I don’t think I’m beautiful. I never have. My parents had sex, and nine months later I was the result. My genetics are set in stone. My body, my face, my height, my skin, my hair was all predetermined. Sure I can throw on makeup, eat right, and exercise, but for the most part I look this way and that is that. My looks are so far out of my control it’s not even funny.
For as long as I can remember, I have always consistently heard one compliment: You are beautiful. I hate this. I hate hearing this so much. I gloss over it. I give a quick, polite thank you to acknowledge it and move on quickly. It isn’t flattering. I did nothing for it. It is the laziest compliment I can receive. There is no adjective for attractive I have not heard. There are so many other things to be appreciated about me, things I actually have control over, things I worked hard for. “I love your shirt,” is a better compliment because I picked it out and put it on. Effort, though minimal. Looks are entirely subjective and shallow. I am more than my appearance. My appearance means nothing to me. I have worked so hard for so many things that no one ever compliments me on. I speak five languages. I have travelled the world. I have worked my butt off to achieve everything I have. I am a decent person. I am quirky. I work hard. I do everything I can to make the world a better place. I’m a decent cook. I write well. I read a lot. I play piano. I have rhythm. I can dance. I showered. I don’t know pick one. Something, anything other than I’m cute.
I have been on the receiving end of male attention since long before it was appropriate for one reason only: my looks. I would be lying if I said that it hasn’t helped me in life. Hell, I paid for college because men like my face, and my personality didn’t hurt. My dating life, if I wanted one, could be booming. I have never had a shortage of men lining up. I’ve gotten jobs because of it. I have been given breaks because of it. People have lower expectations for me. They’re always surprised when I say I triple majored at Cornell. When listing off my attributes it’s always “pretty and smart.” I am valued more for the way I look than for the contributions I could make to the world.
“You’re gorgeous,” is easy when you’re first meeting someone. You don’t know this person, what they’re good at, who they are, but you find their proportions appealing. I’ve heard the same compliment from the same people for 24 years. Thanks I got it. Stop. Pick something else. To me hearing the same thing with different words over and over shows me you have paid zero attention that you have no interest in getting to know me that you haven’t listened.
I have realized I never compliment someone’s looks. Sure I’ll make comments about pictures or movie stars or drool a little over certain guys. I almost never tell someone they are attractive, though. It’s not because I think they’re ugly or beautiful, but because I don’t consider it a compliment. I don’t consider it noteworthy. It is a fact they are well aware of without me pointing anything out. I want to get to know the person. I have never dated based on looks. I am attracted to the person, not the body. I have dated some classically good-looking and some classically unattractive people. To me they were all attractive because I was attracted to the person.
I’ve only ever felt beautiful when two men have looked at me. It wasn’t because of my looks. It’s because they looked at me and told me I was beautiful. They knew me as a person and were complimenting all of me. They didn’t see skin, hair, and eyes; they saw body, mind, and soul.
Odd the second thing I get the most compliments on is my sneeze. “Gosh, it’s just so cute!” I don’t know if that’s genetic, or I have engineered a perfectly cute sneeze to match my face.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be if I didn’t look the way I do. As horrible as this sounds I don’t know. If I wasn’t “pretty” would I have been felt up by a school administrator at fifteen? If I wasn’t “pretty” would I have been raped at all? If I wasn’t “pretty” would people’s expectations be higher than marrying well? If I wasn’t “pretty” would people raise their eyebrows when I talk about nuances of the French language and the linguistic influence the Maghreb is having on the banlieus of Marseilles and Paris after the Algerian war? If I wasn’t “pretty” would my eloquence still catch people of guard? If I wasn’t “pretty” would I have had the chances that I did? If I wasn’t “pretty” would I have to work harder or would life be a little easier? If I wasn’t “pretty” would people tell me I’m too good for a job, a place, a person? If I wasn’t “pretty” would people pay attention when I speak? If I wasn’t “pretty” would my mother have been as proud to show me off?
People see me when I walk into a room because I am a 5’10” blue-eyed, brunette, with curves, and a smile. I grab people’s attention because I have classically beautiful features, height, and enough confidence to wear heels and a dress. People see me. Men want to date me, and there are those who are jealous of whatever part they fancy. People want to see me and be seen with me. So many times I have been treated like a trophy to be shown off without being allowed to open my mouth and showcase the work I have done. People know me, but never know me. I am invisible in my visibility.