I had a feeling something was wrong with this mega-popular inspirational meme -- and I nailed it

There’s an inspirational paragraph making the rounds on Instagram and Pinterest that’s being attributed to legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland — but the fashion icon never said or wrote it, and it’s been circulating online for almost 10 years with the wrong attribution.

The quote has been making the rounds for a while, but enjoyed a resurgence of popularity on Instagram recently when stylist and “Mad Men” costumer Janie Bryant posted it on her Instagram. Here’s what it looks like:

 In case you can’t make out the blurry text above, here’s the full quote:

“You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilisation in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.’ – Diana Vreeland”

It’s a powerful few sentences, superimposed on an Andy Warhol Polaroid shot of Vreeland from a 1973 session. With its feel-good, empowering message, it’s easy to see why the quote is being passed around so much.

But when I first saw it, the use of the word “random” and the slash-heavy punctuation gave me pause. It seemed clear that Vreeland, who was born in Paris and died in 1989, wasn’t alive long enough to see those writing tropes come into style.

As a Harper’s Bazaar columnist and Vogue editor, Vreeland was responsible for plenty of kicky quotes about femininity and style. But “You Don’t Have to Be Pretty” isn’t one of them. 

So with a little googling, I learned that the entire paragraph quoted above actually belongs to Erin McKean, an author, editor, and blogger. And she wrote it way back in 2006.



McKean wrote the paragraph as part of a post on her blog, A Dress A Day. McKean’s commenters had been discussing “the fact that it can be *really* hard to look good in leggings,” McKean writes. This got the writer thinking about why women feel such pressure to “look good,” anyway.

So she wrote a few paragraphs about it, one of which really struck a chord with readers and became part of the meme.

But how did it end up being associated with Vreeland? Well, McKean used the Warhol photo of Vreeland to illustrate her post. So maybe a reader assumed Vreeland had written the paragraph, then created the meme. We contacted McKean for comment, but haven’t heard back.

The website Quote Investigator was also hot on the trail of this bogus quote meme a year ago. They’d also seen it attributed to humorist Fran Lebowitz, but we haven’t seen any instances of that. 

Instead, users of Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram — and even a BuzzFeed staffer — continue to misattribute McKean’s quote. So McKean is going without credit for her great quote, and Vreeland’s search results are being dominated by something she never said.

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