Monday, June 22, 2009

Would You Take the Pretty Pill?

Pretty matters. It's a reality that's unfair, but it's real.

The first encounter with it that I recall was around eight years old while taking dance classes. One girl, Erin, I think her name was, was the teacher's pet. He treated her better than anyone else, always putting her on the front row and fawning over her, giving her far more compliments and attention than anyone else.

She was a good dancer, sure, but there were plenty of other great dancers in the class. I remember thinking how unfair it was that we didn't get anywhere near the same adulation, nowhere near the same encouragement or commentary. And even with the hindsight of almost thirty years, I can honestly say I was as good as she was. It made no sense.

I complained to my mother. I described Erin. Mom raised an eyebrow, having a clue as to what what going on.

See, Erin always arrived at class with really cute dance clothes, hair in curls and ribbons. I think she had earrings, and quite possibly a thin layer of lip gloss.

Mom's eyes narrowed as she came up with an experiment. For my next dance class, I wore a brand new leotard and tights. We put my hair in darling curls with bows. Mom even added a slight, natural-looking touch of blush on my cheeks, and maybe even a tiny bit of eye shadow.

Mr. Dance Teacher couldn't give me enough attention.

It felt good at the moment (Ha! Mom's experiment worked!), but afterward, I was hurt. The only thing that had changed was my appearance. I looked cute, so my teacher acted differently. Mom was irate but not at all surprised.

It was my first experience with the reality of the world we live in. There are times we all deal with it: we dress up for a job interview, we put on nicer clothes for church. But in day-to-day interactions, yes, we're also judged. And people treat us accordingly.

But here's the important thing: no matter how we change on the outside, we're still the same people inside.

Recently I came across a blog post that brought this issue center stage for me. It posed a question: If you could take a pill that made you physically thinner and prettier . . . but stupider . . . would you take it?

The comment section stunned me: the overwhelming response was yes, the readers (mostly female) would take such a pill in a heartbeat.

The responses made me want to cry. Yes, the Erins of our world may get treated a bit differently. But do these reader really think that being pretty and skinny in and of themselves make you happy?


They DON'T.

For someone seriously overweight, this may hard to swallow; they feel as if they'd do anything to be thin, and if they were, they'd finally be happy. But you know what? That's not how it works. I know plenty of people (many close to me) who have lost 40 or 50 or more pounds, have looked fantastic at reaching whatever size . . . but then gained it all back. Why? Because being skinny didn't change them on the inside.

Having a new dress size didn't change their mental and emotional thermostat, the way they respond to life events and stress, the way they see the world. The same things that made them sad and happy and stressed and overjoyed before still did.

A lower number on the scale didn't change those things.

Consider this: I know plenty of people (and I bet you do, too) who have never struggled with weight issues but who are still unhappy and possibly even clinically depressed. (If being skinny makes you happy, explain that one.)

Newsflash: Skinny does not equal happy.

I've lived through this pill experiment (inadvertently, but literally). You can read that whole post here, but here's the nutshell version:

I was on a preventative migraine medication that made me lose a lot of weight. I ended up very thin (nearly 10 pounds lighter than I was at high school graduation) and looking great.

However, I physically ill all. The. Time. I felt no joy in life.

On top of that, I became, literally, stupid. One side effect basically made my brain fall out of my head. I found myself trying to focus on what my kids were saying to me and asking them to repeat themselves several times.

Once (not making this up) I had to count 3 + 6 on my fingers.

I was skinny. I was stupid. I was miserable.

As I weaned off the medication, I decided to wear a dress I could finally fit into after a good 15 years or so of being too big for it, knowing that the minute I was off the medication I'd never fit into it again. Because yes, I did enjoy being thin.

But that size did NOT make me happy. There is a distinct difference.

That medication period was a very dark, miserable time.

I had exchanged a physical improvement for the loss of my mind and intelligence.

I couldn't write then. I had a hard time reading, because frankly, I wasn't smart enough (couldn't focus enough) to follow. I was stupid, skinny, and utterly depressed.

I doubt I'll ever again be as thin as I was during those few months. While it's a nice pipe dream to think I could be, I recognize that if I ever fit into that peach-colored dress again, it'll be a fun moment, but it won't be the greatest source of my joy in life. The greatest sources of joy in my life are a lot more significant than a stupid dress.

During that time (and even since), I cannot count how many people have said they'd love to try that pill for the weight loss, even if it made them stupid. I always want to shake some sense into them, make them understand that losing who you are while being thin doesn't bring happiness.

Really, it doesn't. Happiness comes from within, not from a number on a scale, and not from a dress size.

I try not to care about the Erins among us, although I admit to being intimidated by drop-dead gorgeous women who look like they just walked off a Vogue cover. But here's the catch: I doubt they're happier just because they're skinny and pretty. They surely have their own life challenges.

No one escapes this life unscathed, curls or ribbons notwithstanding.

I'm not sure what the point of this is, exactly. On the one hand, I'm very aware that appearance is significant and that how I look affects how people treat and view me. It's an odd line to walk.

So I'm always sure to wear something a bit businessy-dressy for author appearances and the like. I wear casual clothes (jeans, sweats, t-shirts, and [who am I kidding?] pajamas) around the house. I refuse to visit the salon every few weeks to color my hair and get my nails done or to follow fashion trends. While I know it's important to make a good impression, I don't want to be an Erin.

There's a part of me that whispers that trying to be one of them will only make me miserable, because I can't be perfect. I can't be the most pretty. I can't be the skinniest.

But I can be smart. And I can be me.

No stupid and skinny pill for me, thanks.

The trick now is trying to teach my three daughters that balance: value your appearance. Present yourself well, but don't chase after perfection, thinking it'll make you happy, because it won't.

Never, ever, give up part of who you are for someone else.

I'm currently a bit chubby, but I'll stick with that if it means I'm smart and happy. Yes, I'm trying to lose weight (mostly so I don't have to buy bigger clothes, plus it's a healthy thing to do, and because exercise keeps my mood more even).

But no way would I ever again exchange smart and happy for something as shallow as thin or pretty.


Kristina P. said...

Interesting post. BUT, I do think that you CAN be both.

I am one of those who lost a bunch of weight, about 6 years ago. I lost about 70 pounds. I have gained back about 15.

And I can honestly say that it wasn't a magic cure, but I found this new found confidence that I never had, and I actually started to come out of my shell and be more comfortable with myself.

I'm not skinny, by any means, but I'm happy with me, and I do think that I'm pretty smart too. :)

But no way would I take the pretty pill anymore. I don't know if I could say that 10 years ago though.

Josi said...

I agree with Kristina--I do think it's possible to have both, but for most of us maintaining that isn't necessarily 'fun' but we have to decide if it's worth it. I was all excited about the pill idea until you brought in the stupid part. No, I would not take it. I value my intelligence too much--but I will get on the treadmill and I will turn away from the cheesecake (unless it's low-carb sugar free :-) because I do feel more confident and secure when my weight is at a controlled level. But I also accept that I am somewhat vain--however, I'm as vain about my smarts as I am about my looks, so I can't trade either one in.

Unknown said...

I love this! You should publish this personal story in the New Era!
I am right there with you Girl Friend! In high school I was under wieght and bulemic I was cute and skinny, but I was sick. Now, after 20 yrs. I've finally learned to love myself no matter what me size, and I am a healthier well rounded person.I'm trying to ingrain this quote it my daughters brains "No one can make you feel inferior except yourself." -Elanor Roosevelt.
I think my 11 yr old is starting to believe it!
thanks for this post I needed it hear it again!

Annette Lyon said...

Kristina and Josi both have a point--and it's one I agree with. Self-confidence and all that can be helped (but not changed entirely) by appearance. But appearance in and of itself will not grant happiness.

And the stupid part of the equation just made me fall over--that people really would be willing to lose their brains to look better.

Stephanie Black said...

Well said, Annette. I can certainly understand wanting to look good--I wish I were twenty-five pounds lighter--but giving up brain cells for it??? And the majority of commenters said they would do that? That is a scary commentary on what women have been taught to value.

Melanie Jacobson said...

Yeah, there's no way I would ever trade an ounce of my intelligence for weight loss or any other kind of physical improvement. It's my brain that helps me enjoy life, not my reflection.

Lara Neves said...

This was so wonderfully put. I hope I don't come off as full of myself, but here goes: My husband was the first person I dated who really looked beyond my physical appearance and liked me for my personality and for who I was inside. That's probably why I married him, because I never really enjoyed just being a pretty girl on some guy's arm. Not fun.

Physical looks really shouldn't matter and it bothers me immensely to hear people talking about people that way. "She's nice, but I'd never date her...have you seen her nose!"

More girls need to read this and understand this concept.

Rebecca Irvine said...

I agree that more women/girls need to really understand this concept. It is too bad our society makes it difficult to grasp.

Jordan McCollum said...

Well said, Annette! True self-confidence, self-worth and happiness come from within.

Luisa Perkins said...

Pretty pill? No, thanks.

Published pill? Maybeeeeee....

Cheryl said...

I lost 40 pounds about 18 months ago, and it literally took me years to figure out why I couldn't stop gaining weight. Ironically, it had everything to do with the inside of me (like you explained), and when I fixed that, I lost the weight. And then, like Kristina P. said, the self-confidence sky-rocketed!

But to take pretty over smart? I'd love to be both (of course!), but I'd take smart in a heartbeat.

Besides, I hate the idea of a weight-loss pill anyway. I did it the Right way (eating right and exercise), and that's safer for you anyway...

Unknown said...

Loving who we are, not what we look like, is such an important concept but so difficult for almost every woman I know. I too struggled with an eating disorder for years and I finally came to realize that happiness wasn't in being thin, or giving in to an addiction (eating disorders are definitely an addiction) but spending time with people I love and creating a whole person, not just a pretty shell. As a new mom I do struggle with the way my body has changed, but I am trying to focus on the joy I receive from my family, and not the extra padding my body hangs onto while I'm breast-feeding!

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

What there is pill that will make me skinny?

I kid

I'd rather keep my smarts. But not being healthy (and thin not skinny) is kinda stupid to... to allow myself to get big... or overweight... which I admittedly am!

I've lost weight, but you are right it's been a WHOLE mind and body thing.

GREAT post! Thanks! I might have to link it up for tomorrow!

Julie P said...

This was a good post for me to read. (thanks)

Anonymous said...

Before I get to my comment, it must be said that you are GORGEOUS Annette. I was so intimidated by how beautiful you are when I met you at storymakers. You've got it all, girl--beauty AND brains.

That said, I agree with this whole post. I'm quite overweight (no, I'm not proud of that) but on Friday to turned to my husband and said, "Honey, remember this day. Mark it down in your memory." He asked, "Why?" To which I replied, "Because today, I am 100% happy with my life."

And you know what? I am. I might be overweight but I can change that. "I am the captain of my soul," and that means that I can change what I do not like. As for who I am, I'm pretty happy with who I am. Yes, I can improve. I can be better, but I can also value where I am and how far I've come. I'm happy. I'm content. I may not be the smartest person alive, but I'm not an idiot either. And no pill, regardless of what it offers, can offer me that. I worked hard to learn to like me and I think it's finally paying off.

Amber Lynae said...

Annette thank you for this post. I have already emailed the link. I think everyone need to hear this message, myself included.

amelia said...

Beautiful post.

(And I wouldn't take it!)

Laura said...

People don't know what they have until it's gone. Having a functioning brain is one of the best parts of life. It's what makes you recognize the miracles around you everyday.

No- skinny doesn't equal happy.
Yes- you can be skinny and happy.
No- I would never take a pretty pill.
Yes- I do care how I feel, how I look and how well I can handle the world around me. But if I had to choose between skinny and smart- give me the smart pill. I can always exercise and eat right and put up with the figure I was born with.
But I would never want to give up the best part of life. The ability to think, create and love.

annie valentine said...

When it comes down to it, I know very few women who are significantly overweight or significantly gone to pot (physically) who are honestly happy. I think the Lord wants us to do the best with what we've got on the outside--and he expects the same from the inside.

Personally, I like to take care of myself physically as well as spiritually. I actually start to feel depressed when I go one too many days in yoga pants and end up looking for an excuse to break out my stilettos (cause we know I'm crazy like that).

It comes down to the same old recipe that applies to every area of our lives--balance.

Heffalump said...

I love reading posts that make me think.
I would NOT take the skinny pill.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Beautiful, skinny, but stupid? I wouldn't trade anything in the word for those two traits that appeal to the world.

I know what you mean about dressing up and how the teacher treated you differently. That was such a common occurrence for me when I was in high school. I noticed that the boys paid more attention to me when I put make-up on and did my hair nicely.
I thought that was really strange since I was the same person as before!
I agree with you. Smart and happy v. thin and beautiful? No way. After all, we will have everything we've worked hard for (even thin and beauty) when this life is done!

Heather Moore said...

NO to the skinny/stupid pill :)

I recently became duped by the Acai berry supplement. When I got my order in the mail, I read the ingredients. It said, "one pill has as much caffeine as 2 cups of coffee"--and you were supposed to take 2 a day. For my body--since I rarely drink caffeine unless I'm at a writers conference and I'm trying to look cool--it would send me over the edge :)

Charlie Moore said...

My wife has been giving me "handsome" pills for about 26 years now. Do the math to figure out how long we've been married. They haven't worked yet, but she keeps trying. Bless her heart. Of course, I keep taking them because they just look like hard tack candy to me.


Summer said...

I certainly wouldn't take it. I value my brain above looks any day!

Jenny P. said...

no way, no how would I take a pretty pill.

Here's an interesting question though...

what if you could take a pill that would increase your intelligence ten fold, but also diminish your personal attractiveness?

Think anyone would take that one?

Amanda D said...

I'll admit that I would consider taking it...but I hope that when it comes right down to it, I wouldn't take it. Interesting topic. Great post, Annette.

Julie Wright said...

I will do whatever it takes to be skinny except eat right and exercise :) Kidding! (sorta)

I'll keep my mind and leave the pretty pill to others. I'd rather look like a small cow than be considered stupid.

Anonymous said...

Why not teach them about forgiveness, repentance, the atonement, and let the spirit guide them? Wouldn't that work? Maybe even better? Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather look like a cow than act like one. Isn't that it?

LeeAnn said...

Great post, Annette, but thank you for something else you inadvertently included. The part about exercise keeping your mood more even. I needed to hear that.

Heather of the EO said...

I love this post, Annette.

Sure, people can feel a bit better if they're taking care of themselves and therefore losing weight and all that.

But being naturally thin and all that? No, it doesn't make a person happy. We're simply all the same on the inside in the sense that we've got so much to work on, so much to struggle through....

Loved this post. I know I already said that...

Jo said...

GREAT post. My first thought was NO way! I wouldn't do it, so hopefully that helps you regain some faith in women.

Wonder Woman said...

High five. Double high five.

I will not admit to wondering which anti-migraine med you were on. I'm on one that makes weight-loss difficult.

Chas Hathaway said...

I think I know what you mean. Every time I go to the dentist they ask me if I would like to get braces to straighten my teeth.

"Why?" I want to ask them, "they still chew fine. Besides, as long as my teeth are crooked, it keeps my smile sincere!"

Could I possibly smile out of vanity with these teeth? No, so I make sure to smile often - it keeps me humble and happy!

Besides, while I may get more attention for it, I don't think my boss would think much of me if I showed up to work in a new leotard.

- Chas

Karlene said...

In general, I agree with you. However, I do have to say that sometimes the choices isn't between fat and thin, but between life and death. In that case, I'd take the pill.

I lost 175 pounds about 10 years ago and I've kept it off. It did change my life, but not as much as the previous 10 years I spent changing me on the inside, making it safe to lose the weight.


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