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25 Famous Women on What Makes Them Feel Pretty

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“Pretty,” in pop culture, is a spectrum. One on end, Maria of West Side Story gleefully warbles about her pretty face, dress, and smile. On the other end, beauty-pageant Bey reveals the darker costs of chasing beauty and perfection in “Pretty Hurts.”

Due to its connections to ideals of girliness, femininity, delicacy, and beauty, “pretty” conjures up a mixed bag of emotions for a lot of women. For Pretty Things, we’re delving into the complexities behind the word — both celebrating the joys that a perfect pair of shoes or lipstick can bring to a woman and challenging standards of beauty. Read on for women like Iris Apfel, Solange Knowles, Tilda Swinton, and more on the little things that make them feel pretty and what “pretty” means to them.

Jill Soloway

“It’s super fascinating to me this question of performing girly things. Sometimes I question whether the putting on of female things, whether it’s high heels, wearing a lot of makeup, or spending an hour getting ready, is, like, an invitation to being consumed sexually. Being pretty … I’m just confused about it. I mean, I love getting my nails done, but I also like dressing like a boy. I think I feel most myself when I’m mixing femininity and masculinity. Like, 50-50.” —Elle, January 2015

Mindy Kaling

“I think a lot of people — I think especially men, but also women — sometimes think that you can’t be interested in things like fashion or things that are traditionally feminine and also be a strong woman, and I face this all the time because my character on my show is really obsessed with that, and me personally, [I] love looking at fashion magazines, I love makeup. And I think the reason is because there’s some suspicion that if you are interested in that, that means you’re doing it for a man — that you’re doing it for the attention of a man, to catch a man, or for something that would be in any way against women or you have some weird ulterior motive. And I think that that is — at least for me — incorrect … I feel like if anything, I dress for other women. And I find it such a great, expressive art. I’m wearing a canary-yellow dress because I thought this is an environment that would be able to appreciate it. And I wish that we didn’t inextricably link being interested in those things and being a strong woman. Yeah, I am I think unabashedly a feminine feminist, and I think that there’s a lot of us out there that are worried that it makes us somehow impure, and I would like to say that I disagree with that.” —2016 Watermark Conference for Women, April 2016

Iris Apfel

“I never was pretty, but I had something more interesting — style. I had to work hard at developing something extra. As it happens, I’ve never much cared for pretty.” —The Telegraph, July 2015

Zooey Deschanel

“I think you can still be girlie and maintain your power. The fact that you associate being girlie with being nonthreatening, that is … I mean, I can’t think of more blatant example of playing into exactly the thing that we’re trying to fight against. I can’t be girlie? Why do I need to be defined aesthetically by someone else’s perceptions of what makes me seem like someone who should be taken seriously? I’m going to wear whatever I want to wear, because I’m expressing myself, and I deserve that right. And I like the way that looks. You’re not demeaning yourself by acting girlie. I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined. Not me dressing girlie. I don’t think that undermines my power at all … I like things that are pretty. And I think it’s great to be pretty. I like being feminine. I think it’s good to be feminine. We don’t need to look like men or dress like men or talk like men to be powerful. We can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way.” —Vulture, September 2011

Thandie Newton

“I’ve been different things in different contexts, and I didn’t really feel beautiful until I had my first child. I knew that I was considered People magazine’s “Most Whatever,” but all that stuff is just how we label different groups. And I’ve been very not beautiful in my life. There’s no way I was beautiful growing up. I mean, I was the person that I am, but in a small town in Cornwall I was not perceived as the person that boys wanted to go out with. And that has a very strong effect on a young girl. But once I’d figured out that there were different boxes for different types of beauty, that it was like a language, I got smart about using it. And you know what? Now I do use it. I use it!” —The Telegraph, August 2014

Hari Nef

“People think we are so wrapped up in how we look. There’s a shred of truth to that … However, if you really want to see my beauty routine, I don’t really wear makeup. For a trans woman to be depicted fluffing her hair, modeling for the sake of modeling, looking in the mirror — that’s a cliché, and that’s a violent cliché. The reality is, and for women in general, some wear makeup and some don’t. Some are into their physical appearance and some aren’t. There are as many ways to be trans as there are trans people.” —The Boston Globe, January 2016

Lupita Nyong’o

“I come from a loving, supportive family, and my mother taught me that there are more valuable ways to achieve beauty than just through your external features. She was focused on compassion and respect, and those are the things that ended up translating to me as beauty. Beautiful people have many advantages, but so do friendly people … I think beauty is an expression of love … to rely on the way you look is empty. You’re a pretty face — and then what? Your value is in yourself; the other stuff will come and go. We don’t get to pick the genes we want. There’s room in this world for beauty to be diverse.” —Glamour, November 2014

Jenna Lyons

“I have far too many shoes. I think I have 289 pairs, I believe? Yeah. And some of them I actually realized I haven’t worn, but I like to look at them …Anyone who thinks that your shoe isn’t informative about who you are is making a mistake. You know, a five-inch stiletto sends a very different message than a beaten-up oxford … There’s a sense of sparkle in a shoe, and I don’t mean a sparkle like sequins. I mean, you know, that little extra … Shoes are like fairies, like that sort of little magical piece that finishes everything. I can throw on a silver, five-inch-heel pump and all of a sudden, I feel a little prettier.” —J.Crew, March 2013

Zadie Smith

“Now I’m heavily pregnant and fashion is far from my mind, to be honest. When I was young, for all kinds of reasons, I didn’t engage in [it]— I considered that world not to be my world. My world was books and I had a lot of contempt for visual things at all. I just wanted to live in the library and wear a sack. But as I got older — I tried to write about it a little bit — you know, I come from a Protestant culture, where things that are beautiful are always a bit suspect. To be in Italy, where beauty is taken seriously and enjoyed and it’s okay to enjoy it, was a big shock for me — all the way down from houses to shoes. Now, I think this also just happens with women, as you become old, that you appreciate the idea of a beautiful fabric or a nice dress. I never cared about those things when I was young. I do think that I understand the Italian phrase, ‘The eye also has its part,’ which I think is true. I hadn’t recognized it before. There’s a lot of pleasure in looking at beautiful things and considering beautiful things, and clothing is part of that. But in my youth, it was not — so it’s been a late revelation. I have a deep love for High Street clothes, that’s what I grew up on. My mother always said I make expensive clothes look cheap and cheap clothes look expensive. And that’s true … but there’s something about High Street clothes, I don’t know, I really like them.” —The Rumpus, January 2013

Kim Kardashian

“I mean, I love makeup. I love the whole idea of glamour. I’m still not afraid to post a picture with no makeup, but, for my personal preference, what I like is maybe more glamorous than the average person.” —Refinery29, September 2014

Andreja Pejic

“I was assigned a male gender at birth, but I always felt like a girl. Makeup defined what it meant to be confident, beautiful, a woman. But [to me] it was forbidden … I would go through my mother’s makeup kit, and I think she thought it was really cute. I was only 3 or 4 years old. But then I had to stop to fit into social norms — until the age of 13, when I went through an emo phase. I experimented with dark eyeliner, really light foundation, and skinny jeans. It was a way of expressing myself through this kind of subculture … being able to look pretty without having to explain too much. My look evolved from that, becoming more and more feminine. I would sneak a little eye shadow before I went to class every morning. Maybe a bit of blush. During one period when I started hanging out with the popular girls, we’d use heaps of orange bronzer. But those were the days of Paris Hilton and The Simple Life.” —Allure, March 2016

Eva Chen

“Beauty is the lowest common denominator: I don’t care what they say, every girl, every woman, wants to feel pretty and empowered and beautiful, within their own definition of beautiful. I love fashion, I love shopping, but I love beauty more because I love the science of it. Fashion, the trends are always changing. But beauty, the trends and the technology are always changing. So there’s always this crazy ingredient story that’s interesting, like, ‘sea kelp that’s harvested by mermaids at dawn.’” —Into the Gloss, September 2010

Amandla Stenberg

“I’m not tired of talking about hair in the sense of it being an empowering thing. I know when I used to chemically straighten mine, I did it because I wasn’t comfortable with my natural hair. I thought it was too poofy, too kinky. So for me, personally, when I started wearing it natural, it felt like I was blossoming because I was letting go of all the dead hair and all the parts of me that had rejected my natural state. But, you know, it’s not like that for all black girls. Some have their hair straight because that’s just how they like it, and it doesn’t mean that they accept themselves any less.” —Teen Vogue, February 2016

Tavi Gevinson

“I realize that the things I find beautiful are the things that are weird. Then I know I don’t have to be perfect, or gorgeous, or pretty. I just have to be the same kind of thing that would make me excited about being a human. That’s just being yourself, and it’s great.” —The Hollywood Reporter, July 2015

Erykah Badu

“Beauty is pretty close to what people would describe as love. Beauty looks like encouragement, patience, acceptance, forgiveness, carefulness, and compassion.” —Essence, April 2014

Solange Knowles

“My beauty ethos? Well, I’d love to tell you it’s something like ‘less is more’ but honestly it all starts with happiness. If only someone could bottle that up — when I’m happy, I’m at my most radiant and glowing. It does me better than any product ever could. And I stand by how cheesy and clichéd that sounds.” —The Telegraph, September 2015

Tilda Swinton

“From childhood, I remember more about [my father’s] black patent, gold livery, scarlet-striped legs, and medal ribbons than I do of my mother’s evening dresses. I would rather be handsome, as he is, for an hour than pretty for a week.” —W magazine, August 2011

Tracee Ellis Ross

“I think something is beautiful when it has an expression of truth. I see ‘pretty’ as something different; ‘pretty’ has to do with physicality to me, and ‘beauty’ has to do with a feeling.” —The New Potato, May 2016

Alicia Keys

“I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.” —Lenny Letter, May 2016

Michelle Obama

“It all boils down to comfort level: If I’m going to make you comfortable, then I have to be comfortable first. So my first reaction isn’t ‘Who made this?’ But ‘Let’s try it on. What does it look like? Oooh, that’s cute. Oh, wow. I never thought of wearing something like this. Let’s put a belt on it. I feel gooood in this.’ There are definitely designers that I love, people I love to work with. And who they are as people matters. Are they good people? Do they treat their staff well? Do they treat my staff well? Are they young? Can I give them a boost? But! When all of that is equal … is it cute?!” —Vogue, December 2016

Rashida Jones

“I feel powerful when I’m wearing, like, a bright lipstick because I feel like I’m asking to be seen and I made that choice … I think I wear makeup now because I want to look healthy. I’m never going to look like the younger version of myself so I don’t want to. I like the way women look when they age.” —Man Repeller, September 2014

Maisie Williams

“If you’ve got cool nails, you wake up and you’re like, Oh, I’m happy now. I’m so easy to please. It’s just getting back into Maisie again. I have to do something to just be me again, whether that’s — this is going to sound really fake but — getting my extensions in or getting my legs waxed, just something to bring me back into my world. Sometimes I get a spray tan at the end of [filming], just because then you snap out of that world.” —BuzzFeed, March 2014

Grace Coddington

“And, you know, that’s the one thing — I still have quite good hair. You can’t destroy it, it doesn’t matter how much you put color on it, however many years … And I’ve done everything to it … [Now,] it’s kind of bristly and dry, but I like it like that … hair really is so important — I’ve always thought it was the most important part of a photograph. Makes it or breaks it.” —Into the Gloss, May 2016

Ronda Rousey

“I felt like I was much too small for a magazine that is supposed to be celebrating the epitome of a woman. I wanted to be at my most feminine shape, and I don’t feel my most attractive at 135 pounds, which is the weight I fight at. At 150 pounds, I feel like I’m at my healthiest and my strongest and my most beautiful.” —Cosmopolitan, July 2015

Demi Lovato

“I feel the most beautiful when I’m naked. Just completely stripped down, completely organic, me. That’s when I feel the most confident, because that’s the most natural state that I could possibly get in.” —People, January 2016

25 Famous Women on What Makes Them Feel Pretty