Here’s the thing about living in a society that idealizes beauty and youth above all else: inevitably, someone will fit that ideal.
I’ve known I was pretty since I could think in words.
Relatives, parents’ friends, strangers on the street always said to my mother, “What a beautiful little girl you’ve got!” And they meant it. So when I looked in the mirror, I knew I was pretty. I knew I was pretty in kindergarten when three boys asked me to marry them on the playground. I knew I was pretty when I got picked to be the lead in the school play over the homelier girl who was a better singer. I knew I was pretty in high school when my male teacher let me turn in every assignment late for an entire semester. I knew I was pretty the first time I went to a club underage and didn’t get in a line or show ID. I get reminded of it every day, in the form of catcalls on the street, advances from strange men, likes on my pictures, free drinks, free dinners, free and undeserved attention.
It’s hard to escape something when it’s written on your face. So why bother?
Objectification sucks. It kills a little part of a girl’s soul to hear, every day, the things that men would like to do to her that they believe they have the right to do, because she has a female body and they like it. But being a “pretty girl” has taught me one thing: I am not my body.
The best disguises aren’t disguises at all. The best way to hide is in plain sight, and I’ve got a lot hidden out in the open. When men shout at me on the street, they’re shouting at a mask, it doesn’t touch me. When men talk to me at bars, they’re talking to a fantasy. I am not the pretty girl, but I can wear her clothes, her makeup, her blank expression that allows me to be present but unaffected by the predatory intentions that make many girls hate being “pretty.”
Because let’s face it, we’re wired to love pretty.
When I see a beautiful girl, I stare. I can’t help it. (I can, however, stop myself from screaming at her from across the street or touching her tits without permission, let’s make that very clear.) Beautiful people attract attention, and being noticed first can often give someone an edge. Being pretty lands some girls jobs, it allows them to get out of paying tickets, or paying for drinks, or having to have the courage to talk to guys first. Our looks give us superpowers, and they’re often the biggest advantage we have in a society that’s tailored to suit the abilities and strengths of men.
And there are undeniably awful consequences of this. Enough has been said about that. But if being pretty is the key that opens doors, the true power lies in the hand that pushes them open. For every free drink pushed infront of a pretty face, there is a woman that chooses to accept it — or not. The best and the worst parts of being conventionally beautiful are handed to us, and we can choose to accept the parts we want.
Like I said, being pretty is an advantage, just not in the ways people think. The thing I love the most about being pretty is that it gives me a perfect disguise. I am a person, hidden behind an attractive mask. People expect certain things of beautiful women, and rarely do those things involve having a personality, a brain, a heart. When I want to be brainless, heartless, or avoid acting like a real person altogether, I just wear the mask. After all, few people expect any better.
However, I choose to wear this mask. I am not a victim of a society that has thrust its own expectations onto me, I have chosen, willingly, to use people’s expectations to my own advantage. If someone expects me to be incompetent because I look a certain way, then it is not my job to change their minds. It is my job to survive and escape that situation the best I can. The people who expect me to behave a certain way because of how I look are exactly the sort of people who do not deserve to be proven wrong. So I put on the mask, and get on with my life.
It’s taken me years to learn this, to come to terms with the fact that people think they know me as soon as they get a good look at me. It’s not their fault, exactly. They’ve been taught by Hollywood movies to believe that women fit tightly into little boxes based on how they look. The harsh reality, that women are complex and unpredictable and human, is a lot more difficult a concept to act upon in daily life, where men must know from the outset that the majority of their interactions will be unsuccessful. You see, men are wearing masks too.
Maybe one day we’ll live in a society where it’s not necessary for men and women to hide behind stereotypes and act in ways that harm each other because they don’t know any other way to be. But for now, I’ll take whatever escape I can get.