Since I haven’t written in a couple days, here’s a double 500…
On New Years Eve, I wore, as many of you know, 4 inch heels and a fabulous satin dress. I didn’t know, until I was around other people, that the shoes meant I’d stand at six feet tall. Which was fun, actually. I could see a clear way through the crowd of revelers, and find my friends if we got separated. But, I also didn’t realize the corollary — a woman that tall draws attention to herself. And if that woman is also wearing a figure flattering silver satin mini dress and sparkly midnight blue shoes, she’ll be even more of an eye-grabber.
I wasn’t expecting this at all, but I was hit on three times in the space of an hour and a half. I have never been hit on three times in one night, ever. It was simultaneously a self-esteem boost and a mind-fuck. On the one hand, I was feeling beautiful and it was a confirmation that I was beautiful. On the other hand, it’s not a genuine recognition of who I am, it’s a shallow reaction to surface characteristics based on social definitions of attractiveness that I seek to challenge and broaden. On this night of celebration, a night I was choosing to honor beauty — my own and that of the friends I was with — white privilege, thin privilege, and pretty privilege cast their nets, impervious to my intention to have unfettered fun.
I didn’t realize until the next day, when a friend was remarking on how much I got hit on, that race was a factor. She said, “Did you notice you were one of the few blonds there?” I hadn’t, which is rare for me, I usually do notice these things. So in the mostly people of color crowd, I was one of the very few thin, white, blond, blue eyed, pretty, six foot tall women there. I represented the highest standard of beauty in our society. And since it is the standard all women are compared to, weather I think the standard is fucked up or not, men are often more attracted to it when it shows up. I set out on New Years Eve to feel fabulous looking (not to attract anyone, just for me), but the result was that I towered (literally) over equally (and more) beautiful women of color, and garnered the attention of men who might otherwise have flattered them. Intent and impact. They so rarely align when it comes to these things.
After I got hit on the second time, I felt the same way I did years ago, the first time I went out dancing after I’d lost about fifty pounds. Like this New Years, I had bought a great, form-fitting outfit for the occasion and I was excited to test out my new body to music. I was feeling attractive and having a blast, noticing men giving me the eye, dancing with a few of them, and, early on, being repulsed by one asshole who thought it would be fun to rub his crotch all over my backside. I could feel his erect penis through his and my pants. Shocked and feeling violated, I rushed away, got a drink, and took a break.
I sat on a balcony over the dance floor watching my friends, watching the asshole, thinking. It hit me that most of those men would not have noticed me 50 pounds heavier, and I wondered if any man would think it appropriate to rub their clothed, hard penis on my fat body.
Hatred toward men boiled up in me for a moment — Where did they learn to be so agressive? Why would I want the attention of men who would probably flee if they knew I used to be fat? And how could I ever know if a man I was interested in as a thin woman would have looked through me when I was fat? I concluded, not for the first time in my life, that men were not to be trusted.
It’s no wonder some women feel safe in an overweight body, I recall thinking. I felt molested and taken advantage of because why? Because I was thin and attractive? That’s it? I know that in a club context, where there’s alcohol and bodies in close proximity, sexualized flirtation is not uncommon. But if all a girl has to be is attractive to be seen as wanting to be sexually aggressed upon, then fuck! Losing weight wasn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
It may nto be surprising to know that this “coming to” I had about the realities of being thin happened also at a predominately non-white club. Coupling these two nights out, I understand more fully that when the three sisters of beauty privilege conspire (which they do for me, all the time, I’m understanding more and more) — white, thin, pretty — I have to ask myself, what are my responsibilities as a person with these privileges? Should I not wear high heels which make me even more noticeable? Should I try less hard to look great? Should I come up with some quips for men to question why they’re chatting it up with me and not my much hotter friend? When do I declare (or am I able to), “I just want to have a good time out without thinking about all this stuff?”
But I know what the impact is. I know some stunningly beautiful women of color somewhere will see (or has seen) a man of her ethnicity hitting on me and may feel that hit — the one that tries to convince her she’s not as attractive as I am. She may not buy it, just as I reject it, but the hit comes, whether you believe in it or not. And once it knocks the wind out of your sails, you gotta do double time to puff yourself up again. I can’t dismiss this probability and not have a more proactive, thoughtful approach to “going out” in the future.
And I have spoken nothing of the negative life outcomes associated with “lookism” — that people who fit the beauty ideal fare better in getting hired for jobs, in income, in educational attainment, in housing, in so many other areas. Me coming up with a way to go out every once in a while more “thoughtfully” isn’t going to change these realities at all. Change in this area will take decades, perhaps centuries as we work to become a society that sees beauty everywhere, in every person, and learn to untie opportunity from social categories that do not impart worthiness of opportunity.
So, it turns out, not even beauty is free to just be.