in a bit of shallow vanity, and then I went to work, where I could enjoy a different, more rewarding kind of affirmation.

    Now, just having turned 50, I am seeing changes in my face, so surprisingly, I am more focused on the way I look now than I was at 25, 35, even 45. My focus is based more on curiosity than regret. I am fine with losing pretty, but I hope to never lose beautiful, which I believe transcends prettiness. What I feel most nostalgia for is that joyous feeling, 25 years ago, when I had my entire life to look forward to. Now that I have lived much of that life, I feel a little untethered, and I hope to feel more centered (even FIERCE) by 55. (♥ Christian Siriano ♥)

    Despite being told I was a stunner, I was raised to be special, to value other things, like intellect and fairness, to be pretty on the inside. Civility, grace, kindness, manners, listening instead of waiting to speak … all beautiful things I aspire to daily and hope to carry with me into the decades that come.

    Being happy can transcend the plainest face into a thing of true and pure beauty.

  66. Excellent post and so beautifully composed. Frehly cut flowers are pretty. Women are either attractive or beautiful. Teenage girls might be considred pretty.

  67. Great post. We are all beautiful at every age. God created each of us unique in our abilities and we but remember that. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

  68. Interesting article. I think that it is implicit in what you say, but maybe is worth saying explicitly, that attractiveness entails so much more than appearance. In fact, I know that attractiveness influences my perception of appearance. This transcends gender and sexuality as well. The more I get to know someone, how she appears to me is heavily influenced by how much I like her.

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