Can’t I Be Smart and Pretty?


In the first grade I was the best reader in my class. Actually I was the fastest reader, speller and everything else you like to be in the first grade. In the second grade I really stepped my “smart game” up and began reading chapter books, practicing cursive writing and studying spelling words like they were the Holy Grail. My school wanted to skip me up one grade but my dad said no-to which I am still pissed about, but I digress…yeah dad, I’m still mad at you for that one-so I continued to push myself further and further, studying every single day.

My siblings and I went to private school in Redondo Beach, Ca. For my lovely readers unfamiliar with this city, it is obviously a beach city here in L.A. and in the late 80’s, let’s just say outside of my siblings, there were maybe two other black kids there. My first day of school I literally raised my hand and answered every single question that the teacher asked the class. Literally raising my hand before anyone else…on purpose. I distinctly remember answering a question the teacher asked and a boy next to me saying, and I quote, “Wow…you really are smart!” That was all the fuel I needed to light my “I am smart” fire.

Soon teachers began questioning every test or assignment I turned in. They’d ask me who I cheated off of, or who helped me. One teacher even made me re-take a test I easily aced, because how on earth did this little black girl come in and win. More fuel thrown on my fire. I craved knowledge, learning about any and everything I could. I took piano and won every recital I was in. I read more books then anyone else and did my first book report on Lucille Ball, my comedy idol I’d grown to love while obsessively watching re-runs of her at home. I sang in the choir and memorized my Easter Sunday speeches so well that they would assign me the biggest and longest speeches purposely. I started acting in plays at school and would memorize not just my role, but the entire play often helping kids with their lines while on stage. I wasn’t even out of grade school. I was smart. I was smart. I was smart. 
My little sister is the literal opposite of me. As I had no friends she had a million. I stayed home practicing piano, reading books, and watching I Love Lucy, she was outside playing or doing something so entertaining that everyone instantly fell in love with her. She had (and still does) a huge smile and almond shaped eyes that every single person commented on. She was so cute, spontaneous and carefree. Basically everything I was not. She could literally do anything and everyone loved her for it. I’d be all, “Hey I just passed the adult swim test at the YMCA and I’m only 9…” and no reaction, but my sis would throw on my mom’s bra and run down the street and it was the cutest thing in the world. I’d be writing poetry and winning contests at school and she would smile and make everyone melt into a puddle. She was the cute one and I was the smart one.

I was not a cute kid. I was a smart kid. As a girl there seems to be a wall dividing the two: you can either be smart or be pretty, but not both. There is a dichotomy here and it’s really starting to piss me off. Like, not skipping me up a grade pissed off! Why can’t women, and girls be smart and pretty? Why are the “girl nerds” aka “smart girls” on TV represented as the not-so-cute girls or the frumpy girls? and the “cool girls” aka “hot chicks” are almost always the dumb chicks? Don’t believe me, here are some TV examples: The Big Bang Theory, Daria, My So Called Life, Beverly Hills 90210, The Middle, Modern Family, Scooby Doo, New Girl, The Mindy Project…shall I go on? These are shows and cartoons marketed to teens, adults and kids. Sexy and smart are not synonymous, but dammit they should be! Sexy men are smart men. Sexy women are brainless.

I just wrapped filming on my webseries I created. I directed, wrote, produced, did hair/makeup, basically everything! On set one of my crew kept referring to my co-star as being, “So pretty”…okay fine, she is pretty. Not only was that being said about her but it was literally being said everyday and more then once a day, it was being said so much that I had to literally pull this person to the side and tell her to stop saying it.

Now, was my costar bothered by this? Well, no, she’s used to it and relishes in it. It bothered me because there was that divide being perpetrated once again and I was not going to allow it on my set. I made a discerning effort to compliment everyone on their talent and what they brought to a scene along with pointing out how great EVERYONE looked. Here’s the thing we all love to be told we are pretty but I have an issue with “pretty” being the defining factor of who you are.

Pretty is smart. Pretty is curvy. Pretty is skinny. Pretty if talented. Pretty is creative. Pretty is a word we can use everyday to describe so many things, objects, colors and people. Pretty is a wonderful word, but pretty is also an ideal and a measure that we have placed onto others. I was never considered the “pretty” girl. I was always the “pretty girls” smart and funny best friend, sister, head writer and creator who wrote all the lines you’re all laughing at and giving credit to someone else.

In the past few years there has been a huge movement growing to encourage young girls to not base well, their lives, and decisions on whether or not they are pretty, but to focus on being smart, resilient, strong and creative. Amy Poehler has created Smart Girls and other companies including Dove have also began to change the way they market to women and girls. There is nothing wrong with being pretty or being told you are pretty, because guess what…you are! You’re pretty, sexy, amazing, talented and smart.

Amy Poehler Smart Girls Movement Link:

Have you ever been considered pretty and dumb, or smart and not-so-cute? Sound off below I’d love to hear your stories: You may be featured in a future documentary produced by me!
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0 thoughts on “Can’t I Be Smart and Pretty?

  1. Terry Tyler says:

    Great post! I remember, years ago, being told I was unusually odd because I made myself look dead glam yet also read 'heavy' books – surely the intelligent woman knows that making herself look good doubles her confidence. Having sunbeds didn't make me vacuuous and empty-headed….

  2. Donelle Lacy says:

    I loved your story. Thanks for this post! Of course you can be smart and pretty! I was raised believing I was whatever I wanted to be. My parents didn't focus on telling me I was pretty as much as telling me all the other things I was – the things that stick with you when your looks don't. I was pretty, but I wore too many clothes to be a 'hot girl'. Because of my glasses and modesty in school, I was the 'nerdy' artistic one. Sometimes classmates told me I was pretty. Mostly they told me I was odd or I was talented. I was the one they went to if anything needed to be drawn. Apparently glasses negate pretty and plunge you into the hemispheres of frumpy nerd-dom. Today I'm complimented on them and people tell me I'm pretty much more often.

    I love that there's a movement putting other things forward for girls in addition to being pretty. Taking care of yourself is important and Terry is absolutely right about appearance and confidence. If you look good you feel good. The best is to look good on your own terms and feel happy for who you are, not comparing yourself to someone thinner, taller, curvier, etc.

  3. Keshia Thomas says:

    Good Job bring attention to the Smart VS. Pretty. I am such a rebel that sometimes I have no desire to fit in and people judge me upon my looks but when I open my mouth and smile people fall in love with the beauty that is inside of me. Their is nothing wrong with having self confidence and looking good but a woman should make sure she has something between her ears. Great story…btw when are you going to forgive your father? lol ijs.

  4. Awkward Girl in the City: Single, Dating, Akward... says:

    Hi Keshia, thanks for reading and commenting! I really love your description of smart and pretty, as it pertains to yourself! I really love reading a woman's confidence of herself and where were you when I was in high school…could've used that confidence 🙂 I guess now that I'm 34, it's time to forgive my pops, right?! Lol

  5. Eloquent Obi says:

    Great post! new reader and follower. I think it is more acceptable to be both smart and pretty than before. You got to have something to work with other than just looks. men may like pretty and dumb, but they rarely take her home to mother or marry her.

  6. Madaline says:

    I had something in similar context happening… someone told me and my best friend they couldn't believe we were best friends! They said I was “pretty” and she was so smart and how could we be friends. I was like WHHHHHAT. It was one of the most insane things I've ever heard, but sadly I've heard it repeated by multiple people – at her wedding! Found via sits

  7. Alexis Lantgen says:

    I loved this post. I'm a mother, and I worry a lot that little girls get way too defined by their looks. I want to teach my baby girl that she can be pretty and dress up and still be a brilliant scientist, or doctor, or whatever she pleases someday!

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