The Pretty Girl in the Room

At cer­tain points in every girl’s life gen­der pol­i­tics force choic­es between the male world and the female world. Between girl­friends and guy friends. Between the some­times fick­le loy­al­ty of female friends and the weird­ly non­cha­lant alle­giance of male friends.

I long ago opt­ed for the male world. Frankly, men are more fun. They have bet­ter adven­tures and cool­er toys and they like pret­ty girls who are their friends in a sim­ple, pleas­ant way.

Being the pret­ty girl in the room among a bunch of guys who are also your bud­dies is, no joke, one of the best feel­ings in the world. Coming into a room and know­ing that you’re going to make peo­ple laugh and have a good time and be hap­py is a kick. Make no mis­take, this dynam­ic is all about atten­tion — the atten­tion that a pret­ty girl can trade with most men and some women.

Over time I’d got­ten to be fair­ly casu­al about the whole thing. I could be the pret­ty girl in the room when­ev­er I want­ed to be and that was just that. It’s not as if there weren’t occa­sions when I was­n’t the pret­ti­est girl in the room. I was nev­er the pret­ti­est girl in the world, but even when there was a pret­ti­er girl in the room I was still the pret­ty girl. People paid me that kind of attention.

Then things began to change. At first there was just the occa­sion­al moment when I noticed that there were glances over my shoul­der to a pret­ty girl who was­n’t me. Then it became more and more often that I was­n’t the one being looked at or lis­tened to. That laugh­ter was direct­ed at some oth­er girl.

Men that I know well, who have known me for years as the pret­ty girl in the room, still laugh at all of my jokes when I am the only girl in the room. But my priv­i­lege as pret­ty girl in their room exists by virtue of some ghost­ly self-presence and the kind habits of old friends. That only gets me so far. I’m no longer allowed to assume that I’m going to be the pret­ty girl in the room from the moment that I walk in. That seat is not auto­mat­i­cal­ly mine. Now I have to look around for it — and it often already has a pret­ty girl in it. A girl who’s not going to stand and give up that seat to her more expe­ri­enced pret­ty girl. Because I am no longer the more expe­ri­enced girl; I’m just older.

I miss being the pret­ty girl. I miss the high val­ue of my trad­ing goods on the atten­tion mar­ket. I miss the jolt of elec­tric­i­ty that I could get from mak­ing some­one laugh in spite of them­selves. I miss being sought out and flat­tered. I miss the singing wires of inti­mate con­nec­tion. I miss being able to assume that the atten­tion that I want will auto­mat­i­cal­ly come to me. I miss the effort­less­ness of it all.

I was the pret­ty girl in the room for some 20 years. That’s a hel­la long run. But at 50-something that’s over and it’s time to move on. I’ve seen what hap­pens to women who can’t give up being the pret­ty girl. How they try too hard: smile too bright­ly, laugh too loud­ly, flat­ter too obvi­ous­ly, dress like 20-somethings and look the fools for it. It is not an attrac­tive sight.

I have met some for­mer pret­ty girls who hope to leave the vis­i­bil­i­ty and atten­tion of being pret­ty behind alto­geth­er, to find calm and a peace­ful ful­fill­ment in becom­ing invis­i­ble. Moving from watched to watch­er. I’m not inclined that way.

Some peo­ple assert that it is a sim­ple mat­ter for a pret­ty girl to evolve into a beau­ti­ful woman. But pret­ty girls and beau­ti­ful women are dif­fer­ent sorts of crea­tures. Beautiful women are much rar­er than pret­ty girls and only a few pret­ty girls get the seat upgrade.

Lots of for­mer pret­ty girls take a part of their for­mer selves and go with being the smart one in the room, a few man­age sexy (though this is a rare change of genre,) some choose the tra­di­tion­al­ly male role of racon­teur and con­tin­ue to make peo­ple laugh.

These strate­gies are too nar­row to fit me. They don’t range wide­ly enough to gar­ner the kind of atten­tion that I want to pay and be paid. It is time to find anoth­er way to engage in the atten­tion econ­o­my. Something that will fly over the heads of the pret­ty girls in the room. Something that will take advan­tage of being a woman of cer­tain years. Something that will look at the famil­iar choice between male and female and say — no, real­ly, I no longer need to choose, thank you.

There was a woman who I recall meet­ing once or twice in my career as a pret­ty girl. She came into the room and no one cared about who was sit­ting in which seat any­more. She just stood in the mid­dle of the room pay­ing atten­tion and every­one around her became smarter, fun­nier, and sex­i­er. It was­n’t just that she was smart, or fun­ny, or sexy. She was all of those things and some­thing more. Something that tran­scend­ed all of the cat­e­gories that I was used to think­ing in. I want­ed to be her someday.

I’m too old for pret­ty girl. It’s time for someday.

6 replies on “The Pretty Girl in the Room”

  1. One of my deep­est fears these days is being seen as (as the Brits so del­i­cate­ly put it) ‘mut­ton dressed as lamb’.
    It makes much of my decision-making about how I present myself to the world challenging.

  2. This is so much on my mind these days… beau­ti­ful­ly put. Yes. I’m in the same place… I want to be is “for­mi­da­ble,” pro­nounced the French way. Ignore me at your peril.

  3. Evocative. I’m not (long list) enough to put into words all that this evokes. You. Are. Awesome!

  4. It’s so inter­est­ing how the way we see our­selves impacts our expe­ri­ence. I was nev­er known (to myself or oth­ers) as a “pret­ty girl.” But my daugh­ter is one of the Beautiful People. Watching the world react to her from the side­lines was eye opening.

  5. I was nev­er, ever “the pret­ty girl”, though I did get some atten­tion in the social world, to which I as most­ly oblivious.

    In my pre­dom­i­nate­ly male indus­try, I was pret­ty invis­i­ble even when young.

    In my ear­ly fifties I have, how­ev­er, dis­cov­ered what it is like to be invis­i­ble in general.

    Predaters, how­ev­er, find no one invisible.

  6. Beautifully writ­ten, and thought pro­vok­ing. I remem­ber, when IIRC I’d just turned 40, the first time I real­ized I’d become invis­i­ble to the pret­ty young girls I still found so attrac­tive. Here’s guess­ing that men expe­ri­ence some­thing very sim­i­lar to what you wrote about, but aren’t pay­ing atten­tion, aren’t both­ered by it, or lament it but don’t share the fact. I’ve always envied the easy way that women seem to have with shar­ing feel­ings. Most of my men friends sim­ply don’t. Period.

    Excellent writ­ing, Lara. You have mad skillz..

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