You Don’t Have to Be Pretty

by Erin on October 20, 2006


[image is by Andy Warhol © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York]

So the other day, folks in the comments were talking about leggings. I’m pretty agnostic about leggings, but the whole discussion (which centered on the fact that it can be *really* hard to look good in leggings) got me thinking about the pervasive idea that women owe it to onlookers to maintain a certain standard of decorativeness.

Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you. But in the hierarchy of importance, pretty stands several rungs down from happy, is way below healthy, and if done as a penance, or an obligation, can be so far away from independent that you may have to squint really hard to see it in the haze.

But what does you-don’t-have-to-be-pretty mean in practical, everyday terms? It means that you don’t have to apologize for wearing things that are held to be “unflattering” or “unfashionable” — especially if, in fact, they make you happy on some level deeper than just being pretty does. So what if your favorite color isn’t a “good” color on you? So what if you are “too fat” (by some arbitrary measure) for a sleeveless top? If you are clean, are covered enough to avoid a citation for public indecency, and have bandaged any open wounds, you can wear any color or style you please, if it makes you happy.

I was going to make a handy prettiness decision tree, but pretty much the end of every branch was a bubble that said “tell complainers to go to hell” so it wasn’t much of a tool.

Pretty, it’s sad to say, can have a shelf life. It’s so tied up with youth that, at some point (if you’re lucky), you’re going to have to graduate from pretty. Sometimes (as in the case with Diana Vreeland, above, you can go so far past pretty that you end up in stylish, or even striking (or the fashion-y term jolie laide) before you know it. But you won’t get there if you think you have to follow all the signs that say “this way to Pretty.” You get there by traveling the route you find most interesting. (And to hell with the naysayers who say “But that’s not PRETTY”!)

{ 328 comments… read them below or add one }

Christina October 20, 2006 at 7:52 am

I love this! Your attitude reminds me of a character in a favourite Margaret Atwood novel. The narrator’s mother, who is loving but oblivious to fashion, routinely tells her daughter that she looks beautiful, “as long as my clothes have no visible rents.” As I recall, the mum puts together some astonishing outfits for herself, including a tea cozy that she wears as a hat.


Magdalena June 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm

What Margaret Atwood book is this? I’ve only read Edible Woman and Handmaid’s Tale. Thanks!


Pamela October 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Chiming in late to say Cat’s Eye! I love that book


Helen October 20, 2006 at 7:57 am

You’re amazing and I stand in awe. And as a final addition… perhaps a comparison of gorgeous vs pretty vs beautiful? All entirely separate and fabulous qualities/ideals/aims?!


Germain G. Carlson November 2, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Yes! ‘Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”. ‘ This whole piece is not only brilliant, but written with compassion for self and others.

Reminded me of a short piece I read years ago, “Letting Beauty Go.” That metaphor stays with me. I dug it up if anyone is interested:


LL October 20, 2006 at 7:59 am

This is, without a doubt, the best post I’ve read on your blog. I love to look at dresses, but I don’t wear them because I find the vast majority of them uncomfortable. The fashion industry seems to set up mutually exclusive goals (for me and my body type), I can either look good, or be comfortable, but not both. So no matter what choice I make, I should be punishe – eitehr by the lack of regard of strangers, or by the binding sensation of your my clothes. Pretty is a tyrannical standard to live your entire public life trying to maintain.


makalove June 15, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Yes, this. Finally, in the fifth decade of my life, i have gotten to the point where i dress completely for myself… and, because i am happiest in clothes that are COMFORTABLE for my body (mostly, i expect, because i deal with significant pain on a daily basis and GODDAMMIT i’m gonna create as much comfortableness as i can), i mostly wear clothes that feel comfortable. That generally means jeans that fit but aren’t tight or binding anywhere and t-shirts or tank tops that are not too tight-fitting. Not exactly the female uniform society dictates, but that’s not something i care about anymore.

To the author: i’ve never seen this blog before, just came here from a link posted on my local fat-positive Facebook group, but i just wanted to say thanks for posting this. i can’t wait to share it with several friends.


Francesca October 20, 2006 at 8:07 am

Hooray! Hooray! This is just what I needed to read today!To hell with pretty or unpretty. It’s all about how you FEEL.


vmh October 20, 2006 at 8:11 am

Very well put.


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 8:12 am

thanks for this. i’m going to save it to read to my daughter if and when i have one.


andrea October 20, 2006 at 8:16 am

As a commenter upon the dread horror of leggings, I do take the point. However, it is the current dictates of fashion that visit upon us the dread horror of leggings reaching only to the calf and worn under a dress.For me, the leggings issue is less about being pretty and more about being a fashion victim. Perhaps not an entirely separate issue.


Ria September 26, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I was told,pics confirm, I was an ugly baby <2, allergies swollen yeye, runny nose, breathing through mouth red rash. Then5 happened told I was cubby and cute, 13 happened cute then pretty, glamorous at 30. I always wore what I wanted usually not trendy–took to sewing. Now at 70 people stop me, tell me they love my clothes, outfits. Grandchildren say "you are so cute." Never caredabout outside reviews 'cause my life certainty: I am smart. I was always very intelligent, regardless of any appearance comments. Finding your internal horn whenever it needs blowing!


Laura October 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Love this reply! We lived in New Orleans for years and one of the best Mardi Gras costumes (local’s Mardi Gras is all about the costumes!) was by a woman in her late 70s who loved to take garments apart and put them back together in new ways. I had the best conversation with her and wished I could have gotten her name and number to get to know her better. This world needs more women willing to happily and boldly be themselves in any fashion!


bbeenie November 20, 2012 at 11:08 pm

But doesn’t being a fashion victim mean that other people don’t approve of your fashion? The point is you don’t owe anyone that.

Do what makes you feel good. If that’s catering to mainstream fashion demands, great. If you don’t care, no one should punish you for it.

If you’re looking at someone who isn’t following fashion rules an they don’t give a fuck, who are you to tell them they should?


ketiw April 26, 2013 at 6:18 pm

I think the point of this use of “fashion victim” is that some people are wearing things, not because they feel comfortable in them, or even particularly like them, but because they are being told they are supposed to like them?

I assume the commenters were remarking upon people who *are* following fashion rules, when fashion rules are often just plain stupid.


Amy June 23, 2014 at 11:11 pm

I wear leggings all the time. I honestly don’t see the problem with them. They’re comfortable, and they make me feel great and they look good! I can also move around in them (Me being a dancer, I like being able to move around in my clothing)- Now that also goes to say that I’m also considered skinny on the body spectrum, but I’m not without shape. I don’t know, I personally don’t see the problem with them.


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 8:20 am

Thanks for presenting the oft-overlooked counterpoint: that feminism does not preclude prettiness. Pretty does make me happy, and I’m even willing to suffer a little for it. Still makes me happy. Doesn’t mean I’m a slave to fashion, or men. And if, someday, leggings make me happy (I can’t imagine, but you never know), I will wear them!


G June 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Exactly the point I love too, I know too many feminists (and yes, I am one) who make their point at the expence of women who have other interests than themselves, that is, their feminist is a woman who is interested in politics and most definitely not in fashion or gossip. I think I can be a smart woman, who also likes to wear heels and know who Jennifer Aniston is dating 😉


Christa October 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Excellent reply, G! I have pet “ism” movement inside my head and you just represented it. We have come so far, we have so far to go. Next on the freedeom agenda? EVERYONE. Individualism.


Elizabeth Faraone January 27, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I’ll never sacrifice comfort. I’ve been a feminist since I was four years old. When I look at a person, I see their soul first. Just sayin’. And I must add that in this day and age, there’s plenty of comfortable, beautiful clothing and shoes.


arthur June 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm

its amazing how everything becomes about women only, as if there is no pressure or desire on men to be tall dark and handsome. i see feminisst trying to define themselves as oppressed at every corner. but if you ask a feminist whats the origins of feminism, who are the key figures, who do they for, y was it started, any intellegent being if you look at the fact, feminism hurts everyone. the economy, education, and most of all the family unit.. lets not forget, woman have male children too, its 2013, wake up. feminsm was built to destroy the family, and woman are helping them out. look at feminism ojectiveley and its preety clears its not only discrimanation its of no good to any of us. period. i know you ladies are gonna jump all over this post and i welcome you to do so, i beleive in peoples rights, not just the rights of a gender or a group. and if you would like info and evidence of my claims of how hurtful feminism is i be glad to give you some hard cold facts,


row July 31, 2013 at 5:49 pm

this guy is clearly not the brightest one out there. “don’t forget woman have male children too” – thank you Arthur, I almost forgot how basic anatomy works. some of the earliest feminist writers were male :) that’s the cold hard facts.


christina May 15, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Feminism is about equality. That’s all. If you want to write a blog about your personal experience with being undervalued and only thought of as important because of your conventionally attractive looks- do it. No ones stopping you. This makes a good and valid point. How does encouraging women to feel secure take anything away from men? Oh wait- it does’t. Your gross simplification and flawed train of thought is disturbing and innacurate.


Jay September 29, 2014 at 4:46 am

He does make the point that the discussion does exclude men, i.e., that men are also made to feel bad about their looks and the way they dress by the media. This is absolutely true. Even going only by the fact that men are nowhere mentioned as being “fashion victims” and the “tone” of the discussion is that it only happens to women. That’s wrong.

Oh yeah, trying to help women feel “secure” DOES take away from men if men are blamed and demonized in the process or men’s same or similar problems are ignored or minimized. Oh wait, that never happens….NOT!

As for being “fat”, young men are beaten up and driven to suicide for being the “fat kid” (and that term connotes a boy, not a girl, as I’m sure we know). I don’t know if that’s what happens to overweight girls. Anybody read “Lord of the Flies”? That’s what really happens.

Yes, “Feminism” is meant to be about equality. No kidding. Everybody knows that. Please ease up on the condescension — they have on-line dictionaries these days, I’ve heard. It’s the current IMPLEMENTATION that is the problem. The Nazis and the Communists were also “about” a bunch of good stuff, and we saw where that went. Just saying you’re “about” something doesn’t make you that thing, and you have to take a regular spiritual inventory of what you’re REALLY doing, and a lot of people ARE being hurt by the actions (and inactions) of self-described “Feminists”.

(I have long considered myself to be a feminist, and I take real risks to do real things that help real women, and have for decades, but I’ve recently started strongly considering for the first time dropping the term “Feminist” since people who use the term are doing some really ugly things that I’m afraid are going to make me start hating women or something, and I don’t want that).

Lucy May 17, 2014 at 2:07 am

Ahh, you’re one of the ‘feminism hurts everyone’ men. If you want to be taken seriously, you should probably learn to spell. I am now dumber for having read your post. You have contradicted yourself in your post, and your arguments make no sense.


Jay September 29, 2014 at 5:12 am

If you’re going just be gratuitously insulting, you might try making it clever and funny.

Since minor spelling departures seem to make it impossible for you to comprehend a text, I’ll take a stab at rephrasing.

Among his points:

1. It’s always all about women, and that’s amazing.
1.1. Men are not mentioned at all as having body and fashion worries or societal shaming to do with these, and that’s simply false.
1.2. This piece implies that that is the case, i.e., that women are somehow “targeted”

Have you ever seen He-Man, Conan the Barbarian, GI Joe, or even “Ken” (Barbie wa Ken yori mo tsuyoshi 😉 ?

2. Feminists seem to define themselves as victims at every corner.
2.1. Isn’t this obvious?
2.2. Inveighing about female circumcision in Africa when the same number of men are being genitally mutilated in our own country
2.3. That “misogynist shooting” in which four men were killed and two women, and it’s somehow evidence that “misogyny kills” and there’s a crisis of hatred of women
2.4. One could go on “post nauseam” (yes, Lucy, before you jump on that one, it’s a Latin play on words on the expression “ad nauseam” i.e., “to the point of nausea” changed to “beyond the point of nausea”)
2.5. One more classic: Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” states that the clitoris has 8,000 nerve endings, “twice as many as the penis”. She neglects to mention that that’s a CIRCUMCIZED PENIS, an intact one having some 24,000 – 30,000 nerve endings, or 3 – 4 times that of the clitoris. This is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to start. Is it lying, is it stupidity, laziness, not caring, bullshitting, poor science, deliberate distortion to further one’s agenda / sell tickets…I don’t know.

3. Equality is about the rights of all genders, not just one.
3.1. Duh.
3.2. Feminist expositions seem to love to imply that whichever “bad thing” only happens to (white) women, failing to mention the corresponding stats for men (I could tell you stories).
3.3. There’s only ONE men’s shelter (in southern California, inland) in the whole USA, but men are know to be equally the victims of “domestic violence”). I’m guessing that there are more than one women’s shelter, and by my first grade math training, that’s UNequal.

4. He said that “Feminism hurts everybody”
4.1. He said that feminism was started for [disingenuous purposes]. An interesting question, I would say, but probably ultimately unanswerable.
4.2. The practice of “Feminism” these days definitely harms men.
4.3. The dialectics bandied about by self-described “Feminists” are often deeply flawed and pose grave potential harm to individuals and society if taken seriously.

5. He said he has “cold, hard facts” — how about you ask for them instead of immediately hurling insults?

Jennifer May 22, 2015 at 8:28 pm

A few comments about Jay’s comment:
1. If you’re on a blog or website devoted to women’s issues, then yes the conversation will likely be centred on women. If I went to a men’s issues site where they were discussing a men’s issue (eg. the rape of men not being taken seriously, and the stigma with coming forward), I wouldn’t expect to hear about concerns for women. I would be there to educate myself and be supportive.
Men do face issues with regards to appearance and size, and it should be acknowledged and addressed (especially as it seems to be getting worse), but think it is equivalent to the pressure put on women is either understandably ignorant or disingenuous. Throughout human history men have been stereotypes as being the strong one, the protective one and the provider. Women have been stereotyped as being beautiful, weak emotionally and physically) and caring or mothering. Both stereotypes are harmful. More emphasis to be beautiful is put on women – a few examples. How many women do you know that regularly wear make-up to enhance their looks? How many feel naked without and are nervous to take a selfie sans make-up? No ask the same questions about the men in your life. How many male comedians will go naked with their less than perfection physique for comedic purposes? How many women go naked for comedic purposes? Are those women thin or fat?
Marketing goes after women because we have been condition to believe that is normal to a size 5, with long lustrous hair and make-up and to be otherwise is a failure. Go to a magazine store and take notice of how many magazines feature a thin, beautiful woman on the cover (sometimes not wearing a lot) and then count the magazine’s that feature buff handsome men. I guarantee you will find a disparity. Is there a female equivalent to Maxim? The diet and cosmetic industries are unfortunately increasing their for-profit focus on men, because 50 years ago men didn’t buy herbal moisturizing balms and go for manicures or have pec implants. But then 50 years ago, the women who did work, generally had a choice of teacher, nurse, waitress or secretary. In TV sitcoms focussing on a couple, I can think of the fit man-fit woman combo, the overweight man-overweight woman combo and the fit woman-overweight woman combo, but I cannot come up with a sitcom in which the wife is overweight while her husband is trim or athletic.

2. Some feminists do consider themselves victims, but the majority don’t. Women are often victims of sexism or misogyny, but that does NOT make them victims. How many women that you pass on the street in DAYLIGHT only to have them comment on your body or ask you to have sex with them? For me, the comments are too numerous to count and I have had plenty of sexual comments including on three instances been asked to suck a guy’s cock….in broad daylight on a city street. I’m cute, but not gorgeous and I don’t dress that provocatively (usually jeans, a top and flats). If you think that’s an anomaly, ask the women in your life. How many times have they been uncomfortable at a sexual cat call or comment? How many times have they felt physically or sexually threatened? How many times have they successfully or unsuccessfully had to fight off someone who was being sexually aggressive? Now ask the men in your life. How often do they hear comments about their bodies? How many times have they avoided (or not) being raped by a woman? How often have they been made to feel physically threatened by strange women on the street? There will be anecdotes on both sides, but they won’t be balanced in numbers. I can easily name entire countries where women are systematically discriminated against, their testimony in court is given half the weight of a mans, a country where women are treated as property… Can you name a single country where the men are systematically oppressed by the women of the country? I’m going to go ahead and guess no.
I am vehemently opposed to male circumcision! It is a barbaric remnant of the Abrahamic faiths that needs to stop. That being said, do you think male and female circumcision are basically the same? In male circumcision a piece of skin is removed from the head of the baby’s penis (horrific). In female circumcision frequently the girls (usually before or around the time of puberty) are held down and and their clitoris and inner labia are cut off and in more extreme cases the outer labia are also cut off and most of the area is sewn up. Complications include chronic pain and infections, inability to give birth, and fatal bleeding. Any atrocity is an atrocity.

Equality is about everyone. Feminism is about increasing women’s right until they are equal to those of men. In a movement where one group has less rights than another, the movement is named for the group struggling for equality. The end goal of movements like women’s rights or gay rights or minority rights are not to transform the oppressed into the privileged. The end goal is equality. Also feminist is not synonymous with female. Most of the men I know are feminists and I’ve certainly encountered plenty of women who aren’t. The enemy of women isn’t men. The enemy of women is patriarchy and misogyny neither of which are held up by men alone.
3. Feminism benefits everyone. Benefits for men include increased paternity leave; increased awareness and care given to cases of rape or domestic abuse in which the man is the victim; increased consideration in custody and alimony matters; not being the only ones subject to future conscription; no stigma or judgement for being a stay-at-home-dad or any career traditionally held by women; good-bye to the “women and children first” paradigm; and women who are happier healthier stronger friends and partners etc.

Well that’s enough of typing for me, especially considering no one may even see this…

Jennifer May 22, 2015 at 8:32 pm

When I discussed the TV sitcom tropes, the third one should be fit woman and over weight man (not fit woman and overweight woman, though hopefully we’ll have those too).
I also saw a few typos…. ignore them SVP.

Erica October 20, 2006 at 8:29 am

God, I wish you could come to Thanksgiving with my family!


oracle October 20, 2006 at 8:29 am

I just love your take on things. What great reading for first thing in the morning!


Jennifer October 20, 2006 at 8:35 am

A-MEN! This is so third-wave it makes me smile…


Rebecca October 20, 2006 at 8:37 am

Erin, I am your faithful disciple because of your great writing and gorgeous dresses/patterns. But after today’s entry I insist upon your allowing me to follow you around opening your doors and dusting off your chair before you sit down. It’s the least I can do.


Robinson October 20, 2006 at 8:59 am

Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”. Amen.


Deena October 20, 2006 at 9:02 am

I’m with Rebecca. I’m feeling quite miniony today.Do you watch Project Runway? (I can’t imagine that you don’t.)When Tim Gunn was examining everyone’s collections before they returned to New York, and he looked at Laura’s acid olive green dress and said, “I question if it’s even pretty.” or something to that effect, I howled. NOOOO! That’s MY dress! I love it. I want one just like it someday. I may have to be brave enough to dig out the sewing machine and start sewing my own clothes. My tastes are…rather dramatic and not always pretty, but when I’m wearing something I love, I feel fabulous.


kharma October 20, 2006 at 9:03 am

Thank you.Being PC-pretty is not everything. There are thousands of millions of people who walk into a shop and ask to purchase exactly what is on the mannequin. What someone else told them was good or pretty. They never made that choice for themselves.Here is to all of the women (and men) who have the backbone and gusto to be who they are unashamedly and unabashedly, regardless of what other people have to say. Kudos to them!


michelle. June 22, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Amen to that!


Cathy October 20, 2006 at 9:07 am

I second Robinson. I would like “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female'” on a T-shirt, please, or possibly embroidered on a throw pillow.


Childfree4Me June 17, 2012 at 6:08 am

I would buy that T-shirt; please make it go up to 4X. Thanks!


Lisa June 23, 2012 at 6:50 am

I would also love that t-shirt, but in a med. or large depending on the cut! This is my first time to read your blog, but I absolutely loved it! A friend posted a link on Facebook. I have long ago subscribed to the “dress for comfort”, and “cotton is King (or Queen)” beliefs. I decided that I was not into any guys who wanted to date a Barbie doll- Barbie, I am not!
You make so many great observations and points in this blog. I wish this were required reading for girls in junior high, repeated required reading for girls in high school, and then again upon high school graduation!


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 9:14 am

what – no dress today?


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 9:16 am

I have one word to say along these lines: pantyhose. Maybe two – queen-size. Now there is the other side of pretty.When I see pictures of women all done up – hair, make-up, pantyhose, appropriate church or city wear, manolos – that’s when the whole female impersonation thing sends me to the kitchen for a cupcake or a glass of wine. I love the dresses but i’m too fat for most of them and definitely too fat for the accoutrements…Like Ming, I reject the role! If it kills me!Erin, you are a good friend, to yourself and others.


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 9:17 am

Amen Amen Amenthanks from a second wave feminist and fourth generation seamstress and a first generation dyke and a seventh (or so) generation southern belle from AtlantaLOVE YOUR BLOG


Katie October 20, 2006 at 9:18 am

A big, huge, bear hug of thanks to you Erin! I second the earlier comment about saving this for the future if/when i have a daughter.


flea October 20, 2006 at 9:46 am

I come at this a little backwards, since my basic approach to clothes is “practical” – but I find if/when I do make the effort to be pretty, I can enjoy it! But I’ve never felt I had to be pretty. Appropriate, sometimes, but I am not a decorative sort of woman, and never have been. I am still learning to enjoy the experience of playing with being decorative.On another note, I have generally found that if you are wearing something you like, you generally *look* pretty. Attitude brings a lot to a look.


anne June 17, 2012 at 5:24 am

Flea, I agree.


S. October 20, 2006 at 10:08 am

I agree! Owe yourself. I also think, ll, that being comfortable is looking good.My blog talks about do’s & don’ts but not in the traditional sense. I hope my meaning has not been lost. My first always #1 rule is to be comfortable. Don’t follow trends just to be trendy. Or do the trends if you want, do them your own way. Do something that’s a fashion rule don’t! Ignore skirt length trends, wear white shoes after labour day, subvert fashion.


Kirsten October 20, 2006 at 10:11 am

Preach it, sister!


robertajune October 20, 2006 at 10:46 am

Today’s post will be required reading for my granddaughters. Pretty is such a subjective thing, anyway. Case in point: Project Runway’s winner Jeffrey’s designs. Ugh!


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 10:49 am

Saw a news blurb this morning on Advertising and women’s self esteem blah blah blah. A women said a recent pollstudy said 98% of women don’t feel beautiful. I wanted to cry. From this day forward no one, including myself will make me feel bad about the way I look. I exsist therefore I am BEAUTIFUL.


Donna October 20, 2006 at 11:09 am

Absolutely wonderful post today.


Dakiwiboid October 20, 2006 at 11:13 am

I am SOOOOO linkng to this!


Heather Outside Boston October 20, 2006 at 11:17 am

I want you *all* at my Thanksgiving table! I give unashamed thanks to Erin for this blog and all the beautiful (read: confident, clever, comfortable) women who comment.


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 11:23 am

if you’ve got to have some one-word concept to describe one’s looks, “healthy” is a good one to aim for…


Gidget Bananas October 20, 2006 at 11:32 am

Women should avoid wearing leggings under dresses because I find the look unattractive.I jest! I jest!Great post, Erin. I believe people should take joy in being beautiful and try to offer beauty to those around them, however it’s very clear that beauty often has little to do with what is being sold.


lucitebox October 20, 2006 at 11:47 am

You are so amazing. Thank you for writing this! I really needed to read this today as I have been feeling incredibly unpretty as of late.


La BellaDonna October 20, 2006 at 12:17 pm

Erin, thank you for stating it so succinctly. As a clothes-and-fabric junkie, I would watch the various “What Not To Wear” shows, despite a growing sense of unease. Although it’s undeniable that many folks looked attractive, many more of them seemed to lose the sense of what made them unique. It’s why, even though I can see that oversized T-shirts and leggings can make some women look like chickadees, I don’t feel any moral outrage, or need to deny them the choice. It’s why I serenely continue buy and wear 80’s jackets with padded shoulders. Heck, it’s why many of us come here and drool over dresses that are, often, nearly sixty years out of date! I enjoy the daily pageantry and show in life, and don’t particularly want to see everyone homogenized. I happen to think that pretty is what you believe in, and that it’s different for everyone. LL, as far as the “look good or be comfortable” goes, as far as I believe, at least, it’s not a matter of either/or. I wear what I like, and I what I like is to be comfortable. You are entitled to wear colours you love, and prints that appeal to you, and fabric that feels good to you, whether or not it answers to anyone else’s idea of what’s currently “fashionable.” That’s what’s wonderful about sewing – it provides access to both individuality and freedom; if you’re a size 30 in ready-to-wear, and you love leopard-print velvet, then you can wear leopard-print velvet (with or without leggings, as you please). Sewing is a tool that lets you live your dreams – at least sartorially. Pretty is what you believe in. You have to define it for yourself, and live it, instead of living your life in fear.


vespabelle October 20, 2006 at 12:21 pm

I think you place to much emphasis on women dressing for men in your opening. I find that I am much more aware of how other women will perceive my fashion, my hair, my makeup (lack of), etc… and I know I am guilty of judging other people as well (although lately, I’m obsessed with how ill-fitting most clothing is (including my own blouse today.)


Red Stapler October 20, 2006 at 12:24 pm

This is awesome.The fact that I wanted to lose weight, dress in pretty clothes, clear up my skin, wear make up, etc, has everything to do with me and *my* choices, and nothing to do with anybody else.Ok, maybe a little nagging from my mom, but still.All me.And I’m pretty feminist.I also hate body hair on anybody, regardless of gender. So nyah.And leggings are the ugliest thing ever. We suffered through them in the 80s, why do we need to go through it again?


John Hulsey October 20, 2006 at 12:27 pm

What an excellent post.I have spent the last year working out, eating better, and trying to get back into shape. But I have done it – losing 30+ pounds and feeling great – for myself.No matter how many times I tried for other people, it didn’t work. When I finally realized that anything should all be for me, the effort suddenly seemed worth it.John


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 12:39 pm

What good news you brought today!


K October 20, 2006 at 12:40 pm

This is fabulous!It’s what I’ve always felt about such shows as What Not to Wear: if you like it, why not wear it? I will defend any person’s right to wear something that doesn’t suit him or her if it makes them feel happy.I don’t mind trying for pretty on occasion, but there’s no way I could do it every day. I have other things I want to do, and they’re better served by jeans and boots and hair tied back off my face. I’m just lucky in that my husband agrees. It makes me sad when I hear women saying that they feel they have to dye their hair, or dress a certain way, in order to project a certain image… if you don’t want to, what’s the point?(In my avatar pic I’m wearing an oversized hooded tunic thing that I’ve had since 1992. It makes me look like a lost hobbit… but it’s very warm and comfortable.)


MinaW October 20, 2006 at 12:47 pm

I have come to think of clothing as an art form mostly* unconnected to the appearance of the person serving as the dress form inside it. This is very liberating as a personal dressing philosophy. If I’m showered and comfortable in what I’m wearing I certainly don’t worry about the fashionability of the hem length. (Or how bright my newly-dyed t-shirt is.) I buy colors when they’re in fashion, to wear during the long droughts when there aren’t any colors I like.And, because I notice clothing, I often compliment women on what they’re wearing, whatever the size or shape of the woman inside. It could be their oldest sweater which is a great color (often I find they say that the garment I’ve noticed is old I figure that means it’s a favorite). I try to avoid personal comments, except maybe “It’s a great color on you”. Often the piece I notice will be a large shirt in a great fabric. Super. I like them myself. And when dresses were showing up more and more, and I was working outside and wearing jeans and a uniform shirt, I was very happy to see everybody’s options expanding.Is this just California? One day I noticed in the hardware store, within half an hour, a lady in an ankle length dress, one in a flared black mini with striped tights, one in jeans and tatoos and muscles and a midriff-baring top, and a guy in jeans, a muted lime tunic, & peace symbol pendant. I love the freedom of expression available.And notice that each of those send a different message to the viewer. The thing I realized years ago, after hearing that a friend had not gotten into medical school because she wouldn’t wear a skirt to the interview, is that it’s all costume. We can choose what message we send, and choose it differently each day. It does not define us, unless we let it.*mostly unconnected to the appearance of the person serving as the dress form inside it Mostly because given my choice I’ll prefer something which is cut to be flattering and easy to move in and well-fitted for comfort. And a color that when I was paler made me look like a dead fish-belly (like orange or black) did not make me comfortable.PS I’m just about to post my latest fictitious dress designs for a class project. These are meant to be hand-dyed or hand-painted designs, with large patterns. The dresses were drawn like several vintage patterns or dresses that Erin showed.The colors of this project are way outside my original comfort range, and I love them together. The color theory teacher was right; it’s possible to use any colors and make them look good.


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 12:48 pm

This is fabulous — especially the idea that we don’t OWE anyone either the obligation of being pretty or of rejecting prettiness. Let me take that one step further. We don’t OWE anyone a smile, either. Some men, in particular, seem to be weirdly offended if a woman doesn’t smile at them, and will demand that we do so. This is all part of the same continuum as what you’ve discussed here.


Kittymama June 18, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Sometimes when someone tells me to “smile,” especially if it’s someone I know, I reply, “Okay — make me happy.”


Copy Czarina June 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Great response!


MinaW October 20, 2006 at 12:55 pm

Love this post and everybody’s comments here.Cathy You can get yourself a t-shirt at Cafepress, just send them the design. Or if you’re not into that, let me know, and I can do it for you. (With Erin’s permission, since they’re her words.)


enemell December 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Hey folks, this is a great post… but the thesis is not actually Erin’s. The entire first paragraph is a direct quote from Diana Vreeland. Erin uses a picture, but doesn’t actually credit her… which is weird.

Sorry, Erin. Like your post, but don’t know why you don’t credit the great DV.


Erin December 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Actually, no, that’s not the case. The words in this post are mine — they are being credited to DV elsewhere on the Internets by people who are somewhat lacking in reading comprehension because I put a big picture of DV up at the top. :-) I am happy to stand behind my own writing.


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 12:58 pm

Yay!You should send this to the folks at “What Not To Wear” (the show seems to be all about squelching any individuality the guest might happen to have.


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 1:07 pm

Yay, you.My mother told me once that, sometimes, a piece of clothing will surprise you, and even something that is “wrong” for your body type will occasionally work really well. I remember her telling me that every time I wear one of my favorite, but in theory deeply unflattering, sweaters. Yea, it cuts me off across my waist, but I feel hip when I wear it anyway. And I love leggings. Always have. And when they were hard to find, I cut the feet off my tights and wore those. My ankles and calves make me happy.


enc October 20, 2006 at 1:14 pm

Once again: Right on.


catalina October 20, 2006 at 1:18 pm

I just want to say, thank you sister, from the bottom of my heart.And I want one of those throw pillows.I’m going to quote you often.”Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.”


The Reluctant Vegan October 20, 2006 at 1:36 pm

Brilliant. Just brilliant.


the_nita October 20, 2006 at 1:38 pm

My usual line – I’ve never been pretty. I’m good with that. I’m handsome & smart, with a touch of exotic when I try. Moreover, go back to that smart bit again. I’m damned smart. Which beats worrying about being pretty.


Madeleine October 20, 2006 at 2:20 pm

Cathy, I can make you one! (a t-shirt)


hjm October 20, 2006 at 2:24 pm

This has got to be my favorite post!!!


Thoughts on Life and Millinery. October 20, 2006 at 2:33 pm

To quote the brilliant character Charles Wallace from the “Wrinkle in Time” series by Madeline L’Engle”Mother isn’t the least bit pretty.She is beautiful”.My thoughts:Pretty is skin deep and fashion du jour. It is as fleeting as a passing mood. It is easily attained in youth, and usually not really needed as much as you age.Beauty is from the soul, going beyond skin, shape, and fashion. It adds grace to every situation and every encounter, and like a fragrance, it awakens every sense and re-awakens memories and dreams of being one’s best. Beauty comes slowly, and is often found in those who are both old and wise.Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears are pretty. Mother Theresa was beautiful.I like to be pretty. Some times I am, other times (like now, patiently waiting for Bell’s Palsy to subside and release my smile from a Halloween mask appearance)I am not. Things happen to our bodies and skin, both with age and events beyond our control.What I think would be worth working towards is beauty, via careful thoughts, words and actions.Fashion is fun, and I wouldn’t want to do without pretty, but some day I would adore hearing: She isn’t the least bit pretty. She is beautiful.


Kate in England October 20, 2006 at 2:50 pm

What Rebecca said. And what Cathy said.


SDMC October 20, 2006 at 2:59 pm

Beauty is something deep that shines from the inside out. Fashionably “pretty” can’t hold a candle to that.I’m sending a link to your post to my sister.


little light October 20, 2006 at 3:25 pm

Thank you.I think I’ll be linking this over at my place; you hit it out of the park, and I know a lot of folk who could do with hearing it.


Claire October 20, 2006 at 3:42 pm

The comments here on prettiness vs. beauty reminded me of a play I just saw, “The Clean House” by Sarah Ruhl. In the play, a cold, high-powered female doctor learns that her husband has run off with one of his breast-cancer patients. Act One ends with the doctor asking “Is she pretty?” “No she’s not,” comes the response, “she’s beautiful!” This sets up the conflict for the second act, because while it might be possible to triumph over a merely pretty rival, it’s impossible to triumph over true beauty. Such is the power of beauty–especially when it comes in the form of a warm, generous, 70-year-old free spirit, as it does in this play.In fact, “The Clean House” has a lot of wonderful messages about inner and outer beauty for all women. Three of the four female characters are over 50, and the fourth is a curvy young Latina–when was the last time you saw that onstage? It’s about “escaping from the tyranny of pretty” in showing how a messy but vibrant house is more beautiful than an orderly but lifeless one. Great play with a lovely message.


Jessica October 20, 2006 at 3:46 pm

Amen, Erin. Amen.


Jilli October 20, 2006 at 3:48 pm

::applauds::Very well put. Thank you.


India October 20, 2006 at 3:56 pm

Right on.I feel compelled to add the corollary that one does not have to look normal, either.I feel compelled to add this because today–it having been dark, gloomy, and very rainy this morning while I was getting ready for work–I am dressed head to toe in green: green hoodie, green top, green skirt, green tights (and thanks for making me go back to the leggings discussion, which I hadn’t followed–I positively ransacked, which somebody recommended), and green flowered wellies.I look like a giant freaky bean.But it’s made a couple of my coworkers smile, the building manager said I looked “great,” and I had some intense (though silent) amusement myself when someone in the elevator asked, after staring at my knee-high very obviously rubber boots for several seconds, “Are those rain boots?” All afternoon I’ve been thinking of smart-ass replies. “Why, no–they’re my Manolo Blahniks,” etc. (In reality, I just said, “Yes!” and beamed at her.)So. Yes, sometimes you just have to wear whatever will make you laugh.


Ang October 20, 2006 at 3:58 pm

Wonderful post today! Wish I had read it before I had to dress up to have my picture taken for an article about entrepreneurial Mom’s the other day. It was a horrific experience!! I was so worried about looking fat it destroyed my self confidence, and I am not looking forward to seeing the outcome on Monday. I did manage to feel like I had on a pretty dress…..but I felt icky. Not good. Later that day while my daughter was at preschool I had on normal TV while I worked and saw the new Dove ad, with the woman who goes in to the photoshoot looking “plain” and not so glamorous, the fast-forward through her make-up & hair session, photo shoot & then what the computer does to her to warp her face, features & neck into the ideal of beautiful. It was staggering. I then looked up their website, and there is an ad there you can watch about young girls and what they say they think about how they look…..little girls who feel “fat”, “ugly” and hate their freckles….and I just sat here & cried. I wish I felt pretty, but I don’t most of the time. I’ve got to do something about that, because life’s too short to spend time miserable on the inside. And I will NOT teach my gorgeous little girl that appearance matters so much that it can make you miserable! This post will go a long way toward helping me start to address that with myself……..Ang


Isabel May 19, 2015 at 1:12 pm

The honesty of your comment is deeply touching. “I wish I felt pretty, but I don’t most of the time.” I identify completely. Thank you for having the heart and courage to share so boldly.


Barb October 20, 2006 at 4:01 pm

“Saw a news blurb this morning on Advertising and women’s self esteem blah blah blah. A women said a recent pollstudy said 98% of women don’t feel beautiful.”Well, I guess if women felt beautiful, we wouldn’t buy all those beauty products…its a vicious cycle, its a multibillion dollar industry. I try to stay on the outskirts of this, but working on a college campus surrounded by vixens in leggins makes it a hard task! ;-)Great post! Loved it. I was extra “militant” today.


P.M. Marcontell October 20, 2006 at 4:11 pm

You continue to rock so very hard. Go you!


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 5:17 pm

“Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.'” This so perfectly encapsulates what I feel on this subject — I can’t describe how truly grateful I am to you for writing this. I really *do* feel that the demand that women & girls be pretty is based in part on the unspoken assumption that we are inferior as human beings. That what we have to offer as friends, colleagues, professionals, writers, designers, etc. is not worth mentioning and that we count only to the extent that we gratify men’s visual fixation.I feel very strongly about this. Just think how many male roles in movies are available to NON-handsome & yong actors, and by contrast, how FEW female roles are available except for the prety ingenues.To me, this asymmetry in male/female roles for actors and actresses betrays a failure of the culture’s imagination, an unwillingness to *believe*, truly believe, in women as human beings capable of the whole range of actions that human beings are capable of.


Minya, Warrior Seamstress October 20, 2006 at 5:46 pm

Long ago, I acted the part of Millie in William Inge’s play “Picnic.” In one scene, Millie & her beauty queen older sister, Madge, have a tiff about art. Millie defends, “His name is Picasso, & he’s a great artist.” Madge counters, “A woman with seven eyes. Very pretty.” Millie’s response is “Pictures don’t have to be pretty!” Millie would love you.


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 5:49 pm

Okay, so I know I’m late to the party, but I would really like to know the answer to this, if anyone has got it.Unshaved legs, as seen when wearing shorts, or shadow-of-the-knee skirts: are they NOT clean and covered enough to avoid a citiation for public indecency?Because if you ask me, who doesn’t shave her legs, there is nothing at all wrong, unclean, or indecent about unshaved legs; but the prevailing opinon seems to be that it would be less rude to spit in the face of your grandmother than to subject the general populace to the site of UNSHAVEN calves!!!This makes no sense to me. I get compliments on my lovely, very long, curly hair. I get compliments on my perfectly (and naturally) formed eyebrows. But, hair, of the exact same chemical make-up, on my legs, is considered gross.Why?It’s even clean hair.But somehow people seem to think women shaving their legs is a basic tenet of personal hygiene.I don’t understand how hair on one part of the body is beatiful, and yet the same hair on another part of the body is gross. This applies to men, as well. I know some women think beards are gross beyond words. Why? If it’s a clean beard, it’s the same sort of stuff that grows out of their heads.Hair is even a sign of good health. Only someone who is expeirencing health problems (e.g. cheomtherapy or pre-diabetes, or something) will be lacking in body hair. Bodies, naturally, have hair coming out of every part of them, excepting only the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.So why can’t people be consistant? Either we should go the way of the ancient Egyptians, and shun all hair as unclean, and shave off every hair on our bodies–or else, not give a darn where the hair does or does not grow. I don’t understand all this “it’s unacceptable not to shave your legs” when I have almost as much hair sprouting out of my forearms that no one even notices.For the record, I try not to subject the general populace to my hairy legs–I wear long pants. But the hair doesn’t bother me, and I don’t understand why it bothers other people. I don’t even understand how this tradition of leg-shaving started, or why people care.Sorry. Rant off. But I would like to hear what other people think. It seems to me like such a peculiar phenomenon.But I’m pretty sure, if nothing else, unshaven calves do count as striking.


Anke June 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Because companies wanted to earn more money by selling razors etc. to women, too, so they ran aggressive marketing campaigns.


Laura August 4, 2013 at 6:39 pm

My best friend does not shave her legs. It does not bother me. Why should it? She is also the most beautiful woman I know. Not because she is “pretty” but because she has the self confidence to not shave, wear shorts and skirts, AND can put bright colours together and wear them in a way that I can only dream of! On top of all of the external stuff, she is intelligent, creative and fun. Hairy legs quickly become a moot point when a woman has more personality than a blue beaver on speed. :)


Barb October 20, 2006 at 6:07 pm

Well, I think if you are up for some reading you should read what Julia Kristeva has to say about the “abject,” specifically relating to hair. Its most insightful.I personally shave sometimes, but I’m not too good about it. I think I only do it because I remember a 6th grade boy on the school bus making fun of my hairy legs…which I promptly shaved when I got home. Stupid, yes–I should have shown him what a hairy knee can do ;-)I think that possibly this whole shaving thing has to do with us trying to distance ourselves from our closest relatives–apes/monkeys, okay, animals is what I’m getting at. We are animals, but one way to differentiate between us and them is hair–where it is and how much there is. Its just a thought, its just an underdeveloped hypothesis. I think you could make some interesting correlation between some of the reasons people get all in a fuss about wearing furs (besides some of the obvious reasons).


Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 6:26 pm

Why do women shave? Marketing and advertising: I love the Straight Dope motto: “Fighting Ignorance Since 1973 (It’s taking longer than we thought)”


Carol@Dandelion Vintage October 20, 2006 at 6:36 pm

Hi, Another great post!I’ve never been pretty, but I do the best I can with what I’ve got to make myself happy. But it’s hard, when you feel good about how you look and then go out and catch a glimpse of someone looking at you oddly. You automatically think they are critiquing the way you look. Or at least that’s how I feel. Woman shouldn’t tear each other down. We should accept each other’s own prettyness as an expression of our individualness, and our right to look the way we want or wear whatever we want. I stopped watching those fashion makeover shows because they all appear to break down the person’s esteem and individuality and then tell them what the SHOULD be wearing. I don’t like fashion magazine either, because I don’t need to be told what to wear.I liked Laura’s green PR dress too, and I also like leggings. Sorry. I just bought a pair for $8.99 from Target and I am thrilled with them!


Gorgeous Things October 20, 2006 at 7:03 pm

Erin, God love you! I needed this today. I was up at 4:30 getting my DH to the airport to see his dad in the hospital, and I actually debated whether or not to “get dressed and made up” before we left. I realized at about 4:45 that I didn’t owe anyone anything, and DH was just glad to make his plane – he sure didn’t care if I had mascara on. Thank you, thank you, thank you! -Ann


banquogirl October 20, 2006 at 9:31 pm

Erin,Way to go on both fronts – that you don’t owe pretty to anyone, nor do you owe un-pretty to anyone in the name of your feminist credentials. Essentially, I suppose this is a “you rock” to the 67th power!


Deb October 20, 2006 at 10:07 pm

In addition to a splendid post, may I compliment you on your use of the phrase “centered on”? It makes me smile whenever I hear that phrased correctly rather than the physically impossible “centered around.” Cheers!


Floridaprincess October 21, 2006 at 1:11 am

Fabby post Erin. I so agree with Rebecca, Deena and La Belladonna.Anonymous at 1:07 I love leggings. Thank you so much for saying this. I love leggings too!!! I also love the strechy pants that look like leggings from the late 80’s early 90’s. I bought so many pairs I still have quite a few left. I hardly wear them anymore because I have gotten bigger. My dh hates them and my sons friends as school told my son I look awful in strechy pants. Son came and told me this. It hurt my feelings. I love Laura on Project Runway. I think she is fabby and elegant.Go Carol at dandelion vintage whoo hoo!!! I was afraid to come here and post I like leggings.I own a lovely dress from 16 yrs ago. I paid $17 for the dress. I wore it last week. I wear it every fall. I got a a complement on it. I always do. I have paid more in drycleaning over the years then what the dress has cost me. I love this dress it looks brand new. It has beautiful colors and hidden pockets.


Amy Louise October 21, 2006 at 8:38 am

You are a wise woman, Erin, and I thank you endlessly for your utterly inspiring blogging.


Eartha Kitsch October 21, 2006 at 8:44 am

Amen and Amen!


Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 9:35 am

When I was near 50 I knew I was losing forever some of what I used to be so vain about. It’s hard to say goodbye to that. Even if you have a good shape for your age you just don’t have “it” anymore. I always heard you get wiser in middle age but now I really believe it. All of a sudden I’m a real bulldog about speaking up and asserting myself which would have really made me just melt even 10 years ago. Now I’m 52 and realize less is better as far as makeup and hair, and some of the flirty clothing I crave but just accept now that it’s for younger ladies and I enjoy seeing it worn well by a young lady who knows how to dress! Now I understand that it’s just a matter of getting used to a new way of thinking about what makes you look good. A really honest perception of yourself is something that is difficult to accept when your looks start to fade, but it makes you look in other places for personal gratificataion if you have a healthy outlook. This is where the going can get tuff if you lack the strength to give a fond farewell to things you have to leave behind.


Madeleine October 21, 2006 at 9:54 am

I completely agree with you Erin. I remember once my friend told me that before she was my friend, she thought that I was cool and interesting because I didn’t dress like evryone else, I had VERY short hair, but I didn’t care. She made me smile. I love the way I look, I love my hair, and I love my crooked nose, and I love that my nose has a bump on it, and I love that I don’t dress like everyone else. I don’t wear makeup, but I like the way I look anyways.


Ruthie October 21, 2006 at 11:45 am

This is brilliant. I love it.


Onelda October 21, 2006 at 12:48 pm

I love the post. I’m 42 and I no longer wear makeup to check the mail. Or shop the fabric store. It’s nice to dress up but it’s even nicer to get up and run around without checking my lipgloss. And I don’t care!


Julie The Vintage Goddess October 21, 2006 at 2:43 pm

Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.Word McWordy Word.Plus I would rather be thought of as stylish or striking ala Dame Vreeland (or even Laura on PR)then to just be pretty.Most days though, I stick with comfertable….


Alison Cummins October 21, 2006 at 4:22 pm

Hair is about demonstrating to the public that you have taken the trouble to groom. It’s a social thing, showing a certain kind of respect. (I didn’t used to shave at all; now I sometimes do, sometimes don’t.)


oracle October 21, 2006 at 5:44 pm

Anonymous 5:49, I’m with you on the questions about shaving. Have been wondering similar things myself for years. I’ve got a friend of the 60’s generation. She’s an old hippie, into various natural stuff. But she shaves religiously, and I think has a real hang-up about other things to do with looks, like needing to look thin, and more, too. I keep asking her, “So tell me: Why is it that women are supposed to shave under their arms but men don’t have to?” She never answers. And I think I don’t expect her to. I think I’m just posing the question.I went many years not shaving at all. Now, once in a very long while I do it. Not sure why just trying not to repress any impulse to express self, possibly, even if it (the desire to shave or to be shaven) may originate in cultural pressure.I like your observation about how women’s calves sporting hair are seen by so many to be gross, while the same eyes don’t seem to notice similar hair on the same person’s forearms. Strange, isn’t it?And anonymous 9:35, I’m almost 50 myself. In recent years, I’ve gained several things that I really like about my looks and body that I didn’t have when I was younger. For one, my voice has become deeper and richer and I have a wider and fuller range when I sing. I’m not a trained singer, just do it for myself, and it was lovely to realize that my singing voice had improved with maturity! The second is my hair. It’s always been both very fine and very thin a family trait. Used to be brown, and a little bit wavy. I’ve now been completely grey for four years or so. And with that change came two refinements: now that it’s naturally grey, my hair is also coarser, which apparently does tend to happen; and it’s also much wavier than it was! Which altogether makes it look like I’ve got more hair, rather than less! I’ve now had it cut in a way that suits my hair itself, finally, instead of trying to style it into something different than what it is, as I used to try to do. And I love this hairstyle more than any I’ve had before and have had it for years and will keep it for a long time, I think. And so many people give me compliments on it, even when it’s wildly out of fashion (for hair)! And, thirdly, after a lifetime of avoiding exercise at every turn, I’ve now been working out at a gym for over a year. I’ve been doing it in the interest of my long-term health and mobility, not for looks; but to my surprise and pleasure I now have a nicely balanced, more curvy shape than I’ve *ever* had before even as a quite young woman! No one ever warned me that we while may *lose* some things with age, we may also gain others that make us like our own bodies more than we ever did! What a gift!So we have lots of reason to keep our chins up. Even when they’re double, or triple …


Anonymous October 21, 2006 at 11:20 pm

Pretty is so often boring as well.And as for the leggings thing, I like leggings. I think theyre practical and comfortable, and i mostly wear them when its cold or rainy but I still want feel, uh..pretty and so I wear a dress, with leggings underneath.But they have to be below calf length please. Ankle length is preferable.


S. October 21, 2006 at 11:23 pm

(Throws roses in Erin’s general direction.)


Mandy October 22, 2006 at 5:19 am

Thank you so much for writing this wonderful entry. I’ve never heard this said better, or as succinctly. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to hear these ideas articulated so clearly and eloquently.


Bob October 22, 2006 at 8:35 am

Speaking as a man, may I just say that over the years some of the most irresistable women I’ve met are the ones who obviously don’t give a damn about what people, particularly men, think of them.Ladies, wear whatever the hell you want. The only person you will scare away is your future ex-husband.


MinaW October 22, 2006 at 11:26 am

Oracle, and everybody Carolyn Heilbrun wrote a book about her unexpected discovery that her sixties were a wonderful decade The Last Gift of Time; Life Beyond Sixty Time for me to reread it, but the reason I remember why her sixties were good to her was (mostly new) women friends of all ages. I read it to look forward to the future.And flipping to a passage I marked”The major danger in one’s sixties… is to become trapped in one’s body and one’s habits, not to recognize those supposedly sedate years as the time to discover new choices and to act upon them.”Oracle, congratulations on your discoveries of changes that enrich your life.


ambika October 22, 2006 at 12:20 pm

1) This is one of the wisest things I’ve read on appearance ever and I agree with every element of it.2) As much as ‘prettiness’ may be tied to youth, I cannot be swayed from the opinion that before the age of 22, I had no concept of what flattered me, what I was comfortable in, and how to play up or play down my best & worst features. I’m also of the opinion that given the deep need to conform & the similarity in appearance (clothing-wise) of the teenagers I see, that most women have the same issues. That is, you can’t tell me that every 15-19 year old wearing jean skirts and leggings honestly believes this is the most flattering, fashionable combo for her body type & age.3) I enjoy dressing up, wearing pretty dresses with fun tights & sexy boots. It generally reflects my contentedness with myself & my appearance. When I’m tired or overwhelmed, that’s when I break out the all black ensemble and almost hide behind my clothes. In conclusion, wonderful, wise, amazing post that succintly sums up everything I feel about appearance.f


Cristina October 22, 2006 at 9:49 pm

Bravo.I do hate leggings, though. :)


Julie October 22, 2006 at 10:22 pm

I would argue though, that for some people, you do have an obligation to be pretty. Maybe by not prettying yourself up you are making someone very unhappy, and if all Americans are supposed to be given the right to happiness wouldn’t that mean that you are infringing on their rights by going out in public looking like crap?In another view point it seems pretty selfish to only look a certain way because it makes you happy when visually speaking, the way you look to other people determines a lot of their happiness or just generally well-being. And if considered enough, your happiness rests on how you look when other people don’t exactly treat you with respect or decency because of your lack of caring in your apperance, for example.I honestly believe that people should make an effort to look good. Who isn’t happy when someone is pretty, including themself?


Laura October 23, 2006 at 2:27 am

Erin, another amen from me. I was at least 20 before I ‘dared’ to go outside without everything done just as my proper Southern mother had taught me. I’m still a very put-together type of person, but it’s freeing to know that I don’t always *have* to be.Julie, I would say plenty of people aren’t happy when they’re pretty (whatever that may be) – if you feel that weight of restriction, that fear of being judged and found wanting, then you’re not very happy. Instead, you’re caught in a role which you didn’t choose and don’t particularly want, that of being an object for other people’s desires and expectations.


Anonymous October 23, 2006 at 3:16 am

Speaking mostly as a recovering anorexic here, brava. I’ve finally figured out that I don’t owe it to anybody to be skinny, to wear makeup or stylish clothes, to wear a bra…not even my boyfriend! I’m a lot happier now. Thank you for posting this.


oracle October 23, 2006 at 7:03 am

Minaw, that was lovely. Thanks. And I’ll look out for that book.


Elizabeth October 23, 2006 at 8:21 am

Julie: there are those of us who will never be ‘pretty’ as the world sees it, no matter what we do to ourselves — the very overweight, or the just plain plain. As far as I see it, I’m under no obligation to dress myself in clothes that cause literal agony just to look a couple of pounds smaller, or wear shoes that make me unable to walk just to look a bit taller, or wear makeup that smells, itches, and doesn’t really improve my looks anyway just to attempt to get approval from a world that probably won’t give it anyway. I’d prefer to be comfortable and happy, and if I’m not pretty, who cares? I think people I work with, my friends, etc. would rather I were comfortable both in myself and what I wore than dolled up and in extreme pain.


Anonymous October 23, 2006 at 9:49 am

Amen sister! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, since all the “pretty” shoes that I want to wear with my skirts and dresses have heels. Flats are not flattering to me, but I would rather that my legs look short and chunky than that my knees and feet hurt and be damaged for the rest of my life. I did find a really cute pair of Earth shoes with a ankle strap and big toe box, though.


Mic July 29, 2013 at 8:42 pm

there’s a great blog that focuses on pretty comfort shoes.


Karen October 23, 2006 at 5:14 pm

I just have to post that I feel the opposite from most of these commenters about “What not to Wear” – I LOVE that show, and I don’t think it squelches people’s personalities at all, in fact the opposite. The show’s main emphasis is on finding clothes that fit your body and embrace the look you want, not hiding your curves under baggy t-shirts and hiding your personality with black. The ‘before’ looks are usually results of people giving up on their looks. I just love how the people’s self confidence and image of themselves goes WAY up after they learn how to buy clothes that fit them. I know this sort of is an opposite point from this discussion, but my boyfriend tells me every day that he thinks I’m beautiful, whether I look my worst or my best. It took a long time before I really believed him, but it makes such a difference! Every man should remember to say that once a day to his lady, but they might need to be taught.


Linmayu October 23, 2006 at 6:14 pm

Well, I do believe we have an obligation as human beings, both men and women, to be clean and well-groomed in most situations. It shows pride in ourselves and respect for our fellow humans. I don’t believe, though, that we’re obligated to be what the world defines as pretty. I have a plain face and short stubby legs so pretty would require major plastic surgery. The problem is when people like me, or people who have lost that first glow of youth, start to think “pretty is so far out of reach, why even bother?!” and start going out in public in the T-shirt/leggings/flip-flops/just-out-of -bed hair. That’s when Queer Eye or What Not To Wear needs to get on our cases! In any event, movie-star pretty is rare, but beauty is all around us, even in the homeliest of people. So we’ve all “got it.” Except for the sad souls who destroy their own beauty through mean-spiritedness.


oracle October 23, 2006 at 7:06 pm

I’ve always just thought I was “okay”. My features don’t match the cultural standards of “beauty”. Days I’m feeling badly, I look in the mirror and don’t think I look good; days I’m feeling energetic and hopeful about life, I look in the mirror and really like what I look like. The people who love me think I’m beautiful. I think they really see me. That’s all I need!


Nora October 23, 2006 at 11:57 pm

I don’t have much to add besides my own thanks for another funny, thoughtful, moving post. And the comment (which I don’t think has been made) that I LOVE the accompanying photo. What a great, gorgeous, interesting face! What a staunch character! (Another possibly appropriate image that’s been on my mind – though not fashion-y – is Graciela Iturbide’s famous shot of the woman with iguanas on her head.) We should all age so well, in our own style, of course.


sdn October 24, 2006 at 12:17 pm

pretty is garbage. so is following a trend. i am all about personal style. when i buy a piece of clothing, i think: “can i wear this in ten years?”


Cin October 24, 2006 at 3:20 pm

Here because of Mandy…Thank you for such a thoughtful posting – lately I’ve felt like I was somehow letting the team down by not always doing pretty. Apparently I forgot I had options!


trenabdesigns October 24, 2006 at 3:22 pm

“Let me take that one step further. We don’t OWE anyone a smile, either. Some men, in particular, seem to be weirdly offended if a woman doesn’t smile at them, and will demand that we do so. This is all part of the same continuum as what you’ve discussed here.”Anon, I am sooo with you on that. I live in DC and do a lot of walking and am so SICK of men thinking I owe them a pleasant smile and a good morning.Thanks for the post Erin, loved it.


Ana June 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Ugh! I feel you on that… I’m from New York, and guys get offended when they pay me a compliment and I don’t smile or stop to converse. I thank them and move on, because I’m probably late to work already.

That some people think that them noticing your aesthetic appeal merits you stopping your day to hear what they have to say is really annoying. Some guys ask you out, and if you say no they get violent or cry. Am I really gonna risk that when I’m already late to work? No.

Also, guys who follow you until they pluck up the courage to talk to you. It’s happened to me three times. They think they’re the meek, underdog protagonist, trying to think up the perfect words to make me fall for his meek, underdog charm. All I know is that some fucking creep has been following me or four blocks and there’s no one around. By the time they catch up to me, I’m too stressed out to be receptive. Fuck that.


Carbonelle October 24, 2006 at 8:31 pm

I’ll play Devil’s Advocate here (since no-one else appears to have):If we lived in a society that was apollonian in its self restraint and discipline, that had the kind of tightly-wound concern for community, that, say makes Japanese dramas about individual crises so powerful, your whole essay would be a badly-wanted breath of fresh air.But we don’t. “Do your own thing” or “I just want to be comfortable (ugh) are our by-words. So, no, I hope that other people will take into consideration what effect their clothes will have on the people around them, and will use mature judgment: Is this appropriate to my age, and to the setting? Will other people find it distressing or unfortunate or improper? And so on.Costume is a social act and our society wants mannerliness rather more than it wants for self-expression.That said, “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”. –?Is golden.


Carol Anne October 24, 2006 at 11:57 pm

I just got my driver’s license renewed a couple of days ago. The picture is one of the best that’s ever been taken of me. Instead of looking washed-out, my skin is golden, and my hair looks great, and my eyes aren’t so squinty as they usually look.No fancy hairstyle, no make-up, and (while it doesn’t show in the driver’s-license photo) no panty hose. Just me, bare-faced, wearing an old chenille sweater and — yup — leggings, over unshaved legs.What has changed for me is attitude. I don’t feel so much like I have to make myself meet someone else’s standard of attractiveness. I’ve also been working out and getting more outdoor activity — for me, not for somebody else. That makes the difference.


Katinka October 25, 2006 at 1:03 am

Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.I think you should publish this in every Fashion magazine…thank you for speaking the truth so clearly. :)


Anonymous October 27, 2006 at 11:59 am

I hope you don’t mind but I have copied this entry and pasted it to a file in my computer and titled it “you don’t have to be pretty!” I did this so that every once in a while when I am doubting myself I will read it and do what I REALLY want to do…not what I think should be done in regards to my appearance. This comes on the heels of my husband telling me yesterday that his jeans (that I was wearing) didn’t look good on me and that I shouldn’t wear them. I wore them for comfort…not so much for style yesterday. So now I can say “all complainers go to hell!” when he makes comments like that. Thank you!


Lisette October 27, 2006 at 2:27 pm

can’t believe I just found this!I am stenciling your quote on my 6 yr old daughter’s wall. She has already told me she doesn’t want to eat certain things because she doesn’t want to be fat! Yes, I broke into tears! How are we supposed to raise the next generation to be healthy and centered when I, at least haven’t figured it out for myself!


Patia October 27, 2006 at 6:19 pm



StarWatcher October 28, 2006 at 2:31 pm

I enjoyed this so much — thank you! I think they are words of wisdom indeed, and wrote a post in my LJ that celebrated those words, and linked to this post. But to Carbonelle, who said, “Do your own thing” or “I just want to be comfortable (ugh) are our by-words, and appears to believe that this post wasn’t necessary — This morning I woke to a comment on that post, wherein an anonymous commenter (of course) told me that I was a “murdering man-hating piece of scum” for daring to suggest that, as women, we can look as we want. Oy. I made a post about it here. I used to not believe it, but it’s true — society exerts a pressure on women to conform to male expectations, and some men get livid if a woman dares to do her own thing. So, yes, posts like this are needed. If nothing else, it gives us a flag for like-minded women to rally around, and demonstrates that we aren’t the only ones who feel this way. (Whatever the “this way” in question is.).


squeaks October 29, 2006 at 8:32 am

I agree with you. And I like leggings.


Wendy October 30, 2006 at 8:18 pm

F%$#k yeah!


Anonymous November 1, 2006 at 9:02 am

I went for 10 years without shaving my legs. I had an old secretary tell me that I would never find a man if I didn’t shave – I’m now married to him. I was told that my skin would be ruined if I didn’t wear makeup – I’m still beautiful. I finally shaved the day before my wedding, not for my husband, but because I felt it was time. It was time to feel girly – at least for a while.But, a previous poster was right… it’s not all men who are dictating women’s fashion. It is very often women. I had a particularly heinous job in an office full of women. They all had their nails done, wore makeup and hairspray… I clearly didn’t fit in, both in physical appearance and in personality. Thank heavens I left that job! I love looking pretty… but I hate having to. That to me is the difference. The FREEDOM to CHOOSE how I appear.


Anonymous November 5, 2006 at 11:36 pm

Thank you. Just thank you for saying that. So many of us exhaled today because you articulated exactly this.


laurie toby edison November 16, 2006 at 9:38 pm

I’ve been doing work both politically and as an photographer about beauty for over 20 years. This is simply one of the best essays on “pretty” I’ve read. We happily included it in the 27th Feminist Carnival that is up now on our blog “Body Impolitic”,Check it out!


Mary Tsao November 17, 2006 at 12:13 pm

Hi — Found this post through the Carnival of Feminists. Love it. Really do.Thank you for writing it.


Anonymous December 10, 2006 at 10:18 pm

this was so enlightening. really great.


celtic carole January 25, 2007 at 1:40 pm

Thank you, thank you. I’m 46, long past the “pretty” age, and slightly tipsy, as I’ve had the best part of a bottle of white wine, (a very nice Chardonnay) which I shared with my 19 yr old son. I’ve just found your blog, whilst googling, “appropriate dressing for a 46 yr old female”, as I am doing the thing where you can’t find suitable clothes in the “older ladies” shops, but just can’t wear lime green crop tops anymore, and as for low rise jean/trousers, well…I haven’t read enough to know what nationality you are, but I’m a Scot who now lives in England in the UK, and I just don’t know what to wear. I buy a lot of classic stuff in charity shops; I have a 43 year old partner (male) who seems happy whatever I wear, but of course, as a bloke, he would prefer me in short skirts! Having treetrunk like legs, I have told him where he can go with that.Love your blog and your “stuff it” attitude.Go girl.Carole


Kell Brigan September 18, 2007 at 4:18 pm

And, of course, the first thing I thought when I saw the Diana Vreeland pic was “Isn’t she gorgeous!” Pretty can go stuff itself.


The Beautiful Kind November 3, 2007 at 4:33 am

I’ve had this post bookmarked for a long time. You rock!From TBK, a 34 year old woman who wears knee hi’s and calls her outfits “costumes.”


Ruby Ruby January 26, 2008 at 5:24 am

This is awesome! Thanks!! I especially like it because I teach at a university full of teeny stick girls who all wear the latest fashions. Guess what? They look UGLY. I can’t wait for the leggings/bug sunglasses look to go ‘out’ again, just so that women who can’t make decisions about clothing themselves (but have to be told what to wear) stop dressing like insects. (I mean, if they wore antenna or something, that could be cool..)


Ana June 17, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Isn’t the point of this article to appreciate clothing for what it is, rather for its aesthetic appeal? Your comment basically said, “Thanks for writing about how women don’t owe it to anyone to be pretty! Girls at my school wear UGLY clothes and I can’t wait for them to be pretty by my standards again.”

Hating leggings and mocking the people who wear them as “ugly” and “insects” just indicates that your reading comprehension is a wee bit lax. I don’t wear leggings as pants myself, but as the article said, if it covers them and they like it… Tell complainers to go to hell.

Well, there you go.

Also, some of your phrasing reminds me of the phrase “real women have curves.” Sure, many of them do, of course… but in a few cases “curves” has just become a euphemism for “overweight” and the phrase then becomes not only incorrect but hateful to anyone at a healthy weight or below. However, just because they might not have aesthetically appealing voluptuousness (“teeny stick girls”), does that mean they aren’t “real” women? Are they less than a person because they are underweight? It, in extreme cases, can be just as unhealthy as being overweight, but they get just as much veiled hate and bitterness like you showed in your comment.

It’s all very convenient for someone like you to sit back and assume that all the people around them are mindless followers. However, you yourself betrayed quite a few borrowed biases of your own. Please think more critically.


Anonymous March 22, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Cool post, interesting in theory, but let’s be real. Pretty is the rent you have to pay for being female in this society. Unnattractive women are scorned, marginalized, do not get the guy and do not get the job. Beauty is power, which is exactly why it is so sought after by women of all ages. I don’t think I could be happy without looking nice. I do know that as a woman over 35, I would have never attracted the eye of my current flame without being beauty saavy, and looking 10 years younger hasn’t hurt.In a perfect world, one not ruled by men, feminine beauty wouldn’t matter so much. But it does. To tell women they don’t have to look after their appearance is foolhardy. Unless you’re independently wealthy and asexual, you most certainly do have to consider being pretty.


Carys April 15, 2008 at 8:25 pm

This is wonderful, and so very true.I’m in my late 40s and I feel truly blessed that I was raised without being taught that I had to pluck my eyebrows, shave anything I don’t want to shave, wear painful shoes or clothes, dye my hair only “suitable” colors, have cosmetic surgery to look “better”, or any of the other things some women feel are necessary not for their own happiness, but to make other people like them.I LIKE being this way. I wear knee socks, knitted caps and scarves, hellokitty pants, lots of purple and hot pink (and dye my hair the same colors sometimes), and I love it. I have a wonderful husband that adores me and plenty of friends who seem to think I am just fine the way I am. Sometimes I like dressing up pretty, sometimes silly, sometimes I like comfy sweats. Sometimes I dye my hair and sometimes I leave it gray. Thank you for writing this and reminding everyone of a very deep truth — there’s a vast difference between wanting to look how you want to look for your own joy and wanting to look a certain way so that others people will like how you look and therefore like you more.


Becky April 21, 2008 at 3:11 pm



thephilosopher July 14, 2008 at 5:39 pm

This is amazing. I can’t believe I’ve never deconstructed the concept “pretty,” but you’ve done a darn good job here. How freeing! The idea that I don’t owe it to society in general to “look my best” (as opposed to looking professional or tidy) is something I’ve never considered…


busty becky September 2, 2008 at 5:13 am

Aen to that, its relieving to realise i dont have to please anyone but i just realised how showing my incredible clevage and lacy stockings makes me feel very pretty. i love to feel loose!


Allison February 26, 2009 at 12:42 pm

This is just so wonderfully sensible. Thank you for putting it so well!I think this is a must-read for anyone having a “fat day” or otherwise feeling inadequate in their appearance. We owe each other consideration (I’m thinking of your dressing to fly post), but not “pretty”.


Beti February 27, 2009 at 11:10 am

Great words, Erin! You are a goddess!I’ll take stylish over pretty any day of the week and twice on Sunday!I’m sorry for all those who posted comments along the lines of “I’m must look a certain way to get along/get the guy/be happy”.I’m 180 pounds, about 5’5″, wear makeup about twice a year, hardly ever wear a dress and pretty much always wear my hair in a ponytail.I’m happy with my job, my man, my home, my family.@Julie: I’m pretty sure the founding fathers weren’t “Oh, yeah! And all women should wear a dress and makeup at all times” when they wrote the Declaration. And it’s the “pursuit of happiness” not the “right to happiness” just for the record.


charolette33 February 28, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Well said! It’s nice to read such insightful words of wisdom.


mcsass March 1, 2009 at 11:16 am

About ten years ago, my boss (generally a good guy) commented that it annoyed him when women wore loafers. It was a casual remark but it stuck with me. Would he ever be willing to endure the daily punishment of wearing high-heeled shoes just for the sake of looking good to the opposite sex? No way! Why is it fair to expect this of women?Thanks for a great blog entry. You said what I wanted to say only 10 times better. (I love the decision tree idea!)


Anonymous May 31, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Brilliant! We don’t owe prettiness or (smiles or attention to strangers).Fashion (AKA, the conventionally-accepted idea of pretty), is a sport, and participation should never be compulsory.


Anonymous July 30, 2009 at 9:21 am

nobody could ever say it better. thank you!


Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 9:36 am

Wow. This is really awesome and inspiring. I have been really working hard over the last year to crunch and save money and stick to a budget, and havent been able to afford to go clothes shopping. I dont know how to make clothes. I have felt really frumpy and not-myself because all the clothes I have now are so PLAIN and so non-descript. Its not about looking good so much as it is about looking like I feel. Ugh. Anyway. I really enjoyed your post.-Elaina


the StReeT chanteuse February 2, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Highly encouraging post. So much so that I will keed your words in mind when I get dressed from this day on forth. Honestly and truly.


Nahl February 21, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Lovely post.Especially for someone like me who never thinks im pretty enough.Thank you!


Angie February 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I used to get confused between what I thought was pretty for me, and what I thought other people might think was pretty or UN-pretty. It took me time and experience to tell the difference. Thanks for this post!


CarolAnn June 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm

So true!

I love looking pretty, so it’s what I choose to do. I also have chosen to make charisma and attractiveness my life’s work, so I choose to find great importance in my appearance.

The thing is – I do it because I want things. I do it – yes, to impress other people. Why? Because I want to. Everything is a choice, including the choice to be affected by other people’s input.

I choose beautiful, competent, professional. Because that’s who I am.



Tanya Lee September 3, 2010 at 3:46 am

I totally agree! Be yourself… Being yourself is great. Love your posts! You tell em’ girl!


Emma October 4, 2010 at 11:32 pm

and this is why i shaved my head a few weeks ago. i’m only a ‘pretty’ eighteen year old girl, but i’ve always much rather be striking than pretty.


Noelle October 5, 2010 at 10:16 am

Love it, love it, love. Part of this is now my FB status, so you’re famous. (To me. And a few other people.)


Anna Stusser October 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Thank you. This has really helped liberate me from being someone I hated.


vicky bell October 27, 2010 at 6:25 am



Kellyyurasek December 1, 2010 at 11:37 am

Leggings are indeed funky looking – however, live through a Chicago winter and they will become a necessity. Warmth before beauty – perhaps you can have both? I guess the key is to find something that you find to be attractive and functional and to heck with everyone else’s opinion. I think eccentric is the term used for people who dress for comfort and don’t care what people think of their style. I have long since shelved “pretty” as the priority of the day. However, I love pretty, beautiful,fabulous textured fabrics and designs but I buy them for me – not what other people will think of me in them. If I don’t look great in them but I feel great in them – jimmy crack corn and I don’t care! Don’t take a picture and just don’t look. And for heaven’s sake – don’t try to put me on a fashion makeover show!


Liz January 16, 2011 at 9:14 am

Lovely post!

Although I think it’s worth emphasizing that we don’t need to be pretty, even for ourselves. For those women who have spent two hours unable to walk out the door, not because they are afraid of what someone else will think, but of their own reflections, you don’t need to care.

I wonder, though, whether this will help or hinder those women who think they can’t be pretty, no matter what they do.


Marie Dixon January 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Best line: Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.


Kymmie June 6, 2011 at 9:35 pm

A friend just shared your link. I love this post! Thank you for sharing it. As one who does fancy pants posts (yes, weekly fashion posts here!), I tend to think that Pretty is a state of mind rather than they way you look. I dress to feel pretty. I probably don’t. And I’m totally past caring what others think.

Love your blog, and now off to have a closer look! xxx


Kez June 10, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Love it!! Would love a tshirt with this: Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female” on it. Do you mind if I get one printed for myself?


Erin June 10, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Dear Kez — please do!


marly youmans June 17, 2011 at 9:10 am

I used to know a little girl who always wore wonderful, strange outfits to school. Her mother never tried to stop her from marching off in inspired creations.

She often wore stiff cotton shorts on her head as a sort of headdress. They tended to flop slightly at top and make her a sort of juvenile Nefertiti. Wondrous.

I have forgotten her name, but I will never forget the look of her!


Michael Pulsford June 17, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Gold. Beautifully put.


Karen Greenbaum-Maya June 17, 2011 at 9:48 pm

If *they* don’t think I’m pretty, they don’t have to look.


erin June 25, 2011 at 9:30 am

I loved this post.

The only reason I am “pretty”? Because I know I am.

I’m only pretty when I’m happy and I’m only pretty when I’m healthy. These three go hand-in-hand for me. I am 15kg overweight (if we’re going by the stupid BMI measure). When I weighed 20kg less than I did now I was so miserable. I frowned all the time. I was so negative. I was so hungry. I was not pretty.

I’m pretty when I ride my bike in the early morning and I’m pretty when I listen to the music that I love. I’m not pretty because someone else tells me I am. Gosh — I don’t know if anyone even *thinks* I am. I wouldn’t say I fit in to society’s stereotype of what prettiness even is. I’m pretty for me, and that’s enough.

(PS – to the people above saying they’re “too fat” for certain things? You’re not. Wear that top or that dress or that hat or that hairstyle. Do everything that you think you are too fat to do. You’re not. You really aren’t. You’re lovely.)


Bridget July 18, 2011 at 11:58 am

Yes yes yes yes yes.


Cate Subrosa July 22, 2011 at 12:32 am

Thank you. This is awesome.


AmidPrivilege July 22, 2011 at 10:31 am

Well thank you. And those of you reading, thinking, “I AM pretty, I don’t need this,” yes, yes you do. Even more.


Clio July 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Wow, I love and admire your honesty! So well said.


She!Sam July 22, 2011 at 12:58 pm

This post made me cry in the best possible way. It was something I really needed to hear. Thank you so very much for posting it, even if I just found it now. <3


Susanna-Cole July 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Hallelujah, and amen! I don’t know how many times I’ve said to someone I know, not to worry if something is flattering so much as if it makes you feel good. If you feel good in what you wear that will show and count for so much more than wearing something flattering according to traditional thinking that makes you uncomfortable.


abi July 23, 2011 at 12:10 am

fabulous writing. I have just found your blog and will be reading more.

well done. brilliant.

love abi- from Adventures in Cake


Kelly July 23, 2011 at 6:41 am

Thanks for your posting. I was just reflecting the other day how impermanent “prettiness” or “hotness” is. We all age, or bodies change, if we become so focused on being attractive to others, we’re going to be disappointed. There’s also the fact that we, none of us, is going to be considered attractive by everyone anyway. I have a man that adores me, and who I adore, yet I still feel like I need to dress for the world.

But our self-esteem must come from within – and we all have that power, to love ourselves as we are as opposed to relying on outside OPINIONS.

The only part of your post I had difficulty with was the reference to feminism as promoting ugliness or at the least, “not prettiness.” That a really narrow view of feminism that negates the movement’s ability to affect change. Feminism has many forms and it can as easily be a movement that promotes equality in pay and respect, as well as exploration into differences and into what being a woman means to us as individuals and as a whole.

I think it is really important for us ladies to realize that inequalities (especially in the workforce, economics – and in our hyper-sexualization as this post affirms!) do still exist pervade our society and rearticulating the destabilizing myths of feminism (hair arm pits, people-holes over manholes, man-hating lore) only hurt us. It destabilizes our ability to stand firm in opposition to policies and attitudes that hurt all our society.

That’s all. Again, thank you for your posting. I hope it’s read by woman of all ages!


JuliaR December 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I don’t think she means to equate feminism with ugliness, in fact I think she’s saying just the opposite: Don’t try to be pretty because people want you to be and don’t try to be ugly because people don’t want you to be (which would be the stereotypical view of feminism you described), just do what you want for yourself.


Mirella July 25, 2011 at 7:52 am

LOVE this post – thanks!


Novice Wife August 2, 2011 at 3:55 pm

“but pretty much the end of every branch was a bubble that said ‘tell complainers to go to hell'”

– Now *this* is a mission statement! Thank you!


Monica August 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm

this is kinda liberating.somehow, it takes off the pressure.


Andrew Jarvis August 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Sooooo agree! Great post, if I had a daughter I would want her to read this!


marissa August 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm

:) Thanks for writing this. :)


carolynn cecilia August 19, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Preach it lady!!! This is a wonderful addition to the amazing articles that have been popping up this month {The Huffington Post in particular touched on how we speak to little girls} and you have really hit the nail on it’s “pretty” head.


peggy August 19, 2011 at 8:01 pm

It’s been almost five years since you wrote this piece and I still refer back to it. This should be required reading for all women and girls. I cannot tell you how many people I have recommended read this essay.


Francesca September 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I know this post is almost 5 years old, but this is how I feel about smiling. I am cranky and I don’t like to smile, especially at random people who seem to think that it is my duty as a pretty woman (and I am) to smile at them and make them feel better. Bull!


Sandy March 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm

A (male, middle-aged) friend of my parents, when told to “smile,” would usually look grimmer and bark, “I am!”
He had the personality (and unlimited chutzpah) to carry this off . . . I’m not offering it as advice, necessarily! But you sound like someone who might appreciate the attitude?


Nahrin October 18, 2011 at 11:00 pm

I absolutely LOVE this, you have no idea how many times I’ve read it and since about two months ago when I’ve stumbled upon it I wake up and go through my day and go to sleep repeating PRETTINESS IS NOT A RENT YOU PAY FOR OCCUPYING A SPACE MARKED “FEMALE”. You have no idea what it all means to me so thank you thank you thank you for writing this and sharing it with the world. <3


Julie October 24, 2011 at 1:18 am

I realized the other day that my list of goals for self-improvement includes several that fixate on my appearance. That is to say, I consider my self imperfect and unpleasant unless I can raise it to certain aesthetic guidelines, those set for me, and not by me, (probably) by advertising and the media, which at the same time set guidelines by which others are meant to judge me and how close or far I tread from those standards. This discovery was discouraging. So this was a helpful read. Thank you.


Angela January 16, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Lovely piece! My mom would appreciate it. She says that her mission in her older life is to demonstrate that smart, confident, and supremely competent do NOT require hosiery, makeup, hair products, or any of the other things that are foisted on women to look pretty.


RachEliza94 January 31, 2012 at 11:30 am

This is such a great article. It serves as a great reminder to just be happy and not worry about what other people think, which isn’t always easy but was a great thing for me to read today. Thank you.


Allison February 6, 2012 at 6:45 pm

I needed to see this today. I’m sick and I had to go out to see a doctor and get medicine, and as usual people looked at me like I was some kind of monster for not looking perfect. My somewhat haggard appearance seemed to offend people, and being sick I was very frustrated. leave me alone, I wanted to tell them, I’m sick! But it happens a lot even when I’m healthy. When I’m running errands, my hair gets messy and my face gets red and sweaty, and people are visibly grossed out by it. Sorry guys, my appearance just isn’t a priority 24/7.


El February 12, 2012 at 1:46 am

In a perfect world looks wouldn’t matter, but this isn’t a perfect world and looks do matter. If you don’t match up to the ideals of others you will be treated differently for it. More attractive and better dressed women are more likely to get hired, and they are more likely to be paid more. People are more likely to start a conversation with those who match their standards of grooming and looks.

Sorry, but it’s a fact of the world that if you look nice to other people you’re going to get ahead. Sometimes you have to work at being pretty. Being pretty is something that just comes to anyone.

Frankly I think you’re just giving people an excuse to be lazy.


WinterRose May 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Will being “pretty” get you “ahead”? Sure, maybe. But is “getting ahead” really what should matter over self-acceptance, dignity and happiness? Are the two mutually exculsive? Not neccesarily, but maybe so in some cases.

I think you are missing the point of the article. The point is that prettiness isn’t owed to anyone. If someone wants to dress sloppy, unusal and/or unfashionable that’s their prerogative and ultimately no one elses business. It’s not giving people “an excuse to be lazy” – it’s giving them support for not caring about or having to stress out about the narrow-minded and shallow opinions of other, more insecure people that spend too much time worried about others rather than minding their own business.


Kathy Rear February 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I’ve just posted and shared this post with everyone I know. It is a message that so many women and girls, (especially girls!) need to hear. Thanks so much


Marissa May 3, 2012 at 6:34 am

I just found someone who got part of this as a tattoo! Such good words to live by.


Erin May 3, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Really? That’s amazing — any chance they’d send me a picture?


WinterRose May 9, 2012 at 5:06 pm

OMG, thank you so much for writing this. These are sentiments that need to be embraced world-wide. I really wish more people understood and accepted this.


Elizabeth Newlin May 9, 2012 at 6:11 pm

It’s an excellent reminder. It also makes me feel better about dropping my kid off at school today wearing what can only be accurately described as ‘homeless chic couture’.


Rose/yarnivore May 14, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I wanna see the tattoo!


Greg Barnum May 19, 2012 at 6:22 am

I think of “pretty” as more or less satisfying someone’s fairly concrete notions of harmony, appropriateness, and desireability. And not just notions–often there are actual exemplars of “pretty” that can be held up as standards. And while these standards are opinionated and subject to debate and change, they can still be held up and used as a basis of comparison to determine how pretty something else is. Because of that there is an element of objectivity, however controversial, to “pretty.”

Beauty, on the other hand, is almost purely subjective. St. Augustine of Hippo, writing close to 1,000+ years ago, said that beauty is that quality which, simply by being perceived, gives pleasure. Beauty doesn’t need to be pretty or desireable or useful or enviable or even appropriate, though it could be any or all of these things. Beauty inspires pleasure, and great beauty inspires awe–sometimes an awe so profound that words can utterly fail us.


Rachael May 27, 2012 at 5:59 pm

You just about said it all: Be yourself and be happy. I can think of another little tidbit that is appropriate here as well: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. There are so many different ideas about what is pretty out there that I have come to understand that “pretty” means a little something different to each of us. Sure we have similarities, but put 100 of us in a room and you will have 100 different opinions on what we consider “pretty”. Your advice is wiser than most will acknowledge: Buy what you like, what makes you happy and THAT in and of itself will make whatever you are showcasing stand bright and beautiful in others’ eyes. If not, dont be offended, they are just different — as my girlfriend often says, “its why God makes 31 flavors — not everyone LOVEs vanilla”.


Alissa May 30, 2012 at 2:41 am

Thanks for writing this. I will keep it for my daughter read (when she can, she’s 1).
I was noticing recently how many people seem to get more attractive as they get older, seemingly against all odds. But the conclusion that I came to is that being comfortable with & confident in yourself is SO much more attractive than mere physical “prettiness”. Those are qualities that are hard to come by in your teens & 20s.
Feeling pretty is often being pretty.


Jen June 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm

*stands and applauds*


Byrdie June 15, 2012 at 5:33 pm

A few years ago I picked up a book by Pierre Bennu called “BS or Fertilizer: Inspiration for Artists on the Fence”. One of the things Bennu suggests is to go through your closet and take out anything that doesn’t make you happy, and either sell it or give it away. He suggests that readers puzzle out their “superhero wardrobe and hideout”, surrounding themselves and dressing themselves in things that inspire them and make them happy.

My super-powered alter ego costume involves purple and glitter. Pretty? Well, to *me*, yes.


TOSH June 15, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Okay, so I see where you’re going with this and great post, but men are under just as much pressure to look good as women are. At least in today’s society.

So, when you say: “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.” I think you unnecessarily bring an element of feminism to the table.

Overall, I agree with the general idea. Pretty/handsome/whatever is an unnecessary pressure and happiness is much more attractive on a person.


Jenna June 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Hey, the paragraph starting with “You Don’t Have to Be Pretty” is not original. Banksy said that. Verbatim. Do not steal other people’s words, lady.


Erin June 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Jenna, this is all my own original text. I’d love to see where you saw this attributed to Banksy. Could you post a link? (You might also check the date on this — I wrote it back in 2006, and it’s been linked to quite a bit on the Internets.)


Lisa June 24, 2012 at 10:50 pm

You both stole this from Abraham Lincoln! It’s from the Gettysburg address–just in one of the parts farther in than the parts that people have memorized!

For real, though, I’m going to guess that this has become so widely traveled and repeated that, at some point, it got some celebrity’s name attached to it in attributions. That seems to happen a lot when people who aren’t household names (yet) write something eloquent that touches people the way this has. Someone, at some point, whether intentionally or not, misattributes it to a celebrity.

Most people probably don’t actually get to see it come back around as accusations of plagiarism, though.


Lux October 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Erin, your brilliant quote is making the rounds on Tumblr now attributed to Diana Vreeland! But of course the very quotable Ms. Vreeland didn’t use this kind of language so googling took me here. While it’s certainly a compliment to be linked to such a legend, I hope your words will eventually be correctly attributed to you.


enemell December 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Um, it’s not all your original text. It’s not Banksy’s, either. It’s a direct quote from Diana Vreeland.


Erin December 10, 2012 at 10:00 pm

No, it’s not. Perhaps if you want to accuse me of plagiarism, you would be so kind as to link to where this quote appears in any of DV’s works? And which words, exactly, are you saying should be attributed to DV? In your earlier comment you say “the first paragraph” — the stuff about leggings?

I understand the tendency of folks to want to attribute words to famouser people than actually wrote them (look up “Churchillian Drift” if you have time), but I did actually write this.


Diana June 15, 2012 at 6:15 pm

What a wonderful wonderful well-said thing. The line “Pretty, it’s sad to say, can have a shelf life” reminds me of a lyric from a Nanci Griffith song: “When beauty’s all you offer, how soon the world discovers that your beauty’s gone.” I’ve always thought it was tragic that women were valued for something that everyone knows won’t last. I’ve heard guys say, “the prettier the girl, the lower the self esteem.” There’s a reason for that– if you’re loved only for your looks, then when you lose your looks you lose that love too. That knowledge is always there, lurking in the background. Happy, healthy, independent, yes! SO much more important than pretty.


Kirsten June 15, 2012 at 7:46 pm

I wear clothes that reinforce the values of happiness and confidence, two qualities that go much further than prettiness.

I do not judge other women on their prettiness. I might make judgments on cleanliness or odor, but not prettiness.


Katie Leigh June 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm

AMEN SISTER! I always tell people, especially women that beauty if confidence, if you feel you are rocking a look than girl, YOU ROCK IT! Being pretty is subject to the person you’re talking to. I find beauty in women who speak their minds, stand for whats right and rock whatever look they love whether thats an insane pattern jumpsuit (my favorite outfit) or just a basic pair of jeans and a T. You were born to dazzle, just as you are just and YOU want to be. Don’t compare to others, it will always leave you wanting more. Set your own rules and listen to your heart. There you will find real pretty!


Elisa June 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm

I’ve often thought that women who are very, very pretty (or beautiful) have it rougher than it seems. Beauty seems to bring out, in certain types of men, the insane desire to possess. Much in the same way that places which are rich in natural beauty and/or resources seem destined to be pillaged, women who learn to rely on their looks seem to be as well. I’ve tried to get out of the habit of telling little girls that they are beautiful or pretty BEFORE I give them any other compliment. It’s tough conditioning, un-buying the beauty line. Great work, here.


harrylthompsonjr June 15, 2012 at 11:48 pm

One of my friends posted this article on Facebook, and I am glad that she did. You’ve done a fine job of encapsulating the way I’ve felt about fashion during the past decade of my life. I’ve begun to feel that dressing in the way that you are comfortable is paramount – while some folks like their sweats and Crocs, there are others that prefer daily corsets, and that is okay.

You need to dress like yourself and for yourself.

There are occasions where I think we ought to dress for others: weddings are a good example where one should probably dress within some relation to convention, but even then, one should not dwell too far from one’s comfort zone. You can look as good in cotton as you can in taffeta, and I can say which one I’d rather be wearing to a sunny outdoor wedding.

My main rule is that once you are uncomfortable, it gets harder and harder to have a good time.

Fashion, like your life, is something that should bring you joy and comfort in the long run. Once you start slaving to someone else’s expectations, everything becomes less fun.

Thank you again for the great article!



Anne Roberts June 16, 2012 at 8:06 am

What a great article – love it!


Victoria June 16, 2012 at 12:42 pm

There’s one “accolade” missing here….for the mature woman the term
“handsome” sometimes starts creeping in as “pretty” fades….has a lot more strength to it, and beats the hell out of “well-preserved.” which sounds a bit like pickles.


martha June 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm

brava! brilliant!finally!


Julie June 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm

This is such a wonderful article and so eloquently written. Kudos to you for speaking the truth! I hope more women adopt your perception of beauty. Keep up the good work.


TB June 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm

So I’m a guy (and not gay) and I stumbled on this blog but all I have to say to women of the world is this. I love when a girl looks confident and knows she looks like the s*it . It doesn’t have to be in a dress, heels, jewelery, etc… Just saying. Also, makeup sucks.


Saskia Delores June 16, 2012 at 11:19 pm

I love this but I kinda disagree with the idea that prettiness it totally tied to youth. I’ve always thought late bloomers were cool & I think there are different kinds of pretty and I’ve seen some lovely older ladies that at least as beautiful as the prettiest of young blossoms. They’re rare though because everyone is always telling us that it ends and most people shut down as they grow older way before they should in the self expression department. Tulips, for example, are lovely when you first get them from the store but have you ever let them sit there “too long” after they’re supposedly supposed to be tossed? Have you ever noticed the amazing process of them turning inside out and the variety color of color change in the petals? People are like that too. On my way to interview my 89 year old neighbor now…


anne June 17, 2012 at 5:38 am

Clothing is—color, cut, proportion, textures, patterns, contrast, composition—art. Every day you can create a work of art by the way you combine the pieces that you wear. What fun!


Kate June 18, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Brilliant post!


Meggan June 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I loved this! During my last pregnancy I developed some strange dark spots on my face. They just happen to be right under my nose and resemble a mustache just a little bit. They, of course, do not fall into the pretty category. Oh well, I have 5 kids that I love and I am incredibly healthy and happy.


JD June 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Many, many thanks for this :) It’s already a rule I live by, but it’s really nice to see someone saying it so eloquently (and publicly).

Some friends of mine from my university course occasionally point out the fact that I don’t wear heals, dresses, low-cut tops and/or push-up bras. Never to uni, and only rarely to go out. In fact, I dress for comfort and practicallity in an environment where I frequently encounter paint and un-even surfaces. When I go out of an evening I know that if I’m uncomfortable I stand next to no chance of looking good. I find it quite disquieting when they sincerely try to convince me that comfort comes after style, even in clothing that no one but me will see that day – I think I’ll be pointing them in this direction next time it’s brouhgt up.


JD June 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm

I would also like to comment that a lot of clothing for larger women (I am a UK size 16-18, not sure what that is in the US) tends to just be clothes for skinny women, with larger versions of the same ratios. Most women I would say have roughly the same shape of skeleton, but as you add on more combinations of fat and muscle the different shapes become more obvious. So giving me trousers with a normal waste and slim thighs won’t work, though it will for other women. Even more so in shirts because women with the same size of waste will have wildly different chest and arm measurements. There is an assumption in most places I’ve tried to buy clothes that everyone who is bigger than a 6 (note, in the uk a 6 is usually an unhealthy size to be) will still have the same ratios as a 6 – It is very hard to find clothes that are both comfortable and flattering if your shape no longer fits that ratio.


shelbi June 24, 2012 at 11:17 pm

i love this! thank you so much! beautifully & artfully written.


Sarah July 23, 2012 at 3:26 am

I’m a sixteen year old girl, who wears jeans and a nice top every single day to school. In the summer, it’s jean shorts and a plain colored tank top every day. Why do i stick to this you ask! It’s not because I want to, it’s because at this point, I’m used to not feeling pretty. Until today. Someone told me what they like about me, that they wished they could be with me, and suddenly everything clicked. Why when I read this blog, I get the shivers. Why I never felt pretty. This probably makes no sense, but anyway, thanks so much for writing this. I think you’ve helped to change my life.


Edwardo Lobo July 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I disagree… a decision tree which always ends in “tell complainers to go to hell” sounds like a great tool.


Lisa July 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I love this post, I think it says an important thing and I’d never want to see this message silenced.

At the same time, I want to acknowledge that prettiness is a rent which some of us are forced to pay for occupying a space marked female, and that if we don’t pay the rent, we are not allowed to occupy that space.

Rejecting compulsory femininity is super important, but so is acknowledging that for some people, it’s so compulsory that it’s practically impossible to reject without first achieving a structural change to society (i.e.: smash patriarchy, white supremacy, etc.).

Thankfully the two really go together, in that as more people reject it, the difficulty bar for others to reject it is lowered. :)


Laura July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

To quote my dear grandmother, “Pretty is as pretty does”!


Ruth Madison July 30, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Thank you for this. Growing up my mother frequently told me that I owed it to the world to look good. “Other people have to look at you.” It was a long time before I had the courage to follow my instincts and be the eccentric person I was meant to be.


Misty August 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Great article, thanks for posting! I loved this quote, “Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.”

About a year ago I made a commitment to wear dresses pretty much EVERY day. I am pleased that I have stuck with it! It pleases me, and I don’t care whether or not it pleases anyone else!


karin August 13, 2012 at 5:18 am

“that’s presumptuous”, “that’s not my concern”, “that’s not my problem”, “speak for yourself”, “how about you?”


Katalina Zhivlovsky August 28, 2012 at 12:13 am

<3 <3 <3!!
There's just one part I completely disagree with, that prettiness is directly related to youth. I can guess that this was an attempt to disassociate the important of longevity in prettiness, but it's total rubbish. I think you can be pretty at whatever age, if you want to be. Fuck having to "graduate" from that by someone else's standards!


Veronica September 19, 2012 at 12:58 am

So very, very well-written and balanced. Thank you.


Susan October 3, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Amen. I think also that when you feel good in what you wear, truly good, you radiate that. And it’s beautiful, or striking, or even “just fine,” even if it’s not pretty. Cheers.


Mochi and Macarons November 2, 2012 at 12:13 am

I agree with the sentiment of this post, but a “Jolie laide” in France is a woman who is ugly but is pretty because she takes time and effort to try and dress nicely, do her makeup and look good.

This also means avoiding stuff that is unflattering on you and making a good effort.


Emma November 9, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I may be 6 years late, but this article makes me so happy. I have recently started weight-lifting, and have been dismayed by people’s reaction to it. Instead of being impressed at my enthusiasm for my new sport, almost every woman I have told about it has questioned why I would want to look like a man, or why I’m willing to let myself become repulsive to the opposite sex. They don’t understand that body-building and weight-lifting are quite different thigns, but the point is the same: I’m not doing it to look prettier or to gain a mate of the opposite sex. I’m doing it primarily for sport. I want to compete and I want to be incredibly strong. Yes, it’ll change how I look. I’ll probably look a lot stronger once I’ve done it for a while. I don’t believe that this is an ugly look. Nor do I believe that it is a masculine look. But even if it were, I wouldn’t stop doing it, because my reason for doing it is not based on how I look, but how I feel.

Likewise, women who do body-building should never be criticized for their choice to look the way they do. They work on how they look and achieve the bodies that they want to have. Other women may not want those bodies, but it’s none of their business.

It’s time people stopped assuming that “losing your looks” is some sort of tragedy. Our bodies and images tell a story; why should it always be one of false beauty?


Kristin July 21, 2014 at 9:46 pm

This blog post is wonderful and amazing. I also absolutely love this comment!!


Nancy November 13, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Great point ! If, as a society. we gave teenaged girls as much positive feedback and recognition for being HAPPY as we do for being PRETTY, they would grow into much more centred and confident women. There is way too much “reward” for being attractive …no wonder so many women define themselves by this criteria !


Carol November 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm

I have always avoided the whole ‘pretty, beautiful ‘ thing, I hid under the radar . I am 43 now and want to be beautiful in my man’s eyes (( together 6 years). Although I learnt to sew early I have had jobs where jeans and t-shirts have been the uniform. I really like the chance to dress up and feel feminine now. I need the balance – being me with the occasional ‘pretty’moments.


Zenkitty December 6, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Wonderful post, Erin! I’ve shared it with all my friends and my Twitter followers. I started to quote it, then I realized that practically every sentence was “quotable” and deserved to be on a T-shirt.

This is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately. As I move into my 5th decade, I’m dealing with the fact that being “pretty” is taking more and more effort – I’m not sure it’s worth it, but I feel bad for not doing it! Like somehow I owe it to the world to not let my hair go grey, or some such.


Jessica December 7, 2012 at 7:46 am

This is brilliant! May I please reblog this post?


Erin December 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Sure — thank you! Just please link back. :-)


Catherine December 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Thank you for this post! Wise words!


Kathrine December 8, 2012 at 12:10 am

Aren’t you negating your point by saying that beauty is tied to youth and that women must “graduate from pretty?” That seems to imply that the elderly cannot be pretty, which is far from the truth!!


Erin December 8, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I think that elderly women can be (and often are) pretty, but that it’s not the expected case. And no one should feel pressure to be pretty.


Audrey December 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm

“Pretty” is a decision. I can feel pretty regardless of what I’m wearing. I can also feel “ugly” in the most beautiful of dresses. “Pretty” starts with a thought, and the thought creates the feeling.


JuliaR December 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm

This is awesome! This is why I love sewing Blogs, everyone has something interesting to say and not just about clothes they’ve made.


jan December 10, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Great post!!! I arrived at this decision a few years past. As I head to official old age and not exactly skinny, I wanted to wear what I wanted to wear. So I dress how I like and how the weather dictates and I don’t care if people think I am not young and sexy. I enjoy the fabric that swirls around my ankles and is a pretty color.


OS December 11, 2012 at 6:34 am

A perennial favorite of my mother’s during my years of living with my parents, and even after I moved out: “You would be so pretty if you X!” where X was one of several: pulled your hair back out of your face, wore skirts more, put on some make up, didn’t wear jeans and sneakers all the time, etc etc. That was so totally the first thing I wanted to hear in the morning! Ugh.

Life is so much more positive when you live with someone who accepts you for who you are, jeans and sneakers all the time or not.


Tina Horan December 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Thank you so much for this post. Am definitely sharing it with my female friends on Facebook. Every woman needs to hear this repeated to her all through her life. Though I would like to add one thing. Pretty shouldn’t be about the clothes one wears or how one looks on the outside. That’s all superficial. All that matters is what YOU feel on the inside. Showing & sharing how you feel inside to the outside world is what will attract people to you. There is nothing more prettier or gorgeous than a woman – or even a man for that matter – who isn’t afraid to let their true spirit out despite what the outside world says to them.


Andy B December 24, 2012 at 7:04 am

I wish I wrote this myself. Amazing.


Andy B December 24, 2012 at 7:11 am

Here are some of my thoughts on this topic…How I found peace on the whole matter.


A mommy January 18, 2013 at 7:47 am

The thing about being pretty is that it is not who you are but that you are… pretty that is. You can’t help it. So when parents friends and family praise you your whole life for something you had no control if you really begin to realize deep down inside that they don’t love you for who you are that they don’t care who you are… They may not know who you are… At least they don’t show it because all you hear is that you are pretty… “Stand up and twirl, so everyone can see your new dress… Oh isn’t she so pretty.” And then one day for whatever reason you aren’t so pretty and when your entire sense of self is based on this … because people can’t help but point it out when you were pretty…you are now sure you are no longer of value and that your worth along with your beauty has faded and you no longer bring something special into the world. I wish so many people had not told me how pretty I was in my youth.


Paula January 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I’m not pretty. I wear v neck or scoop neck tees, stretch waist pants, and pretty shoes? Not easy with size 10 wide feet. Heels are out of the question with my messed up back. I wear men’s shoes because women’s aren’t wide enough. I love my Crocs. I’m a loving wife & I have great friends. Good enough for me.


AK June 7, 2013 at 3:01 am

Go you! :)


zeeshan m. February 12, 2013 at 6:30 am

Came across a quote from this from another tumblr I reblogged and was struck in a capacity I almost never am. Definitely moved me to comment which I find to be a fairly uninteresting enterprise. Couldn’t find an email to write to but decided to awkwardly make a public comment.

Reposting my comment on tumblr :

“Economical and exceptional articulation of a singular resistance that approaches the universal. In a separate cosmos of literary feminism than one generally finds anywhere really.”

[Not that I’m ascribing this to your intentions, just my own reading].

I haven’t explored the blog yet [almost never read blogs and barely read tumblrs] but I’d be honoured if you could point me in the direction of more writing or otherwise share some of your writing with me.



B February 13, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Being pretty is not synonymous with being fashionable.


Shiloh April 8, 2013 at 2:36 am

I was very lucky to have a mother who always told me to wear what I wanted. So I did. I have been thrifting as long as I can remember. It’s funny too because so many people growing up thought what I wore was weird and would make fun of me then it’d be ‘in’ two years later 😛 I’m 22 now and I still do what I want. Moving to NYC has made me stick out even more but at the same time, more people appreciate that I dress for myself. It’s why I get away with wearing such crazy clothes 😀


smibbo April 18, 2013 at 2:24 am

I love this. This is the most perfect essay on the subject I have ever seen.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am printing this, and packing it away to give to my daughter when she’s older. In the meantime, I’ll be saying it in some form or another whenever appropriate. Thank you.


dee May 19, 2013 at 6:10 am

I stumbled across this and I’m so glad I did. I have become obsessed with my looks and try to look flawless all the time. It’s to the point where I’m at sick of my reflection. This post is very freeing


Jane May 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm

I stumbled very randomly across this post, and while I very much like the content I really think you need to put the Diana Vreeland quotation you use in quotation marks and give her credit. Especially when, in the below paragraph, you appear to indicate the above idea is in fact your idea. I think it is a great quotation to pass on, and it is great your post provides agreement with her sentiments, but credit needs to be given where credit is due.


Erin May 20, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Hi Jane, that quote is actually mine, not Diana Vreeland’s. I used picture of Diana Vreeland to illustrate that you can be stylish without being “pretty.” Somehow many people seem to think that the picture means that Diana Vreeland is being quoted, but that is not the case.

I hope this clears this up for you. Thanks for commenting.


Jane May 20, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Hi Erin,
Thanks for clarifying. It actually wasn’t because of the picture that I was confused, I have before heard the quote:
“You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’”
however it was always attributed to Diana Vreeland, but I was looking into it and apparently that fact is disputed. Do you know how it came to be misattributed to her? I would be really interested to hear more about this! Regardless, I think it is a brilliant quotation!


Erin May 21, 2013 at 3:34 am

Thanks Jane!

Well, since this is a very old post (from 2006, which is ancient in blog years) it has been linked to a great deal. There is a phenomenon called “Churchillian Drift” which is basically the tendency of any quotation to become attributed to famouser people than the person who actually said it. So this post from non-famous me + HUGE PICTURE OF DIANA VREELAND = quote attached to Diana Vreeland. Pretty simple.

It’s “disputed,” because since I wrote it there is no evidence of Diana Vreeland ever writing it. :-)


Dora K. (@omg_dora) May 21, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Hee! Erin, you are awesome.


al June 7, 2013 at 9:56 am

most..eerrh sorry! every feminist are ugly women and they never got attention from men, thats why they came up with these theories to make their own situation look less hopeless, and those who agree are not blessed in the looks department too! Since when looking pretty is a crime??? how??
if someone is pretty it is because they are, not because society ask them to be, it is not very complicated.


Shawn Kilroy June 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm

No shit, nobody needs to be pretty. Why do you think we have to be clean?


JenL June 18, 2013 at 6:30 pm

This is a great thought. With this in mind I will continue to dress like a slob (i.e. sweats and/or jeans and/or flip flops) when I fly because I do not owe it to anyone to dress “nicely” on a flight. I’d rather be comfortable than follow someone’s belief that one should dress nicely for flying…while sitting in a too small, too tight seat for many hours at a time. I love your blog but totally disagree with you on the idea that one should dress up to fly….I don’t dress up to drive my car, ride the bus, or any other thing why should I for a plane? I generally do not leave the house in jammies or anything though–I do think that’s wrong…ha ha.


鳥山・超 July 23, 2013 at 8:59 am

I got here dur to some friend of mine, who postet this entry on his FB page. So I found it rather randomly and thus was much more astonished of your entry.

Despite the fact, that I think, certain body types, which are the target of L-Size clothing should not wear S-Size, because it gives them no good reference in the public, even if they are happy with that… I have to add, that I only think this as my personal oppinion and taste and I don’t go around telling them. I let them be the way they wanna be, but I cant help thinking, they should not wear it, cause it just goes against my taste and sense of appeal… (I don’t want to give contribution to a disscussion about this. The have their oppinion and I form my own…)

So despite all this, what I actually wanted to write, is that I very much like the way you write, how you use words and how you combine them to represent your oppinion. For me, this blog was floating with something some people call “Orm” (see the bock “The City of Dreaming Books” if you don’t know it).
It was a pleasure to read and I agree with what you said (beside this one little thing).

(If something I wrote feels like I wanna attack certain people, I wanna say: English is not my mothertounge and I don’t know for each word, if it has an offensive meaning. No offense are meant.)


SS July 30, 2013 at 7:11 am

I associate the word “pretty” with something young and adolescent. So I’m fine with pretty being for the young. At some point we have to graduate from “pretty” to words far more descriptive and interesting. Striking, sophisticated, elegant, beautiful, commanding…just a few of many. Let the young have “pretty.” I’d prefer the word with the grown-up salary.


Floofy July 31, 2013 at 2:42 am

I read all of the comments, and I wanted to say I’m sorry that quite a few of the posters, well…didn’t get it. You can’t change someone’s opinion from a mere article, but I do hope you erased some of the prejudice in people’s hearts. I don’t always feel pretty. I have deep scars on the sides of my face from years ago. Society would dictate “cover that shit up!” but I just can’t force myself to put on makeup for that kind of reason. I am a “girly woman”, I love to dress up and look nice, but when I chose to do so, I do it for me. There are days I dress to the nines and never leave the house just because it makes me feel good. We don’t owe society “pretty”, and thank you for sharing that.
I found your article on Offbeat Bride where thankfully you were given credit for your wonderful quote! I need to stick that to my bathroom mirror.


Darcy July 31, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Thank you for this! I just read a quote from this post on Offbeat Bride, and it meant a lot to me.


Laura August 4, 2013 at 6:47 pm

My best friend does not shave her legs. It does not bother me. Why should it? She is also the most beautiful woman I know. Not because she is “pretty” but because she has the self confidence to not shave, wear shorts and skirts, AND can put bright colours together and wear them in a way that I can only dream of! On top of all of the external stuff, she is intelligent, creative and fun. Hairy legs quickly become a moot point when a woman has more personality than a blue beaver on speed. :)


Alexa Sanger August 18, 2013 at 9:07 am

Dear Erin!

I love the lines starting with ,,you don´t owe..”. I am confused a bit as I thought it was a quote of Diana Vreeland. Is it your line or Vreeland´s? Thank you for making my confusion clear!


Erin August 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Hi Alexa, thanks for asking.

No, it is not a Vreeland quote. It has been attributed to her on the internets by people who came here, read the post, saw ENORMOUS PICTURE OF VREELAND and jumped to conclusions. I’ve talked about this in the other comments, if you want to skim through them that would be great. Or just search on this page for the words “Churchillian Drift”.

I used the picture of Vreeland as an example of someone who wasn’t conventionally pretty and yet who led an amazingly stylish and beautiful life.


Alexa Sanger August 19, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Thank you, Erin, I already wrote a note to Goodreads (imagine, your quote was there as Diana Vreeland´s – now it is corrected!). What a beautiful, revolutionary thought! Thank you for this!! You put in few sentences (and one whole post) very important message to all of us!!


Erin August 19, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Thank you so much for taking the time to fact-check! I appreciate it. :-) And thanks also for the kind words!


Lisa August 28, 2013 at 9:44 pm

But what does this ave to do with leggings?
Even dressed in leggings with appropriate accoutrement, a female can look pretty as a total package, no matter what age.


Carie September 25, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Thanks for posting this. It’s an important reminder. Myself, I go through moods, and one of them is “pretty”. There are days (sometimes several in a row) where I work at pretty. I choose the right clothes for the day, take time to dry my hair right, wear a little make-up, smile when I meet someone’s eyes. Those can be fun days. But just as often, I leave the house not giving a damn what I look like, and I don’t mean just to walk the dog. I’ll grocery shop or write at a coffee shop or go to a movie sans make-up, dirty hair in a ratty bun with those weird little hairs at my temple spilling out every which way, wearing god knows what. And it’s so liberating. I buy just as many groceries and write just as many pages and enjoy the movie just as much as on a “pretty” day, but I can rub my eyes and sit cross-legged as much as I want. Be who you are. Ugly, pretty, spunky, weird, whatever. And you don’t have to pick just one.


Kate October 25, 2013 at 9:57 am

A fantastic message communicated with such a wonderful writing style – lovely! Keeping this for when my two daughters are older. Thank you xx


dejavudu November 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Exceptional writing.
You nailed every nuance of the sentiment in perfect economy of words.

For years I wondered why in Western culture, makeup is considered feminine. I mean, fundamentally all we’re doing with it is accentuating our individual features and men want to be attractive too so why don’t they highlight their eyelashes or accentuate their cheekbones? It took me a while to understand: it’s because they are not VALUED on their attractiveness the way women are. Historically men are measured on their ability to provide and it’s primarily women whose worth is determined by their attractiveness. Hmm.


chinkypin November 19, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Please Please Please PLEASE create a graphic of your handy prettyness decision tree! The very fact that all branches end in telling complainers to go to hell is the best reason I can think of that it needs to exist!


Barb November 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm

I am obsessed with this post. I just keep coming back to think about it some more. Love it.


bani January 22, 2014 at 7:58 am

Me too Barb! Today I linked to it yet again in a blog comment. Ever so often one just HAS to. :)


DannyJane March 15, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Actually, I’ve often looked my prettiest when I WASN’T trying.


Ximena March 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm

OH MY GOSH! Absolutely loved it!! It was just what I needed to read today (actually what I needed to understand). Thank you so much for opening my eyes to something that was already there but I just could not grasp it as a whole. I’m totally reading it to my two daughter today at lunch, be certain of it. You’ve made history in my memories of the best things I’ve read..


Christo May 20, 2014 at 10:50 am

Thanks for writing this, and I’m sorry people are miss-attributing your lines about prettiness. They so perfectly capture what I want to say to my daughters every single day. I suppose everyone assumes this wisdom must come from some well-established figure from history. Either they’re wrong, or in a hundred years you’re going to be a well-established figure from history.


Mina Widding June 2, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Fenomenal. I think I just might have to tattoo “you don’t owe prettiness to anyone” or “pretty is not a rent you pay for occupying a space called female” somewhere, to remind me every day. It’s become my mantra. Thanks for this! <3

PS. It seems people have mixed up your statement as being Diana Vreelands (because people don't read properly, I suppose), I hope that sorts itself out so you get your rightly credit.

PPS. This would be excellent for a spoken word poem.


Carolyn June 23, 2014 at 5:07 am

This blog post really resonates with me. And a lot of other people (I’m impressed that you really have almost 300 comments!) .
I know I don’t look as young, pretty, slender or cute as I feel. It’s somehow reassuring that you gave me permission to be who I am.


Sunita June 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Read somewhere – Age is a great leveller for beauty and ugliness. One is lost in it, the other hidden


Andrea Pantano June 25, 2014 at 5:16 am

This is an amazing, inspiring and beautifully put blog post. It is very much third wave and I love it. Wear what you want. Do what you want. Do it for you. <3


Nicole June 26, 2014 at 7:18 pm

I LOVE this. I’ve been saying something along those lines. Other people’s opinions don’t pay my bills or buy my clothes…etc. If I’m taking good care of me, it makes it easier to take good care of those I love …just saying


Veronica July 4, 2014 at 2:45 am

Well written, I suppose. But an absolute lie. As someone who has been told IN WRITING by a group of men at my former place of work that I am NOT pretty and am in fact ugly, your words are hollow. Every woman here is lying to herself if she thinks otherwise. They all want to be ALWAYS looked at as “the pretty one”.


Ana July 22, 2014 at 10:45 pm

Yes, but that doesn’t mean THEY HAVE TO.

Also, I bet there would be a lot of men who’d tell you the exact opposite thing: you’re pretty :)


Doris July 21, 2014 at 2:54 am

Hey, Erin, it looks like your quote is now being attributed to Diana Vreeland. I found a meme on Pinterest that attributed your words to Vreeland, and it linked back to this Buzzfeed list:


Erin July 21, 2014 at 4:11 am

Thanks for commenting on that list! Of course, waiting for Buzzfeed to correct something is probably only slightly faster than waiting for Godot … :-)


A Morning Grouch July 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Love this! Being happy and comfortable (and so many other things) are SO MUCH higher on the ladder than “pretty”. Especially as the mama of two girls, I hate all the emphasis on pretty – since it seems like that is often the ONLY emphasis. They are so much more than that.


waterbear July 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm

What a nerve you struck! Nearly 8 years after posting, still getting heartfelt comments! And here I am, back rereading for the many-th time, just to wisdom myself up to face today.


Kylie Cooney August 8, 2014 at 11:33 am

If you’re going to quote Diana Vreeland, then QUOTE her. Dont pop a photo above, sneak in her quote, and not give her credit for it. Because now, lots and lots of websites are quoting YOU, and this was not your genius.
“You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.” -Diana Vreeland


Erin August 8, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Hi Kylie — you may want to read the comments above yours.

This quote is being credited to DV elsewhere on the Internets by people who are somewhat lacking in reading comprehension because I put a big picture of DV up at the top. :-) I am happy to stand behind my own writing.


Andrea August 9, 2014 at 10:44 am

Well, at least Kylie recognises genius.


tricia November 5, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Can I just tell you how much I LOVE this? Thank you for writing it. It is one of my favorite things to reread and to resend my friends. Thought I would let you know that!


Deb November 8, 2014 at 11:36 pm

Found ya by accident today. I adore this article! Late (as usual) to the party/meme, let me tell you fur shure pretty fades. It may not even go quickly – I was mid 40s before one day *proof* I became invisible. Know what else? The prettier you are, & the longer it lasts, the more cutting it is when it fails. Just about killing. Definitely fatal to self-esteem. UNTIL or UNLESS you are cozy comfy already with who you really are. And know you have a great deal to offer to has little/nothing to do with outer pretty. A shame women for so loooong were just something supposed to be good to gaze upon … that pedestal is very high & unsteady.


m February 15, 2015 at 10:12 pm

So…lemme get this straight. I don’t owe anyone pretty, BUT, I do have to meet a stranger’s standards of personal hygiene?


Robin Holland April 10, 2015 at 2:26 pm

You talk today in the New York Times about quotes that have been incorrectly attributed, but not quite plagiarized.
But stealing, in effect, is what you’ve done with this portrait of Diana Vreeland. There is no photo credit for the portrait. Do you know who took it? Did you get permission to use it? And did the photographer say, “Hey, no problem, take my work, no need for compensation and please drop my credit?”? Not knowing who shot an image isn’t any excuse to lift it for your own purposes. It’s called unauthorized usage and often copyright infringement.
And why are women still endlessly obsessed with pretty, not pretty, “different” beauty? To begin to break free of the tyranny of beauty, let’s talk about something, anything else.


Erin April 10, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Hi Robin, you’re right! This post was first put up back in 2006 when people weren’t as careful, but that’s no excuse, especially since I license all my own photos CC-BY for maximum use and sharing.

This photo is by Andy Warhol, part of an iconic set of fashion polaroids he created. I’ve added a credit line.

But I disagree that we should talk about “anything else” than beauty. Until we acknowledge the tremendous beauty pressure women operate under, we will not be able to get out of it.


Robin Holland April 10, 2015 at 2:58 pm

Yes, Warhol, obviously. Credit and a hyperlink are good, permission and (sometimes) a fee are also required. Did his estate give you an ok? Highly unlikely.
It’s great that you license your photos CC-BY. But photographers like to control their work, decide where images show up, get paid, etc. It would be as if I lifted an entire post from your blog and dropped it down into mine, not a reblog, which can be annoying enough, but a total “sharing.”
Maybe I’m über enlightened (unlikely) but I caught on to the beauty industrial complex a long time ago. It’s almost a decade since you wrote your post and if you think women are still as obsessed (and I’m not necessarily disagreeing), we’re going backwards.


Erin April 10, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Thanks Robin — I can see that this has (rightly) touched a nerve with you, and I appreciate your calling attention to it.

It looks as if the Warhol estate is very generous with noncommercial licensing. I’ll drop them a line.

I agree that recognizing the beauty industrial complex is not necessarily a matter of being ‘über-enlightened’ –although perhaps as a very visual person this comes more naturally to you — it’s more that there is SO MUCH in the culture that assumes that the highest goal of any woman is to be decorative that we need to be very vocal in our dissent. Otherwise our voices are drowned out.


Kate Convissor May 18, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Tangential, but still apropos:


Reader October 12, 2015 at 2:52 pm

No, prettiness is not owed, but just as I don’t want to see an old man bare chested with bouncing man-boobs, a gold chain around his neck, and a hairy back, I don’t want to see a woman’s butt crack and cellulite through her translucent leggings.


Erin October 12, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Luckily you can always look away! I recommend keeping pictures of things you find beautiful ready to hand so that you can rest your eyes on them, instead.


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