Namecalling by strangers
November 13, 2011 2:03 AM   Subscribe

How should I have reacted to being called ugly in the street, in order to feel better now? What can I do now in order to feel better about it?

Last weekend as I walked past a group of young people at a bus stop they laughed at me and one said loudly "she's as ugly as Susan Boyle". Similar incidents have happened to me about once a year I guess. I am now feeling very anxious about going outside or being seen by people. I reacted at the time by going over to them, asking them very politely to move so I could see the bus timetable, then thanking them fervently. I wanted to do this to get back in their faces a bit I guess, but I'm wondering if it's made me feel worse now. I had to sit near them for the next twenty minutes which didn't help.

If you have had something similar happen, how did you react? Is there a best way? What could I do now to help myself be less affected by this? I'm thinking of some sort of symbolic action maybe.
posted by toenail to Human Relations (66 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Sigh... I know what you mean: I get that same kind of snarky commentary from strangers. All I can suggest is keeping in mind that we may not be beautiful on the outside, but the kind of people who make those comments have ugly souls ---- and which will fade soonest?!?

There really isn't anything you can say or do to them, either at the time or later. They don't see/don't CARE how cruel their comments are, and if you WERE to say something, they would just take it as validation: your reaction would merely be taken as a sign of your "jealousy" of their self-perceived beauty and wit.
posted by easily confused at 2:23 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had this when I was younger. I tried anger, contempt, denial, hiding, before eventually settling on pitying their ignorance and forgiving them because of it.

People like this are crippled by years of absorbing conformist and manufactured versions of 'beauty'. When you can feel sorry for them because of how limited their ability to appreciate the world is, their cruelty isn't nearly as powerful.
posted by fearnothing at 2:24 AM on November 13, 2011 [11 favorites]

I can't answer your question completely but it's worth remembering that people who do this sort of thing are not in a good place - something about their lives is unhappy or uncertain and they seek to make themselves feel better by criticizing others.

The way you reacted sounds fine to me and if you can go further, perhaps not now but in a week or two, and bring yourself to forgive them then that will be good for you and (in a strange rather difficult to explain way) good for them.
posted by southof40 at 2:26 AM on November 13, 2011

Ask yourself if you have ever even considered calling a random person ugly. (Because I'm guessing you haven't.) Now ask yourself what possible state of mind someone would have to be in for that choice to even seem remotely acceptable (because it's not).

In other words, pity and forgive them. They must be going through something harsh in order for that option to be considered.

On preview, fearnothing and southof40 have it too.

Also, FWIW, this happened to me regularly when I lived in the US (Pacific Northwest). It never happens to me in Europe. (To the contrary, actually... I get complimented here, and I mean from seemingly genuine people, I don't count catcalls.) When I return to the US to visit, I still get the not-so-hushed "omg look how ugly that lady is *lol*chuckle*lol*" and I think, "huh, wow, something weird here in the US". Don't know why. Just that it is as it is.
posted by fraula at 2:30 AM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you are a kind, sensitive person, which I would guess from this comment that you are, you are making the world a more beautiful place. They are making life harder for other people. Why should you value their opinion?

Just give them your best pitying look and move on. And if you're tired of doing that, go Towanda on their asses.

As for what you should do now, I don't know. I haven't figured out a good way to get over being sexually harassed--and that's what this is. I get myself out of the house again, I talk to some nice people and remind myself that the majority of the world aren't assholes.
posted by chaiminda at 2:35 AM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't know you. You might be 90 and obese, or 20 and gorgeous, or something in between. But I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, you have a far more beautiful soul than those people who condemned you.

I am 44, I'm overweight, I have a lazy eye, I have some skin blemishes, and I too am more beautiful than those people at the bus-stop. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, as we were led to believe. Beauty is felt, from behaviour, far more than skin deep. Kind people, sweet people add so much more to life, than those that the media represents as being desirable. I am loved. I am very loved, and not in spite of how I look. To those who love and respect me, I look wonderful. I have a loving welcoming smile, and they know I care about them.

These are truths far more important than a fleeting image commensurate with a current media approach. There is no doubt in my mind that you would never ever ever do something like this to another human being. In my mind, that makes you very special. I would like to know how you look, so that the next time I see you, if I ever see you, I could smile and we could share a little understanding of the universe together. It sounds weak and weird, but truly, I have shared a lot of smiles with people who are not gorgeous, who are not model-like, but who are sweet good people, who see the world as it happens.

Maybe, you could me-mail me a smile, and I could you-mail you one back and we could recognise in each other a lack of contemporary expectations of looks, but! a recognition of sweetness and acceptance and tolerance and happiness and goodwill.

Those people at the bus-stop, not worth stopping to think about EXCEPT as youngster who have a fair bit to learn. You as a human being - you are fine as you are.
posted by b33j at 3:07 AM on November 13, 2011 [59 favorites]

This incident had nothing to do with you, and does not reflect on the way you look.

Young guys hanging out together are cruel. If you are their age, slim, and dressed the way they like they leer at you. If you are anything other than their very narrow definition of attractiveness they say mean things. It doesn't really matter what you look like.

On fireworks night, some friends and I were stuck in a park where teenage boys were throwing fireworks at each other. Seriously, throwing them at each other. The most terrifying thing I saw, though, was one boy openly mocking his friend for running away from a firework. Boys do not allow each other to act anything other than fearless and callous. It's sad.

They'll stop when they're older, and they don't think that way when they're alone.

I'm not sure if anything would've made you feel better at that moment.

Just love yourself and pity them.
posted by dumdidumdum at 3:12 AM on November 13, 2011 [11 favorites]

I'm gonna nth that these people might have some issues with wanting to feel powerful and in control. It feels good to believe you're "better" than someone else! Suddenly you go from having a so-so day to being on top of the world for, like, a minute. Ruining someone else's day is part of the fun for them.

Some academic types have ventured to say that with children and teenagers, othering ("one of these things is not like the other") is healthy for ego development and shaping a worldview. I think that's VERY simplistic though; if the outcome is bullying, that's not psychologically healthy/healthful for anyone involved.
posted by mirepoix at 3:17 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

[q]They'll stop when they're older, and they don't think that way when they're alone.[/q]

I dunno, I think this comes from the same place as catcalling or inappropriate comments, which I do get from older men who are alone.

This thread isn't specifically about catcalling or even specifically about men, but my theory w/ lewd comments is that the men who make them feel uncomfortable being around women and don't know how to act or what to say, so they default to the male gaze to turn the tables on the lack of control they're experiencing. Now the woman feels uncomfortable and he's the one who owns the situation! Ha!
posted by mirepoix at 3:25 AM on November 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

If you're young and pretty, you get sexually agressive catcalls. If you are older, regardless of how you actually look, you will get this sort of casual verbal violence. You are being told that you, as a woman, have no worth, because you aren't pretty enough to fuck. They are reasserting their belief that the only value a woman has is how she looks.

It doesn't matter how you look. This is a power play, a way of putting you in your place.

Screw them. The idea that the only thing your worth is measured by how nice you look is false, a weapon to beat you into submission. Fuck that. Flip them the bird and move on. They have demostrated to you, in no uncertain terms, that they are beneath your contempt. They are to be pitied. They will lead small, shallow lives defined by the capricious approvals of the outside world, never happy with themselves and forced to smear others so they feel better in comparison. They will age, and will hate their bodies and their faces and they will be more and more miserable with every wrinkle and flaw. They have bought into that poison and they will reap the rewards of it.

You are far, far more beautiful than they could ever be. You will only get more beautiful. Their worth will diminish, in their eyes and the eyes of the people they have chosen as peers. You will become wiser, more knowledgeable, better to be around.

Also, b33j is a liar. She is beautiful too, but I don't have to tell you that. You can read it there for yourself.
posted by Jilder at 3:29 AM on November 13, 2011 [28 favorites]

It feels good to believe you're "better" than someone else! Suddenly you go from having a so-so day to being on top of the world for, like, a minute. Ruining someone else's day is part of the fun for them.

This might be the case with bullying a kid at school, but mocking a total (and older) stranger seems like something different. I'd bet those kids were already feeling content, rather than trying to pick themselves up. We've all probably done stupid stuff like this and regretted it when we matured.

I do agree with the other statements that attribute it to the fact that it was a group of kids. "We can't all get in trouble." If it were one kid, it wouldn't happen (unless they're completely lacking in social skills).

As for what actions to take, it's tough. It's just as bad when some punks drive by and shout something at you. Shrugging it off and telling yourself that you're better them is a lot easier said than done. I wonder if there are methods that would "good-naturedly" defuse the situation, in an attempt to just throw them off-guard rather than escalating things (as if to make the kids think, "Whoa, I wasn't expecting that. He/she's not so bad.")

MeFi established earlier that violence is not the answer, but still, you could entertain yourself with the thought of going all Spock on those little twerps.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 3:50 AM on November 13, 2011

This happens to me (in the UK and the Netherlands) from time to time. I dress to be invisible, don't wear makeup, and keep my hair in a ponytail; apparently, this makes me ugly/fat/a slag/"is that a man or a woman?". It's always teenage boys. It started when I was a teenager myself and still happens now that I'm twice their age. Usually I ignore them. Sometimes I tell them witheringly to "grow up". I'm sure it makes not the blindest bit of difference.

I am now feeling very anxious about going outside or being seen by people.

I know exactly what you mean. I spent my late teens and most of my twenties feeling ashamed to be seen in public.

That has now stopped. There were several factors, including simply getting older, but here's the weirdest: I read a book called Where Did It All Go Right?, Andrew Collins' memoir of his happy childhood. It's a perfectly nice book about a perfectly nice guy, but somehow it brought home to me that many/most teenage boys really don't think like adults. Yes, I know that sounds obvious, but I honestly hadn't realised. So for years, I'd been assuming that the adults I passed on the street were as disgusted by my existence as the teenagers seemed to be, and that only adult politeness kept them from jeering. The insight that book gave me let me realise that not only do adults not behave like adolescents, they don't think like them either. And that made me feel a lot better about going out; now I'm pretty sure it really is just teenage boys of a certain type being unpleasant, rather than something being so wrong with me that I don't deserve to exist. The same goes for you.

It took a while for it to sink in, of course, and I still feel apprehensive when I find myself on a station platform with a bunch of teenage boys (and upset if they decide to go for me); but I really don't feel ashamed to walk down the street any more, and that makes a world of difference.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:03 AM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have found that groups of kids are just little assholes- they cat call, shout obscenities, scream insults- all to show each other how totally self assured they are. This of course- is completely false. Everyone who has ever been a teen has had to look into the mirror and face some giant insecurities.

The way I've found to make me feel better- is to turn to the offending group and say with all seriousness "That was really rude and inappropriate. Why would you say that to someone on the street?"

They say these things because we ignore them or scream back. It knocks them off their game when they are asked to verbalized exactly why they think it's funny to be cruel. I've only had one or two over the years keep going with the insults. Most of the time they say "i don't know, I'm sorry... sorry ma'am" I call it "moming".

Misbehaving children (or adults, whatever) are not really worth getting upset about. they aren't even really insulting you- they are showing each other how big their genitals are. it's embarrassing and pathetic. Please don't feel like it's anything to do with you- cause it ain't.
posted by Blisterlips at 4:16 AM on November 13, 2011 [25 favorites]

I used to get this a lot when I was younger. Now I guess I'm not around young guys as much, or else I'm so old that I've gone from ugly to invisible. I wanted to say that what you did - going over there and speaking to them as normal - was actually quite brave. It never occured to me, either when this stuff happened or since, that I could or should have done anything other than walk by with my head down. So there's that. I like what Blisterlips said above, too. Just stopping and staring and saying something like "How rude! Do you know how rude that is?" would probably be as effective as anything. (Though possibly not particularly effective.)

As for how to feel about it...I'm not sure there's a perfect answer. I don't think this is talked about much, possibly because in our society people like to act and talk as if all girls/women are hot, and all their problems come from being hot, and if you don't feel hot, you are lying to yourself and you just need to access your hotness, and all your problems are solved! But of course this is crap. I think the answer is not having your sense of self worth come from your looks at all. Which might be very difficult to acheive at this point, so I'm not saying that like it's an easy thing. But I guess the reason why I was never that upset by those guys who said stuff like this to me, is that my internal reaction was kind of, "Ummm, duh. I know I'm not the cutest or thinnest girl in the room, this is not news, dumbass." (That might also be something you could say to them, now that I think of it.) In the same way, if you think about it logically, have you ever been catcalled? You certainly don't have to be attractive to get the occasional "Hey baby you look good!" or whatever. Now, I don't mind those as long as there's no physical threat, but they don't make me feel any better about myself. I don't actually feel cute because some skeevey guy in the street said I am. So why would an anti-catcall make me feel ugly?

One more thing, and this is a shallow thing. But I've found that the unattractive don't have the luxury of dismissing shallow things, as the attractive do. I don't know what you look like - for all I know you could be average or stunning, and those guys just thought they were being funny. But let's say you do look like Susan Boyle. Susan Boyle is not, to my eyes, ugly. Facially she's just plain, unremarkable. What she is, though, is massively frumpy. And that comes entirely from the choices she - or whoever - makes about her hair and clothes. If you have hair and clothes that are outdated or messy or scream "OOOLLD!" that is something you can fix. Not that you should have to. But if the dudes who say these things are simply looking for shallow, outside signifiers of "ugly" like ill-fitting clothes or a certain haircut, and if it's worth it to you to change these things so as to throw them off the scent, you can do that. I mean, these guys are clearly not the smartest people, and like all bullies they're looking for signs of weakness. Maybe weakness to them is frumpy style. Or maybe that's not even it - I've gotten this stuff at times when I was very young and fairly well pulled together. But I just wanted to put that out there.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:08 AM on November 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

It doesn't matter how you look. This is a power play, a way of putting you in your place.

And for what it is worth, boys do this all the time to other boys, and I can remember girls saying similar things to boys in school, though less often. I think it functions simultaneously as a power play, as Jilder says, and as a group bonding moment for them. In neither case is it actually saying anything about you, but it's still incredibly hurtful to receive.

I am now feeling very anxious about going outside or being seen by people... What could I do now to help myself be less affected by this?

Some people do fine thinking these things through on their own, but it sounds like you are experiencing anxiety and unhappiness that isn't resolving on its own. So if the strategies people have offered here aren't sufficient, I would strongly suggest making an appointment to talk with someone about this. If thinking about this is genuinely affecting your quality of life, that is all the reason you need to visit a therapist/counselor.
posted by Forktine at 5:41 AM on November 13, 2011

Personally I like to equate any human behaviour that is motivated by an inabilty to control animal impulses to being kind of like having a dog try to hump my leg.

You need to stay rational and emotionally centered. Try to see that it has nothing to do with how you look, just with how a bunch of people who aren't stronger than group dynamics act out. Don't put your tail between your legs. The first thing you need to accept is that you look how you look and that's not going to change, nor should it ever. Best case scenario, there are people who go through life completely numb to this realisation because their good looks act as a bubble.

Just full stop don't ever physically compare yourself to others, it's lazy negative thinking and leads to bad personal habits like telling strangers at a bus stop that they're ugly. If you feel like it's happening, ask yourself if you'd really rather be like the people who are saying hateful things to sensitive people for no reason.

It's a harder life, but a better one.
posted by rudhraigh at 5:56 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can think of a lot of snarky responses. Most would advise you against being snarky.

But its fun to fantasize.

"I'm alot older than you are. I've had a lot of good sex in my life. I know that men are attracted to all sorts of women, including Susan Boyle. I also know that at least one of you is attracted to me right now. In fact I know which one of you it is. The question is, do you?"

You have to be sizing them up all the while, you have to look them each in the eye. Just looking them in the eye will be embarrassing to them--and then they'll worry that it makes it look like you're talking about him.

And as you walk away "oh! And one of you is a virgin!"

Just pretending this can work makes me feel better.

Unlike some others, I am not a very good person.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:57 AM on November 13, 2011 [14 favorites]

My high school students yell 'you're ugly' at each other, or will say it when another student walks by the door/window. I don't know why this is. Partially probably for the 'otherness' part that someone mentioned, partially because they are worried themselves about being perceived as ugly, and partially because some just love yelling and that might be the first thing that pops in their mind. It rarely has anything to do with the other person- their presence just provided a target at that moment.

They also comment on my appearance too which I can't stand and it does wear you down after a long period of time. (In in fact this may have warped my own view about my own appearance, ironically) But mainly teenagers are only interested in and cognizant of other teenagers. I really wouldn't take the comments too personally even though I know it's almost impossible not to, especially if you are already feeling down.

I think you reacted in a good way, taking the higher ground.
posted by bquarters at 6:01 AM on November 13, 2011

This happened to me in Jr. High, more because it made me cry than the way I actually looked. I am very average looking, and when I was young was actually pretty, but thought I was ugly for years because of these comments.

I do not think you have to forgive these assholes or worry about their inner life or unhappiness. Chances are they think they are just great, perfectly happy in their thuggish way, and go around saying nasty things to others to get a reaction and because they enjoy being cruel. Don't give them a reaction. Don't give in to their bullying either, go anywhere you want and know that decent human beings do not care how you look, and would never make such comments. These people are rude scum.

Also fun to do, but don't ever carry this out in real life: Imagine beating the crap out of them, like you are the ultimate ninja warrior and they are the villains in a kung fu movie. Keep that image in mind. It is surprisingly satisfying.
posted by mermayd at 6:01 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with easily confused:
There really isn't anything you can say or do to them, either at the time or later. They don't see/don't CARE how cruel their comments are, and if you WERE to say something, they would just take it as validation: your reaction would merely be taken as a sign of your "jealousy" of their self-perceived beauty and wit.
There was nothing wrong with your reaction, but you're never going to get them to care or feel ashamed or anything like that. They're not going to give you the reaction you want. As a result, there's no point in saying anything.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:11 AM on November 13, 2011

Are you comfortable admitting how angry you are at these kids? Allow yourself to feel it in your body.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:11 AM on November 13, 2011

Like everyone else said they are beneath you.

I've only ever had comments like that thrown at me from passing cars in big cities. It was a shock the first time as I'm from a small town and the locals don't do such things because well everyone knows, if not everyone else then everyone else s mother/sister/boss/teacher and there are consequences.

What is happening is as I see it part of the anonymous-ness that comes with living in large cities so if they don't know me but because they can vanish back into anonymity they feel safe calling out stupid comments. It has nothing to do with you, they don't know you and you don't know them.

The opinions of people you don't know have nothing on earth to do with your reality how could they, they don't know you they are background noise, like trucks and buses and that loud music from the latest trendy clothing store, do what you do with background noise and ignore it. Though staring at them pityingly and flipping them the bird and then ignoring them isn't always a bad thing.
posted by wwax at 6:15 AM on November 13, 2011

Leonard Cohen wrote the Chelsea hotel about Janis Joplin.

"Clenching your fist, for the ones like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty. You fixed yourself, you said 'well nevermind, we are ugly but, we've got the music'"

Did you know that she was voted by a huge bunch of students at University of Texas (school in my city) as the ugliest person?

THE ugliest person. What the SHIT were all those people thinking? Look at her pictures? She was beautiful. No I get it, plenty of people can't see beauty beyond that which looks like a magazine, but she had soft warm eyes and a gentle smile. She was an amazing singer.

How many years went by that the actions of those people wieghed on her identity, that she believed she was truly more ugle than everyone else? All those people who made those votes, they are probably mostly alive right now and she not. I wonder if it was worth it to them, to make another human feel like shit. I wonder if they ever think about what role it might have played in her collapse into drugs and death. Believing herself to be "ugly".

Look at yourself in the mirror. Look at your smile. Look at the humanity behind your eyes. Do you see it? That is where the beauty is. You have it and don't let their words break that truth. (Words CAN do that, you know.) Words and ideas really do hurt. Remind yourself they are wrong. Remind yourself that there are good people in the world who know that they are wrong. You are beautiful. You are beautiful.
posted by xarnop at 6:24 AM on November 13, 2011 [18 favorites]

Posted by Drastic from this thread:

Life is so very short. Take a breath. Let it out. Ponder the fact that that breath was one out of a finite number. Hopefully large, but you never know--large or small number, it only goes down. Spending any of them on other peoples' drama is just not remotely worth it by any rational calculus.
posted by cynicalidealist at 6:33 AM on November 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

I spent the first half of my teens avoiding leaving the house after school as much as possible for fear of bumping into the people that made my school days hell. I spent hrs agonising over what to wear to be as 'inoffensive' as possible to the people who were rude and verbally abusive to me. To no avail. Nothing I did or didn't do stopped people from being nasty. All that happened was that I sat round at home a lot feeling lonely and unhappy instead of finding stuff to do I'd enjoy doing that would have allowed me to feel good about myself.... And then I did something much more powerful. And that was to say 'sod you'. And I stopped to care about what these people thought or did in that I refused to have my decisions, activities etc be restricted or driven by concerns about the potential reactions I would get at school. And all of a sudden they stopped doing it. Now this could be an age thing but I was always overweight, although a lot less so in my early teens. And I did spend a lot of years paying little attention to my appearance. But before I changed my outlook I had occasionally gotten abuse from strangers in the way you describe, too, both teenage boys and girls I'd like to add. And this has pretty much stopped since then, irrespective of where in the western world I was. So a lot of this really is about the attitude you project. They can sense who will be most affected by their behaviour and who is most likely to give them the desired response.

I realise that kind of outlook cannot be achieved over night. But perhaps it helps to just frame this differently to get over the fear of leaving the house? What do you remember about these youths? Is it what they looked like or is it the impact their behaviour had on you? What do you remember about the other strangers you met that day? Or any day? For me what I remember is not normally the way people look or how they present themselves but how they impact my day.

Most adults have way too many concerns and problems to occupy their days to worry about the appearance of the people they pass in the street. And that is in no way trying to suggest that your appearance is in any way inappropriate or something you should have to worry about or that it should result in any comment at all. But normally it is only drunk people or people with way too much time on their hands who loiter around at bus stops and find 'a reason' to abuse innocent bystanders. The reaction you experienced is not one that all people have, but that most are too polite to express. What these youths expressed is not a general sentiment that all people you meet have. Most people will observe only how your behaviour impacts on their interactions with you. So they will probably see a kind, polite, articulate person with whom the random interactions we all have with our fellow human beings in daily life run smoothly. They will remember the positive interaction with you, not your presentation.

Please go for a walk today, you absolutely are entitled to being outside, enjoying a Sunday afternoon, just like everybody else. If you feel up to it smile at the people you pass in the street. Most of the time you will get a smile back, you may even end up having a nice little conversation with somebody. And you will remember the nice interactions you had, which will help you put the incident at the bus stop in perspective. Because these spotty, brainless thugs do not deserve to occupy your thoughts and do not deserve to influence your decision making in any way.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:33 AM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

The reason why they do this at all? It's not about you. It's about them. You just happened to be there.

And what is "it," exactly? Embarrassment. Negative attention. Kids their age are terrified of being ridiculed in front of others, of screwing up where all their friends can see, of being made fun of. To them, that's the worst that can possibly happen, is to be humiliated in front of their peers. And that risk is there anytime they're with their friends, which is a lot! So they spend a lot of effort trying to avoid getting embarrassed, and the most foolproof way to do it is to embarrass someone else first. Because if someone else is already the center of (negative) attention, then all eyes are on them, not you, and you've successfully deflected the potential embarrassment. In fact, other people in the group are likely to pile on, so that they don't get in the path of the laser beam of attention either. This compulsive need to deflect attention accounts for a lot of adolescent cruelty.

What you're seeing is a bunch of kids acting out of fear. It has not the slightest bit to do with you, because they're not trying to sink your ship. That's not the point. The real point is, they're trying to save themselves. They just don't know how to do it right yet.
posted by danceswithlight at 6:40 AM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

You were noticed. You've been noticed before. Not everyone gets to be noticed, certainly not me, I have a knack for disappearing into the background, usually only kings or queens are noticed. As a kind ruler, you should not ignore the calls from your people. Rather smile and nod, in a royal manner, say "Thank you, for your attention" and then go about your day, secure in the knowledge your subjects have dutifully recognized you, as they should.

In short, the world is crazy at times, I see no reason why you have play sanely with it. You might as well amuse yourself.

Also, Susan Boyle has a gorgeous voice and a warm and kind personality. There are worse people to be compared to.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:40 AM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

(There's a reason psychiatrists don't diagnose someone as a sociopath until they're 18 years old...)

"And you're an ignorant asshole. We've all got our crosses to bear."
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:45 AM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

You could steal their hat and kick 'em in the nads. Oh wait, no. Don't do that.

It hurts your feelings. So anything that tries to convey that it doesn't hurt your feelings is pretty hard to pull off. Anything that is biting or sarcastic back just reinforces to them that they got under your skin and kinda continues the (nasty) fun for them. I would consider just looking back and saying incredulously but sincerely 'did you just call me ugly?!?!? wow...ouch. thanks guys' and walk away with your head high.
posted by ian1977 at 6:56 AM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hi, I'm fat. And I like to ride my bike shirtless (it's hot down here!) Sometimes kids jeer. I smile, pump my fist in the air a la "yay me" and ride on.
posted by Tom-B at 6:58 AM on November 13, 2011 [14 favorites]

...and while I understand and empathize with the inclination to think of them as having warped souls that are less beautiful or defective...I think it is counterproductive. It is just kinda a sour grapes defense mechanism. I mean, they are people too, but they are acting like jerks. Dehumanising them because they dehumanised me that kinda misses the train entirely. It just reinforces the idea that there are monsters out there and you need to harden yourself to them. But of those youngins, I would gather that most of them actually are indeed good people with a soul just as beautiful as yours or mine or any mefite's. They are just young, dumb and full of...bees?
posted by ian1977 at 7:05 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

While I agree with all the "they're ugly on the inside" and "you're the better person" stuff, when a stranger says something mean to me, I feel mad about it all day if I don't get my dig in. Maybe this makes me petty, whatever. It certainly makes my life more entertaining.

Example: One time, a group of teenage boys were laughing and imitating the way I was half-running across the street to make a light. (I get it, I can't run, ok?) So I turned around, walked back, patiently waited until the light turned and they were ready to walk across, then walked across with them, making huge, exaggerated stupid-walk movements and silly faces. "What are you doing, freak?!" they asked. "I just wanted to walk across with you so everyone watching knows what great friends we are!"

In your situation, I probably would have said to the people: "Ooh, next time you should wait until there are more people around, so everyone can hear how clever you are!" (Then I probably would have waggled my butt at them in a jokingly seductive manner, but that part is optional.)
posted by phunniemee at 7:20 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to agree with ian1977. It's awfully hard to be the one always rising above. So while I have no better advice than what's been offered here, I want to reiterate, Kids are kids, hold your head high, try to match your outside to your inside (as someone above said, which may mean ramping up the superficial stuff, just for the confidence factor).
posted by thinkpiece at 7:33 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with the they're jerks and you should give their opinion as much weight as it deserves sentiment.

However, when faced with crappy behavior like this I am not always the best man I could be and I tend to say "I bet your mom is really proud of you when you act like this, huh?"
posted by phearlez at 7:36 AM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

An blogger-acquaintance of mine had this happen to her, and her response was absolutely fantastic. She was on a subway, and two young women were talking about her so she could hear it, calling her "disgusting". She turned to them and told them, "I might be fat, and not very beautiful to you, but your souls are probably the ugliest thing I’ve seen in my life."

Apparently the woman sitting next to them added, "She’s right you know, you should be ashamed of yourself." The hecklers were left on the subway unable to make eye contact with any of the passengers.

Taking the high road can be so terribly frustrating; actually calling people out on their hurtful, rude behavior might not be a bad idea if you feel safe and comfortable doing so.
posted by harujion at 7:41 AM on November 13, 2011 [10 favorites]

Last weekend as I walked past a group of young people at a bus stop

The unsolicited collective opinion of a group of young people at a bus stop is generally going to be a negative comment launched like a missile at a vulnerable subject. These things are said to reinforce the speaker's position in the group. A group of young people at a bus stop will also jeer at flowers, Einstein, reading, their mothers, Nelson Mandela, kittens, peace, any music that isn't what's on their iPods right now, and air.

Whereas any positive opinions held about you by a group of young people or anyone else at a bus stop are not likely to be spoken aloud. All of the people who see you every day and sometimes think things like "Hey, she's looking good today" are not actually going to call out to you across the street to tell you these things. You will not hear, "Hey, lady we see every day at the bus stop! Good hair! And no, we're not being sarcastic! That hair is attractive and yet no doubt quite easy to take care of! Good choice!"
posted by pracowity at 8:18 AM on November 13, 2011 [15 favorites]

If you're young and pretty, you get sexually agressive catcalls. If you are older, regardless of how you actually look, you will get this sort of casual verbal violence. You are being told that you, as a woman, have no worth, because you aren't pretty enough to fuck. They are reasserting their belief that the only value a woman has is how she looks.
It doesn't matter how you look. This is a power play, a way of putting you in your place.

So very true. If you were young and pretty, they'd still be saying something that's deliberately designed to make you feel like shit. They would just be using a different tactic. They want to put women down, period, whatsoever. It's not personal, it's not about your "ugly," they're just reminding you once again that men are superior to women and you should be crawling into a hole to die.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:47 AM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

I get this about once a year as well. On the bus. Walking down the street. Walking out of a store. It BLOWS. Usually I stop and stare the offender right in the eyes (all stoic-like) and tell him "Don't be an asshole", and then I hold the stare unblinkingly for a few seconds before moving on my way.

Only once has a guy called me on my challenge, by getting toe-to-toe with me. I didn't move an inch, and his friend eventually broke it off by telling him to 'leave that lady alone'. The friends rarely back-up the asshole for long. This approach is not for everyone or every situation (watch out for your spidey sense), but it's the only way I've ever been able to take back my power.

When I have walked away silently (in shame), it takes much longer to recover. This usually involves a day or two of self-loathing, followed by lots of positive self-talk and active, relentless squashing of negative thoughts. Have no mercy on the squashing front - the first moment you notice even a hint of a negative thought, don't allow yourself to finish it. Immediately replace that hint of a thought with some other subject. It's very tiring policing your every thought, but I've found I'm usually back to good after a few days of this.
posted by jenmakes at 8:48 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I first started attending a very traditional college as a non-traditional student I got a lot of flack from the cookie-cutter co-eds who abound on the campus. You know the type, they all dress the same, have the same hairstyle, wander in packs (men and women both), all range from ages 18-24, and think along the same lines. Me? I don't fit into their category of what a student should be. Old enough to be their mom, on the heavy side, not sytlish at all and of course that made me an open target for jeering.

My response is what it's always been since I hit my mid-thirties and realized I was too old to give a damn what other people think of me, especially cubs young enough to be my kids... "What are you, five? Grow up." And I walked away, every time. In my mind, only children cannot control their mouths. If they do not possess the self control to not insult someone, then they are not mature enough to form a proper opinion anyway. So, their opinion doesn't count.
posted by patheral at 9:06 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't worry about "dehumanizing" these creeps. Their actions dehumanized them, you did not. Some people are not nice. Some people are warped and intentionally cruel. Don't let anyone tell you it is your fault in any way if you think ill of them. They are the ones who behaved rottenly and it is not your responsibility to understand or forgive them. Ignore them and go out and have a nice day, and smile at all the decent people you meet who are not like these rude brats.
posted by mermayd at 9:53 AM on November 13, 2011

There is a lot of wonderful advice in here, a lot of good validation of you as a worthwhile human being who should not be intimidated into living less of your life because they don't know how to behave in public. I think you should soak it in, revel in it, and let it free you.

I would like to recommend, though, that you ignore the advice to respond verbally, physically, or any other way other than just going about your business. People are unpredictable. People who say things like that, particularly when in groups, are even more unpredictable. Terrible things occur to them as reasonable, as you've already witnessed. It doesn't take much to push some people over the edge into physical confrontation for seemingly no reason.

It makes me very sad and angry that this is the case, but I would be heartbroken if you were hurt just because you were trying to stick up for your humanity and right to exist. The likelihood may be low, but it's not nil.

Beyond that, though, yes, please take into yourself that they are simply deluded and rude. You don't deserve such treatment. Be kind to yourself. Let the anger boil itself off. Be.
posted by batmonkey at 10:08 AM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Just so you know, this has happened to me at 120 pounds, 180 pounds, and everywhere in between. There is no yardstick by which 20 year old, 120 pound me was ugly, which gives me confidence that fatarse me is also not ugly. My point is that you shouldn't take it as a factual statement of your looks, let alone your worth. I know it's REALLY hard, but if you can frame it (correctly) as people talking shit (not to mention treating women as public property and attempting to exercise power in public spaces) rather than a valid statement with any merit, it helps.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:10 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

It makes my stomach hurt just to think about your having been the target of such mindless cruelty. I'm sorry that happened. I like what DestinationUnknown wrote:

"But let's say you do look like Susan Boyle. Susan Boyle is not, to my eyes, ugly. Facially she's just plain, unremarkable. What she is, though, is massively frumpy. And that comes entirely from the choices she - or whoever - makes about her hair and clothes. If you have hair and clothes that are outdated or messy or scream "OOOLLD!" that is something you can fix. Not that you should have to. But if the dudes who say these things are simply looking for shallow, outside signifiers of "ugly" like ill-fitting clothes or a certain haircut, and if it's worth it to you to change these things so as to throw them off the scent, you can do that."

If you look around, you will see plenty of (by "normal" standards) people who are not particularly good looking, but they are attractive because they present themselves to the world in an attractive, confident package. Among them some very famous and many not famous at all, but walking around your city right now.

I think that if you want to burnish your look, perhaps by getting yourself a few articles of new clothing that make you feel great when you wear them, a new haircut, etc., you may just feel better about yourself and be better able to brush off the mindless, cruel comments of stoopid boys.
posted by Dolley at 10:25 AM on November 13, 2011

Nthing what everyone has said about internal beauty. As for how to deal with it: the best way not to let something like this affect you is to find something else to get caught up in. Don't give it any more mental and emotional attention than is needed, including trying to figure out how to feel about it or minimize your feelings about it or anything else at all to do with it. Just find something else to think about every time you find yourself dwelling on it. Pictures of cats on the internet, voronoi diagrams, baseball statistics, whatever.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 10:35 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

A guy I liked in high school* once told me I was ugly and I've never forgotten it. Only much later was it clear to me that he liked me back but didn't know what to do about it. And much much later I was able to internalize that I'm not ugly and that even if I were, it's what I accomplish and how I treat people that matters. I did not ask for my facial features, my shape, my coloring or my height. They say nothing about who I am. I have just as much right to get out in the world and interact as anyone else.

I think you'll feel better if you can get back out there walking around, and the longer you wait to walk the harder it will be. Walking will seem more anxious at first but over time, as you have neutral/positive walking experiences, your anxiety will likely fade. It might help to make your walks extra safe and positive for a while. Is there a friend who will go for a walk with you or meet you somewhere? Are there "safe" places you feel more comfortable walking? Can you change up your route? Plan a series of short walks, so that if you need to get home quickly you can?

Is there a way to add some positive things to your walk? Go past the deli where the owner always smiles and waves, along the park where the leaves are changing, past the yard with the friendly dog - whatever might lift your spirits.

Don't let some immature dorks keep you from doing what you like and having the life you want. If anyone has LESS of a right to be on the street, it's them. Their parents should ground them and make them do their homework and copy "Miss Manners" by hand until they learn to behave in public. You are doing nothing wrong. They are the ones in the wrong.

*He's now a perfectly decent, nice man who adores his family. Teenagers really are just kind of messed up. Some societies ignore kids until they are considered "ready" for interaction. I think you just have to ignore some teens as you would a name-calling toddler. Don't feed the trolls.
posted by bunderful at 10:36 AM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I laugh at them, and remind them I make so much more money than they do.
posted by oflinkey at 10:49 AM on November 13, 2011

This sounds like a lizard brain problem as much as anything else.

I could tell you that they are a bunch of kids, and are acting like a bunch of kids and mean ones at that, and their opinion is of no worth either in terms of the facts about how you actually look, or in the impact it should have on your life. I mean bluntly put, who cares what a bunch of mean kids think.

If they were adults, I'd wonder if they were projecting their own unhappiness outwards, but they're just mean kids doing this for reasons that have already been explained above. They may grow out of it. However, you must recognize it as primitive behaviour that no decent person would ever engage in. When people tell you it's beneath you to acknowledge, they are correct.

However, that doesn't mean that you've failed because you are hurt by it. We're social beings, and everybody is going to feel bad when others in their social world express hostility towards them. How it's expressed doesn't matter, it's the hostility that hurts. It makes us feel endangered and at risk of being driven out of the community or at least, of having our status lowered and of losing opportunities to survive. It's a long way from being catcalled to being an outcast, but Lizzie doesn't know that.

I'm concerned that this has happened to you only once a year and yet you are starting to be afraid to leave the house because of it, though. I think maybe this could be a therapy situation, not because you're wrong to feel bad about it (you aren't, as I said, anyone would) but because it's restricting your life.

Please understand that almost everybody has experiences like this. I was heckled constantly on the street right into my mid-twenties and sometimes later, if I wore certain things. I don't know if you thought this was somehow an unusual thing to happen, but it's not.

FWIW there are parts of London I used to avoid because of the peanut galleries I used to face when I was 20 or so; I practically got Vietnam flashbacks at the thought of going there again. I had occasion to visit a couple of those areas recently and instead of rotten tomatoes I got compliments and was, I kid you not, photographed numerous times. The change in other people's attitude is not because I was substantially uglier in my 20s than I am now. It's partly because I've always had an interest in fashion styling and I've gotten better and better at it over the years; but mostly it's because a demoralized woman in her 20s has "VULNERABLE PERSON/EASY TARGET/KICK ME" flashing in a giant neon sign over her head.

Because I'd become more kick-ass in my internal attitude over the years, I didn't have some kind of self-worth epiphany as a result of getting these compliments, I just took them as feedback about my styling skills and the irony that I'd been getting compliments where previously I'd been heckled only registered the next day. I LOL'd, but I didn't take any of it to heart. I'm better than that. I was better than that when I was getting heckled, and now that I'm getting compliments I am still - in the most appreciative possible way - better than that. I would be better than that if I were walking around in a garbage bag, too.

I'd suggest experimenting with your wardrobe a bit if I thought that was what would help, and maybe it will be fun for you at a later stage. But right now I think you maybe need to fully internalize that you are wonderfully and fearfully made and you were not put on this earth to be the target of someone else's ridicule. I mean, saying something like that to you just automatically makes them the ugly ones. It just does.
posted by tel3path at 11:43 AM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh! Go watch Steve Martin's movie Roxanne! He eviscerated a guy in a bar who picks on his long nose, by coming up with 20 smarter put downs (of his own nose) than the guy had used. The movie is a remake of Cyrano de Bergerac and is a funny, good-hearted movie.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:39 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

In terms of a symbolic action for yourself, you could post your story on Hollaback and/or Microaggressions.

Both are sites where you can post stories of street harassment (Hollaback is specifically for this; Microaggressions includes all kinds of non-physical aggressive behavior) and just reading some of the stories submitted there might make you feel...well, less alone if not exactly better.
posted by camyram at 1:31 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have had something similar happen, how did you react?

"Wow, those guys are pig-ignorant assholes. Anything they say is meaningless."

What could I do now to help myself be less affected by this?

Stop thinking about this. The opinions of idiots are worth less than nothing, and you should actively resist letting them take up your thought space. That is, IMO, better than the alternatives, both in the moment, being:
1. physical violence (a completely disproportionate and unacceptable response),
2. verbal response (i.e., insulting them, which merely brings you down to their level of stupidity).

You know that you are awesome. Why should you care if some punks on the street don't?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:23 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

The fact that some snotty little dicks were trying to impress their snotty little friends with manufactured bravado (as much as that term can be applied to insulting a someone unlikely to deck them) has nothing to do with you! You were just unfortunate enough to wander into their sphere of snottiness. If not you, it would have been the next absolutely normal, non-threatening human being to come along.
posted by bunji at 3:51 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a fat woman with a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. I am awesome. About two years ago I was walking along the street with my husband and a friend, on our way to see Daniel Kitson do a stand up show in some godforsaken corner of London. As we trudged along the pavement, I became aware that a youth of indeterminate age (perhaps 16-24) was walking close behind me, talking loudly into his mobile phone. I paid no attention to what he was saying until I suddenly realised he was complaining to his absent friend, at length, about the huge, fat ugly, disgusting bitch in his way.

Now, what I did next is not something I have ever done before or since, and I do not recommend it as a course of action. But in that moment, I was seized with such powerful rage and righteous indignation that I whirled around, roaring like Conan the Barbarian. He was only a few feet behind me, but I ran at him with my teeth bared and my fists in the air, roaring 'FUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCKKKKK YOU!!!!'. I was flooded with adrenaline and must have looked absolutely terrifying, because the scrawny little fuck just about shat his pants. He went white, his mouth dropped open, and he sprinted in the other direction. It was absolutely amazing. I chased him to the end of the block and then fell to my knees, laughing euphorically.

Now, I'm usually a pacifist. I look for non-combatative, collaborative, win-win solutions. I am all about de-escalation. I would not recommend this approach in general, and particularly not if confronted by a group. But I just want you to know that you absolutely do not need to stay indoors or hide from the world. The incident you describe says nothing—nothing—about you, and everything about those kids. Those kids are miserable and full of anger. They are, themselves, terrified of being 'ugly'. They fire themselves off like weapons at random strangers, and although it sucks that you wandered into their line of fire, you were not in any way deserving of their abuse. You rock.

Personally, I think Susan Boyle is a perfectly pleasant-looking human being. I just wrote and deleted a paragraph about why she's fine, and why she's the subject of so much abusive commentary about her appearance, but actually, none of that matters. There is huge diversity when it comes to human appearance. Western media has decided that only a very small collection of physical attributes are considered acceptable, and the scope is much smaller for women than for men. Who gives a shit? You look how you look. I'd bet good money that, unless you've had acid thrown into your face or had your jaw bone blown off in a war—or even if you have—you're some sort of beautiful. You have one life, and it's in this body. Are you going to spend it inside, worried about other people's opinions? You need to get outside and be seen by people. You need to live in the sunlight.
posted by hot soup girl at 3:53 PM on November 13, 2011 [24 favorites]

I am an unconventional looking fat chick. I have purple hair. I wear dramatic eye makeup. I wear a cloak instead of a coat. I have a fondness for black leather jeans and feathers in my hair. Did I mention I'm a fat chick? I am.

Since I'm not "normal" looking, plenty of people feel free to comment on the size of my ass, what I cover it with, and everything in between. I have learned that a wink and a gigantic beaming smile and a wave throws them completely off guard and often shuts them right the hell up.

It can be hard to learn to be comfortable in your own skin. But you can do it, and it's the best present you'll ever give yourself. Just be your own awesomeness.
posted by MissySedai at 3:54 PM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Mean people suck. Finding validation in others (such as you are doing here) is my favorite way to paint over the stains they leave on our souls. **Sending a HUG**

I'm sorry. I hope you feel better soon. Do your best not to listen to idiots, & come back for more hugs when you need them.
posted by Ys at 5:00 PM on November 13, 2011

A few years back, some fool (happened to be teenaged, male, and with a few other boys) got in my face and yelled "you're stupid!" as I was waiting to board a train he was disembarking from. Despite the fact that this kid obviously knew nothing about me, I rode home feeling shamed and depressed, and it stuck with me for a day or two afterwards. What helped me was imagining myself as a bystander on that train, watching some loudmouth verbally accost a quiet, bookbag-carrying female. Somehow, this visualization really helped me understand that it really wasn't about me.
posted by dreamphone at 5:10 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you have had something similar happen, how did you react? Is there a best way? What could I do now to help myself be less affected by this? I'm thinking of some sort of symbolic action maybe.

These two incidents happened while in elementary and middle school, but I still thought I'd share them:
-In high school (either grade 9 or 10), this one kid in my science class would always call me out in front of the rest of the classroom by making fun of my appearance. I don't remember much of what he said except for one time when he called me an alien and some other girl told him to stop, but I think he wanted attention more than anything else. Yet, each day I would be made fun of in the exact same science classroom because of my appearance or decision to remain quiet despite his behaviour.
-I also remember another time when I was walking past a classmate and his friends; the classmate literally threw a shoe at me for absolutely not reason but just because he wanted to.
-I have absolutely no idea how I reacted to these incidents

There are a lot of ignorant people out there and it's a shame, but it's never about the person that is made to feel humiliated, but rather the person that does the humiliating because they desire a sense of power and confidence which they lack.

The best thing to do is laugh at other people's stupidity and pity them because they are nowhere as near as wonderful as you are. I really like dreamphone's suggestion of trying to imagine this happen from someone else's perspective. If you do this, then you will realize that nobody likes ignorant people and they most likely didn't find what happened funny, but rather, appalling because it's disgusting to think of other people being treated differently because of their appearance.

As others have stated, people call out others based on their appearance because they want attention and/or because of their own insecurities. I think you handled it in a very sophisticated manner and that takes a lot of courage to even say anything at all. In the future I would suggest saying something that has even more of a stronger impact than a polite message and when you say those words, make sure that you exude confidence so that way the ignorant person can feel pathetic and ashamed for their cruel actions (assuming that they have feelings).
posted by sincerely-s at 10:27 PM on November 13, 2011

Drat, my previous post never made it, so I'll try again, but shorter:

Agreed with those who point out you're a more beautiful person than those twerps. But I'd caution against the posts who say you should "pity" them or that they're "beneath your contempt." Condescension may help you avert the hurt in the short term, but it's not a trait you want to cultivate.

Compassion looks a lot like pity, but with the intention to help instead of belittle. Their jerkiness is a liability to both them and their fellow humans. Whatever response you muster (and there are some funny / clever / appropriately scolding ones in this thread), see if you can hold on to the intention to free both yourself and them from pain. That's something you can feel good about.

I'm sorry you had to deal with this, and wish you well.
posted by Talisman at 11:26 PM on November 13, 2011

There were posts on many feminists' blogs and on twitter this past week about the negative comments that are left by trolls -- who never met any of writers, might not have even seen pictures of them, but were frantically commenting perfectly vile things all the way from name-calling up to and including death threats, giving address and personal details in order to call for others to stalk and harass the women writers. It's the ideas they are writing about that angers these men but the insults are aimed at their gender, not at their logic.

This is the kind of name calling that targeted you for simply existing while female. It sucks and it is part of a lifelong immersion in a sexist society. The only thing that helps, I believe, is to see it very clearly and realize these boys are practicing to become men in a patriarchal society. They suffer from it differently but just as seriously as women do.

They have to live with the hierarchy of power and two of the first steps they learn are demeaning women and fighting for dominance among themselves. All of them can score an easy point by embarrassing a girl who is compliant with all the beauty standards by calling her out for being sexually attractive or humiliating a girl who doesn't perfectly practice femininity by calling her names for not being sexually attractive -- the boys can all do this even if they are too low in the pecking order to ever make a run at alpha male status. But don't shed tears because they called you that derogatory name, they've got derogatory names for all the girls. They hurt all of us--and themselves.

It's something they can do to get pack approval so they do it. It's sickening and extremely sad to think those poor kids are going to grow up and raise sons who demean women this way and daughters who are demeaned by another generation of boys trapped in the system.

It's not about you. They're trying to be men and they have too many piss-poor role models, most of them, and too few good ones.
posted by Anitanola at 2:04 AM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I know this documentary comes from the opposite angle, but it is made by a woman who is fed up with comments from strangers on the street. Her confrontational style, (together with camera and microphone) make those ballsy strangers pretty uncomfortable. It makes for interesting viewing.
posted by guy72277 at 4:50 AM on November 14, 2011

I just want to echo that this is entirely to do with power and not your appearance. When this happens (and ridiculously it happens all the time) it's usually men doing it to women. It's the same power-dynamic as a man cat-calling a woman; he knows it isn't going to lead to a date and that's not why he's doing it. He's asserting very clearly that he the power and control in the situation and the woman does not. He's reducing the woman to a (sexual) object. If other men are around then there's the added bonus of also asserting his masculinity.

It is the same thing with people calling you ugly. It's reduced your worth to what you look like, reduced you to a sexual object as well (by declaring your lack of sexual appeal) and completely degraded you. Of course you feel bad.

When strangers objectify me like this, I usually just ignore it. I don't often have the energy to do anything else. You can holler back sometimes though and that can help you feel better but it isn't likely to have any impact on the strangers.

Think about why you feel badly. Is it because of your appearance now or is it because someone else was able to bully you and put you down? If it's your appearance, you need to realise that whatever they said really had little to do with what you look like. It's possible that they really don't find you attractive but not everyone will, some people will, and that's not the point anyway. This is not about what you look like. You are just as much a person as anyone else and everyone is just as entitled to go out in public--not just the most beautiful people.

This happens to women all the time and because this sort of beauty objectification is so terribly ingrained in our culture it can be really hard to even articulate why it feels so horrible to be on the receiving end of it or why it can affect you so much. If you really want to change how you think about it read some feminist literature. Instead of shame you'll likely feel anger, though.
posted by Polychrome at 7:51 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's almost entirely young people who have done this in my experience. I remind myself that teenagers' brains are not done cooking. Accordingly, I completely discount their opinions. Adolescent boys especially are the least ... cooked.
The last section to connect is the frontal lobe, responsible for cognitive processes such as reasoning, planning, and judgment. Normally this mental merger is not completed until somewhere between ages 25 and 30—much later than these two neurologists were taught in medical school."
posted by desjardins at 9:55 AM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Come to my neighborhood and I'll call out nice things? Seriously, I think you just have to keep telling yourself that you are above this until you can believe it.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:03 PM on November 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses. I really appreciate the time, thought and candour you put into answering. All the contexts you've put around this have helped, as have the stories about your own experiences. Something similar happened a few days after I posted and in a way that helps too, seeing it as more of a pattern rather than a random event. The prompts to start thinking of it in terms of feminist theory were particularly useful.
posted by toenail at 5:54 PM on November 18, 2011

Response by poster: The other thing I meant to say, in case it's useful to others, that something else that's helped has been realising the way in which this incident brought up memories of other pain from the past - I don't wat to sound too emotional about this but becoming aware of the way I was packing in old unresolved pain to this reaction made me able to treat it more calmly.
posted by toenail at 6:04 PM on November 18, 2011

Wow. Do you need another hug? 'Cause they're free. I'm really sorry people are like that for you. I know how rotten I feel when people say rotten things about my hat, let alone me. Do try and keep in mind though: we meet so many kind & generous people as we go through our days. It's just that the unkind & unpleasant ones make so much more of a "splash." Try to keep the focus on the good people you come across. It's hard some days, but they are so much more worthy of your time & thoughts.
posted by Ys at 5:48 PM on November 19, 2011

For what it's worth, Angela Merkel recently got the same treatment from that creep Berlusconi. Note that her economy is thriving and his is a shambles. Of course he wanted to find a way to put her down; he's deeply ashamed.

I like MissySedai's response: a wave and a beaming smile. Tells them they didn't get away with a thing, but doesn't lower you to their level or mess with your heart rate. There will be days when you don't feel up to it, but it's a great tactic when it works.

I'm glad you're thinking hard about this and taking care of yourself. I have a couple of friends who still haven't "processed" poison like this from their teenage years, and it continues to sour their adult lives. It doesn't sound like you're going to let that happen to you.
posted by tangerine at 12:59 PM on November 22, 2011

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