Pretty was the thing.
It was crude to talk about marrying for money, but everyone knew that Pretty was the Golden Ticket to happiness with a rich man who would find you irresistible, love you beyond reason, and give you everything your heart desired. Pretty could lead to a career in acting or modeling, but not in science, medicine, philosophy or technology. Smart and Talented were handy accessories, but Pretty was the thing.
Beauty pageants, school and community quests for royal status, from Miss Fire Prevention or Rattlesnake Queen to Miss America and Miss Universe made you acutely aware of who held those golden tickets, and larger-than-life movie goddesses showed you how far you were from ever gaining a ticket of your own. Makeup had to be skilfully and constantly applied. Dance classes were not taken for the joy of dance but for molding the body into the proportions required for Pretty. Your smile had to be dazzling and flashed often to project Vivacious, the essential accessory of Pretty.
From Cinderella you learned that Pretty with Tiny Feet meant you were Good and Kind. Cinderella was Pretty with Tiny Feet. She was Good and Kind. Her Stepsisters were Not Pretty and their Feet were Big. They were, of course, Mean and Evil. From Snow White, or rather, from her Stepmother, you learned that you must not beieve too much in your own Pretty, and that it would be advisable to remain young. Snow White got the Handsome Young Prince, while her vain and aging Stepmother was stuck with the Gouty Old King.
The myth of the Golden Ticket has endured, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary. Violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor with what was arguably the most perfect face in the history of womankind: seven divorces. Seven. Death parted her from only one spouse, prematurely, when she was just twenty-five. Marilyn Monroe: desired by everyone, wanted by no one, dead and alone at thirty-six. Meanwhile, generations of women, from ordinary to dazzling, have come of age, believing that they can never be Pretty Enough to grasp that Golden Ticket.