It’s Not Your Job

13 Jun

by Julia Hubbell 

when your little girl
asks you if she’s pretty
your heart will drop like a wineglass
on the hardwood floor
part of you will want to say
of course you are, don’t ever question it
and the other part
the part that is clawing at

you

will want to grab her by her shoulders

look straight into the wells of
her eyes until they echo back to you
and say
you do not have to be if you don’t want to
it is not your job
both with feel right
one will feel better
she will only understand the first
when she wants to cut her hair off
or wear her brother’s clothes
you will feel the words in your
mouth like marbles
you do not have to be pretty if you don’t want to
it is not your job

“it’s not your job”

Caitlyn Siehl

This poem slapped me in the face like I hadn’t been in a while.

You don’t have to be pretty if you don’t want to. It’s not your job.

Damn.

So many of our efforts—or my efforts, at least—are geared toward bringing marginalized groups into the mainstream. It feels like inclusive and important work. “Let’s expand the definition of “pretty” so that it includes all skin colors, all expressions of gender, all hair styles and piercings,” we say. “Let’s embrace everyone in our notion of pretty, and that will make everything better.”

It’s a nice try, but it’s wrong. It’s still saying that there is a “right” way to be, and it is to be pretty. It’s progress from the 18th century, when there was also a right way to be pretty, but in the fundamentals we’re not saying anything different.

You don’t have to be pretty if you don’t want to. It’s not your job.

The poem is right—I want to tell my daughter she is beautiful. I want her to know that with every fiber of my being I believe she is the most beautiful creature on the planet. How can you not want that, when every day she is barraged with advertisements telling her she’s not good enough? Who could resist the impulse to counteract the pressure that she fights through every time she opens a magazine or checks Buzzfeed?

But I also want more that. I want her to know she doesn’t have to be pretty, because it’s not her job. I can tell her she is as beautiful as the models in the magazine. That’s one way to handle it. Or I can tell her that the models in the magazine don’t matter. It’s the difference between saying, “Don’t worry about the models—you’re already like them!” and “Don’t worry about the models. You don’t have to be them.”

This poem also evokes for me the fat liberation movement (which, forgive me, I only discovered recently. I’m still learning). It can do this right or wrong. It can champion the idea that fat is pretty. It can force society to confront our still-narrow definition of beauty and widen it that bit more. It’s not a bad fight. But the broader fight, the one that will have a lasting impact, is if we reject the idea that anyone has to be pretty to be accepted. The movement has the opportunity to stop clamoring for acceptance into what’s already there, and help create a new space where people are truly liberated.

We don’t need to tell people they are pretty—it suggests that being pretty has value.

I’m going to try and stop complimenting people on their “prettiness.” People can be wonderful, amazing, incredible, breathtaking, passionate, wild, crazy hot messes. Who gives a damn if they look “pretty” to you? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I can’t wait until the day my daughter finally understands what I’ve been trying to say her whole life in broken words and muddled sentences.

You do not have to be pretty if you don’t want to. It is not your job.

7 Responses to “It’s Not Your Job”

  1. muggleinconverse June 13, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    I have tears in my eyes. I never can seem to find the right words to tell my six-year old this. What are the right words? I will certainly try harder to find them.

    • CoolOne June 13, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      I told my kids, you always look beautiful to me, even when you are covered in mud!

      They quickly learned that physical beauty wasn’t important to me, and that I’ll always be biased when it comes to them.

  2. muggleinconverse June 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Reblogged this on Musings of a Muggle in Converse and commented:
    This poem and the post that followed brought tears to my eyes. It has shifted my perspective.

  3. anglophiletoad June 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    It is difficult to appreciate beauty in a society that has misdefined it so drastically. I find more beauty in the workings of a person’s mind or heart than in any face or body I have ever seen, and if I don’t see beauty in either of those places–if I’m not challenged by and in that encounter, which is part of what makes them beautiful–then I have a very hard time seeing beauty in any other part of his or her being.

    Good looks in the absence of good-ness is water in the absence of a vessel. Eventually it seeps away and you’re left with nothing but thirst, and nothing with which to quench it…

  4. Flo me la June 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    “The movement has the opportunity to stop clamoring for acceptance into what’s already there, and help create a new space where people are truly liberated.” Perhaps not tell people in the fat liberation movement what they ought to do? I dunno. I’m a white woman in the process of learning how to not push my own opinions on the oppression of WOC and how to fight against it on people, so my antennas are up and I might be a bit sensitive. But it’s a thought I had.

    But great post! And I do agree it’s a good idea to teach girls they don’t have to be pretty.
    Its just the “It would be better if they did it this way instead” part I’m wondering about.

  5. gemgemgoesglobal June 14, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    being “pretty” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s something that makes you feel good and that is a state that applies to your opinion, no one elses. i hate this idea of self improvement too, i totally agree, it’s like nothing is ever enough – you get one product that will supposedly make you look “the best”, then there are 100 more as soon as you blink, all forcing you into thinking nothing you do is ever “enough”.can’t we just be satisfied that this is the way we are and that is all there is too it? great post, love the poem🙂

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