Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Beauty: Pretty vs Sexy

I'm not totally sure that this is going to make sense to people other than me, or that it's strictly a Fat Acceptance topic all the way through. But it's been rolling in my head today and I think it's related enough. I've been thinking  lot about beauty, and perceptions and standards and different types. I think I can boil down most forms of beauty and attractiveness to two categories. There's Pretty beauty - characterized by youth, innocence, flowy skirts and hair, maiden-ish charms - and Sexy beauty - characterized by fullness of figure, confidence and assertiveness and revealing clothes. I make no claims about the feminist implications of these categories and I don't think one is any better than the other, but I do think there's a lot of personality involved in which one different people aspire to be.

I think that for the most part, there's a place that's carved out for fat women to be Sexy, but I don't see the same place for fat Prettiness.

I can't really come up with a lot of specific examples beyond Queen Latifah in Chicago. But in general, I feel like I see a fair amount of FA bloggers touting their sexiness and virility and strength, which is wonderful. But...I kind of like being a damsel. I always have. I like the quieter, maidenly Pretty beauty that I don't ever really see applied to people with bodies like mine. I remember when i was younger and thinking about my looks that I did think I had a pretty face. I liked my eyes, and I love my hair, but I remember thinking it didn't really matter. My Pretty face was sort of wasted on my fat body,  which couldn't match.

I think in some way, it makes sense why the culture would allow for a space for Sexy fatness. If you're starting with the assumption that fat people are fat because they overindulge in food, then it follows that you can assume they overindulge in sex as well (not in part because there's this really weird and, for me, kind of icky connection between food and sex: see my post on the Truvia commercial). Therefore, there logically has to be a place for fat people to engage in sex, and thus be Sexy. There's also the issue of curviness, which has its place to be considered Sexy and comes with fat bodies more obviously than thin.

I think a lot of the difference in my mind at least, is that Sexy beauty is associated with the act of having sex. Pretty beauty is sort of divorced from it. Calling a young girl "pretty" is a compliment, that speaks only about her looks and traits, while calling her "sexy" is creepy because it associates her with the behavior of sex. Sexy is a loaded kind of beauty that's predicated on an ability and openness toward sex itself. I don't think it's possible to think of oneself simultaneously as Sexy and as chaste or modest or shy (Although if you do, please feel free to comment). Whereas I think there's a possibility for Pretty sexuality - Pretty maiden-y-ness is also easy to fantasize about and bring sex into, but I feel like Pretty can occupy both a sexual and nonsexual space, while Sexy just can't.

Where it becomes kind of personal is the part where I don't always like to feel Sexy, because I don't always want to have sex. But I still don't always feel Pretty. I imagine Pretty and it's always slim. This isn't to say that no one has ever called me Pretty, because I have been told that. But it doesn't internalize the same way. I've been called Sexy also, by my partner, and it's different the way that that absorbs into who I am. Some nights, I love being Sexy. Sometimes it makes me feel strong and confident as well. But I want to have the place to be Pretty, too, and more often. If I'm having a night where I just want to cuddle on the couch, it's okay to think of myself as Pretty. But if he starts telling me that I'm Sexy, there's a sort of loaded, light pressure that comes in (not from him at all, but from myself). I don't know how to think of myself as Sexy if I don't want to engage in sex.

I don't really know how to conclude this. I suppose it's just one of those things where there seems to be more variety for thin than for fat. More acceptable personae to take on. I feel like if I were a thin person, I would always be able to think of myself as Pretty, it wouldn't be a question whether or not I could fit into that label. I'd be better able to slip back and forth between Pretty and Sexy at different times. But as it is, I've always felt that I couldn't really be Pretty the way I am, and while it's great to have Sexy as a choice, I sometimes feel like I'm missing a safer, more natural to my personality space to slip back into.


  1. Really interesting food for thought there...

    I think in regards to fat-pretty the most common way I've heard it has been "but you have a really pretty face!" or "you're so pretty, imagine what you'd be like if you were thinner". So fat people can exist in a state of 'almost-pretty'.

    Maybe it's in the semantics of the word itself? If you do a quick search the definition comes up frequently as "attractive dainty, delicate, or graceful way"... which is pretty much the opposite of how society views fat.

  2. I was thinking of those same descriptors mentioned by SoyShake in reference to Pretty. For me, the word has always connoted daintiness or a sort of fragile femininity. There's a certain innocence about the word, but it can also have a saccharine quality to it. I have often felt Sexy, but I seldom feel Pretty any more due to the size of my body.

    To me some of the most insulting comments are things along the lines of, "I know thinks you're attractive..." Or the 'pretty face' line mentioned above. They make me sad, and lately when I hear them I have started to mention how rude they are.

    Back on topic, I wonder if one of the issues with Pretty has to do with the very limited selection of feminine or pretty fashion at larger sizes? It's easy to find Sexy things, but Pretty is another matter.

  3. Yeah, I definitely do associate a daintiness and fragility with Pretty. And that's also part of the image that I like. I want to be able to think of myself as dainty sometimes, but it's hard when you're bigger regardless of how gracefully you can actually move.

    Moo, I think that's a good point too. I remember finding an absolutely gorgeous Pretty dress at, one of the few that looked like its Large size might actually fit me even, and having to realize that as lovely as it was and as much as it fits the image of myself that I'd love to project, it would never have looked right on my body. (

    Fashion looks different on fat people, and designers don't always take it into account. And even when I do find Pretty skirts, it's difficult for me to wear them because my thighs rub together and chafe, and that hardly makes me feel dainty.

  4. That is a cute dress! I love the skirt. And a great colour combo too.

    I just wanted to write and say that I linked to this post in regards to something I was discussing, because it's a very good point.

  5. I think it's just beautiful...but it probably wouldn't come down very far over my thighs, which I don't like, and I'm just not that triangle-shaped. Pity. Thanks for the link, I'm reading your post right now :)