The Legacy of My Looks
I have a secret.
It began as a subconscious hope while I was pregnant but now it’s a loud, anxious thought I can’t shake:
I want my daughter to be pretty.
I want people to think she’s pretty.
I don’t want my daughter to be ugly.
When people say she looks like her dad, a little part of me fears she’s going to look like a man. What if she sounds like him? Oh gosh, will my daughter sound like an oil rigger who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day?
And I feel guilty for having these superficial worries. So what? So what if my baby girl doesn’t grow up to be conventionally pretty? Will that change how I feel about her? Well, no. Then why do I really care? Why is it so important to me that my daughter grows up pretty?
As I think about this, my relationship with my own body is in flux.
I’m two months postpartum and I am the heaviest I’ve ever been. This bothers me. I’ve always been a thin person. Now my stomach is a gut. When I sit down I have rolls. Three of them. And my thighs. My thighs, my thighs, my thighs. They wiggle and shake and slap each other in a way that I’ve never experienced. My entire gait is crooked. I feel like my abdomen has gone through a fender-bender. It's not totalled, but my body is never gonna be the same.
And I hate it. I’m not being lazy in my writing. I really do hate the way my body feels right now.
But the only thing worse than not accepting your body as a 21st century woman, is saying so publicly. I’m supposed to smile when I look in the mirror because my body's so bootylicious and girl power and big is beautiful. Because if I, as a newly minted size six, rebuke my body, well, I’m basically taking a dump on all women, everywhere.
And I get it. There is probably something wrong with me that being 142lbs is tragic. I can hear your eyes rolling. 142lbs?! That’s it. Wow, Hannah, just stop now. This admission has single handedly set back the feminist movement fifty years.
But I really do want to be 130 lbs again. So please world, just let me feel this discomfort. Let this disgust live honestly in my flesh before I have to jump back into an onslaught of enlightened affirmations.
I hate my body right now.
When I lose 15 pounds, I’ll be pretty again.
These thoughts are so vain. And yet, they are so deeply me. Since I was at least twelve years old, being cute has been a huge part of my identity. I never felt very cute in highschool, maybe I was a late bloomer or maybe all my friends were just prettier than me. But I do know for sure that there was a point in my early twenties when I realized I was a pretty person. That is to say that, generally speaking, I became aware that men found me attractive. And I’m not trying to be conceited here, I’m just trying to explain what existence is like when you're someone who walks the earth being consistently responded to by men.
This perspective is something I tried to address as a stand up comedian- the plight of the pretty girl. Shockingly, no one could relate. It’s so annoying! Fat comics make fun of their weight, disabled comics their disability, but talk about being an eight out of ten- crickets. No one wants to hear about how hard it is being hot. I get it. Reading these last few sentences makes me want to cringe too. The gaul to think of myself as pretty, but I am! Or at least, I was. I’m getting older now. I’m not as cute as I was ten years ago, but I’m speaking of my life as a whole, not merely where I am right now.
I’ve lived my life as an attractive person. That is my truth.
Everyone thinks it’s so awesome being pretty. Maybe they are right. After all, both my husband and father, people who love me, call me spoiled. These accusations are not without merit. I’m quick tempered over minor things. I’ve been known to utilize the silent treatment or a batch of tears to provoke an apology. I don’t have a job. I spend the money my husband makes. Before him, my dad put me through college, as well as my post college, not-so-starving-artist years. In fact, my dad's girlfriend forced him to kick me off his credit card when I was twenty five. Can you believe her? I’m glad they broke up.
Needless to say, the fact that my biggest problem right now is wanting my daughter to be pretty speaks to the amount of real world problems I have. My life is good. Better than I deserve. And yet I still have the audacity to be petulant, unsatisfied and annoyed.
I am always annoyed at something.
And that’s just it. When you’re cute, if you complain, if you get sassy about something then you're ungrateful. If I push back against the sweet knights who serve me, I’m a selfish brat. How dare I bemoan anything! My life is charmed. I am drop dead adorable so I should be eternally gracious, with a meek and quiet spirit. That last line is a bible verse. I feel convicted every time I read it because I have a bad habit of interrupting people. I yearn to be more observant and discerning. God wants that for me too. And I do have so much to be grateful for, so when I do trifle, afterwards I feel so guilty. I should be better than this.
But life isn’t so easy for me. There are drawbacks to being pretty. You probably don’t want to hear them, but I’m going to tell you anyway.
So what are my complaints?
Well, I mentioned how men tend to like me because I’m pretty. This is true, but also, men hate me. It’s really one or the other. In my experience, being an attractive woman is like being a lighthouse for men who hate women. Whatever mommy issues they have, they project onto me. They assume I won’t be attracted to them, so they resent me, or they think I’m entitled and given things I don’t deserve, so they hate how easy they think my life is compared to theirs. And walking around receiving that kind of contempt from co workers, acquaintances, and sometimes even family, is bewildering. When I was younger, I didn’t understand it. I just believed them when they called me talentless, or stupid or a whore. But now when a man is being inexplicably passive aggressive, I think, oh, I know what’s going on here: He just wishes I didn’t exist. So I stay away from him and usually he stays away from me too.
And maybe they are right. Maybe being ugly is painful, and these men experience a different world than me, a meaner one. But if they are being mean to me, because the world is mean to them, then I am in turn experiencing the same callousness, the same dismissive judgment that they receive. So neither one of us is ever spared from the spite of being alive, of enduring the misfortune of the roll of the dice, we’re both judged and condemned for how we look.
But I can’t say this out loud. There is always a chance I’m wrong. My crude judgements on men could be way off base and my flattering view on my own looks may have nothing to do with why people don’t like me. I’ll never know for sure. Please know I’m basing my theory on anecdotal experience, so neither you nor I can prove me wrong.
That said, men have always been easier to deal with than women. When you’re an attractive woman you really have to figure out how to talk to other women quickly or the world becomes a lonely place. The instinct is to find other attractive women to be friends with, because as a cute girl if your bestie is rough looking, it immediately looks like you're only hanging out with her because she poses no competition. When you’re a pretty girl, you sometimes have to challenge yourself to hang out with women you’re slightly jealous of, dip your toes into toxic friendships. To pretty women, gorgeous women are like psychic mirrors; the way you quietly resent her and downplay her good qualities, is the same way the world tries to dehumanize you too. In your covetous state you vicariously experience and understand why your mere existence is offensive to the rest of the plain world. It’s thrilling and sickening at the same time.
When I was younger, it was hard to be friends with women who were prettier than me, and not always prettier, but it was hard to be friends with women who knew themselves better than I knew myself, who were confident, sensual and in control. I felt intimidated and on edge around women who could access their power. This insecurity manifested outwardly as neediness towards them. I wanted women to like me for my personality and opinions. I knew why men liked me, which was just for how I look, so if women liked me, it means I really have something good to offer, that I have substance. So if women didn’t like me, the rejection was raw and personal.
Men aren’t the only ones with mommy issues.
Speaking of which, my daughter. I want her to be pretty. And yet all the things I’ve listed don’t sound so great. So what are the benefits of being an attractive person? Do I really think being attractive will help her? Yes, in certain ways. Maybe more job opportunities, more subtle, better treatment from the general public. She'll have more options in dating, but that doesn’t mean she’ll avoid heartbreak. Being pretty might have something to do with falling in love, but staying in love, keeping love, requires so much more than good skin and symmetry.
Or at least that’s what I feel like I should write. I don’t really believe that.
I wake up every day at 4 am to nurse and then work out. I’ve never been fifteen pounds overweight and deep down I think I have to get my old body back for my husband to desire me. And not just Dusty to want me, but for the whole world to, so that they can look at me like they used to, as a beautiful person, valid, desired, hated. Blessedly misunderstood.
For better or for worse, I only know what it’s like to be attractive. I can handle the world in that framing because even if it is vapid and entitled, it’s familiar. I’ve gotten used to it. But now I’m heavier, and out of sorts. The world doesn’t respond to me the way it did, and I don’t know what to do, how to act, because I’ve only ever spoken cute girl language. That sounds so stupid. So vain.
I know you don’t have sympathy for me, I don’t expect it. I’m just writing how I feel.
I guess I want my daughter to be pretty so I can talk to her. So I can tell her exactly what I know about the world, about men, about women, about myself, and she can ask me questions and I will have answers. If she is pretty I can help her. I can warn her about the plight of the pretty girl and I will understand her and hopefully she will understand me.