Friday, November 5, 2010

Katie Makkai "Pretty"

Pretty by Katie Makkai

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “What will I be? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? What comes next? Oh right, will I be rich?” Which is almost pretty depending on where you shop. And the pretty question infects from conception, passing blood and breath into cells. The word hangs from our mothers' hearts in a shrill fluorescent floodlight of worry.

“Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty?” But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dryad: teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long and pox-marked where the hormones went finger-painting. My poor mother.

“How could this happen? You'll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist. You sucked your thumb. That's why your teeth look like that! You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were 6. Otherwise your nose would have been just fine!

“Don't worry. We'll get it fixed!” She would say, grasping my face, twisting it this way and that, as if it were a cabbage she might buy.

But this is not about her. Not her fault. She, too, was raised to believe the greatest asset she could bestow upon her awkward little girl was a marketable facade. By 16, I was pickled with ointments, medications, peroxides. Teeth corralled into steel prongs. Laying in a hospital bed, face packed with gauze, cushioning the brand new nose the surgeon had carved.

Belly gorged on 2 pints of my blood I had swallowed under anesthesia, and every convulsive twist of my gut like my body screaming at me from the inside out, “What did you let them do to you!”

All the while this never-ending chorus droning on and on, like the IV needle dripping liquid beauty into my blood. “Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? Like my mother, unwrapping the gift wrap to reveal the bouquet of daughter her $10,000 bought her? Pretty? Pretty.”

And now, I have not seen my own face for 10 years. I have not seen my own face in 10 years, but this is not about me.

This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven't a clue where to find fulfillment or how wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those 2 pretty syllables.

About men wallowing on bar stools, drearily practicing attraction and everyone who will drift home tonight, crest-fallen because not enough strangers found you suitably fuckable.

This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, “No! The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.

“You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you, will never be merely 'pretty'.”


  1. Hey there! I love the video and thanks for the transcript! I am trying to find out more about Katie Makkai herself--where did you get the video from? Is there a place where people can find more of her work?


    1. This was found on Button Poetry's youtube channel, if she has more stuff it will be there

  2. ...beneath the tyranny of those two pretty syllables.

    ...When you approach me, already stung, stained with insecurity...

  3. As a guy, I really admire you! I'm just sick of women sexualized by media and film industry! I hate walking down the sidewalk and being constantly sexually poked by the woman who passes by. I really feel sick!

  4. Having a 24 year old daughter, I am happy to say she turned out to be "pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing" and pretty much a grounded woman. Thank you for your sharing this poem.

  5. this is AMAZING. thank you so much for this, it is piercing and truthful and freeing and so, so saddening all at the same time. It is true for my life experience. I have no idea who you are or what your work is but my curiosity was piqued by a facebook link and I am SO thankful I decided to read on. I am sending it to so many women friends, I am laminating it for my closet, my desk, and someday my daughter.

  6. i love it. Every little girl should be told that The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be!! I think this is pretty amazing. Thank you for sharing.
    Jenny Lyn

  7. You are positively inspiring. A friend linked me the youtube of this today and it brought me to tears. The content and execution of it all was perfect to me. Thank you

  8. speaks volumes to me! Thank you

  9. This reminds me of a conversation I had with my daughter about her freckles. She asked me one day how she could wipe them off. And I told her that she couldn't, that they were a part of her, and made her who she is, and that they were very beautiful and made her beautiful. She dropped the topic for a few days, when she came back and said, "Mommy, I decided that I like my freckles. I don't want to wipe them off anymore."

  10. Excellent. True. Sad. I was fortunate to have been raised by a woman who went against the grain in the 50's, 60's and 70's. She raised three strong independent, smart, leading women. AND we 3 still grapple with society's importance on PRETTY.

  11. Testify, young woman! Amen, and amen.

  12. We are beautiful to God...and that is all the affirmation we REALLY need! Rather than focusing on outside appearance, He looks inside of our hearts! ♥

  13. <3 Thank you!
    I read your poem a few months ago and it touched me in a special way, because I'm on a journey to beauty. I have dreads, and am in a stage of rejecting social-media views of 'beauty'. More praying, more loving, more sharing, less make-up, less flashy outfits, less insecurity, finding identity in who the Creator made me to be, not what others want.
    Anyways, last night at the supper table my family was discussing a friend of mine and my parents were gushing about how beautiful, gorgeous she is. My dad never says things like that to me. Anyways... some how he turned the conversation and used it as a special moment to tell me: "You are a very pretty girl."
    A) I'm not a girl, I am a woman.
    B) I don't want to be pretty.
    C) I never asked your opinion (even though for some reason I care)

    Pretty. blah! I said to him "I don't want to be pretty... pretty means you don't quite measure up. Pretty funny, pretty nice, pretty smart... (with someone whispering over your shoulder "but you could be better".

  14. I really love this. It's 'pretty' amazing. :)

  15. Dermatologist are specializes in the pathology of the skin. It takes care of diseases, in the widest sense, and some cosmetic problems of the skin, scalp, hair, and nails.

  16. Amazing. I stumbled upon it when I was looking for some reference poems for a school project. Being a teenage girl, this really inspires me. It is truly beautiful.

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  18. Do you know where I can find a published version of this poem?

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  20. When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, “What will I be? ...