I couldn’t find the actual ad we were looking at but this one is pretty similar – it emphasizes the “look” over the function. Plus I think this ad is freaking hilarious. (For those of you non-yoga types, the model is doing Camel Pose.)
“I don’t think I like the word ‘pretty’ in that ad,” the woman said, to no one in particular.
“I agree. It’s like because we’re women, advertisers automatically assume we want to be ‘pretty’ over other things.” Another woman responded.
“Yeah, I’d rather it said ‘stylish’ or something,” concluded the first woman.
“I don’t think they mean it to be denigrating to women. The girl in the ad is rock climbing so she is obviously strong as well.” I piped up. “I like the word ‘pretty’.”
We were three strangers standing in an elevator and staring at a large ad for women’s outdoor clothing. And then it happened.
“Well that’s because you are pretty,” the second woman said matter-of-factly.
I was so astounded that I wasn’t sure how to respond. First because I didn’t like the implied corollary that because they didn’t like the word pretty that they weren’t pretty – I thought they were both beautiful and told them so (although it came out kind of awkwardly in that “you’re pretty!” “no, YOU’RE pretty!” “Oh stop it, you’re SOOO pretty!” way that women sometimes get into but I was being sincere, I swear). Second because I was tearing up a little bit. It had been a rough day and the compliment (whether or not she meant it as one, I took it that way) from a stranger disarmed me in a way that a hundred “You look lovely”s from my mom or husband couldn’t do. After all, strangers – at least those that aren’t trying to get something from us – are not required nor even expected to pay us a compliment so when they do it feels more genuine.
Honestly, in the week since, I’ve been holding that woman’s compliment like a jewel in my hand, opening it several times a day to reexamine it. While I know that “pretty is as pretty does” and “beauty is only skin deep” and perhaps I should have preferred her to say “You are smart” (but then what does a stranger know of our mind in the span of a 30-second elevator ride?), it was the nicest thing she could have said to me at that moment. But as the other womens’ reactions to that ad showed me, not all of us like to be called pretty.
This can be especially polarizing in situations where women are typically the minority. I remember feeling belittled when I was working as a computer lab manager and my boss complimented my male coworkers on their performance and me on my outfit even though I had been there rewiring the LAN until 2 a.m. right next to the guys. And I have seen this play out over and over again in a gym setting. You have women on both extremes: the princesses who show up in full makeup and revealing outfits:
First, huge thank you to Turbo Jennie for introducing me to this fitness clothing company. And second you must click through to see the back on this “bodacious bodysuit“. The site describes it as “a real head turner.” Indeed!
And then there are the girls who try to look as much like the men as possible with baggy t-shirts and basketball shorts. I’m not criticizing either one mind you – for the love of little green apples, I’ve worked out in costume makeup and a wig before and heaven knows I have enough pit-stained cotton tanks to make any man jealous – but “pretty” is definitely taken differently by both groups. It can be contextual. Take Tuesday night for instance, when the Gym Buddies and I went to our first session at CrossFit St. Paul for this month’s Experiment. On the car ride up we debated our clothing choices – we wanted to look “hardcore” not “pretty” so that the notably no-frills CrossFit folks wouldn’t laugh at us. (They could save that for when we actually started the workout thank you very much.) I mean seriously, we were about to get our butts handed to us (buttwink!!) and we were worried about our wardrobe? This from the same girls who the day before did an entire workout in neon tutus. So I guess I want to be pretty and strong – can a girl have it both ways?
What do you think of ads that try to reach you by appealing to your vanity? Do you take “pretty” as a compliment? And how bad do you want a black lycra catsuit to workout in now??
To see one man’s (incredibly hilarious) take on what all of us fitness fanatics look like from the outside, check out this vid: (Thanks Kelly Olexa!) “I hate yoga. If I wanted to hurt myself, I’d do it properly. With knives. As a cry for help.”