For the past ten years, I’ve alternated between adoring and detesting features that make strangers look me twice over: a Tom-Hardy-sharp jawline; a stark brow; full, defined lips; a harsh nose; and dark, arresting eyes. The city-street attention I attract is split in half by those who find me beautiful and those who register me as strange-looking. And the algorithm, for quite some time, was lost on me. I garner enough stares to know my countenance is agreeable to some; yet, I’ve discerned (and overheard) that others find me formidable–in spite of my glowing disposition. And, at times, the only quasi-compliment strangers muster is that I am a “substantial” woman.
Last week, sitting on a crowded commuter train, I read an article in which Angelina Jolie stated that she sees an alien in the mirror: bug eyes, big lips, and hollow cheeks. The statement registers as contrived humility; Angelina Jolie may be the only woman in the world who’d grimace at her visage. I rolled my eyes, read the line three times over, and pulled up a photo of Angelina. She sports defined mom-muscles, minimal makeup, and a devious smirk. And she forgoes the dress for a suit.
I glance down at my men’s watch, see the reflection of my over-sized lips and broad nose in my phone, and realize Angelina is onto something. There’s confusion over inheriting masculine features in a society that worships button-noses, petite pouts, and delicate lines.
For American women with masculine features, a false sense of exoticism claims us. It’s the reason a man once said to me, “I’d rate you a 4 out of 10 because you look manly to me in certain lights”–when I was sitting at a bar, 5 foot 2, a size 2, in eyeliner, heels, and a ruffled dress.
It’s the reason a mediocre-looking New York City date once said to me at a hot dog stand, “I can’t tell if you’re attractive enough for me.” (Cue me walking home 15 blocks eating an entire box of Insomnia Cookies trying not to cry.)
And yet, European (and some American) men are dazzled by my appearance. Boyfriends of mine tried to convince me of qualities I just don’t see in myself: rich, dark, sultry, strong, captivating. And they felt about me the way others feel about Angelina Jolie’s alien claim: How could you think you’re manly when you’re so much more of a woman than most?
To the masculine girls: Yes, we all look far too bold on an iPhone front-facing camera. Sometimes, the men we want will look at us–and then look past us–for a more prototypically beautiful woman. Your strong furrowed brow will turn off as many men as it will turn on. The way you return an even-keeled stare will cause plenty of men to shrink away from you. And the way you own what your distinct look will perturb some women.
Trust in this: So sorry you’d be if you were any different–if you had the tiny button-nose you pined after in college. And how sorry the men and women who love you will be should you go your whole life resenting (or contouring) these qualities away.