“Beautiful and Brainy”


Madison Holleran was a 19-year old University of Pennsylvania student and a promising track star at her university, until a week ago, when she threw herself off a parking garage in Philadelphia. Many young adults commit suicide everyday, but interestingly Madison’s death was reported in cities where seemingly she had a very small, or even a nonexistent connection.  Articles about Madison’s suicide appeared all over the internet, including on The New York Daily News and The New York Post’s websites, and both articles felt the need to not only point out that this young woman was attractive, but that she was also smart. The exact phrase The New York Daily News to describe her was “beautiful and brainy”.

O misogyny, let me count the ways:

First there is this idea that Madison was beautiful. By every article repeatedly stating how gorgeous and physically attractive she is, it implies that many people who commit suicide are in fact the opposite of this—people who are a mess socially and physically. Over and over they describe how she was preparing to pledge to sororities, how popular she was, how many track awards she won in high school and her high grades. The media has made it clear—she was not supposed to die because her life was considered perfect. This assertion is so short sighted in its implication that depression only touches those women who are not part of the “in-crowd” or who aren’t “good kids”.

It’s a basic lesson 10th grade English teaches you when you have to read “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

I have no idea why Madison Holleran jumped from that parking garage, but consider this—brain chemistry affects everyone, whether you think it should or shouldn’t. Also consider that family friends say that she seemed to “snap” in the last few weeks, but had never shown any suicidal tendencies or mental health distress in her background up until Christmas break. She had made it clear to her family that she was not happy at Penn. Consider that if mental illness isn’t supposed to affect pretty people, then maybe trauma or stress can.

And then there is the implication that Madison Holleran was so extraordinary because she wasn’t just beautiful—she also had brains. A family friend attributed her recent depression on her first term GPA of 3.5, which did not meet the high standards she had set for herself. I mean, how remarkable! A pretty girl can also be smart?! Stop the presses!

Honestly, what year is this? Do we really have to qualify a girl’s beauty with her brains, as though we are now allowed to think, “Wow, this is sad because she wasn’t just a pretty face”? How about it is sad, regardless of her looks or her grades? How about we stop stressing how as women you are encouraged to be either cute or smart, and if you, God forbid, happen to mix the two, you are somehow the Eighth Wonder of the World?

How about it is sad because a 19-year old girl felt so distressed in the last few weeks of her life that this was the only viable option she had concluded she had left?

Madison’s death is so disheartening on so many levels, but it definitely is when it harkens back to the fact that women are always judged by our appearance, no matter what. Even in death we are only valued for our ability to fit a certain standard of physical beauty. Awesome. Thanks for making that abundantly clear for me now. I’ll go ahead and resign myself to the fact that my actions, character and prior accomplishments won’t mean squat to those left behind, when I have to punch the timecard in the sky one day.

Well, that’s going to make the rest of my life easy—stop achieving now, because ultimately, it’s all going to be about my weight, my face, my hair, my tits and my ass—that is, if we are to actually believe any of the horseshit these newspapers have fed us about Madison Holleran’s death.

Madison deserved better, and all of us women still here walking this earth do too.  I hope she’s at peace. Maybe one day we all can be too.

2 thoughts on ““Beautiful and Brainy”

  1. Guys get their share of this from girls too: ‘all brawn, no brain’, or ‘he’s a football player, duh!’, implying he’s therefore dumb. And ‘good looking, model-type, not the type that can get into a professional course’.


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