My best friend Hanna recently started dating another friend of mine, Abbey, who I’ve known since second grade (a quick shout-out to my elementary school tee-ball team: Sparkles REPRESENT!), and it’s a little weird.
The way they met was pretty cute. There’s this whole story involving Abbey’s brother and a pool party and a bunch of “oh, you’re THAT Hanna/Abbey?” Anyway, they’re a lovely couple, but just yesterday they emerged from the opening phase of the relationship life cycle, the warm insular eggy first month of staring lovingly into one another’s eyes and never disagreeing, and there was the usual amount of pecking that goes into breaking that barrier. The fight they had will seem trivial to some of us, since we are superfeminists who haven’t bought into the beauty standard since eons of the unenlightened masses’ Patriarchy-years ago, but here it is anyway:
Hanna was upset with Abbey because Abbey wouldn’t stop telling her she was beautiful.
Abbey refused to “admit” that Hanna is empirically hideous. As Hanna confided, “I don’t need her telling me lies to get me to love her. I would be happier if she would just tell me the truth so that I didn’t have to be so uncomfortable. It’s okay that I am not pretty. I can still be loved and loving without that.” And later, “What scares me is that I do trust her. And I feel sad that she is so infatuated with me that she thinks I am beautiful. I will let her down when she realizes I am not and I am terrified of losing her.”
The reason this incident is significant to me, apart from the fact that someone I love very much and think is gorgeous genuinely believes herself to be unattractive (and she’s fine with that, really! Except when she’s not!), is that (despite what I said in the first paragraph) I’m there a lot of times, too. Me! Makeupless, unshaven, debrassiered, loud feminist Chelsea still occasionally looks in the mirror and thinks, ugh, those cheek creases, what’s with my nose, I’m so damn flat-chested, look at all the myriad ways in which I don’t resemble perfect perfect beauty wonder! I still spend an inordinate amount of time trying not to wuss out of wearing shorts for fear someone will see my hairy legs and make fun of me. I still use a complex algorithm to determine the precise level of femininity appropriate for the outfit I wear to any given outing or social function.
And that pisses me the fuck off.
I don’t want to think those things and I don’t want to have to spend lots of time and energy trying to reprogram my brain so that I don’t. I want a world in which acquaintances would never dream of telling me how “disgusting” my body hair is, both because they respect me as a person and don’t feel it is their privilege to judge my appearance and because it simply does not disgust them. I want a world in which women are encouraged to love their bodies and use them in positive ways of their choosing, instead of hate them and subject them to the will of all mankind.
But until that world exists, I don’t think the answer is to say, “I am unpleasant to look at, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Even that guy who had most of his face devoured by some kind of face-devouring strain of bread mold has a wife who enjoys looking at him. She changed her ideas of what is aesthetically pleasing, and we can do the same for ourselves. We NEED to do the same for ourselves for our own fucking sanity. It’s going to be hard as hell, and it’s so fucking unfair that we have to do this, but it’s better than spending our lives thinking we’re hideous and dodging cameras like thrown punches.
So here is your homework which I am giving to you on Sady’s blog because I am THAT presumptuous: Do some cheesy-ass self-help shit. Pretend you are someone else and give yourself compliments in the mirror. Write yourself a letter detailing all the things you like about your appearance. Do the exercises from that one post on Shapely Prose, however fat or thin you are. Do some affirmations or something. Masturbate furiously. Because, seriously, you are pleasant to look at. The people who love you enjoy looking at you, and I’m sure there are people who don’t even know you who enjoy looking at you. Your corporeal form is really neat and I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times, but your body does really spectacular things, too.
And Hanna, Abbey doesn’t conform to the ridiculous beauty standard imposed by our society any better than you do. And you are both beautiful.