Teen Girls Still Prefer Beauty over Smarts

wishbone: designer makeup or drugstore makeup?I’ve been playing around with the slick mobile voting application Wishbone on my iPhone ever since my 11yo turned me on to it. It’s incredibly simple: users are presented with A/B choices and tap to vote on which they prefer. Every 7-8 votes, you’re forced to watch a banal streaming video advertisement, almost always a mobile app aimed at teen girls and related to fashion, hairstyles or virtual high school experiences.

Still, advertising aside, it’s fascinating to get this glimpse into a fragile segment of the population because the Wishbone user base is substantially composed of tween and teen girls. As VentureBeat describes it: “Wishbone is an application that’s targeted towards teenage girls that provides them pop culture content on a scheduled basis — none of this on-demand stuff. The user is shown a card with two choices, and she votes for which is her preference.”

In some ways this is where the cultural revolution rubber hits the proverbial road: all the years and all the protests about how girls are enculturated, all the complaints about sexism, all the effort by feminists, leads us to this doorstep, where we can really see if it’s working or whether girls prefer pink to blue, feminine to masculine traits, prefer good boys or bad boys, or even wish for a pony or a pickup truck.

marry for love or money?And the picture isn’t very pretty after all, as it turns out. It’s not that they’re shallow, because at 13 or 14 children don’t really have the mental capacity to be “deep”, but the girls on the service are still interested in the same things their mothers were interested in, and grandma before them, all those years ago. Glamour. Makeup. Cute boys. Sexy outfits. Hairstyles.

That’s all good enough, since if there were an equivalent service for tween and teen boys, it’s easy to predict that guns, fast cars, and buxom, bikini-clad women whose photos have been suitably airbrushed to remove any trace of unique identity would be quite popular. Heck, there are plenty of grown men who would upvote the same things, aren’t there?

Which is why I thought it was so fascinating when I saw one of the Wishbone users had posted a query about what is perhaps the central identity question for any young woman in our culture:

Would you rather be smart or pretty?

Yes, there are plenty of women who embody both, and that it’s superficial and crass for us as a culture to focus on appearance, but we’re not lecturing, we’re not evangelizing, we’re just letting tween and teen girls, over 80,000 of them, answer the question.

Here’s how they voted:

smart or pretty? here's how tween teen girls vote

So, out of 80,973 votes, 39% said they’d rather be smart than beautiful while a whopping 61%, almost 2/3 of the people who answered the question, said they’d rather be beautiful than smart.

Which causes at least this dad of two smart girls more than a bit of dismay. You have to ask what’s wrong with a society where young women seem to be saying that they’ll be happier and more fulfilled by working at being physically attractive rather than leveraging their innate smarts and finding a community where they are celebrated for being smart.

Meanwhile, I can only hope that all the girls who responded to this particular Wishbone survey find themselves in families and communities where they’re encouraged to reach for both goals and find happiness from within, not from without.

Because it’s time we all moved past the tired gender stereotype of the pretty girl being the happiest.

Tip: Learn more about Wishbone by checking out their Web site, then reading articles about it on TechTimes, AppAdvice, and LifeZette


3 comments on “Teen Girls Still Prefer Beauty over Smarts

  1. This doesn’t surprise me. After all, our society still tells women from the time we’re in the womb that pretty is best.

    Take a look at any female who gets on television. 99.9% would fall into the pretty category. This is NOT the same standard for men on television. Look at Kevin James.

    Okay yes, there are a few funny gals out there who don’t fit the “pretty” stereotype, but they are less than 1%. And again, television is filled with less than attractive men.

    For me, the result of this poll doesn’t reflect on tween and teen girls, it reflects on our society as a whole.

    All this being said, I don’t think this will change in my lifetime or your children’s lifetimes. And is it a problem? It’s an issue, but I’m not losing sleep over it. It’s one thing that women have to deal with our entire lives, men have issues they have to deal with as well. It’s part of being a woman in our society. We must decide how to deal with this and move on.

  2. Sobering. We talk a lot about being smart and kind in our house. Who knows how that will impact my daughter down the road. I would like to think that it will help her understand her self worth more than just wanting to be “pretty”.

  3. This is not new, but I think it’s become even harder for young girls with the rise in popularity of YouTube and Instagram. The young women and girl who do the best on those platforms are selling a lifestyle of beauty through filters, photoshop, and careful anglesMany are physically beautiful, yes, but they take it to another level with so much makeup and photoshop their skin appears to be completely flawless. I know so many parents who are either unaware or undervalue the influence social media platforms have on their daughters. They also don’t know how to steer the conversation and direction to positive role models. That’s one of the reasons I love that there are more communities and conversations happening around that for young women. I recently started work on a side project devoted to helping young women develop financial skills for this very reason. I want them to think about what’s possible when they’re financially motivated-and not just what they can buy.

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