- ELLIE STAMELOS -
“You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’”.
This quote (originally written by lexicographer Erin McKean) inspired the title of the debut book from 21-year-old British powerhouse Florence Given, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty. Known for her gaudy illustrations of women, bold feminist slogans and activism on social media, Given manages to explore a diverse range of notions with impressive depth in her first book. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is the ultimate ‘how-to’ guide for twenty-somethings women, helping us to consider ideas such as how socio-cultural conditioning affects how we perform gender, privilege, relationship dynamics and upholding boundaries, activism and commitment to self-work (even when this work isn’t pretty), and much more.
The book begins with a cleverly written conversation between present-day Given and her younger self. Through this dialogue, Given sets up the direction of the work and begins to unpack the ways in which women are, from a young age, socialised to perform prettiness in order to acquire acceptance and likeability from others. Given poses questions to her school-aged self such as, “why do you feel so strongly that men need to desire you?,” then goes on to write, “if you have to perform prettiness in order to be chosen by someone, they are choosing you based on your objective beauty. You want to be chosen for your entire self”. In this conversation, Given asserts that chasing male validation is futile, particularly when watering ourselves down or making ourselves more palatable for male approval comes at the expense of unapologetically living in alignment with our truths and values.
Chapter titles that follow include ‘how to break up with yourself’, ‘refuse to find comfort in other women’s flaws’ and ‘you don’t have to get married’, the content of which allows the reader to begin reflecting on their own unconscious or harmful biases, habits and pre-conceived notions. Importantly, Given acknowledges that she herself has learned much of these ideas predominantly from the work and labour of black women. In her acknowledgements, Given states that while thin/cis/able-bodied white women such as herself garner praise for their activism, black women are often labelled as ‘too aggressive’, ‘too vocal’, or are silenced and ignored for discussing the very same ideas that appear in Women Don’t Owe You Pretty.
The book isn’t just informative and educational, it’s beautiful. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is truly an interactive piece of Florence Given art; her unique style (leopard print, psychedelic patterns, bold art prints) are embedded within the pages of her work. This art adds an element of joy and light-heartedness to reading this book that wouldn’t otherwise exist, as the book grapples with some challenging content within its pages.
It seems like an oversimplification to say that this book is a must-read for all women, but it is. In Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, Florence Given will help you to challenge outdated narratives and harmful thought patterns. This book is the ultimate reminder that we don’t owe the patriarchy anything, least of all pretty.
Each month Ellie Stamelos from The Nasty Woman Club will be reviewing popular books that look at issues and topics in the world of intersectional feminism.
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