As I approach my thirty-second birthday and have almost five months of shaved head/short hair behind me, I’ve started to look critically at a lot of things. Women, beauty, standards, and how they play into my life. Don’t expect a full political statement, per se, though I’m a proud feminist. I’m merely trying to work through the jumbled thoughts in my head brought on by the slew of propaganda in the recent media and how it applies to me.
Let’s start with the very basics. I’m going to get as personal as I can in order to help put things in perspective. I am roughly 5’6″ in height, and as of this morning, I weigh exactly 201 pounds. Yet, if you’ve looked at those photos of me recently, I surely don’t LOOK as if I weigh that much. I actually carry a fairly decent amount of muscle mass from years of martial arts. I am fluffy in the middle with a dreaded “muffin top”, but I can usually disguise it. I wear a 36F/38DDD bra, a size 10 or 12 in bottoms depending on the type, and stretchy shirts can be as small as a medium though fitted have to go up to XL or more. My height is in my legs, and I am hourglass shaped. I have deep set brown-ish (people say amber yellow) eyes, and my natural hair is both slightly curly and a deceptive ash blonde that is often mistaken for brown. I have high/prominent cheekbones, and I have a very prominent chin. My face is rounded, and I’ve heard lately that I have a ‘perfectly shaped head’. My teeth are (now) pleasing to look at overall. I have very faint freckles over my skin, and a few small moles. I have darker patches of skin in some areas thanks to a chemical imbalance (they look like strangely shaped tans), but they are also covered by clothes.
Those are facts. They are facts that anyone else would state. I am, by all definitions, normal. I am very average. I don’t fit into the ‘fat’ camp, I don’t fit into the ‘athletic’ camp, and I’m not in the ‘curvy/bombshell’ camp. I don’t have people telling me to eat more, eat less, wish they were me (for any reason), that I am ugly, that I am beautiful. I have somehow achieved a very strangely shadowy area: I am invisible.
How does all of this affect me, and how does propaganda play into it? Because I don’t WANT to be invisible, I don’t know how to turn it off, and not a single person out there will give me a real hint. As I look at all of the ‘girl power’ imagery that has come out lately, I can only conclude that there must be something wrong with me. I’ll break it down for you.
“Girls shouldn’t wear makeup. They should be naturally beautiful!” Great. No problem! I only learned to apply makeup when I was twenty-five, and even then that was the bare minimum. I wear it only on super fancy occasions where I’m in some sort of costume. But, wait, that hasn’t done me any good. I’m not getting noticed for my lack of makeup. Ergo, I must not have natural beauty. Okay, that’s fixable if . . .
“You need to wear makeup to bring out your best features and play them up! There’s nothing wrong with enhancing nature a bit!” Great. No problem! When I went in to learn how to put on makeup, I was told that my eyes are an unusual shade and pretty, that my high cheekbones need little accent, my lips are full, and that my very fair skin is nicely even. I can accent all of those with makeup and make people notice what is there! But, wait, that hasn’t done me any good. Wearing makeup, at most, elicits a ‘oh, are you going somewhere fancy?’ question. No compliments on my eyes being brighter, or lips redder, or whatever the hell is supposed to be the ‘standard’ marker of beauty. Okay, that’s fixable because . . . .
“We focus too much on beauty! We need to tell girls that they are smart!” Great. No problem! I’m, by literal definition and tested/retested, smart. In fact, on every test I’ve ever been given, I have been safely and comfortably in the very highest parts of the chart. My first testing at age seven as I headed to second grade had me on a college level comprehension for multiple categories. The man giving the test had never see such a high score—on any age—before. I blaze through academics without qualm. And I do love me some math and science despite being a fine arts gal. But, wait, that hasn’t done me any good. You know what being smart got me in school? The shit beaten out of me for ruining the grading curve. You know what being smart gets me as an adult? Absolutely ZILTCH. Let’s be honest: people don’t look at you and see your IQ. And when I demonstrate my particular skill sets, when I tip the norm, people don’t gush over me. You only get praise for brains when you’re high up the food chain of the technical industries and changing the world. Okay, so maybe . . .
“You should just be yourself! If you pretend to be something else, you’ll put people off. You should act normal, and you’ll find the people who like you for you.” Great. No problem! Let’s return to my original assessment and toss out the makeup because it’s not really my thing. I’ll be a snarky/sassy gal who troubleshoots her friends’ issues with varying computer programs, writes novels, and takes photographs of the worlds inside her head. But, wait, there’s still a problem. You see, I often feel that there’s a bubble around me. People approach me, but it doesn’t feel as if they want to get to know the inner me (and there is a disconnect between them because many people think I’m outgoing, and I’m actually painfully shy). There have been three pointed exceptions in my life, and all are my closest friends now. I asked one of them if there was something about me that was off-putting to others, and she explained that while I come across as warm and friendly, there’s a subtle body language or air to me that says I am dangerous to cross and/or I come across as being an ‘affluent lady’. I wouldn’t even know how to change any of that even if I could. (Note the shyness mentioned before. It is beyond painful for me to reach out.) Okay, so what if . . .
“Love yourself! You need to love yourself as you are before anyone else can love you.” And here, perhaps, is the crux of my problem. How the bloody hell am I supposed to love myself when all of the above keeps sending me conflicted messages about what I have that is loveable? I have been torn down and ripped to shreds by my peers in my youth. It took me until my late twenties to even realize I was likeable. I’ve had two ‘serious’ relationships in my life, but they were not as serious as that term implies. When someone says ‘serious’, that indicates—usually—a relationship involving sex and futures and permanence. I had none of those things. (I’ll spell it out: I’m still a virgin. No, I am not asexual. I just haven’t dated anyone who made it seem worth it.) Serious, for me, is as simple as a willingness to let someone in my life. I am very personal. Letting others into my inner circle is scary and painful. If I let you in, don’t screw it up by gouging at my soul. (Hrm. I think I see where the ‘dangerous to cross’ might originate.) One of those serious boyfriends, by the way, did get me naked. We had a few relatively serious make-out sessions. I never let it go further because, and this is important, I just didn’t want him that much. Want me to be blunter? He didn’t turn me on enough. So what does he do? Turn around and imply that my lack of willingness to sleep with him meant that there was something wrong with me. That’s not my impression only. I have a witness to the conversation. We broke up about a month later. I’ve been alone for the ten years since.
Love myself. How I wish I could. You can say that I don’t need validation from others, that I should love myself regardless of other opinions, but I’m here to tell you that it just does not work that way. We are a social species. Even those of us who are powerfully introverted need some sort of closeness. Some people truly are perfectly happy by themselves with no one else and I envy them. I’m not one of them. I want to love myself, but I think the truly ironic and saddening thing about that is . . . I can’t do it alone. I’m left in a horrible Catch-22 as I want to have validation of my own worth, but I feel as if I have to ask for the validation as it won’t come naturally, and asking for it means that it wasn’t there originally.
And here’s my only political statement to be made through all this: if I, as a thirty-two-year-old woman, am so damned confused by the message trying to be sent . . . what are we doing to the youths and teenagers who are only just starting out?
Comments are welcome on this post, but please remain respectful. Share your own experiences if you like. I’m not looking for gushy compliments, either. See above about ‘asking’ for validation. I’m not doing that. These are the jumbled thoughts inside my head, and I am struggling through them. If you want to help, then just be there. Remember to occasionally say ‘hey, you’re cool and I like knowing you.’ On the off chance you might think I’m cute and want to ask me to coffee, you’ll have to be blunt. I don’t trust myself to know if someone is flirting with me—it’s a rare commodity—so don’t trust I get your signals.