Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently stunned the world with her new campaign for Dior. She is officially a Lady Dior. During the campaign, she admonished feminist women to embrace their femininity. Although she spoke within the confines of feminism, it stretches to the various misconceptions that nerdish girls and women all over the world have been saddled with.
The popular definition of a nerd is “an unattractive, socially awkward, annoying, undesirable and boring person” as opposed to “a person who is extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about a particular subject, especially one of specialist or niche interest.” The latter definition is a better representation of who nerds are and it should be revered. There is nothing as powerful as a person armed with knowledge. Sadly, this is not the case. What the world sees is an ugly nerdish woman because nerds cannot be pretty girls. This misleading idea can be traced to past times. Pop culture has only helped embolden it.
In recent times, women were only restricted to pleasuring men, birthing children, and running the household whilst maintaining beauty. The female aesthetic was very important to the patriarchy because it held onto the belief that women existed for its gaze. This is the reason for the different beauty standards seen across the years. Women were not allowed to be knowledgeable. Women who went out of their way to educate themselves were seen as rebels. They were stripped of the pretty card –even though these women were pretty– because no man wants to be with a woman who will not stroke his ego. It was then instituted that nerds cannot be pretty girls. The line between pretty girls and nerdish girls was drawn and it is well and active today.
I saw a scene from the popular sitcom; Modern Family, that struck me last week. The Dunphys were having their usual family conversations but this time it was centered on boys and girls. Alex asked a question, “So dumb guys go for dumb girls and smart guys go for dumb girls. What do smart girls get?” and Phil replies “cats mostly.” Dumb girls in this context refer to pretty girls. This is the constituted pattern for nerdish girls. Nerdish girls do not get the guy. Nerdish girls do not make heads turn. Nerdish girls do not make the cover of vogue magazines or cosmopolitan billboards. Nerdish girls do not become ambassadors for Dior. Nerdish girls do not walk runways. Nerdish girls do not have an interest in fashion whatsoever. Nerdish girls are uncool and wear geeky glasses reading books in the attic all day.
It is worth noting that when the line was drawn, the patriarchy did not expect the two sides to meet in the middle, that is why the viral phrase “beauty and brains” exist. People are always shocked when a pretty girl is dispersing knowledge, the same way their mouths form the letter “o” when a nerdish woman walks by in a satin backless dress. It alters normalcy. Chimamanda Adichie has had to deal with this view. In an interview, she recounted an event she regrets. It was her first teaching job and she stayed up all night worrying about what to wear. She wanted to put on her girly pretty ensemble; a pink dress, high heels, and lipstick but she was worried she wouldn’t be taken seriously, so she opted for a more nerdish look –think all the nerds you’ve seen in movies. She emphasized her hatred for the look. Her action was the effect of the decades-old “nerds cannot be pretty girls” beliefs. When more pretty women like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gained knowledge in diverse fields, the term “beauty and brains” was enacted to describe this cosmic shift.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated in that interview that she has never again considered denying her interest in fashion for the vague perceptions of others, even when a magazine rejected her mesmerizing photos for their cover because they didn’t want her “looking too glamorous.” We see this decision reflected in the outfits she wears to give mind-blowing, life-changing speeches and accept Dubois medals; pretty bright dresses, high heels, beautiful puffs/fro, and lipstick, the whole pretty girl ensemble. She has even been on the cover of girly magazines like Marie Claire Brazil and Schick amongst many others. She has spoken on the nerds cannot be pretty girls narrative saying “It is important to challenge the idea that an intellectual woman cannot possibly like fashion. There are intelligent women all over the world who like fashion, but they feel the pressure to pretend otherwise because they want to be taken seriously by a mainstream world that has decided that intelligent women cannot possibly like fashion.”
She also believes in the merger of intellectuality and fashion; “literature and art and history matter, and they can –should? – be in conversation with fashion.”
In more ways than one, I believe that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dior Campaign is a love letter to all the nerdish girls and women with an interest in fashion. Nerds can be pretty girls.