Tag Archives: brains

Smart and Beautiful Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Cover of Danica McKellar’s first of several math books, from http://www.mathdoesntsuck.com/images/mds.png

One of the more obnoxious trends I’ve seen lately is these taobloid-website lists of ‘famous women who have both beauty and brains!’  or ’50 hottest smart girls’ or some title to that effect.  They make it sound like it’s this totally shocking thing that almost never happens.

I couldn’t put my finger at first on all of the many reasons I was so completely horrified and offended by these.  So I’ll break it down into smaller pieces.

First, for a woman to become and stay famous, she already usually has some sort of talent (not always, I’ll grant you, but usually).  Is it that big a stretch that her talents for politics, singing, acting, photography, dance, or whatever made her actually famous might be only one of the things she’s good at?  Should it really be a surprise that in addition to drive and charm she’s got a good head on her shoulders?  Brains and beauty are certainly not mutually exclusive.

Second, some of these lists say ‘girls’ rather than women.  Every single person I saw on the lists was in her twenties or beyond.  You would never see a list like this with ‘boys’ in the title if any of them were over 18.  Stop infantalizing women, mass media.  They are women.  Ladies.  Grown Females.  Pick a word that addresses them correctly – these are not little girls.

Third, the stereotype of smart women being ugly is obnoxious and incorrect.  I think the majority, not a minority, of smart, successful women are beautiful.  And that being smart and well-educated just makes them even more beautiful and interesting people.  I know and work with a lot of very smart, very lovely women.

Fourth, I disagree with our country’s ridiculous standard of what is ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’ anyway.  I think that will probably be a post of its own one of these days, but for now let’s just say I don’t think that super skinny with caked-on makeup and a skimpy, ‘fashionable’ outfit is the end-all, be-all of attractiveness.

I love that Danica McKellar has a degree in math and writes books for young girls encouraging them to like and be good at math.  I think it’s fantastic that Kate Beckinsale speaks four languages fluently, and that Natalie Portman went to Harvard.  What drives me nuts is that because they also are public figures who meet a certain current Hollywood standard of beauty, people assume they are stupid.  That they are freakish outliers.  I assure you they, for the most part, are not.  So let’s give all women the benefit of the doubt and assume brains until proven otherwise, and not judge on looks, stereotypes, clothing, or any other silly external factor.

Speaking of Danica McKellar, when I went to search for an image for this post, I thought it would be fun to find one of her books to show in this post.  When I started typing her name in to google, it auto-filled for me to ‘Danica McKellar hot.’  That alone says a lot.  It says that’s what way more people care about – finding steamy pictures of her, not her great work in STEM outreach and making math more accessible for girls and young women.

Do you think that smart women really fit the stereotype?  Who are the smart and beautiful women in your life?  How do you bust the stereotype when someone starts making false assumptions?


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Filed under Opinion pieces, STEM outreach