Pretty Girls

I turned the furnace on today; it’s been chilly and pouring rain -it even snowed in the mountains – and seems fitting, somehow, for the end of summer vacation.  Frankly, it’s a bit depressing.  But not as depressing as this:

This t-shirt was for sale at JC Penney – was, but not anymore.  Someone at JC Penney, after a public uproar, decided that girls sized 7-16 should probably not be advertising that they are too pretty for homework; something about their core values.  Regardless, the shirt was for sale, and someone, somewhere in the JC Penney corporation must have felt that it was at some point appropriate, just as someone at Old Navy decided that this shirt was appropriate for boys:

Similar idea, but without the public outcry, and also without the focus on physical appearance.  There’s the rub.  Celebration of idiocy and underachievement is socially acceptable, it seems, until we bring the cult of the pretty into the picture.

We like to at least give lip service to the idea that appearances don’t matter.  It’s what’s inside that counts – that is what I tell my children all the time, and of course it’s true – but also true is that appearances DO matter.  When I was in university studying economics, I read an academic article about how beautiful people earn more money, are promoted more often and more easily, and in general are afforded more advantages.  I was appalled, of course, I was outraged and angry, but I also knew that the restaurant in which I waitressed part-time would not hire anyone for their front-house staff who did not have a certain look.  Any applicants falling short of that would be considered for a job in the kitchen.

The ugly side to this is that pretty and smart are frequently considered to be mutually exclusive, as in the JC Penney shirt, or this one from Amazon:

If a grown, female mathematician was wearing this, I would consider it amusing in an ironic way, the same way I considered that guy wearing a Vagitarian t-shirt to be amusing in an ironic way.  But the thought of children wearing a shirt like this, children who see things in black and white and who may equate smart with ugly and therefore may be less inclined to strive for high academic achievements, the thought of that makes me ill.
There’s nothing wrong with being pretty, or striving to be pretty, but passing along the idea that pretty girls do not have to be responsible for homework, or math, or anything else requiring thought or effort, is pathetic.
The day I defended my master’s thesis, I had a celebratory lunch with several of my fellow grad students.  I had a 4.0 GPA, I studied all the time.  I prided myself on my work ethic.  As we sat in the lounge, I mentioned how exhausted I was.  A male student smirked at me and said “Why?  Did you sleep with the defence committee?  Is that how you get A’s?” 
It is possible to be pretty and do math.


  1. Excellent post.

  2. *sigh*

  3. Yup. Everything you said.

  4. Yes. Really. I seem to have lost my quippy. I think it’s because I agree with everything here.

  5. Back when I was pretty I was also not great at math, but I never considered the two to be at all related. 🙂

    It boggles the mind that a group of people exists that thought there would be a market for this shirt. Truthfully, I don’t have as much of a problem with the boys’ one, simply because I don’t think it glorifies idiocy so much as pointing out that kids generally don’t love homework (I was a great student and I didn’t love homework). I thought we had outgrown the cute but dumb stereotype as anything but a, well, dumb stereotype at this point.

  6. It is absolutely possible to be pretty and do math.

  7. Ugh, now I’m all angry. I did a degree at university in a very male-dominated field, and I remember some idiot guy in the first couple of weeks asking if I’d signed up to “follow my boyfriend” and if he would be doing all my homework for me.


    STILL makes me SO mad. I go out of my way to tell my girls all the time that they are good at math. It’s more about how they think about it than whether it’s objectively true – I just want them to have the idea in their head that math is something they can handle.

    I GROWL at stupid t-shirts. GROWL.

  8. A-to the -men
    I can’t believe that such a shirt would even be allowed to be sold…for young children?! Eeks.
    I’m glad that they took it off the racks.

    PS. did you say the s word??

  9. Wow… now I’m all angry. Was looking forward to a post about the first day of school insanity (hope yours was ok!). Somehow though this puts it all into perspective. We still have such a long, long way to go.
    PS that day in the lounge, you should have responded “only the women”, and/or dumped his beer on his head.

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