The older I get, the more tired I get of people telling me what they think of my appearance. There is something so narcissistic, so presumptuous, in telling somebody what you think of their looks, and expecting a specific response. What makes random people presume that I care what their analysis on my looks, or on beauty in general is?
This issue goes hand in hand with catcalling, the mentality that women need to constantly be told what everybody thinks of their looks. Being attractive, after all is apparently supposed to be the number one concern of females.
I like to be complimented, of course, like most human beings do. In fact, I love compliments! Genuine compliments. There is a difference, and it’s usually obvious to all involved, between an actual compliment and somebody displaying an act of attempted power or objectification.
A genuine compliment is saying something nice to somebody without any expectations, or without the intention to change the mood or actions of the receiver. When you are telling someone something and expect them to adjust what they are doing or who they are, like the weight of your words is that important, that is not a compliment.
Catcalling is not complimenting. I can’t tell you how many times a “You are beautiful” quickly transformed to “You are not that hot” when I didn’t respond the way the catcaller wanted. I usually respond by not responding because I have shit to do and things to think about, most of which do not revolve around my fucking appearance.
My looks are discussed (usually toward me) me at least 5 to 10 times a day if I leave the house and am by myself. That, according to conversations I’ve had with female friends, is pretty normal.
The fact that it is presumed that women think that appearance is their number one concern is often used as an attempted weapon. It’s as if it’s the number one insult, to tell a woman something negative about their appearance. For me, that just shows me that someone is an asshole, and I don’t mind if some asshole doesn’t find me attractive. Or, so they claim. There is usually a reason somebody would have the audacity to even insult somebody on their looks, and it is usually related to power and insecurities.
I am told I look like Lady Gaga on the daily. That in itself is fine but often this is followed up with, “I think she looks like a man,” or “Don’t worry, I find her very attractive.” Why would you say something like that to someone and what makes you think I am worried what you think about my goddamn looks? I never asked and I don’t value the opinions of a person that behaves that way. I just don’t.
Even the goddamn detectives of SVU after I got raped were discussing and debating my looks (Lady Gaga was of course included in this important analysis. If only they put this much effort into analyzing the rapist’s issues), in front of me, debating whether or not I was more or less attractive than the singer, and I was not included in their discussion.
While waiting for the train not long ago, two men were also having a discussion about my appearance five feet away from me. One man determined I was very attractive; the other declared I was not hot at all. The one who did find me attractive pivoted toward me to tell me this and I said, “I don’t care.”
After all, I was waiting for a goddamn form of public transportation, not waiting to be judged on "America’s Next Top Model." His cheeks got red, his brows lowered, and he began glaring at me with what appeared to be anger. Then he called me a "stuck-up bitch."
Why should I have to humor constant declarations of what my physical looks mean to random people when I’m just trying to do my own thing? Especially after they just talked about me, in front of me, like I was a shirt on a rack? I won’t do it.
When I was very young, I didn’t believe that sexual harassment was real. I thought it was something from the 1950s. But when I got into the workplace, and realized that most of the jobs I worked at concentrated on my looks instead of my knowledge, I was horrified.
The older I got, the more I resented having to humor people at work, who told me what they thought of my looks. Once, because I didn’t giggle and blush at co-workers telling me how pretty I am when trying to do work, a compliment quickly turned into comments about how I will have a “May wedding.” When I asked what that meant, one coworker replied, “May never happen.”
I responded with what I thought was common sense: “Sorry, but at work I like to be recognized for my work, not for how attractive people think I am. And, I actually have been proposed to and I said no. Getting married is not my number one life goal right now.” Their reaction to that statement: “I didn’t realize you were so sensitive,” and “Don’t worry, you’ll get married someday. You are very attractive, you just need to watch your tone.”
Another time, I was working with an engineer to fix a technical issue, and he seemed to be offended that I figured out the problem. I wasn’t bragging or being snotty, I was just trying to fix the goddamn issue we were being paid to fix. I talked to him with respect, and as a peer. In turn, he passive-aggressively and out of the blue pointed out that it looked like I had gained some weight.
An ex-boyfriend from a decade ago told me I would look better if I gained a few pounds. I told him I didn’t want to gain weight. Then he started purposely cooking fattening meals (he admitted to this later) to fatten me up, as if I was a dish of his. He was mad that I didn’t cohere to what he wanted in my looks, so he tried to trick me into turning into what he wanted.
What bothered me was not even the comments and actions themselves but the fact that these people couldn’t articulate what the real issues were. With my ex, it was about lack of control, which he also admitted to later. The inability to express what many of these people were actually probably upset about manifested into attacking the one aspect of my life, and in most female’s lives, that they assumed matters the most. But, it doesn’t.
If you want to hurt my feelings, tell me I’m immature (I am sometimes), or that I have tacky taste in clothing (I do sometimes) or that I am a bad writer (I am sometimes.) That shit might actually bother me. Focus on aspects of my character or taste that should actually matter, not the bone structure I was born with or the three pounds I gained after Christmas.
Not to say someone shouldn’t graciously accept real compliments or care about what they look like. Taking good care of myself and feeling good about how I look are extremely important to me, for my health and self worth. But the words of someone who has revealed to me that they are an asshole do not help in validating or injuring my self-image. Whether someone thinks I'm cute or not cute is not my business. Why make it mine? If someone doesn’t think I look good, that is completely cool with me.
We all have different tastes and everyone has the right to their own opinions, but it takes a special kind of jerk to think they have to announce every potentially hurtful thought to others. I’ve never once in my life had the urge to go up to a person and tell them what they could do to make them more attractive in my eyes. That would just be narcissistic to assume that what I think of their looks matters to them at all.
The only time I find it appropriate is out of genuine concern for somebody’s physical or mental health. When I do give complements to people, and they don’t respond exactly the way I imagined, I don’t freak out and call them names. That’s because it’s a compliment, not words I expect a certain reaction to.
It’s all just insane to me, and it’s insane that some of the interactions I discussed are considered normal behavior, behavior that I should learn to put up with. I’m a writer, not a fucking model.
Even crazier, when I am to mention that I don’t like it, I have been accused of being bitter. If I’m bitter, so be it. I think it’s a lame life to live, feeling like you are on the stage of a beauty pageant, a pageant you never signed up for.
I didn’t choose to be born a woman. Sometimes I wish I was born a man, so that I could do all the things I want to do and accomplish whatever I wanted without such a constant concentration on my appearance. Being born female or identifying as female apparently means being doomed to a life of people berating and rating your looks from a very young age until death.