In the News: A Call to Resurrect Pretty

I present you meat for meditation:

By Pat Archibald
December 21, 2011

This post is intended as a lament of sorts, a lament for something in the culture that is dying and may never been seen again.

Pretty, pretty is dying.
People will define pretty differently.  For the purposes of this piece, I define pretty as a mutually enriching balanced combination of beauty and projected innocence.
Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence.  I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is.  But some things were different in the back then.  First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue.  And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.
By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact.  That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.
Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different.  When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.
As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend.  Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity.  Its value is temporary and must be used.  It is a consumable.
Nowhere is this pretty deficit more obvious than in our “stars,” the people we elevate as the “ideal.”  The stars of the fifties surely suffered from the same sin as do stars of today.  Stars of the fifties weren’t ideal but they pursued a public ideal different from today.
The merits of hotness over pretty is easy enough to understand, they made an entire musical about it.  Who can forget how pretty Olivia Newton John was at the beginning of Grease.  
Beautiful and innocent.  But her desire to be desired leads her to throw away all that is valuable in herself in the vain hopes of getting the attention of a boy.  In the process, she destroys her innocence and thus destroys the pretty.  What we are left with is hotness.
Hotness is a consumable.  A consumable that consumes as it is consumed but brings no warmth.
Most girls don’t want to be pretty anymore even if they understand what it is.  It is ironic that 40 years of women’s liberation has succeeded only in turning women into a commodity.  Something to be used up and thrown out.
Of course men play a role in this as well, but women should know better and they once did.  Once upon a time you would hear girls talk about kind of women men date and the kind they marry.  You don’t hear things like that anymore.
But here is the real truth.  Most men prefer pretty over hot.  Even back in 6th grade I hated the “hot” Olivia Newton John and felt sorry for her that she had to debase herself in such a way.  Still do.
Our problem is that society doesn’t value innocence anymore, real or imagined.  Nobody aspires to innocence anymore.  Nobody wants to be thought of as innocent, the good girl.  They want to be hot, not pretty.
I still hope that pretty comes back, although I think it not likely any time soon.  For every Taylor Swift, there are a hundred Megan Foxs, or Lindsay Lohans, or Miley Cyruses etc.
Girls, please, bring back the pretty.
And I query, How do we bring pretty back?
Feed me fashionably fresh
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  1. says

    I love this! I work with so many young single women (I’m a pediatric nurse) that long for the benefits of what being pretty and innocent bring you, yet still try to obtain this from being “hot!” Also, “hot” is such a distraction for our men. I went to a very uncomfortable Christmas party this year. I am a female, and if I am having difficulty looking away from so much exposed flesh, I can only imagine how that would make a male feel.

  2. says

    LOVE this! I think we start with ourselves. And then we teach our daughters. It will catch on (I hope!) if we are good examples. It amazes me that even young girls lose the innocence of youth so quickly. They try to emulate the “hot” stars today and just don’t look like girls anymore. I took my 8 yr old to the mall before the school year and could hardly find things for her to wear. It’s sad. Thanks for the post!

  3. says

    I have twin 8-year-old girls and this is something I think about a lot. A few years ago, all of their friends were watching High School Musical, which I loved because of the innocence of it. But, then, I realized that the stars of those movies were going to grow up and (I was pretty sure) lose their innocence in a very publicized way. And I did not want my girls to be affected by the movie stars’ choices.

    So, I started showing my children old movies—they have loved Audrey Hepburn’s Funny Face, Judy Garland’s Summer Stock, and Katherine Hepburn’s Bringing Up Baby, for example. I know that Audrey, Judy, and Katherine all had issues in their personal lives that were not exemplary, but my girls would have to seek out that information–instead of happening upon it on a cover of a magazine in the library or overhearing it in a newscast. Also, these movies have the added bonus of promoting “pretty” instead of “hotness.” That’s where I’ve started with bringing back pretty.

    And, I have my Grammy’s motto hanging in my home: Pretty is as pretty does.

  4. says

    This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read. I shared it on facebook – and I rarely post anything on facebook. I have a lot of friends that have taken their young girls to Hannah Montana and other movies and concerts. I never want my daughter to look up to someone like that. I believe there are too many moms who don’t think about what they are teaching by that kind of example. I know I can’t protect my kids from everything by it’s my responsibility to make sure they know the difference between things like ‘hot’ and ‘pretty’. Boys as well as girls.
    Also- I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your blog. I love the beautiful Tuesdays and the fashion info you share and especially how you teach us to love our bodies in whatever shape or size. Thank you!

  5. says

    Maybe missed the point, but I read this twice to make sure I didn’t misunderstand. While encouraging pretty is preferable to encouraging hot, why do we have to do either? This seems like a false dichotomy to me. Instead of encouraging women to be a Jackie instead of a Marilynn, why don’t we encourage them to be themselves? Instead of pretty, can we inspire them to be powerful? Can we hold up examples of women like Margaret Thatcher, Marie Curie, etc. My problem with your definition of pretty is that it is still male-centric. It is about how men respond to us based on the way that we look. I enjoy fashion and make-up because of how it makes ME feel, not because of the response it creates in men. I believe in innocence, I encourage innocence, I think innocence is attractive, but let us not encourage innocence because of the response it will create in men. To me, being innocent to attract male attention is not much better than being slutty to get the same.

  6. says

    Thanks for posting this! I read this article the other day after it was posted on Facebook and it’s been great to see how many places it’s showing up and being read! Hopefully it causes some people to think and make the changes they need to make. It sure caused me to look over my clothing choices and I’ve never been one to try and dress “hot.” I discovered some things that tho they aren’t immodest they do lean more towards that than to simple beauty.

  7. says

    Thank you for this beautiful post!

    A quote from Margaret Nadald:
    “The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.”

  8. says

    I would say a huge part of the push, to move way up here to Vermont, was to protect my daughter from the hotness of the world. No more magazines, no more inappropriate ‘kids movies’, and no hoop earrings just yet (at seven…) And there was something about scottsdale that was becoming quickly revolting… there is nothing more sad than hotness mixed with flashy.

    So far so good dear Rachel, hope you will visit some day!

    Thanks for sharing, could not agree with you more.

  9. says

    What about fostering individuality? Allowing girls to discover who they are rather than trying to shove them into either the virgin or slut box? It’s through self-exploration and making occasional mistakes that ultimately produces a woman with a strong sense of who she is. And being authentic and self-aware is what will ultimately lead to the respect of a man, not acting or looking a certain way because you think you are supposed to.

  10. Sarah M. says

    You wrote: “I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents.” Quite frankly though, I think you do. Innocence, you further said, “inspires men to protect and defend.” While innocence does encourage men to be chivalrous, it’s because this “innocence” was achieved by giving off the impression of frailty, weakness, and dependence, all of which could be owned by a man. Like hotness, innocence was “a commodity…[and] consumable.” The ideal woman of the 1950s was a “pretty” housewife whose entire life revolved around serving her husband. Everything he said was law, and she loved nothing more than submitting to his law and making sure that his life was as comfortable as possible. Her most scandalous activities were gossiping about the neighbors and Bingo. Working and being a powerful, secure female figure was out of the question. Not much of a life if you ask me. I’m not trying to say that this submissive housewife was always the case—it wasn’t—but it was the ideal. And your lovely little idea of “innocence” was at its heart.
    I once spent the weekend at the home of an elderly couple from my church. They were young adults when women were “pretty” and still practice it today. And you know what, it sucked. At dinner I noticed that the husband never so much as lifted a finger or even asked if he could help. The wife cooked, set the table, and did the dishes all by herself. I don’t know how the rest the housework goes, but I can only assume that it’s very similar. Ironically, even though the husband did nothing to help around the house it was very obvious that he was in charge and that his word was law. The wife just did whatever she was told, including all the work. This same man once told me that, although I’d probably be good at it, I should never be a lawyer. I can’t remember the reason he gave me for why, but I could tell his real reason was because it wasn’t a very “feminine” profession—or innocent.
    I am not advocating “hot” as the ideal. What most women consider to be hot is degrading, but in many ways your “innocence” is just as degrading. You’d be hard pressed to call a professional woman “innocent,” but that doesn’t mean she’s degrading herself. I agree with AP that “powerful,” and I add confident and secure, is what women should ideal to be. Both hotness and innocence are dangerous extremes that lead to women used by men as things that can be controlled and owned.

  11. says

    AP, you said it right. While I agree pretty should outrank hot, the best possible goal should be to be yourself. Outward appearances fade with time and should not be much of a focus in comparison with character.

  12. says

    I really appreciate everyone’s feedback. Just to be absolutely clear, I did not write this article, I just thought it was an interesting read and wanted to share it. It was originally published in the National Catholic Register, by Pat Archibold.

    I love hearing from you all and plan to post from the news sometime again soon.

  13. Anonymous says

    Yep, I also agree with AP (and I know you didn’t write the article – I read it and lots of comments it generated from the original source). I think it’s time to stop telling women/girls that their clothing choices should be based on how men/boys perceive them. Instead, women should be encouraged to dress out of respect for themselves, and more importantly they should understand that their value is not determined by their looks. The article certainly does start an important conversation, though.

  14. says

    This is one of those things where no matter how well it is stated somebody is going to come along and say it wasn’t perfect enough for them. The article is only trying to make one point, not to make every point that could be made. If you are striving for “pretty” over “hot,” that doesn’t mean you think looks are everything or that you aren’t trying to contribute to society in more valuable ways. And I don’t think anyone should dress to impress anyone else; at least that goal is way down the totem pole.

    Being “innocent” doesn’t mean being naive, gullible or submissive. It probably means not becoming hardened and cynical. You can be as wise as a serpent yet harmless as a dove.

    Women can do many different things but like Sister Nadauld said they don’t have to act like men (especially the bad examples of men that are somehow held up as good examples of men) in order to feel valuable.

  15. says

    The author of the article makes the excellent point that “hotness” is a consumable, a commodity, but then fails to acknowledge that “pretty” is, too. Both ideas are stereotypes created by the media. Both are attempts to elicit certain treatment or thoughts from other people rather than a means to satisfy, express, and flatter oneself. The author acknowledges this with discussion of how men treat “pretty” women differently than “hot” ones. If I had a daughter who felt she needed to conform to a stereotype of either sexual availability or one of sexual innocence in order to influence the reactions of those around her, I would worry. I would want her to know that her actions determine how people treat her and think of her, but her looks should please and represent herself.

  16. Anonymous says

    I appreciated reading this article, thanks for posting! And I completely agree with the point of the article.

    The beauty and innocence this article defends must come from the inside, from a heart changed by GOD, a heart passionate for GOD. The purity, innocence, and deep beauty of this relationship between a girl and GOD is what the entire issue comes down to. And THIS purity will define the “prettiness” of her attire. This deep innocence does inevitably attract men, but only because they see in it something more — GOD. And it is not the men’s attraction that dictates this innocence, but a heart that loves and obeys GOD.

    Carrie D.

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