Beauty, Brains, and Motherhood – Part one


I very rarely write personal posts, but as you know from my last post, I’ve recently started job hunting. Being, as I’ve been described, as an “ambitious, high performer,” I have to admit I am excited about the prospect of working full-time in a position that I find challenging and fulfills my potential. Getting to this point has been a process and as I look back, it has been a lifelong lesson on conformity.

I read two very interesting posts today on beauty. The first was a post on Facebook. It was a presumably fictional account of a beautiful young woman asking how to marry a man that makes at least $500,000 annually. A wealthy investment banker provides a response, essentially telling her that while dating her is fine, marrying her would be a bad investment. According to him, she is trading beauty for money and while his salary and assets would likely increase and therefore increase his value, her beauty would fade, and her value would continue to depreciate. His point? You need to be more than just a pretty face.

The second was an Instagram post from Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society. She posted a picture from a presentation she is giving to high school girls about celebrating their beauty. Her point being that we can celebrate our beauty without being vain or materialistic.

Reading these postings reminded me of some of my own issues regarding beauty. I was always the smart girl growing up, the quiet, nerdy girl with the glasses, who always had her nose in a book. The boys, who only took notice of me if they needed help with an assignment, often referred to me as Poindexter. My attempts to fit in with “the cool girls” by playing double dutch and taking part in other activities of which I had little interest, like cheerleading, led to another unfortunate nickname, Big Bird. I was tall, lanky, “yellow,” and I had what they considered to be a big nose.

By the time I reached high school (and finally started to curve out a bit), I didn’t want to be the smart girl anymore; I wanted to be the pretty girl. In retrospect, it is sad that I believed that I couldn’t be both smart and pretty. I kept my grades up, but took great care in never reaching a level of achievement to be too noticed. A few teachers saw I was capable of more, but their opinions didn’t matter to me. Years of experience had taught me that it was better to be pretty than smart. Sadly, it took a boy to change my mind.

I was 17 years old. I’d had a rough school year. It seemed I was constantly sick. Literally. I had colds, allergy attacks, and multiple flus. Because of the number of days I’d missed, all of my grades were dropped. I was stunned. I’d make up all my homework. I’d taken my tests. I’d kept up academically; I’d even provided medical slips. My disputes fell on deaf ears. I complained to my boyfriend. I will never forget what he said. “You are a great girl and I don’t want you to take this the wrong way. You are pretty, but you won’t be cute forever. You can’t go through life just being cute. It won’t take you very far. A pretty face gets old and I’d rather have someone I can talk to than someone to look at. A dumb girl, no matter how pretty will just give me a headache. You’re a smart girl. If you hadn’t half-assed it, the grade drop wouldn’t have been so bad. If you weren’t capable of more, you wouldn’t even care. You admire smart, ambitious women, but you try not to be one. I don’t understand. That’s what I like about you but you don’t seem to like it about yourself.” As I said earlier, it never occurred to me that I could be both smart and pretty and here was this guy that I was falling for, telling me that not only could I be both but I was both, and that is what he liked about me. That conversation changed everything for me.

How does this apply to motherhood? See part two.