This may seem like a juvenile topic - something only teenagers struggle with. But I can assure you, I am 30 years old and this damaging dichotomy never seems to go away.
Being pretty, on the thin side and of above-average height has put me in the model-esque category. Since I was small, for better or for worse, I have been complimented on my looks much more than other qualities. As a result, I have attached a lot of my identity to this. On the other hand, my mind moves at an extremely fast pace, I am unnervingly verbose and extremely opinionated. While this paragraph is likely to induce eye-rolls the world over, woe, really is me. Here's why...
People like to put people in boxes and life is easier when you are easily peggable. Being a hybrid of any kind makes this difficult. Like many mixed-race actors complain of being too white to play black parts and too black to play white parts, I am often made to feel too smart to be perceived as hot and too hot to be acknowledged as smart.
At dinners with my partner's friends who work in finance or consultancy, no one ever asks about my work. I sit there sipping my wine and trolling through Instagram fulfilling the projected prophecy of the pretty girlfriend who "works" in fashion. If I pipe up about something and make a good point, there's always a confused stare.
This confusion also replicates itself within the fashion world divisions and hierarchies. My Joan Didion-lookalike contemporaries in journalism tend to dress on the conservative side complete with the thick bookish frames, and at events, I know I fall flat of looking like a "serious journalist". I have asked some of these serious-journalist women to mentor me, and despite the most earnest letters and sharpest samples of my work, I have not received the guidance I seek. Call me neurotic, but I know it's because they don't see themselves in my polished feminine appearance.
Meanwhile, male friends (and my mother) have been reminding me all throughout my twenties that the type of masculine men I like don't like "complicated" women like myself. They like hot women who are easy to be around and won't challenge their thinking. Thankfully I found someone that refutes this whole theory. He is exactly what I wanted and I can be myself around him, but the fact that these seeds has been planted many times always leaves me second-guessing myself. I wonder if I should have just agreed with him about the political statement he made at dinner that I found totally bonkers. Maybe he didn't need to hear my ideas about the best therapy for anxiously attached adults. Is he turned off now? Let me amp up that eyeliner to compensate.
The cards one is given makes each woman's path different, but at one point, because of this black-or-white thinking that plagues society, we all feel we have to choose between being the hot girl or the smart girl. If you've always been intellectual, trying sexy on for size feels like a betrayal. If you've always been topping the 'hottest' lists, you're not used to speaking your mind because people rarely listen.
But we must stop polarizing ourselves to beat this binary perspective and make things better for the next generation of women. We must be the role models and archetypes we never had. I remember the relief I felt when I met my first hot-and-smart woman. She was the professor for my Intro to Psychology class. I found the class fascinating, she was engaging, gave the most relatable examples, talked about neuroscience and never bored us. She was as whippet-thin as any fashion editor, dressed in monochrome, had an incredible tan and the perfect honeyed balayage and blowout to boot. She was the woman I wanted to be.
Slowly, more hot-and-smart women are making noise. Models such as Karlie Kloss with her 'Kode with Klossy' initiative and Cameron Russell, who has been uncharacteristically outspoken about many issues in the fashion industry are breaking these barriers. But at the end of the day, it starts with each and every woman being exactly who she is. Wearing the miniskirt she wants and debating her cause. Feminism has been about women's right to choose, but really, this is the one choice we women should not have to make.