You Don’t Have to be Pretty

I was at a party the other day, and I found myself staring at the ice in my drink. It’s weird, but at parties I get strangely thoughtful. I watch the people around me, I look at my friends, and I wonder if they’re truly having fun or if they’re just playing a part. It seems to me, as a girl, that we’re expected to have fun at these events no matter what. It’s cool for a guy to chill on the side, but girls need to be out there dancing.

So, I think about my friends and I wonder if they’re free or if they’re conforming to expectations of how they should behave. Then, you have to think the same thing when you’re walking around during the day, and you see women going to work or running errands. They seem to live by all of these unspoken, invisible rules. We inhabit a world designed to keep us in check.

Women get trained into thinking in a certain way, and the worst part is that we act as enforcers ourselves. We criticise and shame other girls as a normal part of our social behaviour. I’ve never been upheld as the epitome of what a girl should be.

I never cared if my hair got wet and I don’t particularly like make-up or jewellery. I was wild in a way; I liked my hair messy and could never be bothered to wear shoes in the yard. But mostly, I think I shunned these things because of the expectations behind them. I like to be in control. I want to be free, absolutely free. Attachments and conformity, they seem like shackles, but my desire to escape them has created its own unique cage. I don’t know how to live in a world like this. I feel a strange mixture of resentment and gratitude when I’m told I’m pretty or clever. On the one hand, it’s nice to be flattered, but on the next, I feel this pressure to always meet the expectations of this prettiness, or intelligence. What if they suddenly believe themselves mistaken and I disappoint them? It’s a bother I don’t want. This isn’t freedom either.

Perhaps, absolute freedom, true agency, the type that I crave is merely an illusion. If that is the case, I wonder about how I can gain more power as a woman. I was thinking that it should start with rejecting gendered tasks around the household. Why should a girl’s inheritance be to sweep and cater to a man? Why are adventure and outspokenness unfeminine? Then, I think, women just need to be encouraged to have a voice, to think for themselves and question things. You have to be taught that you’re more than just this physical thing. You have a mind and a spirit, and a universe and life to experience. You don’t have to be pretty, fun, or smart, although it seems easier if you can be all those things.

Ariel French is a translator and aspiring novelist. She’s a slightly awkward, coffee drinking, travel loving, global citizen with an interest in human rights and languages.  You can find more of Ariel’s writing at

Do you feel boxed-in by unspoken, invisible rules about what a woman or girl should be like? Tell us about it.