When I was thirteen and appearing in the school play, one of the parent chaperones took pictures of each of us in our costumes. When she got to me, she commented that I was the prettiest girl in the chorus.
I should have been flattered, but I felt awful: her own daughter, who was also in the chorus, was within earshot. It bothers me to this day.
Since I was a small child, my looks have drawn a great deal of attention I never asked for. Total strangers used to stop my mother on the street just to get a better look at me -- which, in retrospect, is a little creepy and probably not the healthiest thing for a little girl to experience.
Being an attractive woman can, in fact, suck. I'm sure someone out there is rolling their eyes at this, but please: hear me out before you write me off.
For starters, other women hate us. I've seen this in every age group from kindergarten on up -- sometimes, one female hates another purely because she is prettier. Usually, though not always, it's because attractive people tend to get more attention. In high school and college, there were several girls I barely knew who despised me just because their boyfriends kept drooling over me. I hate being stared at and told the guys to knock it off, but did it do me any good? No.
In rare cases, other women may even become obsessed with us. In college, a student I didn't even know developed a disturbing fascination with me. It started out small -- trying to copy my outfits, tagging along when she hadn't been invited, etc. -- but escalated into a situation that a friend of mine compared to the film "Single White Female."
Men can obsess over us, too -- sometimes with serious consequences. I've repeatedly been pestered for dates by men I've already turned down. I've been stalked and harassed online and offline, and no longer participate in social media for my own safety. The few exes I have all turned obsessive. I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone that for too many women, being the object of obsession can be deadly.
Dating is hell. Granted, it can be hell for anyone, but I'm a hair away from giving it up entirely. I've already sworn off internet dating because too many men have gotten angry when I have declined to date them. One guy messaged me while I was at work, then cursed me out for not responding quickly enough.
Even when I find an interesting guy who doesn't seem like the obsessive sort, there's getting through an actual date. More than once, I've found my date oddly quiet or stumbling through sentences, and couldn't stop wondering what I was doing wrong. A male friend of mine insists they're too tongue-tied to be articulate. Guess what -- it's awkward for us, too. Plus, we get to wonder, "Does he truly like me, or is he just into my appearance?"
One of my exes was an ordinary-looking guy who couldn't understand why I adored him. I didn't care about his looks, I was attracted to his intelligence. That didn't solve his self-esteem problems, nor did it stop other men from trying to pick me up right in front of him. Which, in turn, turned to jealousy, tantrums (him, not me), obsessive behavior, and my breaking off our engagement because he was scaring me.
Ask Men has an article titled "The 10 Pitfalls of Dating a Beautiful Woman." I wonder if it's ever occurred to the site's editors that dating as an attractive woman might not be so easy, either.
Although sexual harassment can happen to anyone, it sure has happened to me quite a lot. The mere fact that I exist and happen to be attractive does NOT, in my humble estimation, EVER make it okay for ANYONE to invade my personal space, touch me, aggressively pursue me, make obscene comments, or take my picture without asking first.
My ample chest in particular has drawn a lot of unwanted attention, and I have yet to be more shocked and dismayed than the time I went to see The Buzzcocks at a small San Diego County venue and found myself being aggressively "brushed against" by every male security guard in the venue. I moved to a different spot on the floor -- they kept doing it. I moved again -- they kept doing it. At no point in time did I see them get too close to any of the more modestly-endowed women in the audience. There was a female bartender on duty, so I moved to the bar area, hoping that would deter them. It didn't, and she ignored it. I was just trying to see a band, and those scumbags ruined my night.
I can't even walk down the street without risking an uncomfortable situation. On one terrifying occasion, I was walking to the store when a rusty old Volkswagen passed me, screeched to a halt, and did three U-turns before the sketchy-looking driver was able to pull over right next to me and ask if I needed a ride. I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I never saw that guy again, but as this happened half a block from my apartment, I was very worried that he might know where I lived. On another occasion, some guy at the neighborhood bus stop jumped up from the bench and begged me to take him home with me (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried). Would I like to walk more and drive less? Yes, I would -- IF I could have some reassurance that no one will scare the hell out of me when I'm just trying to pick up some cat food.
Then there's wardrobe criticism. I live in a warm climate, so I can't just bury my figure in layers. If I want to cover up my cleavage, someone will say I look heavier. If I put on a v-neck tee, someone else will whip out their phone and try to get a cleavage shot. People ranging from family to total strangers all seem to have differing opinions on what I should wear, how I should style my hair, what body parts I should tattoo or pierce (I don't even LIKE body art), and even how I do my makeup. That's MY business, not anyone else's.
Speaking of family: if our mothers or sisters are beautiful, we're constantly compared to them. I'm not the prettiest girl in the world by a long shot, but my mother is Disney-princess beautiful, still wears a size 4, and looks so good for her age that most people think she's my older sister. I love my mom, but am all too aware that I'm a Plain Jane compared to her.
Which leads me to my last point: attractive people are NOT immune to negative body image, body shaming, or eating disorders. I've lived through all of the above, many times. My best friend from high school, who briefly worked as a model? Eating disorder. My blonde, perfect-looking next-door neighbor? Eating disorder (hospitalized twice). My impossibly beautiful mother? Bullied by her own mother for being flat-chested. Nearly every female friend I've ever had, regardless of looks? Some kind of body shaming at some point. It can happen to ANYONE.
And even though I know it's a trap, I still wish I was prettier.