I've grown up in a family that prizes intelligence.
It's always kind of been assumed that I would be relatively bright. No, that isn't any kind of bragging--I just happen to be book smart. Quite frankly, even if I wasn't naturally, my mom has been handing me literal books for so long that anything I might have lacked in genetics has probably been made up through some sort of literary osmosis. From the time I was tiny, I can remember being labeled as 'one of the smart kids.'
I've got to say, too, that I'm proud of that. I like knowing answers. I like learning.
But there's an interesting point made in Meg Cabot's latest novel, Runaway.
Girls that are intelligent very rarely are confident about how they look.
It all comes down to one question--Am I pretty? In one form or another, I think that runs through almost every girl's head at least once a day. It might be when you glance in the mirror, or when you tug self consciously a shirt that doesn't fit quite as well as it used to. It might be when your friend gives you 'that' look. I'm sure you know the one. It's the look that says 'I'm too polite to say anything, but dude--couldn't you have at least TRIED today?'
On some level, the airhead novels are about beauty. But on another, the girl inside--Em--is very, very bright. The two levels tend to clash. More than once, you catch Em thinking about the shallowness of beauty. In the third novel, though, Meg and Em seem to explore something new.
It's okay to be both pretty and smart.
I don't think a lot of girls get that. For me, I have always prided myself on being bright. I love that about my family, generally. However, I've never--not once--been super confident about outwards appearance. I'm not good at makeup and I generally chose comfort over style, and there has always been a good way to justify it--I'm smart, so why on Earth would I need to look good?
I have never wanted to be a silly girl.
I like sparkles, sure, and bright colors, but I haven't wanted that. At least not seriously. I've never wanted to act like a bobble head. But I've got to say, there are times when it seems like intelligence shouldn't be everything.
One of my earlier memories is coming to Missouri with my dad and my sister to visit my grandmother. My grandma and I were sitting at the table alone, and I was reading--I'm not sure where everyone else was. Suddenly, she looked over and kind of laughed. When I asked her why, she told me it was because when I got all serious, she could tell what I would look like when I was 'all grown up.'
"Really?" I can remember asking. "Am I going to be pretty?"
She just kind of looked at me for another few seconds before finally answering. "You," she told me, "are going to be smart."
Well. That's just what every seven year old wants to hear. I can really clearly remembering wanting to press the issue, but she got up and left. It bothered me for a long time. Even in the second grade, I knew that I was 'smart.' That wasn't that big of a deal. Just by paying attention and occasionally answering a few questions, I was 'smart.'
I can't tell you the first time I brushed off thoughts of appearance by justifying my worth through intelligence, but I'm sure it wasn't long after that, or even before. I can certainly tell you it's happened since dozens of times. Girl's that pretend to be stupid have since always really, really annoyed me. I know several, and am friends with a few. It's always seemed weird to me.
But does the reverse say the same thing? If you pretend to be dumb so that people notice how you look, that's bad, right? But if you dress down so that people take you more seriously, isn't that bad too? Either way, you're selling yourself short.
It's weird. I like dressing somewhat nicely because people treat you differently. I like speaking up for the same reason. But I'm much more comfortable with being complimented on the second than the first.
I guess it's the new wave of feminism. Girls know they're smart. We just need to reminded, every once in a while, that it's not everything.
And god, let me just tell you--that hurts to admit.
Stupid Meg Cabot.
She's making me reevaluate my stinted ways of thinking. I'm not fond of it.
Oh well. If I get nothing else out of the musings, at least that prized intelligence of mine might get to learn something new.