Why this line has stuck with me for years.
There is a Tressie McMillan-Cottom quote that I want a needlepoint sampler of on my wall: “when I say that I am ugly, I am not internalizing society’s assessment of me. I am naming what has been done to me and who did it.”
Unfortunately, despite all the exhortations of “body positivity” we don’t get to decide how hot we are in a society that is constantly informing us of how hot it considers us. I know that I am “an ugly person” in the eyes of the straight male industrial complex and the world of “beauty.” I don’t necessarily agree, but it is what it is. I have a great body, but a weird face. I’m “Isabella Blow ugly” (it’s interesting that all beautiful women look so much alike, but there are so many different genres of ugly.) When I was young, I could pass as “cute”, but I’m 50 (at the age of 45, almost on the dot, men made it clear I was officially unfuckable.)
It’s become a joke now that I post pictures of my “sexy” outfits “so women and gay men can tell me how great I look and straight men can recoil in horror.”
1. THIS IS A BANGER! “I hope that one day I look old. It will mean I got to keep living. It will mean that almost no one will think I’m beautiful, because we so fear aging and death that we cannot see the beauty in the former or embrace the inevitability of the latter.”
2. Your story makes me think about my nose — my Persian nose. It’s common for Persians to get nose jobs. They’re the equivalent of the American teenager getting braces—a rite of passage, an expected procedure, a no-big-deal situation. “You’re beautiful, Kimia. But you’ll be even more beautiful with a smaller nose.” I heard this narrative early and often in my childhood from blood relatives on all branches of my family tree. I decided I didn’t want to be more beautiful. I didn’t want to maximize my beauty in the normative ways the world deemed for me. I hardened to this coercion. My awareness of my female body and combative, retaliatory attitude motivated me to strive for success in ways that had anything but to do with my body. My body is the least interesting thing about me, I remind myself. I start to believe it after a while :)
I had a conversation with an open, honest gender neutral friend once, and I was talking about how I feel hot… but when I look at pictures or in the mirror I often wonder if I actually appear attractive to others… and they said that I’m not “magazine hot,” but I’m def attractive and my vibe is very hot. And I actually like that. I don’t consider myself to be highly conventionally attractive, but I carry a hot vibe. Works for me. ;)
There is just so much to chew on here... I don’t even really know how to say this without it coming across as “giving up,” but lately I keep thinking how much I want to just stop even considering whether anyone thinks I’m hot. I just want to stop even feeling like there’s a measuring stick out there. What is that measuring stick even for? 1-10? What? Why? What a weird waste of an alarming amount of time.
I appreciate you writing this!
Oh wow, this is interesting since I’ve already pondered one conversation today about what constitutes “ugly” (in a completely different context, applied to textiles). For the moment I will just say that this takes on a whole new angle once you get to a certain age when you realize the “best” someone is going to think of you is “I bet she was hot once.” I am all in favor of an unflinching acceptance of one’s physical traits. And I’m thankful I’m married to a wonderful man who still tells me I’m “hot” after 25 years. I haven’t been cute since I was 10.
What you noted about Elizabeth has sat with me for awhile. I have that urge all the time to correct people when they note something about themselves is less than *the best*. I guess I do view perfection (physical and otherwise) as equating to worthy/higher value.
OMG. What a wonderfully written piece about what is always present in our evaluation of ourselves and others - real or imagined.
I call myself a solid 7 which I guess is a 5 that tries? 😂 most women I know are Abbis, myself very much included. But the cool thing about 5 to 7s we all we look different. 10s look very similar to each other.
I love this piece ! We are always so harsh in our evaluation of ourselves and we do need such thoughtful reminders.
Look at you just putting my thoughts into writing! I’ve come to think of my level of attractiveness as somewhere between looking like the bottom of a foot and Cindy Crawford. Just a normal person hoping to have the privilege of being 95 years old with a functional body who can look back at this time and know I wanted to be more for myself then just what someone else thought of my looks. Great article - loving seeing you succeed like this!
I love the final paragraph. So good
Just about every single movie I saw as a teenager. Bring it on, centre stage, coyote ugly... Clueless was the big one to kick off the toxic era of, "you have to be skinny to be cute." It's a wonder how I survived.
Joey Potter played by Katie Holmes, Beauty Contest episode in Season 1 of Dawson’s Creek- I didn’t watch first run Dawson’s Creek but I saw that episode when I was home with strep throat as a junior in HS circa May 2005. Joey says “I’m not pretty” in that episode and also says to Jen-“Guys look at you and think wow what a babe, they look at me and say Hmm Gee she’s really tall!” There’s a whole thing where she thinks Dawson is laughing at her for signing up, but he also does end up seeing her in a new light.
At the end of the episode she says she thought she wanted him to see her as beautiful but ultimately she only wanted him to see her for herself. I talk a lot about Joey Potter making me think about my romantic life but that line always stuck with me. She only wanted him if he could truly see her and not just fitting in with the idea of what everyone else thought was beautiful. I still feel like I was hung up on my HS boyfriend for years because he was the first guy to call me beautiful when I was 14.
This makes me think about how my whole life I’ve equated my beauty to my value. I mean I used to fit my whole day to keeping up with my looks to fit the standard and now that I’m starting to realize that it’s like a weight off my chest. Now I just let myself be.
This was so interesting! I’ve felt this so much myself, yeah I’m pretty! No I’m not a Hot Girl. That’s fine, right? It doesn’t matter, right? But then my boyfriend thinks I’m a Hot Girl, so who bloody knows about anything. I’m just happy to exist.
Oh I love this one. I think too of how sometimes I am afraid/embarrassed to look hot bc it will look like I ~tried~ as if I believe I simply am not naturally pretty and if I am, it is because I begged for attention. Phew! I have some unpacking to do.