Being beautiful is a burden. People look at a beautiful person and have a wealth of stereotypes at their fingertips. Those who are beautiful try in vain to compensate for the connotations attached to their appearance. In the back of their heads, however, there is always one lingering thought, an oft-spoken phrase: you’re nothing but a pretty face.
Golda Meir was famously quoted as saying, “Not being beautiful was the true blessing. Not being beautiful forced me to develop my inner resources. The pretty girl has a handicap to overcome.” Meir was the fourth prime minister of Israel. Of course, there is always the brand of beauty that is smug and sluggish, the sort that is the only asset the possessor can parade. But that kind of beauty is ugly.
I’ll tell you something I wouldn’t say out loud but which I’ve heard enough times that I’ve come to believe it is true. I’m beautiful. I’m more comfortable admitting aloud that I’m pretty, but being beautiful is what I’ve come to terms with. I’ve been trying to shrug off my looks for years. I’m riddled by insecurity, never certain if people are agreeing with what I say and my opinions because they actually see truth in what I say or because I have a likeable face. “How could I say no to a face like that?” I’ve heard that one a few times.
I never truly know if a boyfriend cares about me or is just happy to be seen with me. He means well — they all do — and I choose carefully. But there’s always a side of them that is proud when someone tells them their new girlfriend is gorgeous. They say “thank you,” smiling as if they had a role in producing my curls and the shape of my face or were present at my conception. Really, it makes me feel like they’re proud of the fact that they could land a girl that looks like me. I could be a terrible person on the inside, spewing venomous rhetoric, a ball of negative energy, and they are still happy to be seen with me. Of course, these things aren’t true of me, but the fact that they’re happy to be seen with me makes me wonder. I’m sure some of them like me for “me,” right? That is, if they get that far.
People’s compliments make me especially uncomfortable, especially when they say, “has anyone ever told you… (insert overused compliment here)” and I have to respond, why, yes, I have been told that. Slightly embarrassed for them, I secretly hope this will prod them to proffer more thoughtful compliments in the future. Or perhaps they, or someone else, will notice something else about me for once. Like my intellect. Will someone tell me I have an intelligent face, please? Or that my eyes are not just amazing, but that they betray something amazing beyond their colour? An individual being with thought, depth, experience and feeling? Perhaps one day people won’t look so surprised when I say something clever. Even better: they won’t overvalue me because they’re unaccustomed to the pairing of sharp features and sharp opinions. I’d like to be treated like an equal, a face you hear on the radio. Tell me that you can sense how much I know, and think, and feel.
I once had a boyfriend who said the only reason I get so much attention is because of my eyes. For a long time since, I’ve considered buying black contact lenses to see how people would receive me if I looked like everyone else. I feel pressure to downplay my appearance in order to be taken seriously, like Hilary Clinton when she backed out of a Vogue cover shoot from fear of looking too feminine to the public. God forbid our femininity overrides our competence. Several times in my life, when overwhelmed by the attention, I have taken to blaming my femininity and have cut my hair off in a fit. But it always grows back. And I, defiant, work harder at making my intelligence stand out first, to no avail. I will always be beautiful first and intelligent last. No matter how much makeup I don’t wear, no matter how much I don’t brush my hair, no matter how tacky my clothing choice is, I’m destined to “get away” with it because I am pretty.
I am forever trying to prove myself worthy by becoming the keener workerbee and soaking up conversations with as many bookish types as possible, only to have bosses and coworkers hit on me, ignore my efforts, all while finding time to whisper behind my back that I’m “a goodlooking girl.” Or they openly state to my face under some veil of flattery that they want me to join a project or important lunch meeting because I’m a valuable source of…eyecandy. Was I hired because of my hard-earned work experience and my education or because I’m likeable? Because, sad to say, it’s a fact that goodlooking people are perceived as more likeable.
I know, I should be grateful. There are perks to being beautiful and I can get away with a lot of things. But you don’t need to hear about those things; you know them all too well. The beautiful person’s blessings are repeatedly pounded into our collective consciousness. What about when I get wrinkles? What about my girlfriends who, as I continue onwards single and they settle into married life, are wearier of bringing me around their husbands? What about my lovers, for whom eventually the novelty of dating the pretty girl becomes old and they suddenly realize they never saw beyond my looks that they just…weren’t…that…into..me? They would’ve realized that sooner if they didn’t make such rash decisions with their eyes. And I, trusting, always hope that this one wants to get to know “me”. Every man’s trophy. The hot girl on the third floor. Arm candy. That’s me.