While I was reading through the Huffington Post women’s responses to my Physical Appearance questionnaire, I kept hearing Larry David’s agent Jeff from Curb Your Enthusiasm saying, “It’s just a big bowl of wrong.”
It’s wrong the unfair premium our culture places on women’s physical appearance, and how it makes for tough going out there. Some fare better under this pressure than others, depending on what we learned from our parents’ attitudes toward beauty, or whether we’ve been somehow traumatized by commentary on our looks, but none of us is immune to its impact on how we see ourselves.
One message that emerged from what women had to say is the need for us to recognize the power of our words and behavior. We underestimate the wounds they inflict, and we underplay their capacity to heal. They both change us. Harshness can turn our bodies into a minefield for self consciousness. Kindness can favorably reconfigure how we see ourselves. The opposite poles of this reality are reflected in these quotes.
What is the most negative experience you have had with regard to feeling physically unattractive?
I was upset because a man I liked did not have feelings for me. When I confided in my mother, she said, “Well, men don’t like overweight women.” I felt humiliated, worthless and angry.
I’m one of those people who’s either considered gorgeous or ugly. There are people who have told me that I am butt ugly to my face.
I put on a bit of weight for a while about ten years ago and I noticed my confidence drop through the floor. Made me realize how shallow I am and how unimpressive some other aspects of my life are, e.g. my career! By the way, there are also negative aspects to being attractive. I’ve had open hostility from women I don’t even know because they assume I think I’m hot.
Silly things from adolescence…not being popular because I wasn’t “pretty” and not being paid as much attention by boys for the same reason. Nobody likes to feel rejected.
Being ignored and feeling invisible.
I work in a retail store and a man and his grandson came through my line. I treated them as I would any other person asking, “How are we doing today?” “Did you find everything you were looking for?” and all with a smile. As I was handing the man his change and telling him to have a nice day he said “Honey, you’ve got too much shit through your lip.” I felt his comment was uncalled for. He and I had not had a conversation about piercings nor did I hear any conversation between him and his grandson about them. Just because I have them doesn’t mean that I don’t have feelings or that someone can talk to me any way they want.
For a whole year in junior high school, a boy continuously verbally and physically attacked me. He would call me ugly, burnt black, skinny bitch while his friends laughed. Oddly enough, he was an overweight, extremely dark-skinned boy whom, if not for the fear of his size and temper, would be made fun of by others for his lack of physical appeal. To him, I must have represented the worst of him and his only way to deal with it was to attack me.
What is the most positive experience you have had with regard to feeling physically attractive?
A friend once told me that I had beautiful golden brown eyes and I had always just thought of them as brown. Then I actually looked at them and sure enough they were golden brown. He was just a friend, but it made me feel beautiful.
Normally it is hard for me to believe people when they say I am attractive. At my mother’s second wedding, I was talking with an old family friend who I hadn’t seen in years. She said to me “You look beautiful. You always looked pretty, but now you’ve really come into your own.” I really appreciated it because I knew she was not only referring to my physical appearance, but also the person I’d become.
My husband still thinks I’m beautiful and tells me so.
I’ve had a lot of great compliments. Someone once said I looked like a panther, someone else a French film star. Queen of the Elves someone else said. Very nice. I don’t think I’m all that but it’s very generous of other people to say things…
I found out later that some of my friends (and a few strangers) developed crushes on me during my senior year of college. I was surprised and very flattered. I’d never been the hot girl before!
I had pink hair at one point, and my husband and I were walking out of a movie theatre and there was a little girl walking by with her mom. Really loud the girl says, “Look mommy, she’s got pink hair!” and the mother says “Yeah, isn’t that cool?” And the girl says “I want pink hair mommy.” I loved that the mother didn’t pull the girl away or say something rude about me.
Like Lilliputians pinning down Gulliver, the smallness of our efforts can be collectively powerful against the enormity of physical pressure. We could be more explicit with each other even when we notice the quirky parts of what we see as beautiful. Here’s some of the beauty I see in those I love in case I don’t say it out loud to them often enough:
The lyric quality of Anne’s fingers when she’s telling me a story.
The way the light catches in the dark of Nancy’s eyes and how they make me feel her enthusiasm.
The way one of Lisa’s teeth slightly overlaps the other making everything she says that much cooler.
Louisa’s sexy red hair and the way she wears the New York Times as an accessory.
The warmth in Jane’s face when she says “I love you sweetheart” whenever we say goodbye.
The way Olivia’s profile when she’s sleeping momentarily erases every bit of suffering I’ve ever done.