I'm in the middle of the first season, when you still feel bad for Betty and sad for Peggy. And I keep being struck by how radiant they both are, and how the quality of their beauty feels completely different.
Betty is a classic American blonde, repeatedly compared to Grace Kelly, gifted with a gorgeous face and a trim figure. Her beauty gets her lots of attention from men (and yikes! even boys!), and she's learned to see that as her major power in the world.
To me she seems like a superhero who knows that her powers are fading -- she has everything now, but she knows it will all go away. So there's an odd desperation to her character. We see this as she turns from one man to another, repeating the same patterns and judging her daughter as harshly as she has been judged.
And as her desperation grows, she becomes more and more odious. (Seriously, type "I Hate Betty" into Google and how it auto-finishes the sentence.) I can't WAIT to see what she does when Sally (inevitably) starts hanging out with hippies. And as she loses more and more of her youthful glow. She has a porcelain doll quality -- stiff and hollow and cold -- and the world is moving on to real flesh.
Peggy, on the other hand, comes from humble surroundings and would generally be considered pretty plain. But there's an intensity in her eyes that makes her stand out, that makes you want to watch her. Her beauty isn't a shell that can crack -- it's a coalfire burning from the inside out.
The first season is kind of a shocking time for Peggy -- she learns she has good intellectual instincts and poor romantic ones. (Seriously, girl? Pete Campbell? Let us talk!) But there's no denying that as she grows and gets more confident, she also becomes more and more beautiful. I like noticing it happen as I re-watch the show -- from the moment she sells her first copy, she develops a lookie-what-I-did glow.
Peggy's variety of beauty is more a side-effect of doing cool stuff than it is a genetic gift. It comes from taking risks and achieving stuff and being proud of it. Which means it's accessible to everybody.
And it's self-renewing, which means it doesn't go away when you get old -- in fact it only gets more luminous with age and increased badassity. Imagine Peggy in 2012 -- the drama, the stories, the hilarious and wistful memories! I kind of wish she was not a fictional character so we could hang out!
And it's also predicated on a much nicer notion Betty-style beauty: the idea that a woman's value comes from what she does, not what she looks like.
The genetic lottery is real -- some people reap the benefits of being born beautiful, and others not so much. But think about the people you think are gorgeous -- is it about their looks, or is it about who they are?
True beauty -- the real, lasting, burning-from-within kind -- doesn't come from our DNA. It comes from the boldness of the choices we make every day. Bravery is the new black.