Hot potential.

I recently read an essay on the merits of being ugly. The author describes the relief she felt upon accepting that beauty was not her lot. After freeing herself from the arbitrary standard of “pretty,” she felt more confident than ever.

You know what I felt? Jealousy.

I’m not going to mince words here: I know that I’m attractive. I don’t think I’m a beauty queen or anything, but I see how people react to the way I look, and I use it to my advantage. I don’t walk around with a paper bag over my head. My mind may be the main event, but I’m not above backing it up with my face.

For me, the question was never pretty. It was pretty enough—as pretty as I could be if I did X, Y and Z. In the same way I know that I have clear skin and straight teeth and high cheekbones, I know that I have thick thighs and a somewhat graceless nose. My features are classic but not textbook. I clean up good, but I clean up, if you catch my drift. I’m pretty enough that my strong personality takes people by surprise, but not pretty enough to make a living off of my looks.

If you are naturally pretty, there is a societal expectation that you will cultivate that gift. My grandmother used to call me “the pretty one,” and it always made me mad—not because it marginalized my intellect, but because it meant I had to care. Sure, I wanted to be pretty, but I wanted it to be incidental and irrelevant. Calling me “the pretty one” set me up to fail at, well, being pretty. It gave my appearance more clout than it deserved.

Like many women, I hung my self-worth on my weight for many years. That value judgment stemmed from a discrepancy between my actual appearance and my “hot potential”—an idealized, self-invented portrait of what I could look like if I weren’t so hungry/lazy/weak-willed. Falling short of my “hot potential” seemed like a grave personal failure. After all, why be pretty when you can be The Prettiest? I’ve never been one to do things halfway. My belief in my natural attractiveness led me to feel more insecure, not less.

Defeating the tyranny of the “hot potential” boils down to economics. The effort required to maintain my appearance has diminishing marginal returns. For the sake of my point, let’s assign me a set point of attractiveness—let’s say I’m a seven at 0% effort. If 100% effort – when I’m doing everything perfectly and spending tons of time and effort on my appearance – still only puts me at eight and a half, surely there’s a point at which that effort begins to constitute dead weight loss. Maybe I can put in 50% effort, get myself to eight, and call it a day.

I’m not lamenting the “burden” of being pretty. The only arena in which I’ve found it to be limiting is my mind, which we all know is a bit of a circus anyway. So I’m telling it to STFU. Instead of getting hung up on the fact that I’m only pretty pretty, I increasingly strive to be grateful for my skin and my teeth and my cheekbones, and appreciate that my thighs and my nose keep me humble. Ish.

Do you compare yourself to yourself?


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