What Does Smart Look Like, Anyway?

Do you "look smart"? Do you think I do?
Publish date:
February 22, 2013
intelligence, iq, looks

Maybe it's the glasses.

Maybe it's my utilitarian devotion to style. If a belt is not holding up my pants, I cannot bring myself to wear it. Earrings get stuck in my hair and get in my way when I talk on the phone, so I don't wear them. I usually only wear makeup for auditions and on occasions when wine is being served.

Maybe it's the fact that once I get hooked on something like say, post-mortem photography, Sylvia Plath (I wrote a play about her when I was 22 that would CHANGE YOUR LIFE), or Russian Imperialism, I must know EVERYTHING ABOUT IT, then tell you about it ad nauseam.

Maybe it's because I'm Asian

Regardless or because of any of the above reasons, I've always been pegged as the "smart girl."

Growing up and in college, teachers, bosses and grown-ups in general always just assumed that my lack of makeup, my carefully cultivated confidence and minimalist appearance (I was devoted to three colors: black, white and red) were indications of academic overachieving. Ya know, the grades 'n' stuff.

I got really good at manipulating conversations toward topics I was comfortable with, and was always ready with a few obscure interesting facts that would wow the crowd, but that nobody was actually going to check-up on.

I've always been a huge reader, so it wasn't all an act, but if I had a particularly impressive looking book in my possession -- "Les Miserable," "Infinite Jest," "The Satanic Verses" -- I'd be sure to have it accidentally topple out of my bag or "need" to be removed and handed to my companion in order for me to retrieve my wallet or Chap-stick. That always got 'em. Got 'em good.

I would revel in their treating me like one of their own, listening and nodding at me with what seemed like genuine interest and consideration. Ah! Glorious acceptance! But niggling at the back of my mind was always the impending fear that oh yes, one day, they would know the truth.

You see, I was secretly stupid. Not really, but school was not my thing.

My grades in high school were BAD. Like, bottom of my class bad. Bad like, I passed the Physics exam that would decide if I would graduate from high school, by one point. Bad like, my high school college counselor choked on her coffee when I told her my dream college was NYU. She told me college wasn't for everyone.

When I got my SAT scores back I found myself in this weird gray area where my scores were more than good enough to get me into my top schools, but my grades were barely good enough to get me into the Gap.

But everyone kept treating me like I was smart! Well, grades- smart. Unless you were my teachers or my parents, nobody knew! The persona of being the smartest person in the room, the one people asked for help with their homework, the one who was turned to time and time again for leadership or advice, became who I was.

And it still continues to this day. I'm long past worrying about tricking people into believing in my smarts, but now and then it will come up in conversation that I totally sucked at high school and some of college. The shock always amuses me. "But you look so smart!" has been exclaimed on more than one occasion.

What does smart look like?

I bring this up because recently a "blonde, self-tanning" girl from Essex, Lauren Marbe, has everyone a little baffled because she has an IQ of 161.

Apparently that's Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Quentin Tarantino territory.

People are having a tough team wrapping their less-than-genius level brains around the fact that this relatively normal girl who easily admits that "I am blonde, I do wear make-up, and I do go out" puts the majority of the population's brain to shame.

In reading about Marbe, I'm less interested in the fact that she has a high IQ, and more interested that her appearance seems to almost trump her intellect. Why does it make headlines when a woman cares for both her looks and her mind?

It troubles me that there are young women out there who are, consciously or not, deciding to choose between brains and beauty. Why does it have to be all or nothing? Why does one negate the other? I highly doubt the same questions would be raised if Marbe were a young man.

Hopefully her story can be a lesson in how being an intelligent and fulfilled woman defies definition.

Do you "look smart"? Do you think I do?