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Beauty,Spring 2005
Fifth Web Papers
On Serendip

Not a Pretty Girl

Krystal Madkins

I am not a pretty girl
that is not what I do
I ain't no damsel in distress

-Ani DiFranco's "Not a Pretty Girl'

and God help you if you are an ugly girl
course too pretty is also your doom
cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
for the prettiest girl in the room

-Ani Difranco's "32 Flavors'

Arms swinging loosely, legs twisting in awkward but oh so trendy angles, hair tossed wildly across her face, Margaret Armstrong ended the song three upstrokes on her baby blue guitar. She turned to smile at the lead singer of her band, Ethan, as their drummer, Joey, continued to pound frenetically on the drums, only stopping when one of his sticks snapped in half.

"Fucking great set," Ethan shouted in Maggie's ear over the applauding crowd.
"Yea, I know."

Swing her guitar off her shoulder, Maggie turned to follow Ethan off stage. They sat in the small backstage room with Joey and their bassist, Patrick, taking sips of their drinks as they tried to cool down after their lively set.

"We were on another level tonight! I think this is the best we've played in a long time," Joey exclaimed, his words already starting to slur.
"Obviously," Maggie smirked. "How many sticks did you go through tonight?"
"Don't worry about that. You're not buying "em."
Maggie leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. It had been a great show. Maybe the best they'd ever played. After almost five years of playing venues along the East Coast, the band was finally getting attention. They had somehow even managed to get half a page written about them in the Rolling Stones. Maybe that was what inspired their performance tonight. Maggie slowly smiled as she remembered different high points during the set. This had to be it. All of the hard work was finally paying off. Her thoughts were interrupted at the sound of Patrick's voice.

"You guys wanna go back out and watch the other bands? Huh? Oh! And did you see Jimmy from Hot Red Heat out there? He's probably still out there."
"Yea I saw him," Ethan replied. Smiling to himself, he continued. "ManíKcan you imagine if he asked us to tour with them?"
"Let's not get too excited, kids!" Joey shouted in an affected voice.

The four musicians shifted around as they got ready to go out into the crowd to enjoy the show. After a few minutes of stretching, playful nudges, and some stumbling, the members of Chocolate Pepper made their way out into the crowd. An excited buzz hung over the room. Concert goers chatted over the background music playing as stage technicians set up for the next band. The four band mates stood at the rear of the crowd soaking in the atmosphere. In spite of their low-key location, the members of Chocolate Pepper managed to attract the attention of nearly a dozen fans as if they had weaved their way to the center of the crowd.

There were pats on backs and excited shouts of praise for an excellent performance; queries about where they'd learned to play like that and boastful claims from the fans of their own talent. Most of this display was aimed at the male members of the group with Maggie getting quick sideway glances from most of men who'd approached the group and measuring looks or glares from the women who had decided to approach Chocolate Pepper.
Maggie rolled her eyes and took a swig of her beer. She slowly surveyed the room in vain for Jimmy Jackson of Red Hot Heat. Tapping her foot impatiently, Maggie turned her attention back to the conversations that her band mates were having with fans. Joey was currently engaged in a drunken debate over the hype that some new band was receiving. Patrick was excitedly telling half of the assembled fans about the dates and places that Chocolate Pepper would be playing. Ethan stood between two overly made up blondes, laughing at whatever the shorter of the two had just said. Maggie watched as the women moved closer and closer into Ethan under the guise of uncontrollable, body shaking laughs.

Maggie snorted, labeling the women as pathetic in her mind. Maggie was grateful to all of their fans; grateful to all the people who came out to see them play and supported them by buying their CDs and merchandise and offering kind words after shows. One group of fans that she could not stand, however, were the "Chocoholics", as Joey had endearingly named them. These were the girls who came to every show in tight shirts emblazoned with the latest trendy phrase, their breasts pushed up chin high underneath, and curve hugging designer jeans or short skirts. Flaming red or bleach blonde straightened hair, eyelashes weighed down with mascara, and brightly painted eyelids and lips completed the uniform. Maggie doubted that the girls wore the make up for themselves and even if they did, how sad! Maggie knew from years of experience that the "Chocoholics' were all "gussied up" in hopes of winning the attention of some band member or members.

Despite her distaste for the "Chocoholic' girls, Maggie never confronted any of the girls and spoke her mind. She was always afraid that some smarter than average "Chocoholic' would think enough to throw back the fact that Maggie was a model. Although she modeled along with playing guitar for Chocolate Pepper, Maggie never thought of herself as similar to the "Chocoholics' in any way. Sure three or four times a week she sat in a chair having her hair straightened and layer after layer of make up applied to her skin before being helped into sheer, low-cut dresses that fit like a second skin, but she was a confident and pretty girl without all of that; and shit, she thought to herself, she'd needed a guitar. She'd never planned to model after earning enough to buy the guitar of her dreams but the pay was good and the work fairly easy. She was not putting on a costume to impress scrawny, peculiar looking men. She was empowered and helping herself get to where she wanted to be in life.

Maggie brought her bottle up to her mouth to take another swig of beer but found that the bottle was empty. Cursing, she turned around and headed to the bar to buy a drink. As she waited for the bartender to make her drink she felt someone stand by her side. She turned around to a wide-grinning, bearded man.

"Hey there," he said, nudging Maggie. "You the girl that was just up there playing guitar aren't you?"
"Mmm I don't think I've ever seen a prettier girl and one who can play the guitar to boot. When you first got up on stage I thought to myself "Uh oh, this group isn't gonna be fun to listen to'," he chuckled to himself.
Maggie sneered at the man. "Guess you haven't read the latest issue of Rolling Stone or any of the local papers' music sections."

Truth be told, even if he had read them, he'd have had to read almost halfway through the articles to any mention of Maggie's talented and innovative guitar playing. Most journalists seemed to think Maggie's physique or her outfit or her moonlighting as a model deserved mention before her musical talent. And of course Ethan and the guys were discussed first.

"Oh I see somebody's got quite a mouth," the bearded man replied.
Maggie flipped him off and turned to walk back toward her friends.
"Hey don't leave! C'mon. I was just messing around. You're a damned good guitarist. Best I've heard in a while. Plus, you're forgetting your drink."

Maggie turned around to see the drink she'd ordered sitting on the bar. After a moment of hesitation she went back and picked up her drink. As she moved to take out her money and pay, her new friend motioned for her to stop. Maggie fought back the urge to shout at the man.

"I'll cover it. Don't worry."
"No thank you. I'd like to pay for my own drink," Maggie replied sharply.
The man raised his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, okay. I was just trying to be nice."
Maggie smiled tightly as she paid for her drink. As she turned to leave, Maggie smirked at the man.
"You may not want to worry about going back out for this next group. All of the guys are pretty attractive. There's no telling how untalented they'll be."
The man chuckled as Maggie walked away. "I see you're not only a sexy guitarist. You're quite the comedian."
"Comedienne," Maggie shouted back.

When Maggie got back out she noticed that more Chocoholics had arrived and draped themselves over her band mates. She looked at them, one girl standing with her chest out, another turned slightly away as she applied more lip gloss, and three other girls giggling between puffs from their cigarettes at the idiotic jokes Maggie was sure the guys were telling. The men that Ethan, Patrick, and Joey had been speaking to earlier had been pushed aside by the girls. They now stood around awkwardly laughing amongst themselves while looking on enviously at the musicians.
Sipping her drink and taking in the familiar scene, Maggie thought back to conversations she'd had in the past with her friends.

"You know guys wouldn't have all those girls throwing themselves at you if it wasn't for the fact that you're in a band," she'd asked.
"Whatever," Joey had yawned. "I've always been a lady's man."
"Yea right," she'd replied.
"The quality of the girls has been going down though. We've been getting some dogs lately," Patrick had chimed in.
Maggie's eyes had widened in shock.
"Dogs? You're not exactly Brad Pitt," she'd said, surprising herself by coming to the defense of some of the Chocoholics.
"I don't need to be," Patrick had responded smugly.
"But girls do?"
"Hey I'm just telling the truth. That's the way it is. Besides," he continued, his voice rising, "you don't even have to really be hot. Just put on enough make up and some sexy clothes. That's good enough for me."

Maggie remembered how she'd continued to argue with Patrick, thinking the whole time about how the things he was saying were sadly true. Men had it so much easier than women. They didn't have to be beautiful. If they were in fact beautiful or, more appropriately, handsome, that just happened to be an extra plus. Over the years she had witness many male musicians hooking much more attractive women because of their "personality' or "talent'. This hardly ever happened to the average looking female musicians that Maggie knew. They were praised for their musical talent but not much else. This was hardly a phenomenon exclusive to the music scene. Maggie had seen the same thing happening in other spheres of life as well. It happened to be just another of the many unfair things in the world.

As the lights dimmed lower and the crowd grew more animated with the anticipation of the next band coming onstage Maggie found herself still thinking about comments made about her appearance, the Chocoholics' lurid appearances, and the differences experienced by men and women. The three members of the headlining band came onto stage to loud shots of approval and excitement. Maggie moved closer to the crowd as the music began. Even as she the vibrations from the instruments reverberated through her body and the hyper crowd jostled into her, Maggie continued to think of whole "beauty thing' that had been plaguing her for the past few months.

Somehow she had not been so bothered by the importance of beauty, at least female beauty, in the past. Each article that she read about her band that mentioned her appearance at one point of another chipped away at her obliviousness. In the back of her mind Maggie had realized that she was not taken as seriously as her band mates because she was a girlíKone that happened to be above average looking. She'd thought that things would change as the band grew more popular and her talent was recognized. To her dismay, Maggie was finding out that she had been too optimistic. It seemed that whenever someone mentioned her as a guitarist or her talent, these things were always qualified with the words "female', "pretty', "stylish', or "leggy'.

The craziness did not end once she left the stage and ventured outside the music world. Maggie found herself having to deal with similarly irritating experiences when she entered the world of fashion and modeling. Here talents or smarts were not even mentioned. The only things that were discussed were the appearances and femininity of the models that Maggie often worked alongside. She saw gorgeous women having surgeries to look "even more beautiful'; women binging and following bizarre diets to keep their svelte figures. It was all maddening.

Maggie took another sip of her drink, watching the lead singer of the group dance across stage, all messy hair, flawless skin, striking cheekbones, and pouty lips. He was gorgeous but Maggie doubted that would be first thing mentioned in the following days' reviews of the show. The singer's flawless voice and onstage magnetism would be the focus. Maybe a line or two would be dedicated to his appearance but its significance would be largely undermined in the review by tales of the singer's talent.

Maggie let her body sway to the music. Pleasant sensations pulsed through her body but pleasant thoughts were harder to come by. She brought the glass to her lips once more and took a long sip of the strong drink. Maybe it was time she stopped being a model, Maggie thought to herself. Maybe she had been fooling herself this whole time and selling out. It pained her to think such things but if she could not lie to herself anymore. Smiling madly, Maggie began talking to herself. "Maybe I'll shave my head bald or gain fifty pounds or slash my face. Maybe then my music would be the focus. Maybe then everyone would talk about how beautiful my guitar sounds or about how beautiful the friendship and love between the hailed Chocolate Pepper is." Maggie stopped to laugh and finish her drink. "Or maybe Joey's artwork or Patrick's vintage bass or the stars and the moon," Maggie ended with more giggling. She closed her eyes as the troubling thoughts slowly ebbed away to be replaced by an appreciation for the music flowing through her.

Maggie opened her eyes at the shout in her ear. It was Ethan.
"Are you okay?"
"Are you okay?" Ethan asked in a louder voice.
"Yea," Maggie shouted back.

Ethan gave her one last concerned look before turning back to the show. Maggie smiled to herself. She had not been lying. She was fine. She felt better now simply taking in beauty, in this case the music washing over the music. Thinking about the injustices and troubling aspects surrounding beauty had been too much. Just for tonight Maggie wanted to admire the beauty of the music being played tonight. No thinking, just feeling. It was a Friday night after all...surely not the time for such heavy thoughts. Maggie smiled again as a new song started up. With her arms swinging loosely, legs twisting, and tossing her wildly across her face, Maggie let the music carry her away.

Author's Note: In case I have not hit everyone over the head with the fact that I like music and to write creative pieces when given the chance, I thought I would drive those points in with this last piece of writing. In this piece I focused on the pursuit of feminine beauty, the issues surrounding female beauty, and the injustices that come along with feminine beauty. Through the character of Maggie I try to address some of the issues raised in class. For example, Maggie does not think much of Chocoholics' being made up to impress men but works as a model which calls for her to be made up. The issue of empowerment comes up here. Maggie thinks that in her case she's being empowered by her beauty but that the groupies are not. It is up for debate as to who is more empowered if either is empowered. In the comparison of Maggie and the groupies, another issue that was discussed in class is brought to attention. This is whether or not one type of beauty, natural or artificial, is better. For example, at one point in the story Maggie says that she is naturally pretty and hints at her type of beauty being better than the fake beauty of the groupies. Another issue that I brought up in this paper is the differing experiences of beauty between men and women. In Maggie's experience men do not have to worry about being beautiful nearly as much as women. In the story I also tried to bring up the idea mentioned in class that men are not concerned with beauty as much as women by describing women pursuing physical beauty and mentioning the appearances of women more so then those of the men mentioned in the story. Of course this is countered by the men who glance at Maggie to admire her beauty, the man who accosts her at the bar, and the attention that journalists, presumably male, give to Maggie's appearance instead of her musical talent. I did not try to answer all the questions brought up in class in regards to beauty, especially that of the female form. I simply hoped to express the various ideas brought up in class in a different format.

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