Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Shame in Beauty

I saw this video of a poetry slam that was quite remarkable and hit home very abruptly. I felt like this man's words finally brought together a lot of the inner struggle I've had my whole life and I needed to share. 

Video: 7-cowardly-words-from-a-totally-sexist-stranger

Essentially, he overheard a man on a bus say to a woman, "You're too ugly to be raped." While the poet went on to reveal an emotionally jarring, yet beautiful flow of verses directed at putting this "man on the bus" in his place, I took away my own revelation.

My whole life I was told that I was beautiful. Yet, even as a young girl, I felt uncomfortable with this. As I grew up, I maintained a modest appearance, always over-thinking the make-up, hairstyles and clothes I chose to represent myself. On one account, I was raised to be modest and humble. On another account, I really had no sense of style anyway. But a big reason for this over-thinking and under-styling was because I didn't really want to be beautiful. 

Even as an adult, I've been asked why I don't "dress up" more or "look sexy" or play up the features that I have. My reasoning for this is a little complex. 

One: While I agree we should all be comfortable and confident with who we are and how we look, I don't want to feel obligated or pressured to flaunt my looks beyond my natural appearance. I strongly believe that - especially women - should feel beautiful with no make-up at all. We should find and cherish the beauty in our natural selves.

Two: I am modest and I'm just fine with that. It's part of my personality, whether because I was born that way or raised that way - regardless, it's who I am. I don't feel the need to show off my body to the whole world. I also don't judge other women who do (when they do so for the right reasons - some are comfortable and confident. Others are the opposite and actually present themselves as objects for men... while I still try not to judge, I don't think that's doing anyone any good).

Three: I'm more than my looks. Sometimes it's hard for people to get pass that. My role is immediately assigned to me, many times without the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings. I have skills, knowledge, opinions, insights, life lessons, experience and unique perspectives. I have a lot more to offer and I'd like the chance to prove that. 

Four: Even as a child, I felt something that I couldn't understand. The looks I received from men meant something. There was a message and an intention behind it that I could sense, but couldn't grasp. It felt like they saw me as something put there for them. It felt like I was an object. 

So the idea that a woman could be "too ugly to rape" is much deeper and problematic than anyone saying those words would know. I've had a lingering feeling of wanting to be "too ugly to rape." Too ugly to be on the other end of those ill-intentioned looks. 

All of this has made it very difficult for me to feel comfortable and confident in how I look. It's made it difficult for me to stand up straight, keep a smile on my face, make eye contact, and feel comfortable in my own skin.

I know I'm not alone. I know many women can understand and I know many men can't. That, unfortunately, is the nature of the beast. But perhaps the more that the women and men who do understand can speak up, the more we can educate others who never really gave much thought to their actions or words. 

To the Man on the Bus, 

I understand your ignorance. I request that you be more than your words. I urge you to close your mouth and change the direction of your thoughts inward. I advise you to think about your output and what it really means - how it really impacts - those around you. I hope that people like you are few and far between.


  1. My son feels much the same way. As a child he was told how cute he was all the time. "The Kissy Girls" chased him on the playground, which made him uncomfortable. He wanted to be known for his intellect, but people (mostly adults, but sometimes kids as well) wouldn't take the time to listen. My son hates jeans, and any tight clothing that might accent or draw attention to his body. He chooses to wear docker pleat-front pants a little too large for him, and long sleeve knit polo shirts in a size too large, giving the look of a frumpy tech/accountant. He is quiet and doesn't draw attention to himself. He is a smart, kind, wise person. I hope someday others will see that, too.

  2. When I think of how beautiful you are Jennie, I don't think of how you look. I love you.