What if you had to chose between being smart or pretty?
Which would you pick?
If you could be the purest form of one, which do you think would be more valued by our society?
I ask because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few years now. Of course, it’s possible to be both – we are all dynamic, evolving, and women can be many things – but in the context of how others see us, I never felt it was actually possible to be both at the same time. And as time has gone by, I only think it has become harder and harder to pull these two ideals closer together.
I remember two moments that distinctly highlighted this feeling for me. The first was when I told a high school teacher that I had decided to study theater in college. She was aghast, and said to me, quite sincerely, “it’s a waste of your brain.” The second was when I visited my Kindergarten teacher years later as an adult owning a small business. When I shared that I was running a greeting card company, she said, “why don’t you become a model?” I’ve been both perplexed and super curious about these two reactions because they are so different and polarizing. As if you can’t be a smart actress, or a pretty small business owner? The first teacher did not care about looks; she wanted me to reach my academic potential. The latter might have had a better clue about our culture’s obsession with beauty and the advantages that go along with participating.
Being pretty, in America today is highly valued. Take one glance at Pinterest, and it will give you all the information you need to agree with me. Beauty, slenderness, and youth is the focus of most photos from the site. Combined with the abundance of Kardashians, superficial Instagram accounts, selfies, and the general over importance placed on looks, I’ve felt like being pretty today pays off more than ever. (And can you even be smart on Instagram? Tell me if you’ve figured that one out!) Between the thigh-gaps and the supermodels, teenage girls and celebrity spawn, the overwhelming preference of beauty over substance has become too much to process. Frankly, I’m confounded that the obsession with looks hasn’t blown over. Instead, it seems like a monstrous alien that gets bigger and more ferocious by the day.
I’m the child of two science-oriented parents (my father is a physics professor), and I have always considered myself on the smart side of these two options. I did math workbooks as a kid, played the piano, and excelled at school. Less time was spent learning how to do my hair, and more time was spent on talking about what university I would attend. But as I’ve discovered how the world works, I know that people actually do care about how you look, and in some cases, it supersedes everything else about you.
I don’t hide that I love beautiful things. When I see a dilapidated building, my heart’s desire is to restore it to its former glory. When I go out to photograph landscapes, I try to find the most beautiful way to showcase the location, revealing satisfying patterns or lines. It’s inherent in me, but so is trying to find the substance, using my brains, and continuing to learn. It’s a balance I try to share through this blog – the “bright” meaning smart, but also colorful, dynamic, and full of light.
I will wear makeup and watch Jeopardy every day. I will read classic literature but have a soft spot for romance novels. I will do KenKen’s while online shopping. And I will always try to be both smart and pretty, despite often feeling like it’s impossible to balance both.
How do you balance beauty and substance? Is this something that you’ve thought about too? Share with me in the comments below!