Pretty Versus Smart: Can’t a Woman Be Both?


If you are a woman, you are generally first judged by your looks. And in other news, kittens are cute, babies are cuddly, and the sun sets in the west no matter how many cocktails you had at happy hour. Are we standing on our box of sarcasm right now, decorated with smiley Justin Bieber decals? Okay, yes. But it’s hard not to get a little sarcastic when reading headlines like “Hillary Clinton: Hot or Not?” or “Senator Kristen Gillibrand called the hottest member of Congress” – by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, no less.

To be plain and simple, a woman’s looks and sexuality inevitably factor into her professional life. (Also see Elena Kagan, Condoleezza Rice, and Sonia Sotomayor, whose sexual preferences have been picked apart by the media.)

Women are empowered like never before, and we have all our feminist foremothers to thank for it. You know, like Margaret Sanger, who pioneered the modern birth control movement. As one columnist noted of Miss Sanger in 1934, “I expected to meet a pugnacious, assertive, positive type of woman – loud, big-boned, and large. What a surprise and pleasure to find a diminutive soft-cornered gentle looking woman… How could such a tiny figure be such a powerful leader among womankind?” Wait a minute – Margaret Sanger was CUTE?

Gloria Steinem in 1972. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Then there’s Gloria Steinem, one of the founders of the modern feminist movement. But she was also passed as a Playboy bunny in 1963 while undercover as a journalist. Which means that she, (hide your daughters,) is also smart and conventionally pretty.

Yes, we make instant assumptions about each other. But it often seems for women that being pretty and being smart are two mutually exclusive categories. Further, some might suggest that it’s an unspoken rule that “hot women” should just be grateful for the attention that they’re getting. After all, beautiful people have it easier in the world.

But do they? Beauty fades – and people freak out. The price of a woman relying on her looks to get her through life has lead to a billion-dollar cosmetic industry. And a lot of disturbing practices. Teenagers, as in 16 year olds, are turning to Botox in an effort to stave off aging. Women of a certain age are plumping their lips and faces to the point deformity. Ever heard of the “bucket of Botox” syndrome? Meet the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Supermodel Paulina Porizkova once wrote, “Attempts at discussing history, art or literature – subjects I had diligently studied – seemed to elicit the same reaction a toddler gets when he announces that he wants to be an astronaut or a fireman: a pat on the head and a smile. By merely mentioning that I was a model, I could practically watch my IQ plummet in someone’s eyes.”

Ultimately, some might call bitterina on Paulina – poor rich supermodel, why should we feel sorry for her? She willingly sold herself for fashion. But in the end, who better than a supermodel, the so-called epitome of all pretty, to illustrate the chasm between mind and matter? And if acknowledgement is the first step in recovery – let’s recognize the “smart v. pretty” chasm and put in some Everest-style action in summiting the bridge between “Isn’t she lovely?” and “Isn’t she smart?”

Image: quinnanya

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.