"No one wants to hear a pretty girl complain..."
This phrase stuck with me since it had been harshly said to a friend of mine, Kim*, at a vulnerable moment. It unsettled and enraged me. She had been going through some very legitimate pain: a break-up, parents that were less than understanding, insecurities about not being good enough -- things anyone could relate to. Things that hardly mattered less because Kim was a model.
It wouldn't have bothered me so much if it felt like an isolated incident, perhaps uttered by someone with their own reasons for being so insensitive. Instead, it felt symptomatic of an attitude I've seen so often applied to women, if not as neatly summarized.
Apparently, if you're beautiful, you must be happy, and if you are not happy, for the love of God don't talk about it. Apparently, you can't possibly have real problems if you're attractive. This way of thinking completely reduces women to their appearance. It's as if that’s all that matters about a woman, and she can't have a full life and other concerns. I can't help but notice that I've never heard similar comments about attractive men.
Considering that my self-esteem in the looks department was never that bad, I'm surprised to realize that I too fell into the trap of thinking looking good would mean I was happy. I've been pretty lucky, in my ability to avoid a large part of the media's influence. I like what I like. Some of it fits in with the media's presentation of "ideal," such as small waists, long nails, small wrists. The rest of my preferences don't -- I like curly hair and crooked teeth and interesting noses.
I've never been one of those people who looked at magazine models and wanted to look like that, I just wanted to look like myself on a good day all the time.
Can I admit I think I'm pretty without being Samantha Brick? I'm doing it anyway; according to my personal tastes, I think I'm pretty. I generally like the look of women who look similar to me (and many other types of women too, obviously).
Though I've always been pretty happy with how I look, there have of course been things I would have liked to change. I was never really thrilled with my skin, which is sensitive and prone to break outs and hives. Being a serious control freak, this drove me absolutely nuts at certain points of my life.
I learned early on how to do make up and hair and could manipulate those things to look exactly the way I wanted, but my skin remained a wild card, drawing a moustache on my Mona Lisa. When I decided to cut most of the sugar out of my diet a few months ago I saw a complete turn around in my skin. It's been almost completely clear and the inflammation has decreased dramatically. I don't really have to think about it anymore, a day I never really expected to come.
I've also gained enough weight that I fill out my clothes and look healthy. My body once again looks like the body of someone who eats regularly and doesn't make themself throw up, three or so years after I stopped doing those things.
Waiting for my body to adjust to three meals a day again was excruciating. It's hard to be better and feel better and not look better, to have a body that's a constant reminder of one of the worst times in your life. Strangely enough, these issues had nothing to do with how I felt about my appearance. My disordered eating was an attempt to feel in control when the rest of my life felt disordered. I'm finally at a weight where I look healthy as healthy as I feel.
I never realized how much I expected this to affect me until it came to pass, and I felt disillusioned. Shouldn't I be even more confident and ready to take on the world now? My few months of unemployment and my living situation shouldn't have bothered me so much anymore. I was my idealized version of myself and that was supposed to be enough, but somehow it wasn't. Changing those flaws didn't suddenly make me happy, they were simply two less things on my ever expanding laundry list of worries.
My anxiety fluctuates in severity and its been in a real upswing lately, worse than it has been in years. Finding myself attractive doesn't change the fact that I'm worried about my career, my relationship, or my friendships. It doesn't make me a drop less neurotic. While writing this article, it's a relief to not have my mind wander to my weight or my skin, but that just gives me more time to worry about this article.
I'm not going to say that I don't feel better in some areas, I do. Having a few less things to worry about is wonderful, and I would feel significantly worse if my skin looked terrible and I lost a bunch of weight on top of the depression I'm currently dealing with, but this is still one of the low points of my life. How I look isn't changing my unemployment or mental illness.
I guess at the end of the day, it's different for each person how much your confidence is a direct result of how you feel about your looks. Kim says "Some people don't care about it. Some people care too much... some people don't know how to feel about it. Like me, like I am very concerned with it but that's because I thought life was easier for people who were pretty." Kim says that she went through an awkward stage when she was younger and was treated badly by her peers, she felt that her life would be better if could not be teased for her appearance.
Now that she has grown into her looks she realizes that things didn't change as much as she hoped they would. I think this is something a lot of people buy into and it's just not the cure all we expect. If you're unhappy with your looks, you're allowed to be sad about it. If you're happy with your looks you're allowed to be sad about other things. It's your body and your life and you can feel however the fuck you want about it, no one else has to live for you.
*Name has been changed
*Photos by Clif Militello