In her new book "Getting the Pretty Back," ‘80s teen icon Molly Ringwald offers intimate stories and advice on everything from motherhood to friendship. Get her fresh perspective on dealing with aging, overcoming insecurities and blowing up "like a water balloon" during pregnancy. An excerpt:
Chapter one: Isn’t it pretty to think so
Early on during my first pregnancy, a female acquaintance of mine told me, “you better hope she isn’t a girl, ’cause she’ll suck the pretty out of you!”
I sort of laughed. Sort of.
In a few short weeks, I found out that the baby was a girl. A few weeks after that, I was absolutely sure that the woman was right.
* * *
I was not a particularly attractive pregnant person. Every woman I know has wanted to be “beautifully pregnant”: the type of cover-girl pregnant where you can’t tell from behind — it’s only until you turn and reveal the perfect bump hovering above your Manolos that you are with child. Me? I blew up like a water balloon (thanks to a semicommon ailment, preeclampsia ... and a troubling, powerful fondness for “macho nachos”). The freckles on my face decided to band together and form a pigment block party, and my ankles swelled as if I’d been stung by a hive of particularly vindictive bees.
On the day my daughter Mathilda was born, as I tried to tie up loose ends before heading into the labor room, I was asked to participate in a maternity Gap ad — which I was obviously unable to do. When I hung up the phone and told my husband and friend Victoria, the nurse on call chimed in, “That’s funny! A Gap ad? You look like the Michelin Man!”
My husband, friend, and I were shocked into silence. The nurse took this to mean that we hadn’t heard her and felt compelled to repeat her insight.
“You look like the Michelin Man!” she snorted.
It wasn’t till she went in for the third time that Victoria snapped, “Yeah, we got it.”
* * *
In the months after I delivered Mathilda, I would catch glimpses of myself in the mirror, each time thinking the same thing: Is that me? I couldn’t get over the heft of my body. I would breast-feed my daughter and look down in horror to find that my breasts were larger than her head.
My husband came home from work one day to discover me in the bedroom, dissolved in tears.
“It’s true! It’s true ...”
“What’s true?” he asked, alarmed.
“She got it all. She sucked the pretty out of me ..."
I’m sure I’m not the only woman who has felt this way, and obviously it isn’t only motherhood that can give you this feeling. It can be a relationship gone south, a stressful job, weight gain. What makes it so disturbing when it is motherhood, however, is the completely irrational feeling that your loss is someone else’s gain. Something that is so associated with something so wonderful. The giving of life. It’s the ultimate bittersweet sensation.
It seems to me that there is a moment when women are no longer defined as “pretty.” It’s hard to know when exactly it happens, but suddenly you notice it. You are “beautiful,” “unique,” “handsome” (if you’re unlucky), or “interesting.” Pretty is a word that is reserved for the young. At some point you are expected to relinquish the word like an Olympic torch. If you were ever called pretty to begin with, you know that there is a definite time limit imposed on the word. You could say that it has the longevity of the career of an ice skater or ballerina. You get to dance Swan Lakea few times, then you’re expected to teach it.
What is pretty anyway? Not just beauty. It’s an attitude toward life, a frame of mind. A lightness, even a frivolousness. It’s attractive and charming — yet also naïve. It’s endearing, particularly because it is so innocent, because it seems to disregard (or simply be unaware of) all the things in the world — the experiences, the people, the accidents — that increasingly defy and deny this sense of giddy hopefulness.
When I told a friend I was writing a book called "Getting the Pretty Back," she asked, “Why don’t you call it "Getting the Beauty Back?" That’s a better title.” But beauty isn’t what I’m talking about. Prettiness is inside every woman; it’s a feeling, a sense of self that never entirely leaves. It’s always there. I remember at my daughter’s baptism, which we had in Greece (where my husband’s parents live), watching my mother-in-law dancing at the after party at four in the morning. As she spun I could see the village girl she had been fifty years earlier in every light, joyful step. It was moving and it was inspiring, and it was also — the best part — completely, carelessly normal. She wasn’t thinking about it. She wasn’t pretending. She was just doing what felt right. I watched her turning her wrists and hands in time with the music with such confidence and grace, thinking to myself, she’s so pretty.
Getting the pretty back is about getting back in touch with your essential self: the part of you that knows what you really want, that takes risks, that isn’t scared away by all the things that can — and have — gone wrong. It’s the part of you that runs around in summer holding your sandals in your hand. It’s remembering the girl you were at fifteen who did double flips off the high dive, the girl who laughed and squealed with your best friend while you huddled together in the bathroom, double piercing your ear with a needle and a potato.
* * *
Being pretty can be about style or outer beauty, true, but on a deeper, more fundamental level, it’s about learning to take care of yourself again. Style is the first and easiest step to reminding yourself — and the world — that you matter. Too often, after kids, after years in and out of relationships, we settle. We stop paying attention to ourselves. Everyone else’s needs come first. We’d love to try a yoga class or see a movie with a friend or visit a country that we have never been to, but before that can happen, we have all these other responsibilities. The car payments, the mortgage, the dental appointments, the carpools, the birthday parties, the work functions ... at times, they can make you feel as if adulthood is nothing more than a series of tasks to be completed.
And I’m not advocating trying to recapture your youth — mostly because it is impossible, but secondly, because you shouldn’t want to. Our life experience, after all, is what makes us interesting, smarter, more confident, and formidable. But being all those things shouldn’t preclude being whimsical, light, flirty, and fun. At heart, prettiness is a state of mind. It’s a way of looking at things, of looking at ourselves. It’s just one thread of the tapestry that makes us up, but it’s an important, all-too-often neglected thread.
Luckily, it isn’t so hard to get the pretty back — as I rediscovered again while writing this book. I spent a lot of time searching through my past — remembering the good and bad and finding out what got me to where I am now. I invite you to do the same. Whether it’s reconnecting with friends that you miss, or remembering how much you used to love to dance to Bananarama in the living room by yourself, getting back in touch with the pretty girl that you once were might just make you realize that she really isn’t so far from the woman you are today.