You Don’t Owe Prettiness to Anyone

Diana Vreeland? Fran Lebowitz? Erin McKean? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following cogent statement about self-ownership, integrity, and image has been shared on social media networks:

You Don’t Have to Be Pretty.
You don’t owe prettiness to anyone.

I have seen an extended version of the remark attributed to the fashion columnist and editor Diana Vreeland in a Facebook post. However, I have also seen the words credited to the writer and humorist Fran Lebowitz on Pinterest. Would you please clarify this situation?

Quote Investigator: In October 2006 the lexicographer, entrepreneur, and fashion aficionado Erin McKean composed a post about the expectations and impositions encountered in the realm of personal appearance for her blog called “A Dress A Day”. She was responding to critical comments about the stylishness of leggings. Boldface has been added to excerpts:[ref] Website: A Dress A Day, Article title: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty, Author or poster: ERIN (Erin McKean), Date on website: October 20, 2006, Website description: Features images of dresses. The subtitle of the website is “A dress, nearly every day”. (Accessed on June 3, 2014) link [/ref]

Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.

I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.

When contacted by QI, Erin McKean stated that she wrote the passage above. A picture of the fashion maven Diana Vreeland appeared at the top of the McKean’s post, and this has led to some confusion. However, none of the words in the post were written by Vreeland. The text by McKean has been disseminated through several networks, e.g., Blogger, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 2011 the book “Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff” by Dinah Sanders included an instance of the saying and credited McKean:[ref] 2011, Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff by Dinah Sanders, Chapter: Hounded by Worry and Fear, Quote Page 99, Published by Dinah Sanders. (Google Books Preview)[/ref]

Here’s another worry on which you can quit wasting time: Lexicographer Erin McKean of A Dress A Day urges women to stop worrying about being visually pleasing to everyone: “You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street…”

In January 2012 a blog named “the sphinx & the milky way” posted an extended excerpt of the post by McKean. However, the words were credited to the popular New York City author Fran Lebowitz. A message in the comment section pointed to the “A Dress A Day” website and credited “Erin”[ref] Website: the sphinx & the milky way, Article title: pretty, Date on website: January 25, 2012, Website description: The blog of Lauren who states “I am an artist living in LA”. (Accessed thesphinxandthemilkyway on June 3, 2014) link [/ref]

In October 2013 a passage matching a segment of the 2006 text was placed on the Pinterest pinboard of Juanita Izzard, and the words were attributed to Diana Vreeland.[ref] Website: Pinterest, Handle of Pinterest User: “Juanita Izzard (pieces jewellery)”, Date on website: Circa October 22, 2013 (“32 weeks ago” on June 3, 2014), Website description: Promotional site by Juanita Izzard for “contemporary & unique jewellery from Europe & Australia”. (Accessed on June 3, 2014) link [/ref]

In conclusion, QI believes that Erin McKean wrote the blog post from 2006, and she should be credited instead of Diana Vreeland or Fran Lebowitz.

(Great thanks to Stephanie Cerra whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks also to Erin McKean for her responses. Thanks to Andrew Robinson who pointed out that ‎Erin McKean’s post was made in October 2006 and not June 2006. The bibliographic note had the correct date, but the body of the article had the wrong date which has now been corrected.)

Update History: On March 1, 2016 a change was made within the body of the article. The date given for Erin McKean’s post was changed to October 2006.

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