Hot vs. Pretty

Hot vs. Pretty: Do we teach teenage girls to understand the difference?

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s, which was inspired by a post I saw at Traditional Christianity on the difference between sexy and beautiful.

When my daughters were little they loved playing dress-up. They had bins of skirts and tiaras and little high-heeled plastic shoes that they would don for their own fashion shows. Though some feminists may wish to deny it, I think there is a feminine instinct to enjoy being The Beauty.

While I personally don’t go overboard—I have been known to venture to the grocery store without lipstick, and I have driven my teenage daughter to work while still in pyjamas—on the whole I try to look presentable. When I do, I feel better about myself. I feel more ready to take on the world. Put on earrings and lipstick, and I actually work harder. Appearance, whether we like it or not, does reflect how we see ourselves and how we act.

Lately, though, I fear that the idea of what is attractive and beautiful has become distorted. So let me perfectly blunt: hot and pretty are not interchangeable. Sexy and beautiful are two different things. Pretty means that you put in effort; that you show, through your appearance, that you respect yourself and you want others to know it. And just about any woman can be attractive by paying for a good haircut, applying a little makeup, and purchasing clothes that flatter her body type. Hot, on the other hand, is more like a billboard advertisement for goods that are for sale.

I’m rather distressed about this trend away from traditional beauty—which focused on respecting oneself—and towards hotness, which gives an entirely different message. So often I see teenage girls with low-cut tops and mini-skirts, and yet they have obviously put little effort into looking good anywhere else. Now, of course, suggestive clothing with a great haircut isn’t much of an improvement. But what it shows is that girls are putting effort into what they wear—but that effort is involved in flaunting body parts rather than presenting a beautiful package. It’s not about the whole; it’s just about the boobs.

I have teenage friends on Facebook who post pictures of themselves in bikinis. I have seen other young women with stringy hair and awful makeup who nonetheless have guys trailing them because they’re showing so much skin that the guys really don’t care about the hair. This seems to be especially true with girls who do not have the perfect figure. I have seen more cleavage and more revealing clothing on rather overweight girls than I have on many others. It’s as if they’re so insecure that they’ve given up on being beautiful. They think hot is all they have left. They’re wrong.

Hot, you see, is not necessarily pretty. Hot can actually be rather off-putting. Perhaps guys flock to it, but it’s only because they’re interested in the message you’re sending out: I am completely and utterly available to be your sex object. That’s not the equivalent of being beautiful. When you care for the whole package, and dress as if you respect yourself, you attract the kind of man who is interested in more than 15 minutes in a locked bathroom with you at a party.

Maybe that truly is all some girls are interested in, but I hope that many are just confused. It doesn’t matter if our culture is trying to convince you to reveal absolutely everything. Even if celebrities are doing it, copying them does not make you beautiful. It just makes you desperate and kind of pathetic. You may still attract the male species, but you attract the ones who are eager to take advantage of that kind of woman. Is that really who you want to be?

Trying to be hot means you’re dressing for others. Trying to be pretty means you’re dressing for yourself because you appreciate who you are. They’re two very different things, and we women need to think about which image we want to portray.

Now, to give a bit of perspective, though, I’ve written about the other extreme, too–the extreme which somehow equates holiness with frumpiness. So I do think there needs to be a balance in this, as in just about everything else!

If you liked this column, you’ll like my column on teenage girls, Facebook statuses, and Facebook pictures: Too Young To Be Hot.

Don’t miss a Reality Check! Sign up to receive it FREE in your inbox every week!


  1. So good Sheila. I love how you distinguished between pretty and hot and how it is good go do what you can to be pretty. After all, we are God’s workmanship.
    Lori recently posted…Be His Private GardenMy Profile

    • Very true! I LIKE being pretty. But this quest to be hot–many girls who try to dress hot don’t actually take any other care in their appearance. It’s become really kind of gross. I hope that’s making sense, but it’s as if we’ve replaced brushing one’s hair and putting on lipstick with wearing a low-cut top and tight skirt.

  2. I think such things are the very epitome of subjectivity. As a man, I don’t necessarily agree with anything you wrote, nor basic basic premise that there’s a definable difference between hot and pretty. It was well written, though, and certainly got me thinking.

  3. YES! So agree with you on your take about the way girls(and some women) present themselves. When you are younger, it can sometimes be hard to see the difference because it seems the boys are all paying attention to the “hot” girls, not so much the pretty ones. Some girls are more mature than, that, though, and they know that having a boyfriend in high school is not necessary, if even advisable. For the rest, though, I think there is a wake up call when you start looking for husband material. Low and behold, successful men do not want some Snooki look alike as their wife! Oh sure, maybe they dated those types when they were in high school or early college, but that’s not who they see having children with or standing by their sides at public functions or office parties. Nope, they want the woman who turns heads in the long classy evening gown or even well-tailored business suit.

    And it isn’t even about them. It’s about us. Women. Self-respect and respect for your fellow woman. We are not trash. Even when I am dressed what I call “hot”, I try not to dress “cheap”. Hot is for the nightclub, if even there. I have a bunch of super smart, attractive friends who dress pretty for the night club, not hot, but they maybe do their hair a little differently or they wear smokier eye make-up….and they look sexy…but not like they are going to have sex with every guy in the bar.

    Love this post!

  4. Well expressed, Sheila. I think the consumable (and short shelf-life) “hot” is a bad thing to invest in. It often attracts the wrong kind of attention and sends the wrong message. Most men when they’re honest will say as much. It explains why the thought of their daughter or niece or sister dressing that way is so distressing.

    And thanks for the linkage.
    terry@breathinggrace recently posted…Someone Said…(On Accumulating Stuff)My Profile

  5. Very well said Sheila!

    Be blessed :)

  6. Amen, Sheila. As a dad of three daughters I find current trends in “fashion” for young women to be the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

  7. I doubt there will be any confusion left about the differences between the two after reading this post! Very clear and articulate!
    Michelle recently posted…A Giveaway for Home School MomsMy Profile

  8. Wonderful post Sheila! So glad you decided to tackle this subject. I’m constantly in amazement, being a woman who works among young people as a substitute teacher, at how girls are dressing these days. Their perception of what they are putting out there is definitely skewed. That attention sure feels good initially but it comes with a price. What it comes down to is figuring out who you care about pleasing more – yourself or others. Better yet, God or others. I loved all the differentiations you made between pretty and hot as well. They all ring so true.

  9. This is a great post Sheila. There is some kind of lingerie trend that offers racy little thongs and sexy undergarments for children. CHILDREN!! Yuck! I think it is our privilege as mentors to Re-define beautiful for our kids and mentees. In your last paragraph you mention the difference between “trying” to be hot vs. trying to be pretty. I say forget the “try” just CELEBRATE all that is beautiful from the inside out – the resulting actions will demonstrate self respect. (as I type with wet hair in my sweats…)
    Gina Parris recently posted…Is EFT or Energy Therapy a New Age Thing?My Profile

  10. As a father of four daughters this is the basis of most of my nightmares. My daughters are fortunate to have their mother’s natural beauty as well as her body as teenagers so there is no shortage of male attention, but as you stated so well there is a difference between”hot” & “pretty” … hot doesn’t make it out the front door!

    • That’s great! Did you ever see my column on Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date? You’d probably like that one, too. 😉

  11. apple blossom says:

    nice thoughts thanks

  12. I get what you are saying, but I don’t nesseccarily agree with the semantics of how you put it. I think pretty is about enhancing, and hot puts the emphasis solely on sexiness. We live in a culture where girls are told they aren’t pretty, but their own parents even, so they seek what they think is the only positive feedback they can get about their appearance.

  13. I just read this, linked from one of your “Fight the Frump” posts. I think that most girls/young women really don’t know. When I was younger, I wanted attention from men (I think all girls want that to some extent), and I didn’t understand the difference between bad attention and good attention. I thought dressing provocatively was the way to get the attention I wanted because that is what was portrayed in movies and on tv. It’s unfortunate because it sets girls up for a big fall when they finally realize that boys/men want to have sex with them, but aren’t interested in them as a person. That’s a big blow to self esteem.
    Jenny recently posted…a real church, sex and intimacy, deep hurt and ministryMy Profile

    • I think it’s true that young girls don’t know the difference, but I don’t think they always do it because they want attention from men. I made some pretty bad outfit choices as a teenager and early-college student because I wanted to be perceived as fashionable, artistic, and beautiful, like a catalogue model in a dreamy designer photoshoot. A HUGE part of it was being a really “late bloomer” – basically, I still had the same mindset about fashion and how it applied to my body that I had had at 11. I bought what was fashionable, loud, original, and I tried all the trends, like a kid wearing too many sequins. I just didn’t realize that I was trying trends that were sexualized, and that I was trying them on an adult body. I still thought of myself as being a kid. (I was also incredibly naive about sex in general – I basically never thought about it.) But I think a lot of teen/tween girls don’t think about modesty OR about trying to be “sexy” because “sexy” is a meaningless word to them. It means the same as attractive and pretty. And now, as a twenty-something adult, I struggle with how it’s fair to make that distinction to young girls. If someone had tried to explain to me, I think I would have felt extremely guilty and extremely scared of men and boys and their strange impulses for something I never thought about. In short, there may indeed be a distinction between hot and pretty, but I think that with young girls you have to be really careful of how you try to make that distinction, and I think you have to be a little more tolerant of them not quite adhering to guidelines. Just because a teen wears a short skirt doesn’t mean she’s given any thought to men or sex. It can me she just thinks it’s cute and pretty and girly, and she may just need time and patience to grow into a more refined conception of pretty for herself. This is my experience, anyway.

  14. My sister struggled with this – she couldn’t seem to grasp the difference between pretty and hot. She would dress in a way that she thought was cute, but not realize that while girls’ eyes are drawn first to what she IS wearing, guys’ eyes are first drawn to what she’s NOT wearing. She certainly wasn’t aiming for male attention; she was just clueless about how guys are wired to see things (not that women are things!) differently.

    That said we worked hard to help her understand so she wasn’t inadvertently walking out the door like a tart – just because her intentions were good doesn’t mean the outfits were okay!

  15. You should never objectify anyone by what they wear. People are more than just makeup and clothes. That’s only a portion of what they are. We are all dynamic individuals and you should never, ever boil anyone down just because of their appearance.

    And your appearance may influence how productive you are, but it’s not the same for everyone. I don’t allow my looks to get in the way of my productiveness.

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. Any comment that espouses an anti-marriage philosophy (eg. porn, adultery, abuse and the like) will be deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are replying to another commenter, please be polite and don't assume you know everything about his or her situation. If you are constantly negative or a general troll, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Sheila Wray Gregoire owns the copyright to all comments and may publish them in whatever form she sees fit. She agrees to keep any publication of comments anonymous, even if you are not anonymous on this board.


  1. […] video a reader sent me in response to my column, Hot vs. Pretty. For your weekend […]

  2. […] “hot” does not require one to dress like a tramp or to catch hypothermia in the middle of winter. If you’re single and searching, you’ll attract […]

Leave a Comment


CommentLuv badge