I can’t remember what I had for dinner three nights ago, but I can still clearly recall the moment my self-confidence got drop-kicked out the window.
The details surrounding it are fuzzy, but what I do recall is sitting at the kitchen counter, kind of minding my own business, when my mom’s friend walked in the room. It was a lazy day for me, I didn’t have anything to do, and I didn’t care to do anything. I must have been about twelve, and as a child constantly plagued by self-confidence issues, finally becoming comfortable with who I was. It was a major feat. It was at this moment that my mom’s friend, my mom’s most beautiful friend, gave me the once up and down and asked why I was looking so scrubby (not her exact words, but again, the details are fuzzy). My response, perhaps in snarky tween fashion, was “I’m not trying to impress anyone.”
She looked surprised. Offended, even.
“Oh, honey. You should always be trying to impress. ALWAYS.”
I don’t know why that one statement had such an effect on me, why it has stuck with me for so long. Maybe it’s because I considered her to be so beautiful, and confident. Because I trusted her opinion. Because I was young, an impressionable, and not as secure with myself as I’d thought I’d become. I remember the moment, the words, and exactly how shattered I felt.
Blaming her completely would be a mistake, I don’t think it was her fault. I think her words were a feather that pushed young, unsure me over the edge, but it was the beginning of spending a really long time constantly worrying about what everyone else thought about how I looked, and as a female, a lot of people have thoughts about how we look.
It’s never been the magazines, commercials, super models, “current” fashions. It was always words, expectations, looks, and comments from the people immediately surrounding me that had the biggest impact.
“Why are you wearing that?”
“Who are you trying to look pretty for?”
“You’d be prettier if you smiled”
“You’d look better with less makeup”
“You would be so pretty if you lost weight”
“You’re too skinny, you should eat a sandwich”
Ladies, how many times have you heard not one, but all of those? How many times has the way you dress, or your hair, or your face, or your makeup, or really, just your being been put into question?
Living, and listening to those comments every day of our lives is draining, exhausting, and miserable. For me, it got to the point where I sort of dreaded doing the things I wanted, looking the way I wanted, because I knew the comments would be lobbed at me, and I didn’t want to deal with them.
Every one of these comments lobbed by not just men, but women as well, put us in the position of not caring about how we feel about how we look, but instead considering what others might think first and foremost. As if their opinions are more important than how we feel in our own skin. And suddenly, we stop thinking about what we like, and start thinking about how others might judge us. This can color our entire lives, our personas, our personalities. We don’t want to look prude, or slutty, or easy, or manly, or whatever other stupid label that gets plopped on us because of a simple choice we make in our appearance.
It bothered me for SO LONG, but what I don’t remember is the moment that it changed for me. Probably because it wasn’t a moment. It was years, and years of putting up with bullshit and getting fed up with listening to it, and letting it affect me.
I’ve lived with receiving constant comments for so long, that when I got visible tattoos, and decided to have fun with my hair, I expected them. I expected people to tell me, loudly, how much they didn’t like how I look because it is “abnormal”, it isn’t magazine beauty, it stands out. And I was right, sort of.
I’ve been called an Easter Basket because I’m bright and colorful (and trust me, it wasn’t meant as a compliment), I’ve been told I’ll regret the art on my skin when I get older (I won’t), and I’ve been told I’m frying my hair (I’m not) as a way to try and guilt me to go back to “normal”. It’s shit that we become accustomed to hearing these things, but even when we scream about it, it doesn’t seem to change.
My hair has been in the ‘fantasy’ category for about a year now. It’s been lightbulb-bright many times throughout this adventure, so it really shouldn’t be a shock at this point for me to walk into my kid’s school with a new magical color. I still get strange looks when I change it up, but the comments stopped a few months ago, which has been lovely. I like to live without commentary.
One day, one of the older folks called over to me. We chat, and say hello often– he’s one of the older men who likes to tell women to smile, because we’re not allowed not to apparently, but he’s not going to change, and I don’t have the energy to try with someone in their later years.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” he asks me. Odd, but I’ll bite.
“I have one brother, why?”
He sits back on his haunches a bit, a smirk on his face. “I’m just wondering if you got enough attention as a child, is all.”
Naturally, I’m caught off guard. Did he really? Is he implying….? Yes. He did, and yes, he is.
Being used to this kind of shit, especially from men, I’m quick with my reply. “Too much, really.” and I sit down, pull out my phone, and pretend he doesn’t exist until I can grab my kids and go.
The next week, another comment from another man on a photo I posted.
“Screaming ‘look at me!'”
You know that level of frustration you get where you kind of want to snap at someone, but instead, you pull air into your cheat and just hold it there until you can be reasonable? That’s about the level I was at.
“No, I’m just being me, and doing what I want.”
I HAVE TATTOOS. I WEAR A LOT OF MAKEUP. I HAVE BRIGHT COLORED HAIR, AND I’M NOT TRYING TO IMPRESS YOU.
Being a woman is exhausting.
Why is it so hard to believe that how we choose to look is how we personally want to look? That it has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else?
Unlike when I was younger, what bothers me isn’t that people don’t like how I look. Everyone has their own preference, and I’m way out there. I know there are going to be people who don’t like it. What irritates me to no end is that people think that I should care enough about how they feel about how I look to let it influence the choices I make. That I do it purely and solely to get attention, as though I have no preference of my own. That, as a woman, I’m so needy, I need people to look at me all the time. That maybe, if they make enough snide back-handed comments to me about it, I’ll change back to what they think is acceptable. What fits their perceived notion of “beautiful”. What they think women “should” look like.
It’s like it’s absolutely impossible for some peoples brains to comprehend that it’s not about them. That it’s not about attention, it’s not about “looking pretty”, or impressing someone else– which is what what my mom’s friend believed.
No, ladies– there’s no way this could be. We don’t have our own likes and dislikes! We can’t just be doing our own thing. Nope, we’re just looking for attention. Oh, but WAIT! How could I forget? If we aren’t looking for attention, we aren’t doing enough. Why aren’t we trying to impress everyone? Have we just given up? The shame.
HOW DO WE EVEN LIVE WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OR ATTENTION OF OTHERS? HOW? Do we curl up and die if we aren’t seeking validation and approval from others? If we aren’t living to please?
Sigh. It’s just… unrelenting.
I wish I were more eloquent, that I had all the answers, that I could snap my fingers and change your mind, or change other peoples minds, but I can’t. And I can’t just wrap this up in a nice little bow. This isn’t a blog to tell you to “love yourself”. That’s not enough. It would be doing you, and me, and women everywhere a horrible disservice. It’s been said too many times before. We can do better.
I’d love to think that we can change people, and we can, but we also have to be really honest with ourselves in knowing that we can’t change everyone, and that living in a world where everyone accepts everyone for who they are, no matter how they look, is not going to happen in our lifetime. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, we should, but we should also be realistic. And the reality is also that just learning to love ourselves isn’t the answer. Neither is screaming obscenities at all the people who lob comments and looks your way. The best way to live life is to do whatever the hell you want, look however the hell you want, however makes you happy, comfortable, at peace, and know that it isn’t going to please everyone. The most important person to please is yourself.
You’re going to get comments. Some of them are probably going to piss you off. But if you like how you look, how your dressed, wearing pajamas in public, having a full face of makeup or none at all, throwing your hair back in a pony without brushing because you just. fucking. felt like it, or taking the time to style it every day, then do it.
PLEASE YOURSELF. You’re your own worst critic, anyway, so if you feel happy with you, you’re obviously doing something right.
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