The Mighty Logo

Why I Don’t Want You to Call Me 'Pretty'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I grew up being pretty. I was what some would call a cute child. I had dimples, big bangs, and wore the most ridiculous floral dresses. I sported a small gap in between my painted on smile. I got complimented frequently on my “cuteness.” “Oh, what a pretty child,” strangers would say. My mom would smile and thank them, and I would unknowingly develop the idea that I better live up to the expectation of this or else they would stop telling me those things.

I was a bright little girl. Insightful at a young age. Cautious. After all, I was the oldest and was already more responsible than a lot of children years older than me. I was girly. I played in the backyard and played sports early on. I was impressionable at best. I took in what others were saying at Godspeed. I could feel what they felt. I could sense when they were angry or when they were happy, and somewhere along the way I developed the core belief that I had everything to do with how they felt. I was responsible for their feelings.

I will not be another flower – picked for my beauty and left to die.

I spent my life getting straight As, being on the principal’s honor roll, overachieving by being on the newspaper as a writer, the yearbook editor, on the KAY committee, National Honor Society, volunteering on weekends, playing volleyball and basketball, cheerleading, high school dance, and competitive dance. I worked after school at a local trust company. I was many other things besides pretty. I was intelligent, creative, kind, open-minded. I was cheerful; I took initiative. I was a leader. I was a college student as a junior in high school, yet all that consumed my mind was that I needed to be pretty. And boy did I try.

What they didn’t know is they could say whatever they wanted to about me, and it still wouldn’t be worse than what I called myself.

For the last 12 years, I have been at war on and off with this inner voice that tells me I’m not pretty, that I’ll never be pretty, that in fact, instead of pretty, I am ugly. I am fat. I am worthless. And because of those things, I am unlikable and no one is going to want to love me. This quickly led to many different types of disordered eating. It first started by restriction. If you’re not familiar with this term, it means restricting calories. I had a pattern of specific foods and times I’d eat. This lasted for a good five to six months beginning in eighth grade. I decided to be pretty, I had to be skinny. And if I wanted to be skinny, I couldn’t eat very much.

People wouldn’t ask too many questions, thought I often wonder now if they knew. My thoughts went something like this during lunch:

“Oh that smells good.”

“No, Robin, you cannot eat that.”

“But I’d really like to eat that roll and some chocolate milk.”

“Really? Who do you think you are thinking you can eat that?”

“You’re not like them.”

“You’re not fat, you’re big-boned.”

It wasn’t until I began having health problems and passed out in health class in high school that I thought I’d better do something differently. To this day, people still think I went unconscious and slid out from my folding chair in the commons area because I couldn’t handle the drunk driving video and the surgery the man was undergoing because of his actions. Yes, that bothered my significantly; however, if I had eaten in the last week, I think I would have stayed conscious.

This pattern came and went until sophomore year. I remember a peer stating her “light” weight. Everyone liked her. She was pretty. She was popular. Everyone wanted to be her friend. In my head, I thought if I could be that weight, maybe I would illicit the same response. After all, I was close to that weight. And you can imagine where I went from there.

During the end of my junior and beginning of my senior year of high school, I changed. Instead of restricting, I binged. I think my body was trying to make up for the last few years of not eating much. I didn’t do this publicly though. At school, I still didn’t eat. At home, I may not have eaten much in front of my family. But what they didn’t know was after school when no one was home, I ate as much as I could. I could eat a lot of sugar or leftovers. And I ate. And I ate. And I felt less hateful toward myself for a while. And then I felt worse. I felt ugly. I felt fat. I felt even more not pretty.

To fast forward, I have found out that restricting is how I deal with stress. Maybe it’s because I feel in control of something in my life when nothing seems to be in my control. Maybe it’s because I’m punishing myself for not being perfect. I have been so focused on being pretty and being liked, that I forgot about all the other parts of me. Being told I was pretty was the goal. When I lost weight and people told me how great I looked, this reinforced what I was doing. I remember this happening in college when I went through a stressful period of relationship problems.

I have always struggled with low self-esteem. It wasn’t until recently where I developed the insight that being called pretty obviously hadn’t been enough. I was missing something more. I was missing relationship. I was missing connection. I was missing being real with people. I was so consumed with putting on the energetic, carefree, happy Robin mask that I somehow missed the most important lesson.

Perfection is a disease.

As women, there are thousands of images in magazines and on television that show us we need to look a certain way to be pretty. We see messages that if we aren’t pretty, we aren’t going to get our dream job, we aren’t going to get married. We see messages that if we aren’t a certain way, we aren’t good enough.

I took these messages to heart. I still struggle with not needing to be pretty all the time, but I am working hard to look at myself differently. Today, I don’t want to be called pretty. I don’t want you to tell me I look pretty in my clothes or that my makeup looks good. I don’t want you to tell me my hair is pretty curled. Don’t call me pretty because I am so much more than that. Don’t call me pretty because I’m creative. Don’t call me pretty because I’m excited about life and opportunities. Don’t call me pretty because I’m a hard worker. Don’t call me pretty because I’m passionate. Don’t call me pretty because I’m kind.

So I ask you this: What makes you pretty? It’s not your weight. It’s not your makeup or your hair or how put together you look today. What about you makes you a pretty person?

You are more than the mistakes you’ve made. You are more than how many pounds you weigh or the number of followers you have. I believe you are everything God created to you to be. You are everything you are supposed to be. You are the first thoughts you have when you wake up in the morning. You are what you do when no one is looking. You are how you speak to yourself. The world has already told us what we’re not. Let’s start telling ourselves what we really are.

Don’t call me pretty. Call me Robin.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Follow this journey on My Rise Story.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Originally published: March 25, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home