no one is too smart to worry about beauty

A teenage reader named Maggie left a great comment on one of these posts the other day. She was talking about how feeling bad about the way she looks is confusing, because she is growing up in a great environment where people aren’t focusing on appearances. Her attempt to lose weight disgusted her, but then she felt terrible about gaining the weight back. Why? How can those things go together?

Yup. Exactly.

My mom is surprised that I write about this stuff. Why would I? I was always told I was pretty as a kid. But, more importantly, I grew up in a world that wasn’t about looks. It was about learning, and developing a fulfilling skillset, and figuring out what about the world needed fixing, and then trying to help with that. I grew up reading stacks of books and playing in the forest out back and building forts with my brothers and my friends.

So why am I writing about my nose so much?

My mom is confused. I’m confused. I’m embarrassed. Maybe I should concentrate on the stuff that matters.

It’s embarrassing to be the girl who admits to feeling insecure about something that really smart girls shouldn’t be thinking about. If I was smarter, I would have already figured out that this stuff doesn’t really matter. That’s the message. It’s a lot like the message about confidence.

When Deborah Rhode wrote a piece about how damaging high heels can be in the New York Times, she received enraged responses. “This is NOT what we should be talking about!! There are real issues that women face every day! Fashion is not one of them.”

Sometimes when I tell people I write about beauty, I feel like I need a disclaimer. And then I can’t think of one.

So it’s like, “What’s your blog about?”

“Um, like, body image and beauty and…you know…life.”

“Oh. Cool! That sounds…cool.”

“Yeah, thanks. It’s pretty fun.”

“Yeah, I can see how that would be pretty fun.” *PAUSE* “So, like, does anyone pay you to do that or anything?”

I don’t know why I compare myself to other women. I don’t know why I’m affected by the eternal implied Beauty Standard. I don’t know why I look at my face so critically in the mirror and wonder why it isn’t different and fantasize for a second that if it was a little different, everything would be  so much better.  I don’t know why I categorize myself. I don’t know where I’m getting all of the rules.

It feels uncreative to say, “Society. You know, it’s just out there. The media.”

But the thing is– it is just out there. And somehow, gradually and persistently, I’ve picked it up. Like a virus that keeps adding to itself.

It’s in the  face that models always seem to have, even when they have slightly different bodies. It’s in the body type that’s famous. It’s in the constant barrage of weight loss ads and books and articles that I can’t go three steps without running into. It’s in the family photos passed around, where people always point out the “pretty one.” Even when she’s three years old. And the casual way guys approve of girls if they’re hot enough and dismiss them if they aren’t. It’s in the air.

And none of these things are totally consistent.

But they’re all totally real.

A smart girl picks up on it.

It sticks.

I don’t want to have to explain why I think about this. As though, obviously, I shouldn’t. Obviously, women like me should have moved on. We have serious interests. We work hard. We have a life.

But, obviously, how can I not notice?

I just got back from Bear’s business trip. After Miami, we went to London, and then Amsterdam. Every day, he had meetings for most of the day, and I wrote and wandered. It was a little blissful. It was my first time in that part of the world. I’m not well-traveled. Or even close. I felt amazed. I tried not to gawk. I tried not to get hit by a bike. And then another bike, and then another bike. I have this weird phobia about getting hit by a bike that I was forced to overcome, then and there, before I could cross the street.

I was charmed by the different taste of the diet coke, and how the cans were smaller. I was looking for the slight differences everywhere. And everywhere I went, I saw the same images of feminine beauty. The same faces. Sometimes the same models, even, from a Victoria’s Secret campaign. I saw the same body type on the tram stops and billboards. I saw the same thing.

It wasn’t that I expected it to be different.

But a smart girl, any girl, any girl at all can’t help but notice.


* *  *

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in parachute pants. I got some at the H&M in Amsterdam and they were really cheap and shockingly flattering. I’m trying not to wear them all the time, but I don’t know why. I should just wear them all the time.

Announcement: Remember when I wrote about the site My Body Gallery and then Good Morning America almost, almost interviewed me about my post? Well, GMA is still radio silent (I know they’ll come crying back to me one day!), but the awesome woman who runs My Body Gallery recently wrote to me to ask me if I wanted to be a part of a book she’s working on. And I wanted you guys to be a part of it, too. So she sent me this call for participation:

The creator of is looking for women (of all ages) with a compelling story to tell about their feelings or experiences related to body image.  Chosen submissions will be published in a compilation along with a professionally taken photograph of the author of each piece.  The book will be in the same spirit as the website as “an accurate reflection of what real women look like.  All women.”
No more than 300 words in length.
Please include the following with your submission:
1) Name,
2) Age,
3) Contact Information,
4) A current snap shot.

Send submissions to

I thought some of you might want to give it a shot. Since you rock. A lot.  And since you’re all so unusually articulate (I lucked out in the reader department). <3



Kate on October 25th 2011 in beauty, body

26 Responses to “no one is too smart to worry about beauty”

  1. Valerie responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 11:47 am #

    I think you really need to watch this video. It really puts the concept of beauty into perspective:

  2. Kate responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 11:52 am #

    You are only, like, the tenth person to send me that link :-)

    Love her.

    Did you know that I used to do slam poetry? I wish I could’ve seen this then!

  3. grace responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Yes! And imagine being smart and well read and funny and well liked. AND heavy, WITH dark brown skin AND tightly coiled hair and being surrounded everyday of your life by messages that say that beautiful is everything that’s the exact opposite of that. You’re still smart and funny but you still float in all that other sh*t and it leaves behind a stain that’s hard to get out. No matter how smart you are.

  4. melissa responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Sometimes I feel like I’m two different people. One minute I truly don’t care about looks or weight. I mean… pretty soon I’m going to be thirty. And then after that I might one day be sixty. And then after that I might one day be dead in the ground. I feel like I’ve already done the “pretty and thin” thing and now it’s over and I don’t have to care anymore.

    But then we watch a film and one of our friends comments on how thin and gorgeous the main actress is. And when our thinnest friend enters the room on halloween dressed like a tramp, the entire room cheers and congratulates her on her now skeletal looking body. Someone catches me watching an old Roseanne rerun and they show a look of disgust, I assume, because Roseanne is overweight and loud about it. When I shop for clothing, I can’t even fit into an extra large, even though I’m pretty sure I was a medium last year.

    Beauty standards sure as hell ARE out there. We like to blame the media, but the media only shows us what we want to see. If we didn’t want to see young, flawless women then we wouldn’t respond to the marketing so much. A lot of insecurities don’t even come from tv as much as it comes from my own friends, family and even random strangers in the street.

  5. jensketch responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    I agree with you about the body image virus… but what I’m really responding to is the crowd sourcing that the girl who is ‘writing’ a book is trying to achieve.

    Is she paying her writers? Publication in a book isn’t payment. Crowd sourcing to get content for free is really a dastardly intent. I hope she isn’t trying to do that.

  6. Aimée responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Oh, how I relate. Unfortunately, when it comes to feeling good in our bodies, rationality doesn’t do much. Well it sometimes help to be rational, of course, but I’ve been trying to do without when letting myself feel something – as if unlearning what logic I’ve learnt in school was the way. It’s a new challenge, but it helps me not feel guilty for being not as “smart” as I could be. The thing is, rationality didn’t help me quit smoking. It hasn’t helped me quit ED either.
    But I’m sure I can be smart in another instinctive, sensible and sensitive way. And maybe that was included in your definition of “smart”, too.

  7. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    jensketch…i had the same question, and intend to inquire about that, won’t assume dastardly, but just in case :)

    aimee, the smoking thing…i can relate, i’m too smart to be that stupid, so why am i that stupid?

    kate…as always, honest…what else is there?

  8. Maggie responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 2:55 pm #


  9. Kate responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Aw, I didn’t think of contributing to a book for free as offensive! I mean, first of all, I don’t know if it’s actually for free, but if it is, which I’m assuming, it just sounds like a fun thing to be a part of.

    But then, I blog for free every day! Some stuff is just worth sharing anyway.

    (P.S. OK, not totally for free, I have some ads, but I’m not exactly raking in the dough, here)

  10. Kate responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    :-) back. Sorry I put you on the spot there.

  11. San D responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    You should have gone into the National Portrait Gallery in London, or the Rembrandt museum in Amsterdam to see the “real” women in Rubens, Davids and Rembrants. Saskia, Rembrandt’s wife, and the star in a lot of his paintings is rendered lovingly, and most realistically, a woman with a double chin and hips.Those women on billboard adverts are anomalies; a combination of photoshop, angles, light, and DNA. So much to see “out there”, I wouldn’t be concentrating on commercial advertising. Look at the real faces and bodies of the women in the streets, and flower markets and on those bikes that almost hit you.

  12. Kate responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    @San D
    I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive. I love being surrounded with examples of “real” beauty. But it’s not about focusing on commercial advertising. It’s about being bombarded by it constantly. It’s about being unable not to be aware of it.

    Which is not to say that my dream is to resemble a woman on a billboard. But the beauty rules feel sometimes difficult to ignore.

  13. San D responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Ah, now there’s where we differ. I don’t feel bombarded at all. I don’t feel those advertisements are speaking to me (or have ever), or even screaming at me for that matter. I do see them for what they are artistically though, carefully, choreographed graphic design with specific targeted messages that have been manipulated for the best psychological effect. I taught Commercial Art and Design/Graphic Design, and once you realize that it is all about image, type, space, color, psychology, and placement, then the “power” they wield has been rendered useless.

  14. Kate responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    I’m definitely glad for you! And hope I’ll get there one day.

    For now, I continue to be impressionable. But I’m unwilling to be ashamed of it, or feel stupid for it. Being impressionable in this way is often just a part of being human. We’re taught in so many tiny ways that this stuff matters. It’s hard to turn that off.

  15. Marti responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    I know exactly – exactly – what you mean. I am an intelligent, feisty, fun chick who has never been a beauty, raving or otherwise, but my lack of celebrity style beauty has never impinged on the life I wanted to live. But you know what? I have always been aware of my looks or lack thereof, and my weight, and style, and I still am — and I am 68.

    Kate, sweetie, it never goes away, that awareness of society’s ‘standards’ and judgment. It is an act of will to dismiss it from your mind and live your fun life anyway. At some point, you finally look around yourself and see your loving husband, your prosperous, happy life, your great kids if you have kids, your family, whatever creative endeavors you have, and say, “Damn. Is there anything missing from my life because I am not a beauty queen? Or because I am not size Stick?” That’s when you hit the ‘duh’ moment and see you have everything anyway.

    Coming to terms with ourselves is a process. I remember the day I finally said, ‘Get over yourself and get on with it.’ And I did and I did.

    I think you are a beautiful woman. Stop worrying about your nose or butt or whatever body part is currently offending you. You really are attractive. Really. I am way older than you. And not your mother. Therefore, I am in a position to judge.

  16. Adrienne responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    I have been baffled by my dislike of my own physical appearance for years. I was told lots of nice stuff by my parents/family growing up but it somehow didn’t matter. All that sunk in was that none of the boys at school ever liked me like that, and few of the girls liked me at all.

    I’m 36 and college educated, but still have to work really hard to see myself as attractive. No, not attractive. I’ve never managed to get there. I work to see myself as ‘ok looking’ or ‘not hideous’. It’s sad and I know it.

    I’ve made some strides. Last year I started wearing shorts that show my knees, even though I find them particularly unattractive. And three years ago I wore a sleeveless wedding dress because I refused to be yet another fat girl in a stupid wedding dress with chubby chick sleeves down to the elbow.

    So, maybe all any of us can ever hope for is to baby step toward self-acceptance. A little is better than none.

  17. Deanna responded on 25 Oct 2011 at 8:25 pm #

    I’m in Asia right now and don’t have lots of time to write but just want to say love your posts. You and I could be twins…me the older of course.

    I just wanted to add…I need to write about something awful that happened. Email me or let me know if it’s ok. Muchas gracias mi amiga!!

  18. Kate responded on 26 Oct 2011 at 12:22 am #

    I just wanted to let you guys know that the My Body Gallery founder just wrote to me to say that she got some amazing submissions from ETDC readers and they totally made her day.


  19. shevrae responded on 26 Oct 2011 at 12:54 am #

    What screams loudest to me are pictures of myself from 15 years ago. After kids, nothing about my body is like it was. I try to look at myself and think about the 4 incredibly beautiful, wonderful girls I grew and nourished with my body and how it’s completely worth the sacrifice – but boy, is it hard.

  20. andee responded on 26 Oct 2011 at 11:53 am #

    I sent My Body Gallery a little ditty! I’m excited! It felt really good just to write it and I even uncovered some thoughts that I didn’t know existed before. It was a fun exercise.

  21. clickclackgorilla responded on 27 Oct 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Well put, well put. I often ask myself why I still think about crapola like this even though my rational mind is all like “duuh you are SO over this.” But somehow I’m not.

    I wonder if I ever will be. Right now I’m pregnant, and I have to admit that it is the first time since puberty, or whenever I started noticing all this body-image beauty-crap pressure in the air, that I have been totally at one with my body, totally happy with it. Suddenly there has been a clear shift in the air about what people expect me to look like. They expect me to gain weight. They expect me to be round. And suddenly I’m all about tight t-shirts and showing off my belly. It feels great. I just hope I can learn to hold onto this feeling once the baby is out…

  22. Layla responded on 27 Oct 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I’m clever, and I’m educated, and I understand feminist theory and I’ve read the beauty myth and yet… I’m the same. We all are. I think just some of us are aware of it and question it but even though we do these things and ask these questions we can’t help but be affected by something that is everywhere. It’s like osmosis really, even if you don’t actively go out and consume this stuff or agree with it, you end up absorbing some of it anyway.
    Which says a lot about the depressing and shallow state of our society. But I find that just because I know about it and I’m aware, doesn’t stop me comparing myself to others and feeling lacking. Pretty often.

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  24. Priscilla responded on 28 Oct 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    I found your blog earlier today through Already Pretty, and I’m enjoying your thoughtful posts. I recently returned from a trip to Germany and Amsterdam, and I find it interesting that you saw the same faces…I assume you are talking about media images, because one thing I love about being in Europe is how much more–I don’t want to say “real”–but maybe how much less “done” the women look. They seem much more individual to me. Hair is less fussy, they seem to wear less makeup, they have more individual taste in clothes. I particularly noticed this in Amsterdam….and it made me feel such relief. Everyone here seems to be chasing some catalog or reality TV look. And you’re right–it’s like a virus.

  25. Kate responded on 28 Oct 2011 at 4:22 pm #

    Interesting!! I can’t honestly say that I noticed that in Amsterdam, but I wasn’t there for very long.
    I was definitely referring to media images, which looked exactly the same. But if women over there are doing a better job ignoring them, I’m really impressed. Now I want to go back and check :-)

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