An acquaintance of mine recently posted an article from Thought Catalog to her facebook wall chronicling struggles "beautiful girls" face. I don't really want to discuss the merit of the article, the quality of the writing and I especially do not want to get into any kind of oppression Olympics. What I would like to examine is my and others' visceral reaction to an implication by an attractive woman that she is an attractive woman.
The poster of the article expected it would cause a shit storm, she said as much. Predictably it did. There were close to 100 comments arguing about whether or not attractive women have any right to complain, mostly by men. My gut reaction was similar. I wanted to think "you're not that hot." As if because she wasn't technically the most attractive woman in the world it didn't count. My M.O. when I hear a woman openly and confidently discuss her conventional attractiveness is to internally contradict her. I'm not proud to admit this. It's probably a combination of things: social conditioning to always view other women as competition and to be modest above all else, jealousy of a confidence that I lack and a general contradictory asshole-ish nature spring to mind.
I've always felt this pang of annoyance at any woman who would dare express she knew she was attractive, both on the internet and in real life. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a monster. I don't seriously discriminate against attractive women. I have several very beautiful friends who I love dearly (not to mention I can find beauty in every single one of my friends). No matter what though I feel a surge of jealousy when a guy in my life expresses to me that another woman is attractive in some way. Nuance was never my strong suit so if someone finds a blue-eye blond attractive, my brunette hazel-eyed self must be sub par. Rationally I know this is ridiculous and there is an entire range of what a person can find attractive, not to mention the differences between every individual's taste. In practice, I still value my attractiveness based on everyone else's scale. I value attractiveness above myriad other positive traits about myself. This is problematic.
I'm able to publicly declare myself intelligent and funny. I understand not everyone may agree but it doesn't bother me. The people who know me best do. I've had the life experiences to back up how I feel about my humor and intelligence. I do not, however, have life experiences that tell me I am an attractive woman. What stands out in my mind are all the times I was told there was something wrong with my body or that I wasn't pretty. I highly doubt my experience is out of the ordinary. Most of us painfully went through a period of time known colloquially as "the awkward phase". Most children have run ins with kids that say cruel things. I've always been a very sensitive child so I took a lot of the criticisms to heart. According to some very helpful middle schoolers I had a mustache, my nose was too big and my skin was horrible. Gee. Thanks. By my senior year of high school I had outgrown or "fixed" most of these perceived flaws. I was a whole different person. I had now found confidence in myself, yet I still couldn't bring myself to consider myself attractive. What if someone disagrees? Despite the evidence to the contrary I continued to feel judged against pretty women; I continued to feel less than.
Instead of focusing on my hobbies, my friends and family I worried about whether or not some arbitrary every-dude would find me attractive. I began posting nude photos to the internet and using the compliments as validation I was in fact attractive. But here's the problem with getting validation from everyone but yourself. If no one is actively telling you you're worthwhile you won't feel worthwhile. I very luckily wasn't stalked, extorted or worse. Someone could have very easily taken advantage of my insecurity. It could have followed me for the rest of my life. As a grown, long married woman I still get unreasonably happy to get hit on, flirting gives me a thrill and I'm a bit embarrassed to admit catcalls sometimes really do feel like validation. At the end of the day these things don't really make me feel better about myself. It's like an addiction; you begin needing more.
Besides approaching thirty and a need to let go of some baggage I've held onto since I was a teenager, almost a year ago something really big changed in my life. I became a mother to a daughter. A beautiful, happy, inquisitive and expressive girl. As she ages I have begun to realize I will be her first role model. And I want to be a good role model. I want to be a woman who is able to confidently say "yes I am attractive" as easily as I am able to say "I have brown hair" or "I'm funny." But I also want to say it with no shame, no qualifiers and maybe most importantly with no fucks given. I want to tell my daughter there is something beautiful about every single person. I want to believe that about myself. I no longer want to see a woman declaring she likes something about herself, especially something different from me, as an assault on my personal self worth. I want to see it for what it is, a celebration of what uniquely makes us beautiful. A display of the wide variety of characteristics that are attractive. Maybe most of all I don't want to hold attractiveness up as a more important attribute than say intelligence, kindness or humor. There is equal value to each of these traits. Or at least there should be. That's what I want my daughter to know.