Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bad Meg Cabot, Bad!

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.
-rolls eyes-
More later.


Alissa said...

I hate the mistaken notion that a woman can be either pretty or smart. For whatever reason this same idea almost never seems to be applied to guys. Other than the dumb jock stereotype guys seems to be exempt.

Maggie said...

I'm not sure why, but I'm fond of this post. I agree. Even if you're the smartest girl out there, you still kind of feel the need to know that people think you look pretty. Not just intelligent, but pretty. I don't know why; it's really a very annoying feeling. But I suppose it's true.


(You know what's annoying, too? That the people that dumb themselves down are usually seriously smart. I hate that they feel the need to not show how awesome they really are. Sigh--again.)

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I liked this series, but what kind of annoyed me was the end-she stayd pretty. I guess Christopher had liked her before, but it was more like get hot and be smart and a boy will like you. I still liked it though and I love Lulu!

Aspen said...

Wow, great post! I can agree with you on everything you say. I grew up being 'the smart girl' and never thought I needed to be pretty.

Over the past few years, I've grown out of my ugliness (finally!) you know, the awkward nose, the pimples, the no eyebrow-phase. I feel a lot more confident.

Beauty and brains go together if the girl with the brains doesn't surrender to the "I'm smart I don't need to be pretty" stereotype. Beauty is pain, it doesn't come by itself!

I think every girl can imagine the awesomeness feeling she would feel if someone (a guy) told her she was pretty and smart.

What I experienced two years ago on the other hand, was on another level. One of my boyfriend's best childhood friends and I got talking in a New Year's Eve party. I had had a little too much champagne so I made the mistake of getting into the "politics and religion" subject which I STAY AWAY from especially when drunk. After a while he looked at me and said:

Him: "I didn't know you were so deep."
Me: "Excuse me?"
Him: "I'm sorry, I thought [bf's name] was dating you for your looks."

And then I held a speech over him about shallowness, and how assuming, for two years, that I was a clueless bubblehead without even trying to get to know me is the ultimate stage of being shallow.

The irony is, this dude is a four-eyed uni-browed roleplaying nerd, and proud of it. He is the self-proclaimed preacher of the evilness of being shallow. He's always dissing shallow people.

Now, who was REALLY the shallow one that New-Years Eve?

We're really good friends today though ;)

Aspen said...

Oh wow, I just read that over. That sounded really shallow actually. I do NOT have anything against four-eyed uni-browed roleplaying nerds. I myself wear glasses and most of my friends are roleplaying nerds. He is however the only unibrow. But, a couple of months ago he discovered that his razor works on other parts of his face than his beard. It was epic.

cipherqueen said...

You are in for a long comment. (by now I guess that isn't as abnormal...)

I first saw beauty as a curse, one that people (strangely) believed to be a good thing, and saying so was considered a compliment.

It caused abuse, extortion, and a whole lot of manipulation (just look at supermodels!).

My brother insisted I was hideous- my mom said. I was beautiful (both sterotypical answers- what kind of parents would say you look like a peice of trash?)

I tended to believe my brother, and hated the responsibility that came with makeup and all of that. I've never worn anything more intense than lipstick in my life. And my brothers "exceptional" memory put the pressure on me to aim for A's.

Am I naturally an A student?
No, of course not. Such people exist, and they breeze through classes, ace tests without even paying attention in class.

That's the margin determination counts for. (thank goodness) Yet every once in a while it popped up. I was "a teenager from Mars" because of my non-techy family, and people naturally stayed away from me. I wasn't exactly running around trying to make friends with people, either, though... but it made me wonder.

Freshman year. Beauty pageant- writing scholarship. A chance to prove my brother wrong.

I didn't win.

I won the writing award. As expected.

I wore the plainest dress of anyone, the one my mom said was "gorgeous, just like Audrey Hepburn!". I was scored lowest in that area. My high heels were the freebie ones given to us to practice in- and I truly believed I had a chance, because I had performed the best of anyone in the interview.

Again, I lost.

Am I smart? Relatively. I work hard. Am I beautiful? I'm no Brittany Spears, but enough to be pretty darn vain. Do people hate me for it? Yes. Does that suck? Not really- like I said, the effort margin allows them to overtake me if they put their heart into it.

When I'm 50, I probably won't be pretty anymore- but I'll have a university education. Will I hate myself? I can't say- I might revert to the 10-year-old I never got to be and try to be the next Miley Cyrus. Or just collect cats and study their language. ;D

*sigh* In short, kids only see the extremes in the media...

-Note: Beauty=wealth now. It will be interesting to see how this affects the long-held stereotypes...-

Sam said...

Oh wow, this was a popular topic for long comments. :P Oki doki.
Alissa: I agree completely. I do think, though, that guys get the rude stereotypes as well. I know a guy who is quite intelligent but often tries to hide it because he doesn't want to get labeled as a nerd. There are others who worry about being too skinny or too short. On any level, stereotypes just stink.
Maggie: Haha, I'm glad you're fond. It is a very annoying feeling, isn't it?
Greenbeenteanqueen: YES. Ugh. I loved the series, but I was a tad sad at the end. There was so much build up, then only like, ten pages on the actual catch of the plot. It was just a tad annoying. Plus, I was expecting her to end up like Gabriel's girlfriend did--normal, but pretty.
Aspen: I've had situations like that. Debate tournaments are quite awesome for that to happen--where, all of a sudden, guys you've known forever just kind of blink and go "Oh. You ARE smart." Either that, or the opposite. One day, you wear makeup and they suddenly don't know what to do. :P It's kind of fun.
I don't think that what you said was particularly shallow, btw. You said that you were friends with him--it's not that big of a deal. Plus, you know, that would tick me off too.
You're right. As girls, we just kind of have to grow into the fact that we can have beauty and brains. It's a kind of scary concept as a teenager--it doesn't seem possible.
Cipherqueen: I agree. Sometimes, we do need to be vain. It's all that gets us through. It sucks to lose or be put in bad sitations...I guess being proud of what we do have is needed.
Though, granted, I wonder when being proud of how you look turned into vanity...

cipherqueen said...

xD When my hair finally grew past my ears (sadly, not until I was 11). I didn't have hair at all until I was almost 6, then my mom cut it super-short at 8.

On a stranger note, if were stil bald I'd have an excuse to get a purple sari. :)

Anonymous said...

Guys are subject to several stereotypes. In my friend's high school if you get an A in class or visit the library you're a nerd. If you don't play a sport or have muscles you're a wimp. Thankfully my high school is better (slightly). People aren't afraid to get an A. (Thank god my parents would kill me if didn't get A's). Suburbs 1 City 0.