When she was just six years old Thylane Blondeau was dubbed the “the most beautiful girl in the world”. By ten the French native had posed for Paris Vogue and now, at 16, she is walking the catwalks in Milan and is an online “influencer” with an Instagram following of 1.6 million. So that’s Game, Set and Match for Blondeau. What a charmed life. Only I don’t think so. I don’t think being the prettiest girl in the world at 16 actually gives you a head start in life. There’s a very big chance it will do the exact opposite. Having your currency in life being so intimately wrapped up in how you look is a heavy burden. This is what I wrote about the Curse of Pretty last year.
I could never count the amount of good looking women that I see in one day. On television, in ads, on the internet, at work, on the side of a bus. They are everywhere because Hollywood directors, advertising head honchos, media, instagramers, the whole world has got one idea in their head.
Men want, as Derek Zoolander knows, “really, really, ridiculously good looking” women and women want to be “really, really ridiculously good looking”. The idea is that these genetic super freaks finish first. They are admired, wanted, listened to, special. Great things come to them in life. They win.
I hate to go against decades of entrenched popular culture here and powerful middle-aged paunchy men who have just been converted, by the third wife, to the health benefits of fish and daily vitamins, but I think they’re all wrong. Being really, really good looking is a false idol.
Be medium good-looking, that is the long-term life success sweet spot.
Australian actress and star of Brothers and Sisters, Hilary and Jackie and Muriel’s Wedding, Rachel Griffiths, told The Telegraph, “I’ve never been beautiful enough not to be taken seriously. With me, it was always a case of: ‘Well she clearly hasn’t got here on her looks, so we’d better give her some credibility’,” Griffiths said.
“I honestly do think that good looks can count against you in this industry.”
Griffith said she understood the successful business woman who said her success was helped by the fact she wasn’t “good looking but good looking enough”.
It’s the enough bit I like. It’s the enough bit I agree with. Something happens to the really good looking girls. I’ve seen it.
Want to see more ‘pretty’ people? Watch our video from the Vanity Fair Oscars party below. Post continues after video.
First these girls start off as pretty. Really pretty. I’ve lived life for over two decades since school finished and I’ve watched in those 20 or so years the life arch of the prettiest girls at school, the pretty girls at university and what I’ve seen is a soaring across life for a while and then a thud to earth. They don’t win.
Ask yourself. Where are the really pretty girls from your school years? I am deliberately using the adjective pretty because as a young girl pretty was what I wanted and it was what a lot of girls around me wanted. Pretty is young and helpless and it mirrors the cultural norms of the time. Pretty is limited: perfect little symmetrical features, slim, kind of Barby dollish, fit cutely into a man’s back pocket kind of thing. It’s obviousness and lack of scope is maybe why pretty is so easy for young girls to see. To want.
When I was young I was unaware that pretty was different to beautiful.
I found this out one night when I was sad after a party because I was taller than all the boys and probably louder than them all too and I didn’t look like the pretty, cute girls. I was like a big rectangular peg trying to fit into a cute, little, probably love heart shaped, hole. My mum gave me a talk.
“You don’t want to be pretty,” she said.
“Yes I do.”
“No you don’t.” My mum doesn’t muck around. “Pretty doesn’t last. Pretty fades. Beauty lasts. Being attractive lasts. You’re going to be a really attractive woman when you grow up because you are beautiful and you are interesting.”
“I’m not beautiful.”
“Yes you are. Beauty is more than what you look like. Beauty is so much more.”
All I heard at the time was “you’re not pretty”.
I was 15. But I did remember what she said. Somewhere inside I kept her words.
And that’s why I understand Rachel Griffiths words too. She’s done really well in life because she wasn’t the most good looking. She says she is good looking enough. I look at her and think she is beautiful and attractive and interesting and I think she will be like that when she is 80. The kind of woman in a room you want to talk to. The kind of woman in a room you gravitate toward.
When I look at it closely, my happiest, most successful, most beautiful friends now were not the prettiest girls in school.
I've often wondered why the pretty girls couldn't go the distance. This is what I think.
The pretty girls at school are allowed to be pretty. Full stop. They don't have to cultivate other parts of themselves. For their formative years they are valued for their looks while other girls may be valued because they're great at English, or Cross Country, or funny, or have big, audacious life dreams.
The pretty girls need none of that to assert their place in the world. To get attention. And they get attention. And they get the boyfriends first and then they become separated from their friends who are doing "stuff", making plans, being more than their looks.
But then another, younger pretty girl comes along. The pretty life cycle has finished.
Of course pretty girls can be smart and have dreams and develop other parts of themselves other than their looks, but they have to work hard to beat "the system". It's a trap that has elevated pretty girls at a young age and kept them, in a way, separate. This isolation and focus on one characteristic has similarities with precocious sports stars. When these young talents are sent out into the real world, after years and years of being the "best" swimmer/gymnest/league player since they were 11, they are are ill-equipped for the world's rigors.
I don't say any of this to attack the pretty girls at school. I hope they can ignore "the trap" and cultivate all those wonderful parts of themselves that get sidelined because of their looks. But it won't be easy. Being adored is a hard thing to walk away from.
I do talk about this for all those girls out there, who have wished they looked different. Because you are enough. Like Rachel Griffiths, I think there is a huge life advantage in being "good looking enough".
The World Health Organisation has just released the results from a landmark study into adolescent health and happiness in Europe and North America. Based on surveys from over 200,000 young people the most striking finding was that 15-year-old girls were the worst off of any group surveyed.
Acccording to the report, 15-year-old girls "were among those expressing the least satisfaction with their lives. They were the most likely to report a decline in their well-being, and on average, one in five reported poor or fair health. They also displayed an increased dissatisfaction with their bodies".
How many 15-year-old girls are looking at themselves now, whether in a an endless string of selfies, or in the mirror, dissecting their "faults" and thinking they are not good enough?
All those "faults" they see, all those failures, those deviations from 'pretty', well, they do combine to become the stuff of beauty and interest. The stuff that will last. That kind of individual beauty, when combined with all those years of pursuing interests and goals outside of looks, investing in relationships and yourself, that makes a 15-year-old girl grow up to be the woman in the room people want to talk to all night. A woman who is beautiful in her own way and has a really, really ridiculously good life. I want her to know that.
Being good looking enough is not a failure. It's a triumph and your life will thank you for it.