Warning: this is a pretty tl;dr post with a bunch of details obscured for privacy. Feel free to skip.
On Facebook this week, I’ve been seeing a lovely sentiment from Lacey Sturm get shared among my friends:
i want to apologize… by rupi kaur
It’s the kind of thing you look at, think “oh how lovely” and then move on.
Well, it’s the kind of thing *I* look at like that. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Someone on one of my friends’ posts commented about how the poem assumed that you’re born with pretty, but not with intelligence and bravery.
I replied, almost without thinking:
Intelligent and brave can be trained into submission; beauty is trained into prominence.
It’s a weird thing, having been considered ugly once upon a time. You truly get a sense of how specious and shallow standards of physical beauty are, but at the same time once you’re considered attractive, you never want to go back to that place where you weren’t.
Someone asked me how I could say beauty is trained into prominence, and I nearly choked thinking about all the times when I was called some variant of ugly (dog, disgusting, etc etc you name it).
I also recall how much of a relief it was to finally walk down a high school hallway and not be called names. I don’t think any of the people I went to school with even realized how often it happened. All I knew, and I can feel it in my bones, was that I went a week without a comment.
It was like a miracle.
I hated the things I did to turn pretty. They were a complete accident that I didn’t want to repeat. But the relief was SO intense, I kept at it.
By the simple absence of harassment, I was quickly trained to keep doing what altered others’ perception of me.
It’s interesting to remember that the effort to keep me from exhibiting intelligence – usually a big issue with girls in school – wasn’t even a quarter as bad.
Now, since then I’ve figured out what actually worked about the things I did, and to my relief there were easy compromises that kept me from hating the result. But it took me a full decade and change before I actually believed my looks were anything other than a trick of grooming.
Even now, with the genetic lottery win of unbelievably slow aging, I get a little frisson in my gut at the thought of no longer being on control of how attractive I look in some way. And really, that’s kind of pathetic.
But I get it.
I’m working on it, of course, but I think of all the other people out there who don’t even realize they’re trained to think this way.
All I can do is send them all my love.