On Feeling Pretty

There are certain states, certain complex, or elaborate, sensual and emotional experiences, that consistently elude description. It is as if these experiences, no matter how significant, are destined from their inception to remain feelings—to stay tucked beneath the veil of consciousness, with certain qualities rising, occasionally, to the surface where they spark a vague sense of recognition and impact. Within myself, I have observed that the most difficult internal states to articulate clearly are those I associate with my femininity—the finely-tuned, richly nuanced erotic capacities that allow me to feel like a woman, to feel sexy, and to experience myriad others associated states, including feeling pretty.

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I’ve, naturally, thought quite a bit about what it means to feel pretty, an exercise that’s posed quite a challenge to my introspective abilities. (I mean, is this actually a bonafide state? I think it is.) Those of us who can identify with this feeling know the term as an accurate descriptor when we hear it, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard another woman analyze that feeling within herself. So, that’s what I’m about to do here—however imperfectly. I anticipate that some of you may be expecting a lengthy discussion of the lighthearted rituals we generally associate with feeling pretty: makeovers, shopping, mani-pedis, facials, etc. That’s not what this post is about. I am also keenly aware that a number of potential readers probably bypassed this post because the title, to them, sounds shallow, frivolous, juvenile, or even stupid. If I do it right, it will be none of those things.

I hope instead to articulate some components of an intricate, well-orchestrated sensual and emotional experience that I see as being fundamental to my self-esteem, the health of my relationships, the expression of my sexuality, and my overall sense of well-being. Feeling pretty. Of course, I know that not all women identify with this feeling as intensely as others (if, at all, for that matter). But for those of us who do and who recognize the capacity to feel pretty as important to us, it occurs to me that there may be no better way to dignify this kind of experience than to understand it well enough to personalize it and describe it for ourselves.

Here are some thoughts on feeling pretty:

image of lady in white-veil hat

Pretty is electric.

To feel pretty is to feel softly sexy. It is an all-over sensation of luxury. To be nestled sweetly into one’s own skin. To feel pretty is to feel coquettish. Playfully flirtatious, graceful, and delicate. Pretty is a feeling induced by engaging in rituals that involve pampering, a bit of play, and igniting the tenderest components of one’s sexuality. Pretty is the sensual and emotional experience of being cherished—whether that feeling is brought about by doting on oneself or the affectionate displays of another. It is a shimmering, sultry kind of energy that emanates from each and every pore. Pretty feels ethereal. It is subtly and pervasively sexy. Pretty is the equivalent of a long, slow blink.

Pretty is a radiant acceptance of one’s appeal.

There is a sublimity to feeling pretty. I think of it not simply as feeling “put together” (pristinely) from head to toe, but also as a state in which my external appearance matches one of the most charming and venerable internal states of which I seem to be capable.

There is a majesty to it. A kind of serenity that makes me feel like I am aligned within myself—comfortable and quietly assured of my own abilities, poise, and charm. To feel pretty is to feel confident, radiant, and entirely in sync with one’s own feminine urgings and desires. It is to experience the allure of one’s own appeal. To feel elevated. To feel resplendent. As if one is altogether as one should be.

lady and nail polish

It a form of self-repair.

I know when I need to feel pretty. Whenever I go too long without dressing up (read: wearing a dress or skirt and heels), doing my hair or makeup fully, or attending to the finer points of my appearance, I begin to feel as though I need to feel pretty. And those are the exact words I use communicate that desire. I don’t just mean that I need to refine my look or enhance a few neglected items. I am indicating that I need to experience a state of being sweetly, softly, indulgently feminine. I need to pay homage to the goddess of beauty. I need to be playfully and frivolously girly. Why? Because it brings me back to center. It rejuvenates me. It makes me feel more like myself.

Feeling pretty also has an incredibly positive impact on my relationships. Quite simply, when I feel pretty, I feel better about myself. I’m a little nicer, a little more open, and a little more forgiving. I treat myself with a greater degree of sensitivity. And I treat others similarly. Feeling pretty doesn’t provide me with a false sense of self-worth. Its function isn’t that shallow. I, rather, think of it as a deepening of my relationship with myself, as revealing to me that which exists just beneath the surface of my perception.

39 responses to “On Feeling Pretty”

  1. Beauty has many forms it’s a dialogue with everyone. Like art maybe. Geishas could stop a man with one look. To be, balanced equally with inner and outer expression is perceived as a contrast of beauty.

    What if it was not? What you describe here is more Coco Chanel than Kardashian.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree that beauty can be a kind of dialogue, which is part of the reason I wrote this post. It’s the internal experience that intrigues me most. It’s so individualized, so personal, and it can be very difficult to put into words. That was an incredibly astute observation you made about my thoughts being more “Coco Chanel” than “Kardashian.” I actually just ordered a biography of Chanel. I’m very interested in her thinking.

      Liked by 3 people

      • The inner dialogue. Yes. Every flower blooms differently some only identify the object not the “isness” of it.

        I read one book of hers. Took notes but was impressed by Chanel’s drive towards timeless beauty over trends.

        I went on a date once, in 2013? Yeah. She runs a hospital, two PhD’s. Way out of my league. I show up and everything about her screams at me to sleep with her. I take a deep breath and just, try to enjoy my coffee. Be a gentleman. She gets drunk later and texts me about, well, why didn’t I?
        Maybe beauty is meant to be consumed by few and just enjoyed by others. For a man, it’s hard to know which is which.

        Liked by 4 people

      • I’m excited to learn more about her life, and it is precisely her love of a classic beauty over trends that intrigues me most. It’s both a statement on fashion and a vision of womanhood that I would like to learn more about. As for your date with the Ph.D.s…Women can’t expect men to be mind readers (even when we are convinced that you “should just know” certain things). It’s not fair. If she really wanted to be with you, she should have let you know at the time, not afterward. I don’t envy the position that men find themselves in these days. I think it’s becoming quite difficult.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Matt Ridley wrote an excellent book recently he had a blurb about beauty and evolution. Clubs, nightclubs and music festivals have been going on since civilization only about 10-15,000 years. He refers to them as mating arenas. Beauty, is a kind of currency there.

        Beauty has always been linked to reproduction we still do that with our current culture of celebrity. The public’s mimicry of that celebrity. Whoever is cleverer at the time. I do like beauty as artful. I think every artist intends to put something out there with intention to add to the public consciousness.

        My good friend is a designer for this hipster place called Current/Elliot and some department stores. Willem Georges. I think he’s on linked in if you want to “talk shop.” Or something.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Beauty is definitely currency. When you look at celebrity worship and mimicry, it’s very easy to see that fads are often a lot more tawdry and uninspired than they are artful. Thanks for the tip on looking up your friend.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I gave up on dating since 2013. I never saw that lady again. So, that beauty currency is pretty foreign to me. I wasn’t super popular with the ladies. Its the fishbowl thing, I think it comes from my own culture, being Native first. I knew what I thought was beautiful. Who I thought was beautiful never really noticed me. Reminds me of Echo and Narcissus. Beautiful tragedy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So well said, as usual.

    As I wrote my “Dear Ladies” rant the other day, I was a little worried that you might think it was a general slam against women, but this post gives me a chance to correct that, if needed. I wasn’t talking about real femininity, but rather, the weaponized, commercialized narcissism that traps too many in false pursuits. I prefer your self-definitions and am grateful. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! 😊 I didn’t take offense to anything you said in “Dear Ladies.” I think your criticisms were valid. For me, the act of defining/verbalizing who I am and who I want to be helps me to value those aspects of myself. Every time I’ve looked outward for answers, I’ve found them lacking. So, I look inward, instead. There isn’t much of a roadmap for women these days–we’re not taught how to really value or harness the power of our femininity. So, some turn to sleaze or try to be like men. I think modern feminism has a lot to do with that. It makes me very sad. You can see it. You can see it in people when they don’t value themselves, when they’re not aligned within themselves, when they don’t know how to appreciate and make the most of who they are. You can obviously see that, too. I view that as the impetus for your post, and I appreciate it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Good.

        I went to see “Wonder Woman” a few weeks ago and came out with mixed feelings. I remember the WW comic version from when I was a kid, when I had all of the super heroes; she was just one more. (It was only recently that I learned more about the unconventional lifestyle of her creator, William Moulton Marston, who lived in a polygamous marriage with two women and had a rather interesting life otherwise, too.) But after the movie I found myself loving the beauty and strength the actress portrayed, but thought some of the martial arts was overblown the way Hollywood tends to do. I am, frankly, pretty bored by the “GRRRLPower” stuff.

        But WW had a message, too, and that was that she brought unique viewpoints about protecting the powerless that were quite obviously presented as being from a feminine perspective. It was a perspective that was lacking in all of the men around her who were in the middle of a war and where the bloodlust was up, but she was also so obviously able to beat any of them in a fight, they accepted her, and her ideas about what was important. A group of college-aged boys in the lobby were talking when I came out, and I thought, ‘oh, boy. I’ll bet they’re going to be obnoxious.” But, no. I overheard some of what they said and it was generally that they were inspired by WW. That was a pleasant surprise.

        All of this is good for girls’ self-image as not being doormats, I suppose, but it doesn’t do very much for the other kinds of issues you’ve been presenting, and the other kinds of power that come from being centered, accepting the things that make women unique and seeing them as positives, and *enjoying* being a girl.

        Because when one can pull all the elements together — the strength, the softness, the erotic ‘electricity’, the unique ways your minds work– it’s a pretty awesome, wholesome package.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’ll have you know that She-Ra, “Princess of Power,” was one of my idols growing up. 😊She also was a bad ass. It’s how we put ourselves together that matters, starting, perhaps, with the belief that we can put ourselves together in thoughtful and rewarding ways. It is nice to have substantive discussions on these kinds of ideas. Thank you, as always….

        Liked by 2 people

      • You might want to catch the recent Teri Gross interview with David Simon about the new series on the porn industry he’s co-producing. Near the end he makes a comment about porn’s effect on culture, that we now sell everything from cars to beer to lawnmowers using the same tropes used in the most basic kind of commerce, trading money for sex. That’s true, and the styles young girls wear, like hookers from the 70s, bears it out. When sex is sold openly now and porn is as close as your laptop, what does that do to the kind of femininity you hope to encourage.?

        Liked by 2 people

      • I’ll look into it. Ideally, I would like there to be alternative, accessible, positive visions of feminity for women to turn to–young women, in particular. The commodification of sex is, of course, nothing new, but as you suggest, having that kind of imagery at our fingertips like we do makes its impacr worse than ever before. I don’t, however, see a celebration, a valuing of, and a reverence for feminine sensuality anywhere. I would like to see that become as accessible as the exploitative material.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I do, too. But too many interests are making too much money using sex to sell product to make it easy. The late Bill Hicks has a great bit up on YouTube about marketing. The problem is deep and wide.

        What you’re doing is the right thing, though. You might need to tap into your inner She-ra from time to time, too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I very much appreciate the way you describe pretty as an outer reflection matching of an inner character attribute. Feeling pretty is complicated, at least for me. Having a history of early abuse, then years of exploitation as a teenager and adult, there is a tug of war going on between inner and outer expression regarding pretty. In the past, getting dolled up was done in preparation for going “out there” and pulling someone in. These days, pulling someone in is the last thing I want to do, so there is apprehension involved. Tom Robbins wrote a book called, “Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates”, where one of the female characters literally disfigured herself and moved out to a monastery in the desert in order to avoid the complications of prettiness. I like the way getting pretty makes me feel, but there is a certain resentment towards the men who might think I’m doing it in order to please them or attract them. Prettiness for me is a distraction for others when I want them to know what is beyond the surface.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree that “pretty” is a complex feeling in and of itself, and life experience only makes it more complicated. I think the more we work to understand this and related feelings within ourselves, the easier they may be to grapple with. I also get the resentment you speak of. For me, that comes from a belittling of that feeling, whether it’s a man who thinks I only want to look pretty for him or another woman who doesn’t dignify that experience in other women. Regardless, I think we spend a lot more time grieving the female experience than trying to understand and celebrate what comes naturally.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a little out of left field, but it seems at least in the same general area. I’ve always appreciated Paglia’s iconoclasm, plus I agree with her mostly on second wave feminism. (I spent 26 years on a university campus and exposed to the changing mores and ideologies the horny youngsters went through, too… and all I can say is… wow. But I digress).

    I’ve been reading the pro-Hefner pitches for sainthood, followed by the inevitable “he was a male chauvinist scum” reaction. Boring. Boring. Same old stuff. Then I came across Camile’s refreshingly snarky and non-conformist take. Can’t say it’s all correct, but it’s nice to have a sharp observer poke holes in the received wisdom of the vested interests.


    Where I think this connects to your pieces is that Heffner and the Playboy worldview did change how men and, to some extent, the culture, dealt with sex. But somehow we overshot the runway and women don’t have good answers in between Playboy and porn on the one side, and a public, “official” feminist catechism. What they need is permission to find their way to an authentic, honest truth about what it means to be a woman, and how that ought to be good enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, thanks for sharing. I like Camille Paglia…and vehemently dislike the Gloria Steinem, cult-like sect of third wave feminism. She makes some great points in the article you shared, including an increasing boredom among the sexes and some of the pitfalls of being unable to view women as erotic beings (which is especially true for women who don’t know how to make that part of themselves flourish). I admit, I’ve been ignoring much of the Hefner chatter because it is, predictably, polarized. Paglia’s contrarian take is refreshing. Too few perspectives currently are. We need more of that. Badly.

      I must say, I really enjoyed the last paragraph of your comment. You are the first person I’ve encountered who agrees that women need a redefinition of sorts—one that needs to be worked toward individually. Most of us, I think, are lost in what feels like a very uncertain, unstable middle, trying to navigate between extremes that don’t feel like they fit us. We spend entirely too much time trying to be what we’re told we should be, even when it makes us unhappy (I’ve seen this among some of my female peers.), rather than trying to capitalize on who we are. Because it is enough. We just aren’t taught to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think we all need a redefinition. Men are so screwed up these days it’s pathetic. And so are women. Paglia hit a nerve in here section about the sexes being bored with each other, about men taking refuge in porn and American women basically being unhappy and they don’t know “what they want.” She’s also right to point out that this is absurd, since women have always seemed to be mostly in charge, of men, anyway. Where did this sense of helplessness, or perpetual victimhood come from? It’s all I hear, in stories of battered women, and domestic violence and male domination of the workplace (not in my experience!) and the general pure evil of maleness in every respect. I know that’s not the true story, but is certainly a narrative that’s using a battering ram of guilt to do… what? Make all men want to hop on a rocket to Mars? That’s not how this is supposed to work, but to some extent, girls/women are getting a version of maleness that’s practically androgynous, man-buns and beard and purses. Those poor guys I saw on college campuses are so confused and desperate that they’re frustrated, depressed and angry. “What do you want from me!!” their behavior screams. They don’t know, and are depending on women to tell them. That’s the way it always used to be, after all. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! Yes, she hit a nerve because she’s right. Quick anecdote: I took an Intro to Feminism course in grad school. While I went into the class wanting to give it a “fair shake” and give the ideas serious consideration, I left utterly appalled. I had never been around such a miserable—and in some cases, downright disturbing (or disturbed)—group of people. It was very sad. Courses like that are a means of weeding out those who have the potential to conform to the dominant ideology from those who don’t. It became clear to me after that—if it hadn’t been before—that the kind of woman I had to become in order to work as an academic wasn’t the kind of woman I was willing to be. Not ever. Of the men in the class (there were 2), one barely spoke. The other was a self-professed, self-effacing male feminist (and proud beta-male). That is not an attractive kind of man.

        I can’t imagine most men want to be that. I wouldn’t want a man who would grovel at my feet and chastise himself the way they do, apologizing for being who he is—for “oppressing me” (For God’s sake.). Men should be proud of who they are. I’ll go out on a limb and say most women still love—and desperately want, perhaps now more than ever—strong, confident, intelligent, loving men. Not this other breed of male who doesn’t quite know who to be. That’s not what we need. And you’re right when you say that we are being fed an awful, sinister version of masculinity that is horribly inaccurate.

        Anyway, in the same setting, I witnessed a number of women become concerned over their affinity for alpha-male types, knowing that it went against the doctrine of feminism. Yet, they couldn’t seem to help themselves. They desired strong, masculine men. At the end of the day, even they didn’t want the self-loathing beta-male. The whole thing was bewildering to watch.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I just hope that you and women who understand this issue as you do are going to start asserting yourselves wherever you can. I wonder how many of you there are? I hope a lot are starting to come to the same conclusions, and just need to know they’re not alone. After all we’ve been through in the last 50 years, I’m exhausted by all the bickering. Men and women are gloriously different, and we ought to learn to respect the “oppressions of nature.” We’re stuck with them, might as well have some fun and stop overthinking everything..

    Liked by 1 person

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