Not every woman has to be 'pretty'

Dec 16, 2014 at 2:10 p.m. ET

Being beautiful often feels like an obligation as a woman. We are allowed to have a variety of talents in nearly every other realm — some of us are singers, others are dancers, others can run fast, and some can climb mountains. In nearly no other part of our lives are all of us expected to conform to one ideal. Except in beauty. All women are supposed to be "beautiful." No exceptions.

Kathleen Long, a blogger on Huffington Post, wrote a poignant piece about her own struggle with beauty, or what she perceives as a lack thereof. My guess? She posted it on her Facebook page to a million comments saying "No! You are beautiful" and "Don't sell yourself short!"

But what if we said, OK, you are right. You are not beautiful. But you are a good writer. And you are funny. And you are clearly smart and deep and have empathy to spare. Why do we value beauty so much over other "talents" that we overlook the real talent standing right in front of us?

Not everyone was meant to look like Cindy Crawford. That's OK. The pressure put on women when it comes to looks is absurd. Like Long, I have spent a lot of time in my life on looks. I have been heavier when, after my mother died, I ate a carton of ice cream every single day. And I have been thinner — when I discovered my love of running and went down to a size 2. It is pretty amazing the difference in attention I got at each weight.

I was hit on quite a bit at my thinnest, but most of the attention came from smarmy, sleazy men. Big whoop. Why would anyone want to hang their hat on that kind of attention? My husband has been with me at every fluctuation in weight. He has always found me lovely even when I weighed close to 190 pounds (at the tail end of my last pregnancy).

Finally, at 37, I am able to say I don't care anymore. I don't care if you think I am hot. That isn't where I am putting my pride. It's so freeing.

I look at my two daughters, both of whom receive near constant praise for their looks. "Look at their light eyes!" "Their hair is so beautiful!" "Wow, you are in trouble when she is older!" "Goodness, all she has to do is bat those eyes, right?"

They are beautiful. It's true even discounting my obvious bias. In our culture, my fair-haired, light-eyed children fit that "norm" or ideal in terms of childhood beauty. But I worry that they are getting the message that it's their special gift or that they have to be so.

They are so much more than beautiful. They are smart, creative, driven and funny. My younger daughter is still a baby, so her talents are emerging, but I do hope for her sake they are more than just looks-based.

If women spent 90 percent less time worried about their hair, nails, makeup and general appearance, then what else could they accomplish? Once I let go of caring so much about looks, I discovered so many other hidden talents, things I had ignored in order to be attractive.

What a waste.

If a woman says she is "plain" or defines herself as such, don't feel sorry for her. Don't try to convince her otherwise. Maybe she has other ways to spend her time. Maybe she has talents she considers far more important. Why isn't that OK? What are we so afraid of?

We don't owe anyone "pretty." We only need to be ourselves and let our individual talents shine. Bravo to Long for being brave enough to put it out there.

Do you feel obligated to be "pretty"?

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Does the 'I'm too pretty for dating sites' woman have a point?