Not just a pretty face originated following the Second World War with the beginnings of feminism. It was used by women to emphasise to their somewhat slow male colleagues that women were in fact very capable of all kinds of things – like developing space programmes, making scientific breakthroughs and running businesses – rather than just looking nice, typing the odd letter and having their bottom pinched by their creepy boss. While the fight for equality and respect for all women is far from won, things are a good deal better these days and that may be reflected in a shift in the use of this phrase. These days it is used more as a general way to give praise for something clever that someone has done and it can be applied to a man just as often as it used with a woman. For example, I came to write this post because I was chatting to my partner the other day and we had a conversation along these lines:
A: I guess we’ll have to take the bus, which is a bit of a pain. My bike’s got a puncture and I won’t have time to fix it. B:Which is why I fixed it earlier. A: Ah, not just a pretty face. B: I try.
OK, so fixing a flat tyre is not exactly rocket science and for that matter I haven’t got an especially pretty face, but that’s the point – neither are requirements to use the phrase – just being helpful or organised or solving some problem. I guess it is also safest to use it with people you are friendly with. I’m not sure how far it would be OK to use the phrase to address a pretty colleague within your workplace. You might also possibly see it used to refer to things – particularly in advertising – suggesting that there is some substance beneath the style as in Outcomes for example! It’s not just a pretty face. 😉
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- Do you have a phrase like this in your language?
- Do you think it would be OK to use this phrase at work?
- Has your language changed at all with regard to women and men? In what way?
- How far do you think women are equal and respected now? Would you like to see any other changes? What?