A long time ago in a gender far, far away, I made an extremely cringe LiveJournal post talking about the concept of being societally pretty. After a few decades of life experience, I’d like to remaster that post today. My only regret is that Substack doesn’t have a ‘currently listening to’ section, because I would definitely toss a Blink 182 song in there for old times’ sake.
What Is Pretty?
You might be thinking this is where will be where I do some long-form sadposting about my looks, but you would be mistaken (I’m actually pretty confident at present I’m doing okay in the looks department). Pretty, as I interpret it in the societal sense, is more of a our reaction to the totality of another person. People who are pretty exist somewhere far above unattractive, but somewhere below stunningly beautiful.
Pretty people put as at ease, and are at times a respite from the chaos that permeates the world. If you had to conjure a picture of one of them, you might think of a classic girl-next-door type: Just a touch of makeup, with a radiant smile clad in a sundress. Mostly though, pretty is the feeling that this image stirs in us.
The image I’ve described above can be found on Instagram in hundreds and thousands of post, but it also exists in written form. Whether via Instagram captions, or Tweets, those motivational words that we’ve become so familiar with such as ‘living our best lives’.
What We Really Want Is Superficial
A cynical interpretation of the ‘pretty’ side of social media is that it’s the curated top 3% of someone’s life. Manicured and polished posts, not unlike a fresh set of french tips that are intended to boost the writer’s confidence, and draw the admiration of the rest of us. Much like a painting of a beautiful sunset, humans are prompted to adorn their spaces with these creations of artifice for selfish reasons.
These posts become popular because they are simple, easily digestible platitudes that we share with our networks for a variety of reasons. Perhaps most of all, they get shared as reinforcement of an ideal to aspire to: An idyllic existence that can be ours if we just wish for it hard enough.
These platitudes are often good advice, but hardly what I would consider ‘authentic’, which seems to be the new buzzword when it comes to the business of selling ourselves on the various digital storefronts of humanity. With followers as a de-facto social credit system, our social capital is best served by creating these artificial idyllic moments in time.
The opposite of ‘authenticity’ is probably ‘oversharing’. The very construction of that word hints at the underlying issue: We want authenticity, but not too much authenticity.
Should we step over that line, and perhaps launch into a tweetstorm about a moment of crisis, we will be the recipient of some unfavourable feedback. Externally, we might get some grimacing emoji’s. Internally, when it’s passed, we might feel enough shame so as to delete the authentic yet unfavourable moment(s) in our lives.
And then, of course, there are the lasting consequences. Enough moments of too much authenticity, and you might find yourself the recipient of some unfavourable labels, or the subject of some equally unfavourable meta-conversation. If you have enough social capital, it might tend not to matter, but otherwise you will likely soon find yourself ostracized from a world that values the architects of artifice far more highly.
I Just Don’t Have The Blueprints
Continuing with the architecture metaphor, I just don’t fundamentally have the blueprints to have being pretty as a default mode of being. Perhaps though, more importantly, I don’t really feel the need to after a lifetime of locking authenticity away behind the parallel to pretty, namely male stoicism.
I feel wrong when I catch myself slipping into performative expression, and catch a serious case of Mad Online when I see others doing it. When people paint capitalism as the prettiest girl at the ideology ball, or that neurodiverse or transgender people should complain a bit less, I get a glimpse at just how ugly pretty can be.
So while I’m actively trying to dial back sharing every second of my existence on social media, I just don’t think I’ll ever be pretty. Raw and unfiltered is really the only method of existence I can tolerate, and superficial constructions of artifice are my kryptonite. The nature of my existence continues to cost me relationships and opportunities, but I’m honestly not sure I’d change it even if I could.
I might be that hot mess at the party that never gets invited back, but I can at least be sure what friends I do make are there for the right reasons, and aren’t just artificial constructs that disappear when a charade finally collapses.