I want to be a beauty
May 14, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

How do I not let comments about my appearance affect me so much?

I'm female, early 30's, and comments about my appearance really affect me a lot. Lately I've been feeling pretty good about how I look- in fact just yesterday I was feeling on top of the world, very attractive, etc. I've developed a frequent exercise habit in the last year and a half, notice men "checking me out", and just yesterday was thinking I look pretty.

Then today, a random guy from the internet saw some photos I put up (one in which I thought was especially flattering) and said, when I asked him what he thought, "I can accept it, even though you're not a beauty". (context: he added me on an instant messenger service, he was looking for sex, basically. I don't think he was "negging" as I'm in a foreign country and don't think people do that here, but i have no idea). The fact that he was looking to have sex so could have easily lied and told me I was pretty leads me to believe he was telling the truth. I'm pretty sure he added me because I am foreign, hence seen as "easy" by locals.

So, I felt extremely hurt. I really am not a shallow person in other areas but I somehow can't shake the feeling that I want everyone to think I am pretty; I want to be "objectively pretty". I feel really depressed and hurt if someone says something negative about my appearance. Similarly, if someone gives me a compliment, I get really happy.

How do I stop this? Where does it come from? Do other women feel the same way? I'd really appreciate some tips :(
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (33 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, number one, why do you care what some random stranger looking for sex on IM thinks?

As women we're defined by our looks. I don't know any woman who's completely comfortable in her own skin. I dress in cute clothes, I put make up on, I do my hair, I diet and I exercise. Of course I want people to think I look nice.

At the end of the day though, you have to understand that you can't appeal to everyone all the time, and you can't care what other people think about you.

One thing I do is remind myself that what I perceive as my flaws are actually strengths. For examply, my big legs. I'd love to have great gams, but it's not in my genetic cards. When I catch that internal dialogue "Damn, your thighs are HUGE!" I think about people who have suffered amputations, and say, "True, but I have two of them and they carry me where I want to go."

I think that you might benefit from some therapy, group therapy with other women would be good. Another thing you might do is when you're at the gym, look around. Very few women are perfect, and although our bodies may be fit, we're not models.

Something to remember, some of the most beautiful women in the world have had the worst, most crippling relationships. Beauty doesn't guarantee happiness.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:36 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

If that negging was anymore textbook, it would be quoted without citation in Pick Up Artistry 101 term paper.
posted by griphus at 9:36 AM on May 14, 2012 [48 favorites]

Firstly, are you sure he wasn't joking? I know the only context I'd say that would be in sarcasm - especially if I was trying to sleep with you!

Secondly, if you really need this kind of affirmation to feel good about yourself (not getting into that, it's not your question) then tomorrow, put your best shoes on and a slinky dress, walk past a building site, and toss your hair. If a wolf whistle or two can't balance out the throwaway comment of some internet weirdo, I don't know what can :)

I got wolf whistled by a fire engine full of firemen once. Best day of my life.
posted by greenish at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

That comment from a random internet guy means nothing. Do you know him? Do you know his taste is what the average person would see as attractive? Maybe he was hoping you'd look way "worse", and simply has a very unusual taste. You work out - maybe he's a fat admirer?

And really, a man looking for sex and telling a - presumably not uninclined - woman "you're not a beauty" screams "trolling" to me. But that's just my opinion.

In general, come to terms with the fact that it is not possible to be attractive to everyone.
posted by MinusCelsius at 9:38 AM on May 14, 2012

he added me on an instant messenger service, he was looking for sex, basically. I don't think he was "negging"

Yes, he was negging.

How do I stop this?

I know what your question really is, and I don't mean to be trite or to poke on your bruises. I surely don't know what the need for any sort of validation on any front stems from; and beauty and the draws of physical magnetism are, in my opinion, one of the more intoxicating things in life.

But a very very concrete step you could take, is not looking for validation of your image on the internet. Find it IRL where you can have a conversation with body language, and maybe serve up some validation of your own. Birds and bees. There's birds, and there's bees. All the best.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:40 AM on May 14, 2012

when I asked him what he thought,

Stop doing that.

Life is improved by not asking random assholes on the internet what they think of you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2012 [43 favorites]

My take is that he is an ass whether he actually meant it or not. I mean, if he really believed that, only an ass would say it. If he didn't mean it, who knows or cares what the reason is? Still an ass. And for that reason, I don't think there's any more reason to believe he did objectively think that about your picture, than that he did not objectively think that but for some asinine/"psychological"/macho/"jerks get the girls" idiot reason, he said it anyway.

However, more generally I totally understand your feelings. I think the best thing to do is surround yourself with friends who will be honest and not jerkfaces, as much as you can.
posted by Glinn at 9:44 AM on May 14, 2012

Getting over the need to have strangers think you're pretty and sexy is one of the most important tasks of one's young adulthood, because every woman will need it later in life when the majority of strangers think she looks like a nice grandma, not like a hot number.

This is something I struggled with a lot, because my mum and my aunt were pretty appearance-obsessed (and both very attractive), and my dad definitely judged women by their appearance and made no secret about it. So my self-worth was really tied to what strangers thought of my looks.

That's abdicating a lot of power to people you don't know, isn't it? Why do that?

There are a couple of self-help books out there on this topic. I remember this one as being fairly good.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:47 AM on May 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

Also, there is nobody on Earth that everyone thinks is pretty. My husband finds most of the current celebrated beauties really bland-looking (though he thinks Emma Stone and Halle Berry are both adorable) and doesn't "get" why, say, Gwyneth Paltrow or Zooey Deschanel or Kim Kardashian are A Thing. My brother thinks Emma Stone is odd-looking, but thinks Kim Kardashian would be super-hot if she didn't have such an annoying public persona. My friend J. thinks Gwyneth Paltrow is the most beautiful woman in the world, except maybe for Sarah Polley. My friend D. has an immense crush on Queen Latifah.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:50 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, I didn't mean to be cryptic with ye olde fashioned mety-phore. What I was trying to say is:

In life, there are birds and bees. Birds are flirty and check each other out and put up all sorts of gorgeous and fantastic displays to that end, but when all is said and done, they mate and nest and snuggle and vomit everything they've got into their young.

Bees are drone-y and borg-like, zoom from one thing to another superfast, putting every effort toward one super ALPHA TOP GAL queen who is omg the best.

To me, sounds though, regardless of location, he is a bee and you are a bird.

Internet adds a layer of weird on everything. If you want to differentiate what is flying around in your airspace, use all your sensors in meatspace.

posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:58 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't ask strangers what they think of your looks, not on the Internet, not in person. Don't assume that someone who makes negative comments about your appearance has a good or legitimate reason for doing so. In general, there is never a good or legitimate reason for telling another human being, "You're not beautiful." A person who says that is saying much more about himself (his maturity, his motives, his basic social skills) than about the person he claims to be assessing.

Some people will consider you beautiful, and others won't. People who consider you beautiful will, in all likelihood, make that clear to you without your asking. There may be some aspect of your personality, such as shyness, over-seriousness, or emotional distance, that makes certain people less likely to compliment you--and, more importantly, less likely to pursue you, flirt with you, or ask you out. That's kind of another question, though.

Keep looking in the mirror and finding things to appreciate. Also, spend some time thinking about what makes you special and attractive besides your looks. Even people who don't find you drop dead gorgeous will admire your confidence if you find a way to value yourself inside and out. I know that sounds trite, I can't think of a more eloquent way to phrase it--but it's definitely something I've found to be true in my own life.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:08 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was a very pretty girl and young woman. Now that I am over 50, I am not. I might as well be invisible as far as favorable notice goes; when I am noticed it is not with approval for my looks. In most ways it's a relief. Eventually every woman who lives long enough will experience this. I have a feeling it's easier for the ones who were never over-rewarded for being objectively beautiful. It is such a powerful feeling to be desirable. It's almost like a drug.

Unfortunately, as women, our looks are what society rewards us for. Society at large doesn't care if you kick small animals and cheat on your taxes, as long as you're conventionally attractive.

When I was younger I pretty much took it for granted that I would be looked at with pleasure; what I wanted was to be appreciated for more than my looks.

Here's what you need to do: appreciate yourself for qualities that are not looks-related. If you can't think of any, develop some. Be a hard worker, a generous friend, a staunch ally to the oppressed, an inspired creator, an expert on something, unfailingly kind to strangers, things like that. You cannot help how you look, for the most part; it is something you were born with. You didn't do anything (or not much) to earn it. People who judge your worth by the way you look - good or bad - are shallow and not worth listening to.

You are not your looks. You are the whole package. I'm not going to tell you insults to your looks will ever be something you can just brush off, but you can stop basing your self-worth on them. It's not your job to be beautiful in order to please random men. It IS your job to be someone you like and are proud of.
posted by caryatid at 10:11 AM on May 14, 2012 [24 favorites]

This isn't exactly the answer to your questions, but this quote has surfaced in my mind time and again since I first saw it last month... here is the source... I don't know if there is any further attribution.

“We do not owe prettiness to anyone. Prettiness is the not the rent we pay for occupying a space marked female.”

This isn't to say that you shouldn't want to feel pretty. But there is no universal definition or measure of prettiness, so the only person that really gets to make that decision of whether you are pretty or not is you.
posted by kimdog at 10:18 AM on May 14, 2012 [21 favorites]

Find ways to admire Yourself. Seek validation from Yourself, instead of internet jerks. Keep up that exercise routine, make goals, and meet them. There is nothing better for feeling hotter than simultaneously feeling hot and badass. Make other goals for yourself that have nothing to do with your looks or body - tackle a challenging book, learn a skill, or endeavor to create something. Then do that thing and feel Really Good about it.

These are basic rules for self-esteem, but they've also helped me not care so much about my own looks, because I'm getting esteem from within instead of outside of me.
posted by ldthomps at 10:21 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are not going to be everybody's idea of a beauty. Don't believe me then look up the poll on Yahoo where many men found Jennifer Anniston beautiful than Jolie. Now THAT is surprising ;). The point is, beauty depends on many things (including science). So drop that baggage you are carrying with you and stop worrying about it. If you look in the mirror, I bet you will agree that you are not ugly right? Beauty is like a continuum, it is not a single point. You could be somewhere in that range but who is to decide where you sit on that range? You can walk on the street and ask 2 random guys if you are beautiful, the answers most likely will be one may say yes and one may say no. Two extremes.

Beauty is subjective. No one person can be the final answer on whether you are beautiful or now. So get over it. It is really not worth stressing about. Enjoy who you are and go from there. Life is tooo short for all this BS that society heaps on us. Shake your butt like puppies do when they get out of the water, without a care in the world :) Life is THAT good!
posted by pakora1 at 10:37 AM on May 14, 2012

I've developed a frequent exercise habit in the last year and a half, notice men "checking me out", and just yesterday was thinking I look pretty.

It sounds like you ARE pretty, and you ARE getting that validation. Why let one guy who hasn't even seen you in real life tell you what to think about yourself? That guy was a dick. That was a cruel thing to say to anyone. It's normal to feel hurt when someone says something like that to you.
Think about it. He's a nasty, insecure person who lacks empathy. Would someone truly confident in themselves stoop to insulting a random woman on the internet to get laid? Why do you care what he thinks? He doesn't even know how to be nice to people. Don't get angry at yourself when you should be angry at him.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:02 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's another thing, though. Men "checking you out," catcalling you, etc., really isn't a compliment, and it's a poor place to find self-validation. Finding validation that you're an attractive woman in your own self-assessment and in the feedback from people you actually know and care about, not from strangers' ogling, is infinitely more rewarding. Men catcall women in burqas; it's not about them perceiving someone's beauty on an aesthetic level, it's about them exercising their privilege to objectify women.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:19 AM on May 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

So you want to feel "objectively pretty", but you don't want to care whether others say you're pretty? What helps me square that circle is ... make-up. Slightly sarcastic make-up.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:25 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Another thought: I don't think it's entirely possible to get out of wanting to be pretty, if that is the way you've been your whole life. Sometimes it's easier to change your environment than it is to change yourself. Hang out with people who aren't vain and don't spend much time thinking about anyone's appearance. Eventually you'll find their attitude rubbing off on you.
posted by rhythm and booze at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

And to add to what rhythm and booze suggested, don't read fashion or "women's" magazines!
posted by valeries at 11:40 AM on May 14, 2012

ya, i wanted to mention too how photoshop has infected the mass-media eye.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:45 AM on May 14, 2012

Why do you want to be a beauty? I mean, really, ask yourself this, it's not a rhetorical question.

I think that standards don't help anyone; I'd ask the same if you said you wanted to be smart, or creative, or anything not entirely under your control. Wanting to be fit is good 'cause you can be fit. But beautiful is a) in the eye of the beholder; b) down to genetics unless you want to pay a lot of money, and even then it's not a guarantee. Then there's things like beauty going away, the 'right person' liking you the way you are, and finally the fact that average men aren't the best judges of ... most things, but aesthetics in particular.

I want to differentiate between 'beauty' and 'sexiness'. Beauty is just your bone structure and coloring (which can be played with, altered with make-up, etc). Sexiness is that, but more importantly playfulness, confidence, flirtiness, a sort of awareness of your sexual self you learn to project. Even then, even if you're super-sexy, some people won't agree. And then you have to deal with age-ism as a woman, so after 40 you may be sexy, but many men will objectify you as a cougar or ignore you as a sexual being by default. Is that what you want?

It used to be that beauty gave women power and attention, and made up for the inherent power imbalance in society. But now that's not the only way. Men will still give you attention, but it's usually not the type you'd want, now that they've often been deprogrammed from the old 'chivalric' ways, so just their crudeness is what you often get. Who knows what that man wanted? Maybe he wanted someone of a different coloring, which you can't help, or huge lips, or different breasts, but whatever it is, it's kind of meaningless 'cause the next man may want the opposite. The thing to understand is that for women, confidence means thinking you're attractive, but for men, confidence is (in part) being able to overlook women's 'power' of attractiveness and dominate them by their manhood (usually just in attitude). This isn't as crazy as it sounds; there's a reason that women all over like men who're in 'control' of themselves, their lives, even if they're emotional or expressive. Control isn't 'negging'-- it's much deeper and rooted in the old traditional gender roles. Control means keeping you from gaining too much confidence, or rather down-playing their loss of control, inherent in wanting you. This stems from insecurity and fear-- any semi-macho or 'manly' man basically tends to be afraid that wanting a women gives over control over his whole self. She can then lead him around by his penis and/or force him to get married, etc.

It's interesting 'cause I think this dynamic applies equally to men who compliment and who put women down before sleeping with them. Complimenting means that they're exerting control by manipulating a woman into bed (at the most base level). Criticizing means they're exerting control by weakening the woman's faith in other men's attraction and thus manipulating her into bed. Note, I'm not talking about how all men are evil and so on-- I'm saying these are social gender-role related traditions which are hard to overcome for masculine-identified males. This doesn't make them slave to this ideas or all alike or actually followers of some American movement, but it does mean that your average masculine man cannot deal calmly or maturely with a woman's appearance, one way or another. If you're interested in feminism or in thinking about this further, I've heard one book to start with is Wolf's 'The Beauty Myth'.
posted by reenka at 12:12 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

You know, I never thought the answer "it doesn't matter, he's an arsehole" was very satisfying. I like to know why someone has chosen to be an arsehole in that specific way.

But in this case, it doesn't matter and he is an arsehole.
posted by tel3path at 1:24 PM on May 14, 2012

I occasionally succumb to the urge to ask people how I look (hoping/expecting them to say I look pretty/young/hot/whatever). No good ever comes of it! Either they say you look great and you can think, "Oh, they just know that was what I wanted them to say," or they say you look bad, or they don't know what to say and then you feel bad for making them uncomfortable.

Anyway, I've gotten pretty good at laughing at myself when I do this, in a sort of "Well, I walked right into that one," way. I have *not* stopped asking people how I look, because I am human, and I guess I am kind of appearance-conscious, and I want to hear that I look good.

And if I *don't* ask and someone says something about my appearance that I don't want to hear? Well, I just laugh at *them*. Because really, what the hell? Who does that?
posted by mskyle at 1:51 PM on May 14, 2012

Oh, so, in terms of practical advice: maybe rather than trying to stop *wanting* to be "objectively beautiful" you can just recognize that although you would like that, it's not the most important thing in the world. Just downplay it. Don't feel bad for feeling that way when you do feel that way, but try to *avoid* feeling that way, and that includes putting yourself in situations where you are likely to feel that way (e.g. inviting people to comment on your appearance).
posted by mskyle at 1:55 PM on May 14, 2012

Whenever you look at yourself in the mirror, give yourself a few verbal affirmations about your appearance until you honestly, truly convince yourself that you feel/are/will remain beautiful inside and out. If you do this long enough, I promise that you'll eventually develop enough self-confidence to ignore comments made by insincere players and random bimbos.
posted by lotusmish at 3:30 PM on May 14, 2012

Seek out female heroes who are plain, or who are celebrated for something other than their appearance.(It's depressing how hard such women are to find, at least in the venue of popular culture.)
posted by gentian at 3:51 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Eleanor Roosevelt and Marie Curie are two great women who self-described as plain.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:07 PM on May 14, 2012

Don't listen to your jerk brain!

Seriously, though. Look any photo of a woman posted on your typical high-traffic website. No matter how pretty, smart, or successful she is, someone out there is criticizing her looks, or calling her a slut, or both. Even actresses, models, and other professionally pretty people get those comments. "Objectively pretty" does not protect you from mean comments.

Yes, all societies value beauty in women, and it doesn't make you a bad or weak person to be affected by that. However, a) "beauty" means different things to different cultures; and b) the people who love you think you're beautiful, because the things they like about you lend a halo effect to how they "see" you. Unless they're paying you to be pretty, the fact that one person who doesn't even know you thinks you're "not a beauty" is pure noise.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:44 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, this happens to other women! I rarely think twice when someone compliments my looks, beyond just being like 'oh that's nice,' and then moving on...but I can list the exact times in my life when someone has called me ugly. And I had it happen once in an online exchange, in a super nasty way - 'u ugly bitch' was the exact wording - and I always think of that as being truthful because, why would he lie? It's absurd, because why should a handful of rude people's comments count more than all the nice comments?

I think lots of people made great points about this guy here, but here is what I'm thinking:
Option 1: He was speaking truthfully. Well, that's nice. Now you know he's a douche (because who would say that to a complete stranger??) and don't have to try to date him/be his buddy/ever contact him again. But his opinion shouldn't count more than all the other people who do think you're pretty. Plus, like others have said, this stuff is so subjective, and you just won't ever find a person who everyone finds good looking.
Option 2: He was not speaking truthfully. He could be negging (it totally sounds like it) or he could be kidding (nope, not funny). Either way, you also know you don't need to date this guy/be his buddy/ever contact him again. Done and done.

(Also, like it's been said above - don't ask strangers what they think of your looks! Their opinions don't count. You wouldn't ask them what they think of your intelligence, or sense of humor, right? Because who cares? Maybe try to lump it in with that, in terms of level of absurdity.)
posted by violetish at 10:17 PM on May 14, 2012

If somebody else came to you and described the same chain of events, but happening to them, you'd say [a] negger [b] fuck him [c] no, seriously, fuck that guy. Be a critical friend for yourself.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:38 AM on May 15, 2012

Stop posting pictures of yourself on random websites and allowing random people to message you about them.
posted by radioamy at 7:29 AM on May 15, 2012

PUA tactics are really popular in many countries, depressingly- the gurus are good marketers. I've encountered it a lot with men from the former USSR. So it's absolutely possible this guy was reading from a textbook. It sounds like classic negging.
posted by pickingupsticks at 11:20 AM on May 15, 2012

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