A guy in my class, let’s call him John, asked me for some girl advice. After doing my reactionary inside cry, “You want some advice? Ask me out! I’m cute, dammit!” I asked him what was up. There was a girl he had been talking to, a very cute girl who happened to be very, very slim. During their flirtatious conversation, she mentioned her weight. And by mentioned her weight, I mean mentioned how fat she was.
I asked what he said to her next, but his worried expression already told me.
John blasted her for fishing for compliments and being one of those insecure girls who degrade themselves in order for guys to build them back up – or endorse their beauty, fitness, etc that they are already well aware of.
Another guy laughed at him and said he was screwed. John looked back to me for an explanation.
“Well, the thing is, I agree with you.”
John briefly celebrated someone siding with him, but I cut it short.
“But the problem is, you have to apologize regardless, and you better be right. If you’re right, and she just wanted to fish for a compliment, then I guess you’ve found out her true colors. But if this girl actually has body issues or an eating disorder, then you just made her real issues seem superficial and deceitful. And if that’s the case – you are screwed.”
Fast forward a little later and I think about skinny girl. No, not if John worked it out, as he reported to me a week later that he managed to patch things up, but of her intention. I agreed that her using self disparaging comments as bait for compliments was really immature, but suddenly I had become more aware of how much I made those comments myself.
My looks, weight, disposition, etc are all up for deprecation. I’ve done it since forever. It’s always funny, for myself and for whoever is listening. I don’t take myself very seriously, and three other siblings have always kept me in check. We dish and take insults. Surely I can’t compare myself to this girl.
But I decided to put myself in her shoes. How would I have reacted if the guy I was crushing on said my comments were just an insecure form of reinforcement or a dirty attempt to boost my ego? The thing is, when I make a crack about my large forehead, big teeth, thunder thighs, or overall hairiness, I don’t actually mean it as a negative. I know all these things to be superficial, and when I call them out I’m just taking the power away from potential insulting critiques made by others. I kid not just to kid, but to assert my own strength by showing how comfortable I am with myself.
But I admit, I actually mean it as a negative. I mean it because after years of comparing myself to slim, fair, silky, ethereal types my whole life I’ve internalized the very things that made me the opposite.
I started puberty in 4th grade and my new training bra was an embarrassment because none of my friends had them yet. In 5th grade the boy in my reading group whispered to my friend beside him, commenting on the one girl in our class who stuffed her bra and then saying “But not Olivia. Her’s are natural.” In 6th grade I began to notice older guys taking second looks when I passed them in store aisles. In 7th grade I started my period. In 8th grade I started having difficulty finding jeans that fit my thighs, hips, ass, and waist all at once. And throughout high school I took my permanent place as Amazon Woman next to my skinny blonde dance teammates.
Growing up as a black girl in a predominantly white area, you are much more than just body conscience, but that doesn’t lessen the awareness and importance of looks.
I was never pursued in high school and I always rationalized it. I would tell myself that I must not be cool enough, or smart enough, or funny enough. My friends’ favorite consoling comment became “You’re just intimidating!”
I began to take “intimidating” as the kind way of saying “ugly”.
That was the final thing on the list, right? My friends, male and female, would go on and on about how cool and funny and smart I was. So I must not have been that pretty.
And so I began to tell myself in what ways I was ugly. I broke my whole body down. Some things weren’t bad by any means. Other things however, my weight, my skin tone, my hair, my teeth, and basically every bodily proportion was off.
I ate my ugliness. I believed in it. I took power from it. Now the next time I got ignored by a guy, I would already know why. No need to sweat over it. I could move on.
During my senior year of high school I could give a letter about high school or my stupid racist hometown because I was all set to go to college in Chicago. I started to find my communities online, other black women from different states and even countries who had the same experiences as me. I began to believe and know the beauty in black women that I had constantly been told wasn’t true.
That did not include me, however. And so as I made friendships (sisterhoods) in Chicago with other black and brown women, I reveled in their beauty, but separated myself from it.
Even up till this very second.
I know all the right answers, of course! Of course I’m pretty, smart, articulate, deep, blah blah, but – I don’t actually believe that to be true, because it isn’t.
How do I know?
Well, the right answer is the attention, commitment, or consistency of men cannot validate my beauty. Of course they can’t validate me. I validate myself.
But like, why doesn’t he want me?
And so the cycle of self hate begins again.
It’s disconcerting when you figure out there’s someone behind the curtain, and so I know my closeted self hate must shock everyone who has ever seen me as the conscientious-self-love-first-all-natural sista.
I’m sorry because having all the answers isn’t enough. I’m sorry because simply preaching without practicing is hypocritical. I’m sorry because after two years of actively trying to change my thought process, my default state is always seeing the worthlessness in myself.
But also, feeling pretty isn’t the most important thing to me.
There are other compliments that I’d rather have. Am I clever? Am I creative? Am I trustworthy? Am I deserving of respect? Do I have good taste in music? Are my movie references accurate? Did my last blog post make a good point? All of these are exponentially cooler to hear.
I mean, anybody can be pretty! And in this racist, sexist country with fascist European beauty standards, I’ll never really be able to compete anyway!
So f*ck being pretty!
Beyoncè said pretty hurts, so I won’t try to be pretty anymore.
But “Pretty Hurts” said Beyoncè is pretty pretty, so I think I’ll try to be pretty again.
Even the media I consume to back up my point tells me another point entirely.
The truth is, pretty isn’t important.
The truth is, reality makes pretty important, and thus pretty is a reality with real (social, even economic) repercussions.
Do you want to know the end point?
There isn’t one, really.
Right now I’m thinking about the weight I’ve picked up since May after missing trips to the gym, wondering if skinny girl is thinking the same. I’m also wondering if I’m willing to sacrifice some gas to get a half priced milkshake from Sonic.
But let me return to skinny girl’s shoes and look at my crush calling me out. How would I have responded? Or better yet – how would I have responded if I were John?
Skinny girl is white, yes, and so she hasn’t experienced nearly the same amount of self consciousness as I have (*the live white feminism audience groans*) but she is a woman and so she understands what it feels like to constantly be on display. It’s a pressure that while unimportant on the surface, is still crucial due to painful, dangerous, and at times even lethal realities.
I think I would’ve just said she was pretty.