Is pretty a bad thing? I don’t know. Is handsome a bad thing? Is the color pink bad? Is the color blue?
Pretty like a squash blossom. Did you know that squash blossoms can be male or female? But they’re both showy and big and orange and they poke out of beautiful green leaves on top of a mound of dirt.
Pretty like a betta fish, a duck, a guppy. Did you know that in those species the “pretty” ones are the males and the females are drab and boring?
Pretty like my daughter with her hair up in tangles, strawberry juice running down her face, covered in mud and rambling through the garden commenting in glee about all the bugs that she sees.
Pretty like my oldest son, bent over a book, his long dark lashes swooping away from his deep-sea-blue eyes that are surrounded by a smattering of freckles.
Pretty like your wife laying on the clean white sheets, exhausted and asleep with your newborn son curled up safe in her arms.
Pretty like your husband when he watches your children with fascinated wonder.
Pretty like the elderly woman and her delicately wrinkled hands with surprising speed, knitting something in the sunshine at the assisted living home.
Maybe the problem isn’t with pretty, maybe the problem is with the definition. The idea that pretty is a marketing term used to describe a particular category of humankind. The female sort that is of a certain height, weight and age.
We forget that we describe many things as pretty. Things with no gender. Pretty rainbows and pretty sunshine and beautiful days. Pretty landscapes and beautiful things. Things that make us smile.
The issue isn’t with being told that we are pretty. The issue is that it’s the only thing that we’re expected to be. It’s sometimes the only thing that we are valued for.
I was a pretty child. My favorite color was blue and I was often covered in scrapes and scratches from bike rides and bug hunts and berry picking.
I don’t regret being pretty.
I regret that I was not encouraged to be fascinated with math.
I regret that my father would not teach me how to ride a motorcycle the way he taught my brother.
I regret that my father would not teach me how to fix a bike, throw a ball, repair a car, use a chainsaw.
I regret seeing an older man say “It’s too bad she’s deaf. At least she’s pretty, she’ll have no trouble finding a man.”
I regret every time I have offered to do something that is traditionally a “male” job and have been turned down only to have a man’s offer accepted.
I regret every time I mentioned a fascination with something technical and was told I couldn’t.
And all of the doors that closed in my face.
Pretty? That just means that someone is happy when they look at me. Maybe a perfect stranger might find me pretty in a particular moment. Or maybe my partner will find me pretty. I find him pretty, too.
Pretty isn’t the problem.
The problem is that boys are told that they can’t be pretty and that their favorite color shouldn’t be pink.
And girls are told that they can’t open doors and that they can’t play in the mud.
Pretty isn’t the problem. Pink isn’t the problem. Gender isn’t the problem. It’s the idea that any of these things stand out on their own and encapsulate a complex human being that has their own ideas about who they are.
Yes. My daughter is pretty. She is pretty while she builds with Legos. She is pretty while she examines how her bike is put together. She is pretty while her grandmother paints her toenails the same shade of red that her three year old brother picked for his. She is pretty when I show her how to use garden tools that I know how to use and she is pretty when her dad shows her how to use the tools that he knows how to use.
She sees me open doors for men and she sees me offer to carry packages. She sees me fix computers and she sees her father make dinner. She sees her grandfather cook and load the dishwasher. She sees me sweep the floor. She sees that men and women change diapers and bathe babies and fix things.
She hears me call her pretty. She hears me call her brothers pretty. She hears me talk about the pretty weeds and the pretty butterflies and the pretty bees and I’m pretty sure she understands that “pretty” is just one of many things to be.