Call me smart. Call me funny. Call me resilient. Strong. Passionate. Accomplished. Driven. Unique. Valued. But don’t call me pretty.
How many of us were clothed in frilly dresses and called pretty princesses when we were three years old? Or assigned social statuses in high school based on how we styled our hair or the way we did (or didn’t do) our makeup?
In 2016, a study in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility placed an actual number on women’s worth in the workplace—based entirely on appearance. More attractive, well-groomed women are reported to make 20 percent more in their jobs.
We’re taught that a woman’s worth is defined by whether or not others think she’s pretty. And, unfortunately, this idea is often reinforced throughout our lives. But, this is 2019, and women are not just gonna stand by and accept this anymore.
What started as an Instagram account and hashtag (#DONTCALLMEPRETTY) for Aly Nagel has grown into an empowering community—with a growing presence both on and offline. The overarching goal is to reclaim what it means to be “pretty” and to teach others that—instead of their looks—their worth lies in their passions, strength, accomplishments, and heart.
Below, Nagel shares the story of this passion-project-turned-movement.
Kaitlin Willow: What inspired you to start Don’t Call Me Pretty?
Aly Nagel: I actually started #DONTCALLMEPRETTY as an undergraduate thesis project in 2014. The assignment was to choose a phenomenon that really bothered you and come up with a solution. So I chose to study body image dissatisfaction for women in the United States. At the time, I was living in LA and working in fashion—which we know is an industry notorious for valuing our physical appearance over everything—so the project was really align with what I was doing. This led to me to look at the correlation between being physically beautiful and being happy, which isn’t always the case. But for some reason, we’ve been programmed to think that pretty girls/people are always happy. Don’t Call Me Pretty is a movement that proves that we as women are worth more than just the way we look.
KW: What came first—the brand or the name? Where did the name come from?
AN: The idea came first and then the name. After graduating college, I began a career in digital marketing and wanted to figure out how I could share what I was passionate about, and it struck me like a lightning bolt: “I should start an Instagram page.” I chose to focus on the word “pretty,” because we value women being pretty over virtually anything else in our society. By telling people “Don’t Call Me Pretty,” we’re encouraging them to dig deeper and really look at what we bring to the table besides just the way we look.
KW: Can you describe a time when you were underestimated/belittled for “being pretty”?
AN: Yes! Countless times! One instance, in particular, was during my last semester of college. I had an aging math professor who spoke to me in an extremely inappropriate way in front of the entire class numerous times. It made me feel very uncomfortable, as he would ask me to go out with him on the weekends and gave me his phone number after giving me an underserved A in the class. Ironically, this happened while I was coming up with the idea for #DONTCALLMEPRETTY, so I think it helped fuel my fire.
KW: What’s the best compliment someone could give you? (Obviously not, “you’re pretty”!)
AN: I love when people tell me that I’m inspiring—especially when students give me that kind of feedback after attending my in-person workshops. It makes me feel like what I’m doing is making a lasting difference in their lives.
KW: How are you helping other women—via social media and in-person events?
AN: I promote a lot of different accounts on social media by reposting women and femmes who are in a similar space. I also try to answer DMs and offer advice where I can. However, I think there’s only so much of this kind of work you can do behind a screen. In 2019, I’m going to start hosting virtual workshops on topics like “Social Media and Self Esteem” to make them more accessible and to be able to reach more people with my work.
KW: How do you practice self-care?
AN: My top favorite ways to practice self-care are going for a walk when I need a break, practicing yoga, regularly getting my nails done, rewatching seasons of Gilmore Girls, getting wine with friends, and, most importantly, setting boundaries. This has been a big one for me in 2018—learning that I need to better conserve my time and energy and be mindful of who and how I’m sharing myself. It’s something I think we need to be talking about more.
KW: You’re making it your life’s work to support other women. How do/how can other women in your life support you?
AN: I am so blessed to have a fiercely supportive group of friends and family near and far, I think that’s the only way I can do what I do. They check in on me when we haven’t talked for a while and support my mission and purpose by listening to me and encouraging me through every step of the process—good, bad, and in between.
KW: What’s next for Don’t Call Me Pretty?
AN: We’ve got a lot planned for 2019, including our official website and merch launch happening in January! I am also going to start hosting virtual workshops to make them more accessible to more people and speaking on more panels and conferences. If you want to stay in the loop for all that we’ve got planned, you can subscribe to our email list here.