The Pretty One

Growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s meant our generation was still subjected to many of the outdated notions of child-rearing by the well meaning but misinformed adults around us. I vividly remember being told by adults when meeting me and my sister, “Oh, how nice, a smart one and a pretty one!” I remember my mother coming to neither one of our defenses. And what should she have said? “Don’t label my children,” or “No, she’s actually the pretty one and she’s the smart one?” What the F@%#?

As I reflect on those self-esteem killing days, I think my sister was certainly happy about the moniker, but why was it better than being the smart one? I was happy to be smart, but part of me really wanted to be the other. Did my sister secretly hope to be the smart one? What was it about pretty that was so special and elusive? I remember asking my mother if perhaps they weren’t mistaken and I was pretty, too. Her standard answer of “pretty is as pretty does” only fueled my confusion, though I think she was just echoing her generation’s fear of creating a conceited brat. Or maybe her own mixed-up voodoo told her that if a stranger or relation said it, it was okay, but if it came from a parent not so much. Anything that even whiffed of boasting was bad, or worse, “fishing for a compliment.”

I have fulfilled my smart destiny, starting with a gifted IQ to graduating from my Master’s program with an A grade. What would be different had I been called the pretty one? Would I be dumber? Happier? Prettier? That’s what I’m still trying to understand. Did I instead grow up the envious one, or did my sister?

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