It's what a beautician told me some years ago as she bent over my nails when I was half-crazed with the decision I had just made-- to leave my philandering then-husband and begin anew. Honestly, I didn't know what she meant.
"Don't waste the pretty?" I asked.
"Don't waste the pretty," she said again and proceeded to describe a man she was in a relationship with, the sex they were having (I believe up against the wall was mentioned), and the frustration with her pending divorce. I was still hung up on pretty. What I didn't really realize was, at 35 years old with two kids, no solid career, and a mountain of worry, that I was pretty. And that pretty could matter at that age and at that time-- to me. To someone else who could take that pretty and make me feel... dynamic. Apparently, I was pretty enough for this girl to see it.
A simple thing, a tiny gift, a piece of newness long after the years of trailing a wedding train down a church aisle of ribbons and blooms, promises and potential. I had forgotten what pretty was, and pretty isn't something a woman feels when she learns her husband has been banging someone else for two years. Pretty isn't something I thought about after tending babies and being an accessory to my then-husband's career-- helpful, but invisible, and ultimately, unappreciated. He had, at one time, bragged to his co-workers that he had married me for my smarts but that he didn't find me beautiful. It was a back-handed comment, particularly when at home he would insinuate that I wasn't smart enough to succeed in the world of business. I didn't just feel unattractive, I felt incompetent and abandoned. It was a terrible time. Who knew that pretty could be a defining moment?
But "don't waste the pretty" was the right and unconventional advice I was given at a time when my life was more questions than answers and more fear than foundation.
And I didn't waste the pretty, but I was choosy about it. My pretty blossomed in the attentions of the man I ended up marrying later, not that all stories should end that way. But "don't waste the pretty" gave me permission to break rules and convention and to be, for a little while, a girl again-- that unfettered girl awaiting a date on a porch trimmed in azaleas and twinkle lights, a girl smiling secretly with the knowledge that someone thought she was the poetic drug of love embodied in flame and flesh. A girl, a pretty girl, who could not just be loved, but be... craved.
Pretty is empowering.
A few months ago, I sat in my hairdresser's chair and asked that question that people usually only give the most untruthful answer to: "How are you?" In a conversation that resulted from our mutual discovery that things were for both of us very hard, very bleak, very overwhelming, I was able to turn to her and tell her as she described the end of her relationship and the circumstances surrounding it, the magic words she says she still finds herself repeating: Don't waste the pretty.
This young woman, a mother herself, is a sort of muse in the modern, alternative sense. At not even 30 years old, she is petite and lean with tattoos emblazoning her shoulders, chest, and the backs of her thighs. Ropes of dark hair trimmed with crimson spiral about a most delicate face. There is usually something artfully torn or fitted and leathery across her body. There are piercings. Somehow, running throughout her Suicide Girl image, she is soft-spoken, deliberate, hesitant, sweet, and innocent. I keep waiting for wings to break forth and lift her. I just want to protect this girl. I tell her, as she asks questions about the things she is thinking about, that everything will be ok, that there is time, and that time is the answer. And I tell her again, don't waste the pretty.
Could a girl who has striven for her indie-punk appeal still be affected by pretty? When I see her, I see so much pretty and fragility. And while I know what century this is and that women aren't supposed to hang expectations for ourselves on armored men astride white horses, that there are those of us who just want, for five seconds, to put everything else aside and be pretty to someone, as she most certainly does. And as I most certainly do.
Those years ago, in what I refer to as my previous life, I sat in a church praying to God that I not waste away and grow old before my time-- unrecognized, unloved, and unappreciated. I felt my sexuality dissolving under the weight of laundry baskets, dirty dishes, needful children, and neglect. I was second to someone else's high-powered career, with his golf dates, expense accounts, slick sales talk, and business plans. I would later pack up my art studio and shelve those aspirations thinking that my goals were detracting from the family I was trying to hold together. I thought I deserved the hand I was taking-- the hand of someone who would rather indulge in Internet fantasy, office trysts, and dishonest business practices. Pretty was a luxury then. I was just trying to survive.
I thank the beautician who first brought back pretty to me, and to the young lady who is taking the turn I once took for reminding me again about pretty. To her, I pass the advice on. Don't waste it. Don't waste the pretty.