When I was a teenager, my mother had a mantra. Every time she found me obsessing over what I looked like while standing in the middle of my room surrounded by 14 different discarded outfits (which was, admittedly, rather often), she’d say, “Pretty is as pretty does.”
I did then what every other self-respecting teenage girl in America would do. I waited until she left the room, exhaled heavily, rolled my eyes, and then put on more blue eyeliner as I changed my outfit another 14 times. Honestly, I felt everyone who believed that “true beauty came from within” nonsense had obviously never seen an issue of Cosmopolitan or the Victoria’s Secret catalog. If they had, they’d understand what my 14-year-old self knew to be true: Being pretty on the outside is important.
I believed this, because like all other women, I was bombarded with what society deemed beautiful from an early age. Girls soak in all things aesthetic nearly from birth. When we were very small, we learned beauty from our mother’s regimen at her illuminated magnifying mirror, watching intently as she put on mascara with a slightly open mouth.
In our teens, we looked to the glossy magazines at the checkout stand, staring as the thin-thighed, airbrushed supermodels smiled back at us with perfect teeth. Now it’s the Almighty Pinterest, bookmarker of all things deserving our beauty attention, or any one of a thousand beauty and fashion blogs touting the brand or product we need to be beautiful this week.
My goal way back then, what I wanted more than anything in the world, was to be a pretty girl. I certainly didn’t want to be unique, or even worse, weird. I wanted to look like the girls on the magazine covers: tall, blond, and tan, with a perfect smile. I certainly didn’t let the fact that I was a 5-foot-2-inch, freckled, Irish-German redhead (who was on the chubby side of normal) deter me.
And because society said it must be so, I ignored my mother’s sage words of wisdom and sought out every beauty product imaginable. In my twenties, I sweated buckets to the Jane Fonda Workout, with the mistaken belief that my thighs would look like Jane’s if I’d only put in enough hours.
Let me tell you this: No matter how many times you do that routine, it doesn’t actually make your legs longer. When aerobics didn’t work, I purchased Suzanne Somer’s ThighM aster. (I can only tell you that it doesn’t work if you never take it out of the box.) I spent what can only amount to thousands of hours of my time, standing disappointedly in ill-lit dressing rooms, trying to find that most elusive of creatures: the perfect pair of jeans.
Let me put you out of your misery and save you some time, girls – they do not exist. I bought hundreds of tubes of mascara, each with the promise to lengthen my lashes and make them fuller. There was polish to strengthen and lengthen my nails. I tried every shampoo and conditioner known to man, and even a few that might have been experimental.
There was the self-tanner to make me brown, foundations to even my skin tone and perfumes to make me smell pretty. As I rolled into my thirties, the number of products I was willing to try didn’t really lessen. I gathered anti-cellulite creams, shadows with dozens of tutorials for how to achieve the “smoky eye,” and quite a few of the ultimate in purchased beauty makeovers, that miracle of all miracles: Spanx.
The end of my thirties are rapidly approaching, and as I near the age of that F-Word-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I find that my mother’s advice 25 years ago was most certainly right. (By the way, that sound you hear? That’s the sound of my mother’s smugness from wherever she is. Don’t worry. It’ll fade soon, perhaps in the next few decades.)
Mom’s “I told you so” face aside, she really was right. Pretty is as pretty does. As I grow older, I’m still interested in beauty products. I still exercise, I wear makeup and high heels, and God knows I swath myself in Lycra undergarments at every possible opportunity. But I find that the people whose company I choose are really beautiful on the inside; they’re kind, genuine people who are interested in the world around them, not only in themselves and what they look like.
The truth, girls (and what I’d tell my daughter, if I had one), is this: What we do to the outer shells of our bodies only accentuates the prettiness of our souls. Being one of a hundred girls who all look the same isn’t as appealing as I thought it once was. In fact, nothing feels as good as being comfortable in your own skin, being content with who you are. There are enough girls in the world with homogenized beauty and spray tans.
Today, I feel that if you celebrate who you are on the inside, the beauty from your own unique individuality will shine through. I like being special. I enjoy not looking like everyone else. I embrace my curves, and I’ve found that it’s OK to be weird, to have your own sense of style and even to add a dash of the whimsical.
I try to live that piece of advice Mom gave me all those years ago: “Pretty is as pretty does.” What you’re like on the inside… that’s really all that matters.
Unless, of course, you’ve discovered the perfect pair of jeans. Then we’ll need to talk.
by Carrie Huckabay
Carrie Leigh Huckabay Carrie is an actress, teacher, writer and lover of blueberries who resides in Amarillo with her husband and two sons. She can be found online at carrie_leigh.livejournal.com.