Open Thread: Was She Pretty?


A collection of illustrations and sentences, rather than a graphic novel, is what I would call Leanne Shapton’s Was She Pretty? Spurred by the reminders of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, Shapton asks, sketches, and shares sparse details about other peoples’ former lovers.

"Jason’s ex-girlfriend was Taylor. She was from the South," is how the book begins.

Though it can range to the bizarre: "Alasdair’s ex-girlfriend was his first cousin Annabel. Their family was very casual about it all. They were a close-knit clan of eccentric and photogenic aristocrats who often modeled for luxury ad campaigns."

Given the subject matter (another human!) the several short sentences seem both shallow and strangely appropriate. The title too, Was She Pretty?, points to how we know our other’s exes, or even our ex’s others, only by uncomfortable proxy, leaving an incomplete and inaccurate veneer of them in our minds.

So I ask, what is the question you ask regarding your current significant other’s previous lover? Or, your former lover’s new significant other? "Elizabeth," for example, "had no problem with exes. It was the women who replaced her that drove her crazy."

I know you have one so I’ll start: Is she skinny? Is she smart?

—Alexis Cheung

Photos by Tom Newton.

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  • Vanessa V

    With modern day facebook stalking the question "is she pretty/skinny/tall/etc." isn't really necessary. My pride would never let me actually ask... but what I'd want to know is "is she funny?" and what I'd be getting at is "is she funnier than me?"

    • Alexis Cheung

      The reason I'm never going to date Will Arnett or Nick Kroll: Amy Poehler. (Also, what about private profiles?!??)

  • Eleanor Rigby

    As human being, it is normal to go through that phase at some point in our life. But we need to grow up. We need to surpass those concerns that can be quite mentally exhausting, but that will not change anything about who we really are. If you just need validation through beauty, than it become problematic. You will never be the unanimous beauty that Doutzen Kroes (?!) is. There will always be a stronger, more talented, more successful and prettier woman around.

    You just need to grow confidence and stop losing your time on negative energy. It's all about gaining confidence, perception and a sense of self-worth.

    • beeswaxnoneofyour

      This. Also, not all relationships end with adequate closure. This is perfectly natural. Sometimes you have to accept the answer is that there is no answer, and move on.

    • Alexis Cheung

      confidence, perception, and self-worth are three of my favorite qualities in any human post-breakup or not

  • beeswaxnoneofyour

    No, no, no....ladies (and men), that way madness lies. An ex is an ex for a reason. If you're the ex, forward is the only way to look.

    • Alexis Cheung

      as someone once said, onwards and upwards!

    • Lily

      yeah, no one should go all Rebecca over a partner's ex. It's great in literature, but torturous in life.

  • bijoux

    Ohh I got this book years ago, and the haunting feelings it describes are so accurate. It's such a short book, but it stays with me. I also really like the book "I Want to be Her" which features illustrations and so many wardrobe inspirations.

    • Alexis Cheung

      Isn't Leanne great? Looking into "I Want to be Her" now!

  • Haiku Jew

    Is their tush more toned?
    Do they make you laugh loudly?
    Thank God, I'm married.

    • Alexis Cheung

      teach me your ways Haiku

  • kathS

    This one is a doozy! Def going to order this book. I am more like Elizabeth...

  • EnglishRose

    You are all so grown up and right of course but what I want to know is - was she 'rude' and can she cook?

  • Adrienne Angelos

    I think this is the crux of what we all struggle with, we just all define cool a little differently. For me, it's also slightly different with every guy that I date - I worry about how he defines cool and how I measure up to that. Maybe thats where these "Was she pretty?" types of questions come from, wanting to measure up, or to not be a so-called downgrade.

    I wonder how much men struggle with these same issues. I know I've dated men that I consider a lapse in judgement in the chain of otherwise charming specimens with whom I've been involved.

    Why do I find this thread so therapeutic?

  • Chicspace/Marguerite

    I've only met one of the exes, but weirdly my boyfriend and my exes never seem to be able to let go of their exes (but I let go of THEM just fine). Boyfriend is still close with two of his exes, casual with two others, and considers almost all of them crazy (as in truly crazy). What the hell is that about?

    Oh, thank you for the opportunity to vent :)

  • Alexis Cheung

    the problem with niches is there's no room for cuddling ;)

  • Alexandra Puffer

    UHMMM YES. I love this because I am psycho. Identifying.

  • Karina de-Bourne

    Reaaaally intrigued about this! It seems like the type of book that has put all of our insecurities about past, present and future relationships into a really blunt and shallow light. This must be really thought provoking.

  • Aubrey Green

    They are an ex for a reason - nothing good will come from asking such questions and what's that saying...don't ask a question you don't really want to know the answer to. Also, jealousy (cause that's where this leads) works the opposite way you want it to.

  • FrancesParker

    Never mind whether she's pretty or cool or skinny, did you love her?

    I've seldom ever been bothered by any knowledge of my boyfriends' exes, but it's the girl who's replaced me that's driving me bonkers. (And for one thing, she's a full decade younger than me.)

  • Fezzers

    My questions that I always seem to be asking -
    "Is she smart? Does she read more than me?"
    And because I have bipolar disorder that is fairly well controlled but sometimes freaks out a little -
    "Is she neuro typical? Is she easygoing?"

  • Amelia Molly

    Does she know about me? Does anyone know about me?

  • Eleanor Rigby

    Adrienne. I fully agree with your comment. I was not trying to be tough or judge people who compare themselves. I've been guilty of this several times as well. I just wanted to put in perspective the negative effects of wishing to be like other women who may appear more talented, smart or beautiful without questioning our own motives to do so. I think human nature is very complex, and everyone is entitled to pass through various set of emotions. I just believe that the remedy is self-love, but concur that is it (and still is) a hard thing to fully achieve.

  • Yan

    Off-topic ITG request: please can you do a Chinese Drugstore must have list? There's lots of obscure Chinese drugstores in my country and I think I've had enough French or Korean pharmacy/beauty must-haves.

    My grandparents are Chinese and my grandmother used to rub this Chinese ointment on my bites and they're effective. There's this face cream my aunt used to use called Chin Chun Su in a little pink oval tub.

    These products seem a bit old-fashioned but ironically, there's something novel and curious about these products.

    • Alexis Cheung

      Looking into it!

  • Nicole B.

    Let me just tell you all, from personal experience -- the last words you ever want to hear from your boyfriend are "my ex was a model". Yikes.

    • Alana

      No, it's all good. My friends hooked up with 'models' and I've learnt from experience to only ever think yikes when you've give them a look over because a Doutzen Kroes is different looking from the girl who does the tire changes in a pseudo infomercial. Guys just love saying they dated models for the kick. What kind of model they end up being, and what quality model they are (reassuringly) a whole different matter!

  • Alana

    Omg! I'm insane about stuff like this. Literally pictures taken from their facebooks abound and sent round like a lookbook to my friends to rate her vs. myself. Then it's like oh she went to Cambridge, I went to Penn. She looked beautiful when she cries I don't but she dropped out of school to Mcdonalds so on the sliding scale let's see how that fits together. Ugh. Awful. Need to see a therapist about it.

  • Hannah

    I really liked this, thanks.

  • Sarah S

    The girlfriend of an ex called me a few months ago to ask me about our relationship. According to her, he was constantly comparing us to each other. She thought I was some sort of perfect human, but in truth, he did the same with me when we were dating - comparing me to his ex. She felt terrible, inadequate. He did that to her - some people just do that to you.

  • Slātlantican

    I don't know how long
    You've been making Disqus bright
    But I look for more.