“Pretty” Powerful: Strong Words and Strong Message from Katie Makkai

October 29, 2010 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (12)


NOTE TO READERS: I’ve scouted about for an hour or so now trying to find information about the woman whose poem I have embedded below. Unfortunately I can’t find *anything* about her … searches merely pull up page … after page … after page … of this video. So if you’re reading this and you have any idea where to find more information on Katie Makkai, please share that in the comments …

Katie Makkai. I know nothing about her save for the powerful words and strident delivery of her poetry slam performance that has whipped its way around the Internet. Her words strike at the core of a sadly all-too-familiar theme of how society pushes, prods and otherwise pokes at young women … teaching us all from a very young age that beauty isn’t just skin deep. Beauty is everything.

In 4th grade one of my classmates and I were playing with some other kids. Before she skipped out the door and back down the street to her house for dinner, she looked me in the eye and said, “Cathy, you shouldn’t use such big words. Boys don’t like smart girls.”

My mother heard this exchange and after my friend had left, she took me into the kitchen and sat me down. I remember the moment with such clarity – the smell of dinner in the oven, the feel of the seat cushion underneath me. Sitting down across from me and looking me dead in the eye my mother said, “Cathy, I heard what said to you about not using big words and I have something very important that you must remember. Never compromise your intelligence … for any one.”

I’ll always be grateful to her for that, but at the same time I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that throughout my life it was always so painful that my sister was the pretty one, my brother the athletic one and Cathy … well … she was very funny and boy was she smart.

We all know what they say about people “with good personalities.”

As I’ve grown older, of course, I have come to appreciate the person who I have become … knowing that while I may not be the most beautiful woman in the room I have turned a head or two in my time … but every now and then that little girl, insecure and worried that she’ll never “grow into” her looks, raises her hand in the back of my mind’s classroom and asks … will I be pretty one day?”

When I first saw this video that little girl version of me began to cry and they were tears of joy … because she’s not alone


12 responses to ““Pretty” Powerful: Strong Words and Strong Message from Katie Makkai”

  1. Brought forth my tears also, at the age of 72.

  2. Anne says:

    I’ve seen it six times, and I cry at the end each time. I’m 55.

  3. Cathy says:

    Anne, I don’t know that a woman can ever be beyond reconnecting to the pain and awkwardness of youth … I think it’s wonderful that you stay connected to that soft place of compassion. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Connie says:

    In a Google search on Katie Makkai, I…came across this post and blog. So if you do find more about her, do let us know! Her piece rang bells for me not just because of my own awkward, looks-worried youth (and much of adulthood) but also because appearance and its social effects is an issue I care deeply about. You see, my fiance, who was severely obese, suffered abuse from “friends” and strangers alike because of his size. Since his passing, I’ve made it my mission to love people “from the inside out” and motivate others to do the same. See my blog for more on what that means. Blessings~

  5. Connie says:

    P.S. It’s amazing that you describe this blog as “a social petri dish…”–I am starting another blog on how contemporary society deals with grief (hint: it aint ‘well’). I seriously considered calling it something like A Petri Dish for Grief, but I didn’t think it would “work” well. Instead it’ll be called Grief Matters. I haven’t created the first post yet, but will soon. Other grief-journey travelers are being invited to write for it too. Anyway it’ll be at griefmatters.blogspot.com.

  6. Cathy says:

    Thanks for both comments, Connie. My condolences for your loss. Kudos to you for seizing your own grief and doing something productive with it!

  7. April says:

    I just saw her perform at NOW’s conference in Tampa. She said she ha a book out through Passion Publishers out of Denver. Her bio is on the conference website. Hope this helps! She is awesome.

  8. LiLi says:

    Wow, I would love to have been at the NOW conference!

    Here’s the bio:

    Katie Makkai’s first poetry reading was in a neighbor’s basement at the age of seven, where she performed profoundly moving works about puppies and kittens for her Girl Scout troupe. Makkai is now a veteran slam poet who has garnered attention for her performance of “Pretty” at the 2002 National Poetry Slam. This work, as well as other pieces in her two books of collected poems, chronicle Makkai’s own struggle for self-worth and identity in a culture that often seems enslaved to what she calls “the Aesthetic Beast.”

    Makkai co-founded the Denver poetry slam in 2000, the same year she graduated from the University of Colorado with a BA in Writing. She has performed in poetry venues throughout the U.S. and competed at the National Poetry Slam every year from 2000-2005; she was voted champion for the city of Denver in 2000 and Albuquerque, N.M., in 2002.

    In addition to poetry, Makkai also writes humorous short stories about her experiences as a woman navigating the social and political terrain of civil service. This includes a 10-year career as an EMT and paramedic, as well as her more recent appointment as a deputy medical examiner in Oregon. However, Makkai asserts that no competition or professional work compares with helping to teach poetry to juvenile criminal offenders through “Art from Ashes” from 2000-2004.


  9. Pamela says:

    I have always been called Pretty. Pretty Pam. So when I was this video, it really touched that part, deep inside, that needed to believe it…I have a high IQ but always played dumb because I didn’t want to put anyone off. “boys don’t like smart girls” ya know…but I grew into my own and gave up on the dumb blond act. I am a mother now and I never complement my daughters on their looks. I will tell my youngest that I love the effort she put into the outfit she is wearing because she has decided that fashion is important to her. I tell them they have to eat a healthy balanced diet because it is the fuel for their bodies and whatever they want to accomplish is going to require fuel. To exercise because they want to be physically able to face whatever life brings and to find their bliss and follow their hearts because a person who can make a living doing what they love will always find happiness. but never that they are merely “pretty”…Thank you and keep spreading the word. the world needs strong, confident positive female influences now more than ever.

  10. AliceDeMalice says:

    I’ve heard of slam poetry years ago, but things happen in life which change courses and force us to re-map our plans. I want to say, I wasn’t lazy to look for it, read it or anything else but the world and life were slamming at me pretty bad for the past two decades.

    A few days ago I’ve read a trilogy of an author where there were lots of slam poetry pieces, and most of them were located in Denver. No matter it was just a book, these words somehow transferred a lot of what I feel, how I think, write, communicate, which often makes me “the odd one”.

    So this morning, I hook up on youtube and hit the slam poetry, Katie Makkai being the first, her “Pretty”.

    I am rewatching it instead of working for 10th time and I stay amazed at the power of words, her performance and strength which left me amazed.

    Katie, you are a bright star in my newly discovered slam universe, forever grateful.

  11. Monique says:

    I’m looking for a way to contact her. Does anyone know how to email her or get a hold of her!!

  12. Cathy says:

    Sorry I don’t 🙁