I live in Los Angeles. I know pretty.
I happen to believe everyone is just as beautiful in their natural state as they are all dolled up. Sadly, most of society attaches the word “pretty” to the latter.
I was once on a Los Angeles film set where I was playing the chief of police in a dramatic thriller. Right after we started shooting my first scene, the director began whispering behind the camera. Unfortunately, he wasn’t whispering quietly enough.
“She’s too pretty. I don’t believe her as the chief of police. Somebody go fix her,” he said.
Lo and behold, the hair and makeup brigade descended on me while the rest of the cast pulled out their phones. My hair went up into a twist, I was given a darker blazer, my makeup was altered, and we eventually carried on with the shoot.
In no way did I take what I heard the director say as a compliment.
What I heard was, I don’t believe her.
This singular statement has stuck with me for years and years. They don’t believe me if I’m too pretty. And if I have the choice between being believed and being pretty, I will always choose the former. So, I decided from that moment on to alter my appearance accordingly whenever I went out in Los Angeles.
Since then, I dab on ‘pretty’ like a poignant perfume based on how much I need to be respected in the situation at hand. I fully recognize that this may sound crazy, but this is my experience. Too pretty, in some of the minimally evolved minds of the world, means…not too smart. And I play to the lowest common denominator.
One of my readers commented on my profile photo and compared it to the photo on my About Me story. This reader was respectful but said that I was prettier with my hair down. I recognize that this is the conventional opinion.
For most people in Los Angeles, the perceived beauty of the countenance of people who identify as female is enhanced by a usually artificially-colored biomaterial. The longer that biomaterial (hair), the prettier.
What this reader didn’t know was that I chose my profile photo because I knew it was not very pretty. I chose it because I wanted readers to take me seriously.
This is not an assumption I make lightly. This is a theory I have proven time and time again in the board room, in interviews, and in life. People assume that if you’re coiffed, you’re not smart. And, unfortunately, in my experience, this largely only applies to women.
Here are the things I have done over the years in Los Angeles to attempt to be respected for my insight, wisdom, and problem-solving skills:
- Purchased and worn glasses with fake lenses (my eyesight is 20/20)
- Changed my hair color from blonde to black
- Shifted my wardrobe from A-line dresses to pantsuits
- Attempted to speak in a lower voice
- Rationed smiling at others
- Cut out all eyeliners and red lipsticks
- Paused on the botox at the corners of my eyes (crows’ feet imply a history of deep thought)
- Eliminated all ruffles (unless they were at the top of turtlenecks — nobody messes with the Elizabethan era)
Were all of these things slightly silly? Sure, probably. Did people still talk over me and discount my insights in meetings? Yes.
Did they do it slightly less if I didn’t look like a wannabe Reese Witherspoon in a perfume ad? Sadly, yes.
Listen, I’m no supermodel. I’m a normal-looking middle-aged very sensitive empath who just wants to be heard and seen for who I am. And I want to be able to wear dresses and ruffles and lipstick and giggle and dance. Because it makes me happy when I do those things.
Does “pretty” really equate to lower IQ?
Attractive people in Los Angeles might not actually be more vapid than their less attractive counterparts, but according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Cambridge, other people might perceive them to be.
In this study, researchers asked a group of volunteers to identify who they would like to hear science news from out of a group of photos of different people’s faces. While study participants wanted to hear more about science news from more attractive people, they “were also more likely to say that scientists deemed unattractive were “good scientists” who conducted important research.”
However, this research is contrary to another study which stated that, on average, more attractive children in the United Kingdom are more intelligent by a margin of 12.4 IQ points.
However, these studies don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. Attractive people could potentially be more intelligent (most likely due to nurture rather than nature), but the perception of them (particularly women) could be of a lower intelligence than belies their good-looking faces. In short, pretty people aren’t dumber (they might even be a little smarter), but the perception of their intelligence is a different story.
How do we make a change in Los Angeles?
Acknowledging the presence of our societal biases is a good first step toward eliminating the judgment of intellegence based on appearance.
While you might not be someone who thinks they make assumptions based on another person’s looks (and you might not be), you should be aware that these perceptions exist. You should also be cognizant of the fact that these perceptions likely have an effect on (yours and other people’s) everyday interactions.
At this point, unfortunately, many people still believe less attractive people in Los Angeles to be smarter and more attractive people to be less intelligent. What can you do to try to alter this stereotype? Here are a few things to ask yourself:
- Are you judging a book by its cover when meeting a new person? Check in with your thoughts — have you made any assumptions that are unfounded?
- Are you making any decisions (staffing, casting, friendships, etc.) based on how you think others will perceive the appearance of your choices?
- Are you judging yourself based on what you believe others assume of you and your appearance?
- What, exactly, is beauty, anyway? Have your perceptions of attractiveness been influenced by society or your upbringing? If so, how can you work to break free of those influences?
Any change that can be made in our society’s perceptions of people’s appearances begin with a long hard look at ourselves and the way we see and relate to the world.
What I plan to do to make a change:
My plan is to infiltrate these erroneous assumptions from the inside out. I wear the fake glasses, I put up the no-nonsense profile photo. I put the frilly dresses in the back of my closet and I meticulously ration my “pretty.” I meet people where they are.
And then, little by little, as people learn that I am not just another dumb blonde, I siphon back in the lipstick, I add a genuine smile here and there, and I will even sometimes dare to wear a hint of light pink outside my home.
I will begin to bring to light the underlying issues behind these debilitating beliefs. Day by day, I will provide evidence to refute the erroneous connection between a proudly and majestically displayed pair of tits and a mindless and idealess mound of flesh.
I will change minds and hearts and limiting beliefs, shouting from the rooftops, until no person has to snuff out their candle in favor of being believed. Ever again.
Then, and only then, will I unleash the fury of my zebra print, my blonde ringlets, and my hot pink pumps. I will sport them and I will flaunt them next to my Pulitzer and my I-told-you-so MAC-covered face with fresh filler and lash extensions.
I will be my version of pretty. And I will be taken seriously.
I encourage you all to take a little time to check in and see if you have made any kind of assumption of intelligence based on the outward appearance of another person, either positive or negative. And finally, I encourage you to take everyone seriously — because the contents of the book are always much more complex than its cove.