Boys, Breasts and Self-Esteem

The lovely Mara @ Medicinal Marzipan is hosting Teen Week: Words that Heal, which “is an annual blog series that occurs the last week of March, where bloggers use their sites speak out about their experiences with body image, sexuality, and self-esteem during their teen years.” Please check it out to read all of the other lovely posts.

How does one talk about their teen years? With a fun anecdote? Or something apt while being deeply informative and moving?

Let’s talk about how I looked forward to being a teenage because it meant boys and breasts – something I didn’t exactly have in grade school. Most ten year old girls aren’t thinking about dating, and even fewer seem to care about their cup size. But I did; and it consumed me. I remember thinking how I’d finally date, and all those boys who were jerks to me would be sorry. With my big, bouncing breasts, I’d finally be beautiful and my childhood would just be an unpleasant dream.

But when my teen years arrived, the only thing puberty graced me with was a face full of acne and period cramps that should’ve led me to the nearest hospital. By high school, I’d pretty much come to the conclusion that boys hated me and I wasn’t dating anyone any time soon – if ever. My body remained stubborn, as I sneaked into my cousin’s room to admire my make-shift bust in her full-length mirror. “Do high school girls still stuff?” I wondered, as I layered on two sets of bras, stuffed them with socks and put on my stretchiest shirt to admire my false, new bosom. I’d look great as a C cup…

But the Universe enjoyed rubbing salt into my wounds as my younger cousin seemed to be developing at a much faster rate. She went from a string-bean to a busty teen in under a year, regaling me with stories of the boys she was dating, or kissing (or whatever). My self-confidence settled in the red when she confessed that her and her friends were making fun of how small my breasts were.

Everything came crashing down; I hated my life. Why couldn’t I be beautiful and curvy? Why did I have to be so skinny and unattractive? I thought back to my friend, someone considered very attractive by her friends, who was curvy and bubbly. I seemed to only sink deeper into my depression, wondering who (or what) I had pissed off in a past life to end up with the one I’ve got now.

The conflict with my body – and what I wanted my body to look like – marred my young adult years as everyone seemed to be blossoming and I felt stunted. How can I be sixteen and some lady is telling me that I look nine!? How can these fifteen year olds not believe that I’m only a year older than them?

Rinse, wash and repeat – and you’ve got my life.

And that’s it.

Am I in a better place now that I’m older? No, not really. Many of the patterns I’ve created or experienced in high school are still repeating themselves today; cycles I don’t know how to break. I have a lot of problems, and I need a lot of therapy. But, my understanding and emotional relationship to some of these problems are evolving, changing or at least being challenged. I have an awareness of myself that didn’t exist back then, and I’m super grateful for that.

Being Ugly and the Power of Beauty

I’m an ugly girl. 

That’s right – I said it. The big “U” word. The word that people run away from, or try desperately to cover up with make-up, compliments and pseudo-self esteem. Call yourself ugly, and you’ll be under the barrage of:

1. Beauty is subjective! Isn’t it in the eye of the beholder anyway?!

2. Everyone’s beautiful! You’re beautiful!

3. *Lists a bunch of reasons why you can’t POSSIBLY be ugly*

4. Says you’re delusional/insane (re: being completely dismissive)

Part of this problem is that people tend to imagine in extremes. Ugliness is defined as horrific – like Hunchback of Notre-Dame type stuff – so if you don’t look like Quasimoto, then you can’t be ugly. This is irrational. NO ONE looks like Quasimoto, except for him, and few people would go around calling survivors of accidents with physical deformities as ugly. So basically, ugliness is reserved for fictional beings and monsters – which humans are not.

Granted – I understand it, really I do. With great beauty comes great power; to be called a model is probably one of the highest compliments a person can receive. Humans are so fixated on beauty that whole enterprises have been constructed in order to dismantle fabricated beauty (ie: Hollywood stars, magazine covers, etc) in exchange for “natural beauty” (ie: Lady Gaga’s Born This Way type stuff).

And I can understand the sentiment: everyone (well, most of you!) want power because power makes things easier. Money is power, but not everyone has money, but  nowadays anyone can be beautiful, right? I remember my friend, who is from Appalachian, telling me about how beauty pageants were one of the few ways to get out of their town.

So yes – I deeply understand the influence being beautiful has over people – even those who wish to bunk beauty standards. Not so that they can be ugly, but so that they can be beautiful in their own way.

This is all well and good but ignores the truth: not everyone is beautiful (and in some cases, don’t want to be!). I’m not a beautiful girl. Most people focus on my personality, and what’s going on in my mind, not so much my body.

Being ugly, and being willing to call myself that, is always tricky business. When you’re conditioned to believe that ugliness is bad and prettiness is good, well, most people will do anything to show you how “good” you really are. But here’s what I’m here to say: being ugly isn’t a death sentence, it doesn’t say anything about your character (any more than being pretty does) and it’s not mutually exclusive from being awesome. 

Yes – I am a ugly girl but so what? Why do I need to soothe myself with compliments in order to make myself feel better? Why is happiness so directly related to “feeling/being beautiful”? Why can’t I be ugly AND happy, successful, accomplished and unafraid? Why is ugly such a dirty, fucking word? 

Ugliness is a descriptor, like anything else. Being ugly doesn’t make me less than. It simply is. 

Even in the quest to “re-define beauty” why is beauty even a necessary part of the equation? Why force people into believing they’re beautiful? There is power in all things, including ugliness. Many people are terrified of being ugly, but if there’s power in exactly who you are, that includes being ugly too.

 

People are often quick to prove you’re beautiful, even if it’s just one feature.

Why do you think that is? Why can’t people be both ugly and happy?

This is definitely a discussion I want to have with as many people as possible. I really want to understand – why do you want to be pretty so bad? And why are you so quick to downplay people’s assertion of their own looks – which has NOTHING to do with you?

Preferences and Prejudice: Which Is It?

Is it classist to reject someone because they don’t have a job? 

Most of us know that it’s fairly racist to reject a potential partner based on race or on the color of their skin. Many self-identified feminists mourn the perceived standards being projected onto the female gender, and there is more than enough discussion about how people feel in regards to women having short hair or natural hair. (Unfortunately, I am not as well versed about the criterium projected onto same sex/alternative couples, so if you know any – feel free to list them in the comments for added discussion!).

A great deal of people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prove to others (and themselves) that we’re each unique individuals and aren’t required to abide by arbitrary beauty prerequisites.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of beauty and whose opinion matters the most. When I was a Senior in high school, there was this guy, CJ, that I liked. He was a white boy; tall and rail-thin, and I remember chatting with him online. In my usual style, I told him I liked him and he responded with: I only date white girls.

Most people would respond with complete disgust over this – How dare he!? That’s so racist!  I lived in a racially diverse area where a myriad of people attended my high school, so you would think that most people would have a more “open” view of who they’d like to date. But -

My whole life, I’ve never really been attractive enough for anybody:

1. my skin wasn’t clear enough

2. my breasts were too small

3. I wasn’t perky enough, hood enough, outgoing enough… the list continues

Of course, our choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Do many white people reject black partners out of some racist agenda? If we had a more egalitarian media (since television and cinema influences many people’s understanding of relationships and who they’re attracted to) – would more people be interested in dating outside of their race, economic class, sex, (etc)?

Many women (and perhaps men too) spend a lot of time looking at how they’re not represented in the media, and how this somehow suggests they’re not attractive by conventional standards. I’m not exempt from this; I spent a few minutes on Twitter yesterday lamenting how small breasts are rarely touted as being signifiers of attractiveness. Essentially, large breasts are considered more “womanly” and “feminine” than having a “boyish figure”.

This is a complex problem: on one hand, the world is giant mirror, reflecting back to us what we believe about ourselves and the world at large. On the other hand, I see this as a type of Second-Hander rhetoric – where I long for other people to give me validation about myself in some capacity. It’s almost like I don’t exist until someone else decides I exist. All of this pertains to self-esteem, and the value being placed in one’s own ideas and opinions.

I don’t want to be a Second-Hander, and have other people’s prejudices and preferences dictate Who I Am.

 

What About You? What are some of your preferences or prejudcies? 

As anyone said you weren’t enough because of the way you look?

Acne Acceptance : Expanding the Body Acceptance Discussion

Confession: I have acne.

Credit to: BeautyCareLines.com

I’ve had it since I was fourteen, and it hasn’t really gone away since. Acne is a fascinating topic because it is predominantly overlooked when discussing body image. This is probably because acne is seen as transient, something that happens when you’re a teenager and goes away as you get older. Even though having acne increases depression and suicidal attempts. But unlike some other beauty standard fallacies (like strict body type standards), lots of normal men and women have clear skin too. So with acne, comes the “Why me?” question.

Acne is predominantly genetic, but the myths surrounding acne, particularly the idea that diet links to acne, can make it difficult to transition into a healthier state of mind. This isn’t to say that you can’t control your acne to some extent; not picking your face, pulling your hair back, and regularly washing your pillow sheets can do wonders in meditating acne breakouts. But I’m also an advocate for not living in the future – meaning, don’t wait until you have something before you can let yourself be happy. There’s no reason to wait to have clear skin, before you can be healthy and whole.

But the skin care industry is a multibillion dollar operation, averaging at 43 billion dollars in the US, for a reason. The skin care industry offers hundreds of different methods and antidotes to the acne dilemma. And just by typing “acne” into a search, you’ll get millions of hits from teens and young adults looking for ways to clear their skin, or express acne harassment from peers.

Everywhere companies like ProActiv and Neutrogena who use young, white, women to show how happy they are washing their face, and having clean skin – it seems like a call to arms. Add the fact that unlike other body image problems, acne is something that still manages to skip some women and men. Again – the “why me?” presents itself.

Problems are compounded when real life starts to sink in. Such as yesterday, my grandmother told me how bad my skin looked, how many break-outs I had. I break-out every day, but she said that this time it was worse. I wanted to die; I’ve been using Biore scrub and cleanser for over two months now and my skin still wasn’t improving?

Today, I looked at my Biore and wondered if I should throw it out. When I go to the store, I hover in the skin care section, wondering what regiment I can use to finally get rid of my scars, my pimples, my painful cysts. But, it seems like money down the drain. Wouldn’t I be better off not worrying about it at all? If acne is based on genetics, I might never have clear skin. And is that really the worse thing to ever happen to me?

By and large, I definitely think acne acceptance needs more discussion. It’s a problem that goes unaddressed, and is easily dismissed by pretty much everyone. Which is, of course, insanely problematic.

 

Do you have acne? Were you or your friends/family ever teased about it?

How do you handle your acne now?

Ugly Duckling Syndrome

Flickr credit to: -MAKI-

Yesterday I saw Shallow Hal  - a film I’d already seen many times. The entire premise of the film impressed me, and watching it again (with my new and improved mentality about beauty privilege), I thought I was going to start crying.

Hal is an average looking dude who likes above average looking women, which is his only criteria for approaching a girl. So when his perception is altered by Tony Robbins via hypnotherapy, he starts to notice the inner beauty of all the women he meets.

So, what I wanted to touch on precisely is what the film calls, “The Ugly Duckling Syndrome”. This is when a girl who grew up ugly, ends up developing a personality out of necessity. The character talks about how some girls are ugly for so long, when they do become pretty, they don’t even realize it. This is considered a rare but desirable find; an attractive girl with a personality who doesn’t know/believe herself to be good-looking.

All the ugly women are virtuous: volunteering with burn victim children, helping their sick grandmother, working at a non-profit for blind children. Overall, these women are funny, gracious and selfless. They’re just really, really ugly. So, despite how wonderful they are as people, men don’t seem interested in them.

In the film, Gwyneth Paltrow tells Jack Black that she knows what she looks like, and doesn’t appreciate it when he calls her beautiful. I know the feeling of knowing what you look like, and people not really understanding that. Of people trying to convince you of a reality you don’t believe in. Even though in the ugly duckling fairy tale, he eventually becomes a beautiful swan.

However, it’s worse when you see what it’s like to be born a swan, when you’re just a duck.

When I was in high school, participating in some sort of production backstage, a girl said to my friend, “You’re so pretty.” And at some later date told her that she earned her beauty, that she deserved it.

I remember when I much younger, and me and my best friend at the time had a crush on the same person. Our shared love interest knew, but ended up choosing her over me. I was devastated. Then one afternoon, he had written her a (love) letter, suggesting that maybe I was jealous of them. Of course I was! But my friend – blonde-haired and blue eyed – was significantly more attractive than me. I knew, even then, that I didn’t really stand a chance. 

So as I sat there, tearing up at the not-so-great film Shallow Hal, I wondered if I would ever stop being a duckling, and become a swan myself. I try desperately to find other ducklings, but it seems few people like to admit to not being attractive. In a culture where “everyone is beautiful”, people are afraid of what it means to be a duckling, a sort of social pariah. Everyone wants to embrace their flaws, fall in love with themselves. I mean… that’s all well and good but…

Am I the only person willing to admit to being an ugly duckling?

How come the first step to self-acceptance isn’t admitting that we’re not all swans?

 

 

Beauty Privilege: how it effects the job hunt

Worldoffemale.com

When I typed in “beautiful women” into Google, it took three pages before I could find an image of a woman of color. And although Halle is black, she’s mixed, which tends to be the favorite flavor of black when they cast non-white women in film roles. But for black women, it seems, Halle Berry represents the epitome of beauty.

 
I’ll often hear people say, “Well, if Halle Berry can’t keep a man, then what about me?!”  Then going into an argument that beauty isn’t the great equalizer, that a man will leave you no matter what. This seems a paralyzing idea, because beauty privilege is the most subversive of any race, gender, socioeconomical discrimination because people play into it. Heavily.
 
For instance, it was suggested to me that I need to do “something with my face” everyday, like combing out my bushy eyebrows and wearing lipgloss on a regular basis. The merit for this is the idea that you have to “look” a certain way in order to get a job. To me, physical appearance relied more on clothing; being neat and presentable seemed, to me, the acceptable ideal. I don’t have to be pretty to get work, I just need to look as if I don’t live on the street. Fine by me.
 
So – this idea that I’m going to have to up the ante on an otherwise incredibly sensitive subject feels about as good as being torn apart by Cenobites
 
I didn’t grow up with beauty privilege – which is when people treat you better because of how you look. This privilege can be seen in how beautiful women are happier, make more money, and are popular. There’s a gigantic circular effect: people treat you better because of the way you look, therefore you’re happier because people are so nicer to you, and that creates more people becoming attracted to you.
 
 So how, as someone who is not attractive, navigate a system tailored to those who are? The thing about ugliness is that it’s a very individual experience; no two people are ugly in exactly the same way. Beauty, on the other hand, tends to follow trends in terms of presentation. For example, long, flowing hair might be attractive one year, and short, boy cuts the next. 
 
But ugliness is special because it’s so demonized in American culture. Call yourself ugly and people flip their shit, rambling on about beauty subjectivity and how nothing can be ugly because it implies that there’s black and white (re: objective views of beauty). People want to be surrounded with beauty, and if they’re not naturally attractive, they’ll find all sorts of ways to attain something that resembles beauty; make-up, clothes, dieting, exercise, or plastic surgery to name a few.
 
So how does this play into job hunting? Because the techniques that work best for securing a job have little to do with actual physical appearance:
  1. I keep a blog so people will see who I am before what I look like
  2. Networking with people is more about conversation and interconnectedness than beauty
  3. Securing skills, and getting results is vital because it shows you can do the work
  4. Volunteering, and exercise are ways to keep you spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically healthy
  5. Have an up to date resume detailing what you can contribute to a company
  6. Being a half decent person in general

 

Not being pretty means that I am forced to spend more time on myself, as an individual, because I lack the beauty privilege necessary to help me open doors. Not being attractive means my short-comings (both physical and otherwise) are more glaring and can’t hide behind a beautiful facade. Not having beauty privilege means that I’m unique, because no two people are ugly in exactly same way.