Beauty Privilege?
August 28, 2012 9:41 PM   Subscribe

Is woman's value really only physical?

Let me preface my extended explanation by saying that I am going to go out on a limb, and speak uncensored because I am literally inviting you all to change my mind about this. I know it's going to come off as super shallow so please before answering know that this is only one aspect to my personality but it is weighing heavily on me this 35th yer of my life and I need some perspective.

I am not beautiful, I have been told I am attractive but I have never been the kind of woman someone would run up to in the street, or ask out spontaneously. I am also very direct, and don't always act in accordance with stereotypical female traits. I am not delicate, my voice is husky etc....I also weigh about 160 lbs am 5'7. Not fat, but not fit, if you know what I mean.

I feel and have always felt like a second class citizen because of the way I look. I don't feel like I am attractive in any way. I know it's supposed to come from within, and believe me I know I have many beautiful attributes. I just feel like the world for women is about the physical, and no matter what we do it all comes down to that in the end. The fact that I rarely turn a head, and that I have never been pursued really bothers me to the point where I am secretly considering plastic surgery. I can't stand feeling this way and need some perspective. Why do men seem to treasure and prize women who are beautiful who have shitty personalities. I work with a woman who is the biggest asshole I have EVER met yet that seems meaningless to men. She attracts plenty of douchebags, don't get me wrong, but she also attracts good men who can't seem to see past the physical.

I will go out in the world by myself and have doors slammed in my face, get bumped into, feel invisible.... I have had friends boyfriends act disgusted when I have mentioned my sex life (or shown disgust to the girlfriends) and I frequently socialize with men that act like talking to me is an obstacle to getting to one of the five beautiful women in the vicinity. I literally have to charm the shit out of them to keep them in the conversation (even though I often could give a shit and am only looking to cure boredom in talking to someone). Does anyone relate with this?

Tell me what the world is really like? Is it just my insane brain that sees it this way or is that how it is? I am really curious about some perspective from some lesbians that might be reading this and how they perceive the importance of beauty.

Anything!! Help!!
posted by thelastgirl to Society & Culture (58 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

Here's the thing: society does place more value on appearance for women than for men, that is an unavoidable fact. And I think many women can identify with sometimes feeling like their appearance is the only thing that matters to other people.

But. I have to say that I do think some of this is a reflection of your own feelings about your appearance and your worth as a person, and the choices you make as a result of those feelings. For instance, none of how you describe yourself makes you sound objectively unattractive whatsoever.

And as for your interactions with other people, they sound like they have more to do with other people than with you:

I have had friends boyfriends act disgusted when I have mentioned my sex life (or shown disgust to the girlfriends)

Some people just can't deal with other people talking about their sex life. It's possible that you're crossing boundaries that make them feel uncomfortable.

I frequently socialize with men that act like talking to me is an obstacle to getting to one of the five beautiful women in the vicinity. I literally have to charm the shit out of them to keep them in the conversation (even though I often could give a shit and am only looking to cure boredom in talking to someone).

So why do you socialize with these guys? It sounds like they're just being rude and who needs that? This is why I wondered if you value yourself.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 10:13 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

You are surrounded by bastards.

Or you are misreading many many many interactions.

Either way, something has to change because you are surrounded by an ideal that has little relationship with reality. Because EVERYONE either dies or gets old. At some point the most attractive of us begin to get old and stop being 'attractive' by these standards.

Fat women, ugly women, unpleasant women, all sort of women have partners. Value is not only physical AND what one considers attractive is not nearly as objective as one likes to think.

But right now you are surrounded by something that is unhealthy and awful. That is something you can change, far more than meaningless and ultimately unstable beauty ideals.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:16 PM on August 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I don't suspect that this thread will last long...

What you say is true. Men like attractive women (except for those men who like attractive men). However, what is attractive to one is not attractive to another. A friend of mine likes larger women (your size, actually). I think every woman he has ever dated weighs more than he does (he's pretty skinny). I've never been a fan of blonds. Husky voices drive me craaaaaazy. Love 'em. I think big noses are sexy (my wife has a petite nose, but I love her anyway).

I'm not saying it's easy if you exist outside the standard Hollywood norm for beauty, but take a look around you. All over the place you'll see all sorts of people with all sorts of looks married or dating or happily bonking away without a care in the world. There's no real reason why you can't be one of them.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:16 PM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

You are not wrong. Not only do the attitudes you describe apply to many (but not all) men, they are reinforced and enforced by societal and economic structures designed to compare a woman (ANY women, beautiful ones included) to an impossible standard of beauty, and to make the supposed flaws of her appearance the most significant thing about her.

What you seem to be missing is some feminist consciousness to transform your despair into rage, rebellion, and rejection of this oppressive system. You do not have to buy into this oppressive bullshit, or to continue seeking approval from men who do.

Try The Beauty Myth for a perspective that I hope you will find medicinal.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:19 PM on August 28, 2012 [17 favorites]

Straight female here.

There is a beauty privilege, but I don't care that much since I still manage to find friends that value me and fulfilling romantic relationships. I'm actually pretty average in terms of looks (people frequently mistake me for others!) but I've been told that I have a vibrant personality and a sincerity that's magnetic. All the men that I've dated said that they weren't attracted to me because of my looks, but what came out of my mouth. My last bf became attracted to me after I talked about a funny hiking journey that I went on and the disaster I led my party into (he's a huge outdoorsy person), and my current bf said he couldn't stop thinking about me once I talked about my politics and feminist science fiction novels. I don't have the beauty privilege, but I don't really care because I'm happy with where I'm at socially.
posted by Hawk V at 10:25 PM on August 28, 2012 [13 favorites]

There is a huge group of people who view women primarily in terms of sexual/emotional desire - for sex, for carrying and raising children, for managing families and relationships. For example, I'm reading a lot about Jane Austen at the moment, and it's wrenching to see how her life is frequently reduced to an unmarried woman, to be pitied or sidelined - she was a brilliant novelist, possibly one of the greatest minds of her time. Charles Dickens doesn't get framed in terms of his sex life or desirability, but Spinster Jane does.

Once you start noticing this, it's around you everywhere. It's really really horrible to live in a culture dominated by sexism, and many people - women as well as men - will react with anger or derision if you speak up about it. They will try to make you agree that there's nothing wrong, or that you are wrong - anything rather than admit that they believe women are lesser humans or primarily meant for relationships.

I have two beautiful teenage daughters. Their experience of the world is very different from mine was - a relatively plain and odd teenage girl. In a lot of ways, I think mine was much freer and easier.

Actively seek out allies and support. Being socially unattractive means you either compensate yourself with make-up, fashion, etc or you choose not to compete in that realm and instead find partners through shared interests.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:27 PM on August 28, 2012 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: @otter

Keep in mind this is one aspect of my brain. I am covered in tattoos and have read the beauty myth, the second sex, promiscuities, backlash and even some dworkin. The feminist is conscious in me, just feeling defeated :)
posted by thelastgirl at 10:40 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can you start hanging out around feminist people? It sounds like you're surrounded by douchebags. The answer to your question is "no, but probably more so in certain cultures."
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:46 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. The parameters of the question are overly broad for Ask Metafilter, but the OP's related personal experience is specific, and we can address this without turning the thread into general chat. This seems the core problem: "I feel and have always felt like a second class citizen because of the way I look ... I can't stand feeling this way and need some perspective."
posted by taz (staff) at 10:58 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't think you're imagining things. I remember how weird it was the first time I ever wore a dress in high school, men actually started opening doors for me. But I also think you're part of the problem. Or, that is, what you seem to perceive worth to be. You think that men looking=beautiful=worthwhile?
What I have the privilege of realizing, by being able to be either the type of lady men open doors for the the type of lady people call "sir," is that when YOU, yes YOU, stop putting emphasis on your own appearance, you're left with actually having to look at what else you can offer. And hey, superficial men (i.e. all men) aren't going to notice at a glance that you're, say, a PhD candidate or a great artist. But guess what they don't know that about fellow men, either, until they start talking to them.
Men put all the emphasis on looks because you let them.

It sucks though, dude. Everything from the media to women's clothing reinforces the idea that women are what they look like.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 11:01 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Look it happens, and the way I deal with it is by recognising that mistreatment says more about them than it does me. Also, I relish those times when I hook a foxy guy (or other enjoyable character) and I say "in your face, society! You think I'm an Old fat bogan woman, but I still get to have friendships / sex / relationships with hot guys (not just my standards). Yeah, in yr face, I spent three hours 1 recent Friday afternoon in a city motel recieving the best oral sex ever - I'm doin ' ok. "
posted by b33j at 11:10 PM on August 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have an acquaintance who is one of the ugliest women I know (at least, in my opinion) and she gets tons of guys, because she believes - completely and unequivocally - that she is beautiful, and also because she is kind. So while there may be a beauty privilege, it isn't absolute.

That said, if you want plastic surgery, go for it. Personally I don't care that much about my looks (to me, my body feels like a suit that I wear) but I noticed that attractive people seem to get more opportunities, so I went out and got some minor cosmetic surgery to look better - because hey, if some people are dumb enough to judge me based on my physicality, why not take advantage of those chumps? I'm happy with the results of my choice. That said, if you go this route, please try not to overdo it. Please remember that beauty is VERY subjective.

Also, I am seconding that you need a better quality of friends. But also that you maybe need to stop talking about your sexual encounters in public. I'd be a little skeeved out and judgy too if somebody started inserting comments about their sex life into a conversation, regardless of how they looked.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:11 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yo, our world is horrible. Lots of people—even well-meaning people—do and say shitty things because our society is so fucking warped and warps everybody's subconscious. Motherfuckers have been conflating virtue with beauty for fucking ever, and it adds up. I'm sorry.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:16 PM on August 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

It might or might not help you to think about the disadvantages of beauty (harassment from random me, the inevitable loss of beauty with age, etc). Sometimes being invisible can be kinda nice.
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:31 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK, so I can contribute to this as a woman who, like you, is not delicate (in appearance or affect), has a low voice, and am not and will never be a beauty. I've thought about this a bit, and eventually realized that, despite what the surrounding culture tells us about its overriding importance, my appearance does not bother me that much, because additional beauty beyond a certain point just does not get you that much worth having. (Obviously, you'll be unhappy if your appearance is so bad keeps you from having a love life at all, but from what you say here it sounds like that's not a problem.)

What does beauty get you, if you have it? If it's really extreme, it can get you a career, but most incredibly beautiful women are still not models or actresses, there's not enough slots. It gets you pleasure when you look in the mirror, but it's possible to have that pleasure pretty often even if you're not incredibly beautiful. It gets you a lot of romantic and sexual attention . . . but how many men do you actually want involvement with, more than you have? It gets you a small but definite boost in the professional world, but for a lot of very beautiful women, that comes at the cost of constantly having to deal with assholes who think that you got your job for your looks or that your beauty somehow excuses them from having to take you seriously. And, finally, it maybe gets you a little glow of ambient societal approval . . . but, honestly, most people find something to beat themselves up about, and your own personal pain doesn't necessarily feel any better for having beauty on your side. Beauty is wonderful in the abstract, and I'm glad that very beautiful women exist, but I don't think actually being beautiful is the be-all and end-all of blessings.

Moreover, being homely has advantages. When I feel like it, I can blend into a crowd in a way that very beautiful women really can't. I don't have to steel myself for constant attention every time I go to a social gathering and just want to hang out with friends. (I agree that it hugely sucks to have men treat you as an obstacle between them and the gorgeous girl by the drinks table, but having men line up to try to grab at your attention can't be much fun either, especially if you're an introverted sort of person. You say that you're not "the kind of woman someone would run up to in the street, or ask out spontaneously," but I think that would get old real fast if you had to deal with it as an actual occurrence rather than just an abstract affirmation of your beauty.) And while this is a genuinely gross reflection of our society's position on women, I think that being a bit homely has, on occasion, helped me be taken more seriously in academic contexts.

Basically, try to look beyond the fact that beauty gets you a certain type of male attention, which it undoubtedly does, and go on to think about what that type of attention gets you, and whether it's actually important to you. I realized that it wasn't, really, and I haven't worried much about my lack of beauty since.
posted by ostro at 11:38 PM on August 28, 2012 [54 favorites]

A lot of guys will fall over themselves for a beautiful woman, but that's not the end of the story. I'm a pretty average looking gal with an average looking body and I've never had great trouble finding a boyfriend. On the other hand, when I'm out in public, I often feel invisible-- get bumped into, doors slammed in my face, spat at, whatever. (... That last one might only be a thing in a big city.) The kind of guys I date can usually acknowledge when a woman is very conventionally beautiful, but they don't lose their shit, and they're good guys. Would you really want guys constantly slavering over you and trying to insinuate themselves into your personal space? It's not all a barrel of fun.

Also, I've discovered that even without the blessing of universal beauty, great makeup turns heads, great tattoos turn heads, a cute outfit turns heads. I've discovered that to get that kind of attention I have to put in a lot of effort that I'm not always interested in expending, but there are a lot of things you can do to make yourself look interesting and appealing that don't involve conforming to the strictest beauty standards. Beauty standards are powerful, but ultimately they are artificial, and there are a million ways to make yourself visually stunning that don't involve the right-sized nose, the right-sized breasts, &c. (That said, I don't think there's anything wrong with plastic surgery, but it's a super personal decision.)

Anyway, my point being that you know you're not ugly (you're attractive!), and the true joys in life don't usually come as a result of being physically beautiful. Finding a great person to love ultimately is more about your mind and your spirit. Your career, your interests still belong to you. Attractive people can get by on a wing and a prayer, sure, and that would be awesome, but there's a reason there are so many tales of beautiful people who eventually find it all meaningless, &c. You're awesome, lady.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:52 PM on August 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

I don't think you're wrong in what you're perceiving, but I think you're missing counterexamples. Either you don't see them or they're not around you, but in my personal experience I know quite a few women who aren't attractive in any common sense of the term, yet they have real relationships with real men/women. They hook up, they get married, they suffer normal relationship issues. It certainly does happen to women who don't fit the narrow beauty stereotype women are told to uphold.
posted by fatbird at 11:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

Thelastgirl, it's not you, it's them.

As a plain-faced female, I know all too well the casual rudeness of having someone look right through you. It's galling to have to 'charm the shit out of ' some mannerless asshole who is only slightly more interesting than the chair he's sitting in, just to pass the time.

Unfortunately, on a grand scale, the ol' beauty privilege is alive and thriving mostly because of the way the human brain is wired (sigh). Before doctors and cosmetics, beauty usually equated good health. For men, seeking healthy 'recipients' for their sperm was priority #1. Women favored attractive men, too, but other factors carried weight, too, such as a his success as a provider and his place in the social hierarchy.

HOWEVER, evolution continues, and for this reason the broad brushstrokes of nature have always been full of exceptions. Look at women like Janet Reno, Rosie O'Donnell, Helen Clark...they earned respect through hard work and cultivating other strengths. One of the most amazing speakers I ever heard was Barbara Jordan (the first black person to serve in the Texas Senate since Reconstruction): her looks wouldn't turn a single head but her commanding voice could hold thousands spellbound. So I don't see 'basic instinct' either as a prescription for an unhappy life or as an excuse for assholes.

Thelastgirl, on a personal level I don't have much to offer on the romance front, which is so integral to your question. But when it comes to being disregarded or treated poorly by strangers/friends' boyfriends/etc., I try to channel Barbara Jordan - a calm but stern voice and an unwavering glare work wonders in most situations. YMMV, of course...just what works for me.
posted by Kibby at 12:02 AM on August 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

PS just to quote from an awesome thread going on elsewhere: maintain a "non-damn donation policy."
posted by ostro at 12:04 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a bit lucky in that I was such a tomboy growing up that I sidestepped a great deal of appearance-based BS until I finished university and entered "the real world". While I never had a boyfriend in school and was sometimes teased about being gangly (tall), it came from people I didn't know very well. True friends made no mention of appearance, ever. It just wasn't a thing we worried about.

And so after I broke up with my boyfriend 8 years ago and entered the dating world for the first time at 28 (I hadn't met that boyfriend from dating, but from a shared interest), I was utterly flabbergasted by all the appearance shit thrown at me. I've talked about it a little on MeFi before, but I want to underscore that this was not a few or a dozen men saying this sort of thing, it was spontaneous (not in response to contact from me, I had not contacted them), it was constant over a period of months until I finally closed my accounts (I was on a few different sites). I'd reopen it once I'd forgotten about the nonsense, tweak my profile, hope for the best, it would happen again. Close, forget, tweak, reopen, flood of nonsense, rinse and repeat until I finally gave up entirely. The crushing majority of things I heard from men were: "you're too tall", "you're too fat" (I weigh the same as you at 5'11", and that shit is nonsense at your height too), "you're too independent". I got some of these IRL as well, when I attempted asking people if they knew someone who might be interested in a date. "I know a couple guys, but they don't like tall women." "I know someone, but he wants a feminine woman." I am still single 8 years later. I'll get to that in a bit.

It ain't us women, it's society. Not "everyone" but an awful lot enough that it makes life difficult if you happen to be in an area where it's more prominent or any circle where that sort of outlook is more accepted than elsewhere. (I live on the French Riviera, which is just as snootily appearance-oriented as its reputation. There are exceptions, which is how I've found friends and still live here, because it's quite nice if you can get past the "hoohoo I went to the Billionaire's Club in Monaco and we partied on a yacht later" nose-waving from people who are decidedly not billionaires.) If it were me, then why did I never face any of it until starting to date? Why do my friends, those who know me the best, some of them since we were born or 3 years old, never make remarks on my appearance or demeanor? They all agree that the issue is people who are unable to look past their stereotyped ideas about my appearance and see the funny, caring individual who's really not too hard to notice. Some friends will say, "omigosh that dress is pretty/that outfit is cute!" and then we move on to deeper things.

To the dealing with it bit – I went through a period of angst about it, even trying out makeup and nicer clothes and behaving more "feminine" and hated every second of it. I remember those decades of freedom earlier and I want that, dammit, and if the price is not having an intimate relationship, well then, I won't waste time looking for one. Be open to the possibility, yes, but I refuse to put myself in a situation (dating) where I have to deal with a flood of others' stereotypes, even if it is "just" seeing "ur 2 tall" and pressing "delete". I can choose to brush that off, I know the price, I accept it. I also choose to stand up straight (you'd be surprised how many people snipe on that IRL, sigh, there's a reason so many tall women hunch over), walk confidently (this gets snipes too! you can't win!), smile showing my teeth, laugh heartily at friends' funny stories, crack jokes that make them snarf and snort, fix up my apartment, sew, cook, write, garden, carry on meow-versations with my cats, progress in my career, and generally be who I am and enjoy life to the fullest. That's one way of dealing with it: accepting the nonsense for what it is, making the choices you feel are best for you to remove yourself from it, leaving room for the possibility that someone might come along, but if they don't it's okay because you're living the life you choose, and accepting the consequences. I don't repin many of those quotes on Pinterest, but one I did like was this: "He offered her the world - she said she had her own". Maybe someday there will be someone who wants to share worlds. Until then, friends and I have ours.
posted by fraula at 1:40 AM on August 29, 2012 [38 favorites]

Look around you: people of all shapes and sizes, and levels of objective beauty have partners, some of whom match their partner's objective attraction levels, others who are wildly more or less objectively attractive than they are.

But ppl still like and are drawn to attractive ppl and it doesn't make them bad ppl. All other things being equal, I'd choose the hot guy too—and anyone saying they wouldn't is lying.

But just bc you're beautiful and you have guys falling all over themselves to get to you doesn't guarantee you'll be any more successful finding a successful relationship. A good friend of a good friend of mine is your typical petite blonde surfer beauty (who also happens to have a PhD)—she even dated Owen Wilson briefly after meeting him surfing in Hawaii. Guys fall all over themselves to meet her when she goes out. But she still has a boat load of insecurities and she still picks the worst guys with whom to try to get into a relationship and she's incredibly needy when she starts dating someone. She spent years looking for a boyfriend. She's now dating a guy who works in a hardware store.

I'm not conventionally beautiful but I do have a look and i know when I am on, ppl notice. Though in my typical unaware way I've never noticed, I've been told that my look does turn heads when I walk down the street. I've had guys ask for my number when my date goes to the bathroom. I've had guys stop me on the street and ask me for my number. I get recognized by random ppl whom I don't know bc of my look. But if I'm not completely put together, I can also disappear as well.

So to me, looks will only get you so far. If you want something that isn't merely superficial, what you put out there is far more powerful in attracting ppl than whether you are objectively beautiful.

Also: 1) don't hang out with ppl who make you feel like shit, and 2) maybe curb the sex talk. I mean, I'm in no way a prude at all, but I also can't stand any any PDA beyond hand-holding or a quick kiss or hug and I really do not want to hear explicit details of anyone's sex life.
posted by violetk at 1:42 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

violetk's post reminded me, that is a good point, that all things being equal, the hot guy is my pick, too. It does help me to remember sometimes that a normal guy is probably as attracted to and indifferent to "beauty" in equal turn as I am, so I can understand the psychology behind admiring a hot person, and still knowing that it's not the ultimate recipe. Also, the truth that all things are very rarely equal-- there are things about you that are unique and that will be uniquely attractive to certain people. I know a guy who visibly cringes when confronted with the blonde sex-pot thing-- doesn't mean they still don't value beauty to a certain degree, but the woman he ended up getting a huge crush on (and marrying!) was a fat woman of average looks, with glasses and tattoos, and who on a typical day wears no makeup and a cute gaming/film-related t-shirt and a pair of plain jeans. They didn't just resign themselves to life with an "unattractive" person, they both got crazy chemistry specifically for each other. The same guy is one of the funniest people I know, because he has a lot of cutting insight into human behavior and is a little bit cynical about beauty, and he's not the only guy I know who doesn't have a lot of tolerance for the babe-centric worldview. I don't know, what I'm trying to say is, even some straight guys are levelheaded about these things, despite what the media wants us to think.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:12 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

5'7 and 160 lbs. is curvy, but certainly not overweight. A lot of men really like curves. Are you dressing in a way that flatters your figure? Are you happy with the way your hair looks--color and style? Do you wear any makeup--just a little mascara, concealer, and lipstick? Do you ever get your eyebrows shaped and waxed? Are they dark enough to give your face definition? (Your eyebrows can really transform your face.) Do you feel like you look your best when you're out socializing with members of the opposite sex?

If you've been told you're attractive, you very probably are. However, if men are looking over your shoulder trying to "trade up," so to speak, that's a pretty clear indication that those are not the sort of men with whom you would want to have a relationship, ever.

My college roommate was a knockout who exuded sex appeal and glamour everywhere she went, and guys--acquaintances and complete strangers--were always hitting on her. The same guys would sometimes walk me back to our dorm, hoping to meet her by chance, I think, but they were just polite and respectful with me, nothing more. I dated a few guys very casually and then met my future husband during our sophomore year. She had a lot of hookups that never went anywhere and a really frustrating love life. These guys would send her roses, stuffed animals, candy, but none of them were what I would consider serious relationship material--they were all into drinking and partying. (She's now in a committed relationship with a guy who really sees her as the funny, good-natured, intelligent woman she is, rather than sex on legs.)

It sounds as though you're extremely self-conscious and that you talk a lot about your relationships. I'd agree with other commenters here that you should definitely keep your sex life private. Beyond that, maybe you need to try to relax more and, as you're talking to a guy, empty your mind of all that gender anxiety and just focus on having an enjoyable conversation. Ask lots of questions and be interested in the answers. I think that given a choice between being treated superficially by the most beautiful woman in the room and having a more modestly attractive but very attentive and intelligent listener, most men--actually, most people in general--are likely to choose the latter. Think of it as practice and don't take it too seriously. And if a guy seems to be dissing you, then...NEXT!

I have somewhat similar proportions to yours and don't consider myself particularly stunning. However, once about ten years ago, I did indeed get accosted in the street by a guy who told me he thought I was beautiful and asked me to have a cup of coffee with him. I turned him down nicely, telling him I was married, but thanked him for the compliment and told him I was flattered. He said, "Don't be; it's true." It's a nice memory, but honestly? I really wouldn't want strangers hitting on me all the time, or staring at me. I would find it extremely uncomfortable, and I'm actually glad I don't have the kind of looks that stop traffic. I would far rather have meaningful interactions with other people.
posted by tully_monster at 2:35 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was relayed a story yesterday about two women - a young, beautiful American and a Canadian in her seventies - travelling alone in India.
The young woman was constantly harassed by men who treated her like a sexual object.
The old woman said that she was treated with respect for being elderly.

You don't have to wait until you are no longer young to find society that values other aspects of you.

All you can learn from watching the "biggest asshole [you] have EVER met" attract douchebags or men who happen to be looking for sex with their version of a beautiful woman, is that a certain type of beautiful woman has a demographic.
That has nothing to do with you and what makes you attractive to others, both male and female.
posted by mkdirusername at 2:38 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lots of great advice above. I would add that yes, you need new friends, as the ones you have don't seem to be especially nice. I also wonder if you live in a shallow, appearance-oriented city or work in an appearance-oriented industry? If either one applies to you, a move to a more down-to-earth city or a change in industries might really help you connect with friends and potential dates who aren't shallow and snippy, and who treat you well. You want to surround yourself with people who value you and work in a career that's a good fit.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:45 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why do men seem to treasure and prize women who are beautiful (but) who have shitty personalities.

This is a trope that really annoys me, because you are tarring all men with the same brush when it can be applied just as readily to women. Men don't have the monopoly on superficiality, nor are they immune to the 'beauty privilege'. Nice, but 'plain' guys don't have hoards of women beating a path to them either. Just as much as there are plenty of attractive guys who never seem to lack female attention despite their treating them like shit.

As others have touched on, you seem to be amongst a group of toxic, superficial people of both genders. It doesn't necessarily need to be beanplated as some sort of existential battle of the sexes: some people, male and female, are just assholes.

I am not denying that society is arranged so that women feel these issues more keenly. But the experience you have described is something than many men also have to deal with. Please don't close off this potential source of support and sympathy by framing it the way that you have.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:44 AM on August 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

I have been told I am attractive but I have never been the kind of woman someone would run up to in the street, or ask out spontaneously. I am also very direct, and don't always act in accordance with stereotypical female traits. I am not delicate, my voice is husky etc....I also weigh about 160 lbs am 5'7. Not fat, but not fit, if you know what I mean.

I'm heavier than you (and taller), I have huge feet, I'm clumsy, I sing tenor, and if I don't take the time to dress nicely and do my hair etc. I don't look super-attractive. However, people have asked me out on the street, on buses, and in the supermarket. The latter was when I'd had a cast taken off my leg and was dishevelled and in need of a shower. So things like this don't have anything to do with how attractive you are or aren't, it's to do with the people who happen to be there at the time and whether they think they'd be more likely to pull if they asked out the harrassed looking person at the bus-stop.

Have you ever seen a talk show like Jerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle? Look the latter up on YouTube and see if you can find any clips where two women are fighting over a man. Usually, the man is unattractive, poorly-spoken and without a job or with a drug habit - yet two women are both desperate to go out with him. That shows to me that standard physical attractiveness is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Lastly, why do you particularly want to be pursued? You sound well-read and individualistic - I bet your tattoos are really striking. You get to choose who you spend time with. You don't have to 'charm' people who aren't worthy of your attention. You can analyse your behaviour and you can look at women who look like you or have an image that you feel would be a good fit for you, but the first step might be to spend more time around people who don't have such a narrow idea of what constitutes beautiful.
posted by mippy at 4:25 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think the problem that many people have with their relationship to their own appearance is that they feel a deep sense of powerlessness. You can change your career, you can learn new hobbies, you can go to therapy... but most people feel that options to change their looks are largely out of reach.

Imagine if you could change the way you look at will, with the application of effort, like anything else. Would "beauty privilege" still exist? Not in the same form.

So, what's helped me most on this issue is to lose this sense of helplessness. If you honestly think you are fat, lose weight. If you have physical flaws, get surgery. If you don't like your hair, cut it, color it, straighten it. I met a woman once who completely changed her physical appearance -- she had extensive plastic surgery on her body and face. Many people in society would call her superficial or sick. I think she was very self-actualized. She decided what she wanted to change, and she did it. I haven't done this, but I respect those who do. They are taking charge of things instead of letting fate happen to them.

You can't be taller, have a completely different body shape, or an entirely different face. But you can make adjustments, whether through makeup, exercise, surgery, flattering clothes, whatever. And you can change your attitude about it immediately and think about it as something YOU are choosing. If you don't want to do any of those things, then don't. But operate out of a sense of control and power. YOU are in charge.
posted by 3491again at 4:36 AM on August 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

I sent you a MeFi mail...
posted by rose-selavy at 4:51 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

5'7 and 160 lbs. is curvy, but certainly not overweight. A lot of men really like curves.

I hope this isn't too much of a detail, but weight doesn't always translate into curves. I'm close to the OP in height and weight, but I'm not curvy-figured. Whenever I hear my size range praised as "curvy," it just makes me feel like there's one more way in which I'm not conventionally attractive.

To the OP: it sucks. And when you take the constant bombardment of you're not hot enough and combine it with the make-me-a-sandwich trolls everywhere online and, like, everything the Republican Party has been up to, it can really make you lose hope for our gender. And it's just so fucking unfair that there's this unspoken expectation for women to spend considerable time and money on clothing, shoes, makeup, and hairstyling. It really adds up. The pursuit of beauty is exhausting, and it can get obsessive, and people who say "well just dress a little better and wear some makeup" don't always take into account that you might just rather be doing something more interesting with your time.

That said, I've found that it is absolutely possible to at least partially remove yourself from the world of shallowness. As just one example, my self-esteem improved considerably (but gradually) when I stopped getting Sephora catalogs in the mail. You can find workplaces, bars and restaurants, even whole neighborhoods where you won't feel as much pressure to look a certain way. And they're usually much more comfortable places. The less pressure you feel, the better you'll feel about yourself, and the more likely you'll find both people who value you on your human merits and people who think you're gorgeous as you are.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:54 AM on August 29, 2012 [20 favorites]

(Ugh. "detail" should be "derail.")
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:55 AM on August 29, 2012

Is woman's value really only physical?

To a large extent, yes - but we are a superficial species. Few people will give a shit about my Masters degrees - all most people care about is the size of my waist. Men and women alike.

We like beauty - it's there, we don't really have to go out of our way for it, or think too hard, and we don't even have to talk to it if we don't want to.

[Let's say you did have those guys chasing after you to talk to you - most of those conversations would be the most superficial, boring conversations you will ever have in your life.]

But, this is also contextual - certain groups and certain types of people will be more prone to this than others.

I will reiterate what others have said - try to expand your networks a little. Spend some time in other places and around other people. We do have some level of control over what social spheres we exist in - and some are healthier for us than others.
posted by heyjude at 5:05 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm 48, about to turn 49 in a few months.

Yes, there is a huge focus on looks, and I believe if is location-specific. I am always pleasantly surprised to see a wide variety of people here, and many women who don't wear make-up or dye their hair. A comment from a male friend who travels back and forth between NYC and Maine was that he was glad to back in a place where people aren't so superficial.

So if you're living in a big city with lots of superficial people, I echo that I know beautiful blondes who try very hard to maintain their looks past a time when they probably should just grow old gracefully, and they are stressballs inside. Jogging to the point of injury, starving themselves, Botox injections.

Yeah, sometimes I cringe when I'm at the beach, wishing I could have a bikini perfect body (can't, big old appendix scar running up and down my right side due to emergency surgery as a child). But seriously, why compare yourself to a mean person? Would you want to be a mean person having tons of casual sex? Do you imagine they are having more fun than you? It's not like Beautiful People have a monopoly on fun.

Also, if you've felt like this your entire life, where do you think it came from? I was taunted horribly by my siblings as a child, told my nose was too big, I was fat, and my hair resembled a troll doll's hair. I was, in fact, a normal sized kid with curly hair. Now I look at pictures of myself at 35, I was a size 8 and pretty good looking, but also stressed to the point of a nervous breakdown. Was not having fun, even tho' I was skinny.

My advice: treat yourself to a makeover and a spa day for your birthday and get some professional photos taken. I had photos taken of myself when I was 40, and dang, I looked hot! It's all in the lighting. Many people who are not classic beauties are extremely photogenic.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:16 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Here is what I would suggest: a good therapist. You need to work through this stuff - where do your feelings of ugliness come from? Why do you hang out with such fucking jackasses? (That "and they are disgusted by my sex life" thing - everyone involved in that conversational turn is a fucking jackass.) How can you feel more centered so that you're not walking around all hang-dog and anxious and letting jerks treat you jerkily? And I'd say that ultimately, talking through your feelings about sex and your body will be helpful - I have been amazed at how much internalized misogyny I've carried all my life.

I say this as someone who was never beautiful - I guarantee that your average jackass straight dude would look at the two of us and pick you. (Though strangely since getting my gender/sexuality stuff sorted I seem to have become more attractive - I mean, people have been attracted to me.) I wasted so many years feeling as you do now, that no one was attracted to me, that this meant I wasn't valid, that maybe if I had enough plastic surgery I could feel good about myself. That was anxiety and depression and internalized misogyny, and it was a giant, giant waste of my time. I was so miserable it's unbelievable.

Also, you're getting a lot of confirmation bias because you're thinking a lot about mainstream beauty and dating and so you're noticing it more. One good thing I did have in my life when younger - a couple of friends who weren't especially good-looking by mainstream standards but who were always dating a ton. I saw them be confident and focused on other things in life and still get a lot of dates, and it at least did make me feel that beauty wasn't the only thing.

And of course women's only worth is not physical. That's frat boy ev psych - the moral equivalent of "greed is good [for me]". Our culture is one giant neg, but our culture is also bullshit. We live in a society that's happy to leave people to die without healthcare if it makes rich people richer - why would you trust our society's discourse about women?

One thing that happened to me as a young woman who hated her looks and felt inferior: I gave off an "I am inferior - mean people please be mean to me" vibe, and I attracted some mean people. I also didn't attract people, as friends or colleagues or dates, who would have quite liked my personality and appearance if I had been at my sparkly best. I bet that a LOT of your appearance troubles stem from your feelings - that's not your fault, you didn't design the cultural messages of hatred to women, but it is controllable.

I have more to say about this but I have to leave for work.

Honestly, seek out a therapist. Therapy really does help.
posted by Frowner at 5:18 AM on August 29, 2012 [13 favorites]

Stop hanging out with horrible, superficial people who are "disgusted" that an average-sized woman has the temerity to have a sex life.

There is enough of that crap in the culture at large; you don't need it in your circle of friends.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:54 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

One wonderful thing about hanging out in female-friendly online spaces is that we barely ever know what our friends look like. Dreamwidth is great for this, and most people who hang out there are feminists. Maybe you should blog, read blogs, and feel more supported that way.
posted by brainwane at 5:56 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you still married, as indicated in your February question? Have you talked to him about this, he is a man who has chosen you as his sexual partner, is there no solace in that?

In general, yes, society is really beauty focused. Attractiveness is extremely valued.

People above have point out that people have all kinds of different fun and sexy beauty standards. But those are still beauty standards (heavy, curvy, husky voiced, whatever). It's still a measure of people vs an ideal.

Your previous questions lead me to believe that you are in general having a tough time in life, I think some of why you are feeling these things SO acutely may have a great deal to do with that. You are being judged, we all are, by people's crazy ideas about how we should be but I think if you were on more secure footing it wouldn't 'hurt' so much to be exposed to those judgements.

An impartial 3rd party, therapist or no, could be of a lot of use to you now.
posted by French Fry at 6:07 AM on August 29, 2012


Keep in mind this is one aspect of my brain. I am covered in tattoos and have read the beauty myth, the second sex, promiscuities, backlash and even some dworkin. The feminist is conscious in me, just feeling defeated :)
posted by thelastgirl at 10:40 PM on August 28 [1 favorite +] [!]

The feminist consciousness angle has been covered. So I'm going to focus on something else:

You're underestimating how very horny men are. And I'm wondering if you've embraced your own horny self.

Yes, there are guys who are trying, for social capital reasons, to line up a hot girlfriend, to follow the "should" of our f-ed up culture. But at the end of the day, that's just not most guys. Because they're horny, and most of them aren't handsome, so it's a losing game that they can't play for very long.

Take a radical stance: get to know a lot of guys and notice who it is you really want to jump on. Chances are good it has little to do with an Ideal of looks.

Men are the same way.

The feminist question you have to ask yourself isn't "but looks don't matter, right?" but "who do I want to fuck?"

Engage in that conversation with yourself. Not the "but who will find ME attractive?"

Also: the guy who is "disgusted?" chances are really good that he would TOTALLY FUCK YOU. But he's just made himself TOTALLY UNFUCKABLE."
posted by vitabellosi at 6:10 AM on August 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

I don't think you're wrong, but from your question it doesn't seem like you realize how cramped your perspective is. All the examples you give relate to finding and attracting a sexual partner. First, plenty of average looking women find boyfriends, and I suspect you have as well. Second, you had to charm men conversationally in order to have a chat with them in the bar scene? That's an obstacle virtually all men deal with.

Finally -- most importantly -- you can't measure value as a person by how many heads you turn and how many come-ons you get. If you looked like Zooey Deschanel and thought your looks were where all your value came from, wouldn't that be sad and lonely? Do you have friends? Loved ones? Education? A career? A social life? An intellectual life? Those are the things that matter.

And, you feel like a second class citizen, really? You're not being told to leave restaurants and movie theaters you go to because you're too ugly, are you? Not being told to give up your seat on the bus? Not being told to change your name because your colleagues might realize your shameful secret (that you're an uggo)? You just aren't getting as much affirmation as you want because men aren't running up to you in the street and asking you out on the spot (which, by the way, would surely get old). You're most certainly not a second class citizen. There aren't even any real obstacles standing in the way of living the kind of life you want, if the kind of life you want is to have personal and professional success, including friends and a partner. You're just not Helen of Troy.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:38 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, back again. I have a lot of thoughts about this:

1. How you are feeling is not about you. It's about the messages of woman-hating and woman-shaming that you have received all your life. You have picked up the messages that society sends out, and you've taken them in. I'm the same way. I'm really, really good at reading certain kinds of social cues because I learned to as a survival skill - all the cues that are like "be quiet, hang back, we don't like your kind, this is a violent and cruel space". I have trouble reading social cues that say "we like you, you are welcome", though.

Just idly - did you have to learn to read certain unspoken social cues due to family instability or bullying or some other bad experience when you were young? Also, were you invalidated a lot? That is, were your opinions and wishes pushed aside regularly? For me, this has meant that I have trouble feeling like I can 'set boundaries' with social messages. Because I was invalidated a lot when I was growing up, I unconsciously feel that even saying "no, I am not ugly and I don't have to hate myself no matter what society says" is too big a boundary to set, that my opinions don't count.

2. The thing is, you and I are too good as subjects of a regime of misogyny. Here is how misogyny is supposed to work: you are supposed to be insecure and hate yourself, but not too much. You are supposed to buy stuff and chase boys and take any guy who will have you and fat-shame and diet....but you're supposed to keep functioning. You're supposed to believe that you are sorta-kinda acceptable if you try hard enough, not that you're absolutely a failure - because absolute failures stop buying and having sex and participating in the system. Misogyny works by being a wound, not a fatality. But maybe you and I are misogynist fatalities. We hear all those hateful messages, and we take them in so well that we can't function. We enact what society tells us to do, but to such a theatrical extreme that we can't keep going.

The system of misogyny relies on everyone saying that women have to be photoshopped fashion models to be valuable human beings, but acting as if this is not true instead of just killing ourselves in self-hatred.

Now, I personally would like to be able to say and believe the same things, which is why I say fuck this social regime.

3. Things I have done that make me feel better about myself:

- I write off a lot of guys in all aspects of my life. Now, I'm lucky that I am attracted to pretty much any gender of mean intellectual with glasses, so this is easier for me romantically-speaking. But I made a mental effort to shut off that "I am seeking approval from a man mentality. I just go in to all social interactions and don't focus on men. Not for conversations, not for dates, not for anything. If men want to talk to me, fine, but my bar is pretty high. Bore me, stare at my chest, miss my jokes - okay, I'm moving on. And I have made an effort to analyze how much non-sexual approval-seeking I do with men in the rest of my life. Frankly, I have a tendency to seek social approval from dudes and authority figures about even really stupid shit - oh, is my hat good enough? - so I work on turning that off.

- I've been working through a lot of stuff in therapy. Really. I resisted going for years. I've found that talking about my family and my childhood has uncovered some stuff about guilt. I've also learned that I am putting a lot of stuff about [Big Guilt Things] into unrelated areas of my life - it's much easier for me to feel good in my relationships, dating, etc now that I am not projecting all that anxiety and shame from something totally unrelated onto it. Talking about things that seem unrelated to my appearance and romantic life have actually helped those things a lot. Just talking it all through in detail has helped a ton.

- I am working on ways to become more myself. I have precisely a haircut that I like and clothes that I like, even though they break all the rules of "attractiveness". (I wear my hair really short, I have big ol' birth control glasses, I wear oddball butch clothes - your particular interpretation might be long hair and high heels or whatever.) I am doing a bunch of other internal and external life stuff to become more how I want to be and to embody traits that I admire. I find that when I am dressing and acting how I truly want to, I tend to think "you don't think I look good because you are stupid, not because there's something wrong with me."

- Porn. Okay, that's weird to say on the internet. But seriously, one of my problems for years was that I was really reactive - I had no idea what I was attracted to or wanted romantically or sexually and I made a lot of poor choices and had a lot of no-fun/I-feel-nothing situations. Thinking about myself as a sexual subject has made me feel a lot better.

-Tumblrs. I look at a lot of fat-people-fashion, queer-fashion, and radical fashion tumblrs, especially ones with a lot of consciousness about race and class. It has dramatically altered both my ideas about how I appear and my appreciation, sexual and non-, of other people's appearance. I replace the messages in TV and magazines with these other messages and it helps a ton.

- I think of myself as oppositional. Some people might find this a little silly, but my self-narrative is "there is this big stupid violent capitalist misogynist ideology that a lot of people accept. I'm not a victim of that ideology. I'm not someone who fails to live up to my duty of being as beautiful and apologetic and compliant as possible. I'm against this system. I want to destroy it." I read about oppositional people - Emma Goldman, Bayard Rustin, Sylvia Rivera, Joanna Russ, good old Donny the Punk. I read books that validate oppositional viewpoints - novels by Sarah Schulman and Samuel Delany and Bertha Harris, radical memoirs, feminist memoirs, books critical of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (as bell hooks puts it). Those are the people I admire, those are the people I want to be like. That's the world I want. Other people can walk around being all "I feel that my mascara is inadequate" and "that woman has cankles so I would only fuck her if my frat brothers wouldn't find out" or whatever, but that's because they are wrong.

Therapy is where I'd start, though. You do not have to spend your time feeling like this, you really don't.
posted by Frowner at 6:54 AM on August 29, 2012 [37 favorites]

The last commenter touched on what I was about to write: working on ways to become more myself. This is the key.

As everyone has pointed out, people (especially women) are judged on appearance. This creates a problem - but the problem is not that not-conventionally-attractive women are passed over for their looks alone, but instead that their non-conventional attractiveness makes them less confident and less likely to live up to their assets.

It's the lack of confidence, or the attempt to fit into the wrong mold, that makes someone invisible. A tomboy laced into a ridiculous frilly sundress is not fooling anyone (though it could be that she's striving for this contrast). The most important step to attractiveness is knowing who we are physically and totally owning it. If you have a husky voice, a larger frame, and are direct, play up this dominance. Totally own it. You will have men asking you out in the street.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:08 AM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have personally known to very beautiful young women commit suicide. I don't think it's easy being a human on this Earth. I think one way of dealing with the negative reactions to your appearance is to seek out people who are likely in your shoes. How about surrounding yourself with men who don't earn much money, as I am sure they are overlooked by many women, beautiful or not.
posted by waving at 7:24 AM on August 29, 2012

Focusing on the second half of your question:
Yes, appearance is highly valued in our culture. But one aspect I never paid attention to before taking acting classes is how much the way you express yourself physically (facial expressions, bodily stance, speaking manner) affects your outward appearance. I've noticed, for example, that when people tell me "wow you look great!" it usually isn't because of things like makeup; indeed in those moments I'm typically not made up in any way. Rather, I'm usually high on endorphins of some sort because, say, I just got back from an amazing bike ride; just got a great, unexpected email from a friend; just got kissed.

At my cousin's wedding a few months ago, watching my aunt that night was astonishing for a similar reason. She certainly doesn't look like a model and has been weighted down with a rough middle age (cancer, nasty divorce, job loss). Usually when I see her she's stressed and in a sarcastic mood. But that night, I am not kidding when I say that she was shining the whole night, and everyone was awestruck at how jaw-droppingly beautiful she looked - I've never seen anyone so joyful and full of love. And I think this is what people mean when they say "beauty comes from the inside."

I'm certainly not denying that there is privilege in looking like Scarlett Johansson. But I would encourage you to pursue interests that help you live life to the fullest, minimize stress and make you purely joyful, whatever they are. Consider taking something like acting/improv classes or a martial arts course, as any sort of bodily awareness is likely to leave you with more outward confidence, openness, and (apologies for the new age language) positive energy, which in the end is seriously what people find irresistible. Have you ever heard/seen The Gossip, for example? I can't look up a video for you as I'm at work and they are very NSFW, but youtube is full of them. Anyone who's been to their show can confirm that Beth Ditto is one of the sexiest people alive, and it clearly isn't according to conventional beauty rules.
posted by susanvance at 7:34 AM on August 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

Social scientists tend to say, in essence, "Poor people are poor because they grew up poor and don't know any othet way to live." Then people like Cher will tell you "I am rich because I grew up poor." Similarly, Bette Middler, who is not a "classic beauty" was once asked "On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you put yourself?" Other famous classic beauties had been asked the same question and modestly answered 8 or 9. Bette said "55. I am a very happening lady."

When I was young, I got a lot of feedback indicating I was beautiful. I was also molested and raped as a child. In my twenties, I was constantly harrassed by men. I thought it was because I was beautiful. Then I became very ill and gained weight and looked like hell. I became invisible to men. When I started recovering my health, I discovered the steroids I had taken had left me with a serious rack for the first time. Men stared, with their mouths open. But they did not approach me. So much for my theory that I was harrassed based solely upon my looks. It became clear there had previously been dome behavioral component which invited harrassment.

In the movie "Overboard", the butler makes the point that Goldie Hawn's character got a rare privilege. She got to step outside her normal life and experience something else. Most leople, wherever you go, there you are. I don't know how you could intentionally arrange to "be someone else" for a time. But your looks and the rest of you are a package deal, which makes it really tough to parse out what the real cause is.

I think the answer is that while "looks" do influence such things, looks are not merely "physical". They are a cumulative effect of not just genes and biology but also culture, diet, lifestyle and a zillion personal choices. It is possible the deal breaker is not really that you fail to be a classic beauty but that you fail to be whatever most men think most women "should" be. You probably wouldn't even want to be whatever that is.
posted by Michele in California at 8:03 AM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've always been the fat girl. You can't let this shit stop you from having fun.

So you don't fit the "societal norm" for beauty. But your attitude sounds like a real downer. Why would you try to keep a guy in your conversational clutches when he clearly wants to be elsewhere? You're wasting his time, but more importantly, you're wasting yours.

I find the internet to be an excellent tool for finding people with whom I have a lot in common, and therefore an excellent platform for forging relationships. I met Husbunny on-line and we were so in synch that our faces and bodies were secondary to our mental attraction. It doesn't hurt that I have a pretty face, it also doesn't hurt that I have a good haircut, put makeup on and dress to flatter my figure.

You can't play in the beauty arena if you aren't willing to beautify to the best of your ability.

If you want to be the frumpy, tatooed person, then you need to be in that arena.

If the internet has taught us ANYTHING it's that every pot has its lid. I'm sure there are plenty of dudes out there for whom you are a perfect match, but it doesn't sound like you're where you can meet them.

If you hang out with people whose aesthetic is the prevailing beauty, and you're not willing to conform to that, well sure, your self-confidence will take a beating.

If you hang out with other folks, who, like you, enjoy body art, a bit of meat on the bones and someone who has a deep voice, then you'll start enjoying admiration.

Have you thought about roller derby? Seriously.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:44 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Why do men seem to treasure and prize women who are beautiful who have shitty personalities. I work with a woman who is the biggest asshole I have EVER met yet that seems meaningless to men. She attracts plenty of douchebags, don't get me wrong, but she also attracts good men who can't seem to see past the physical.

This part of what you said stood out to me so much, because it sounds so much like the language that "nice guys" use to complain about why they don't get the attention that "jerks" do. And I get it! I have been fat all my life (5'8" and 250 pounds, so much larger than you), and there is so much shit thrown one's way for deviating from the beauty ideal, and I spent so much of my 20's with a chip on my shoulder, feeling bitter and angry at beautiful women for having value that I didn't. And angry at men for not noticing me. And angry at myself for not measuring up. But all I was doing was being angry at people caught in the same shitty system I was, instead of being angry at the system in general.

I think that everything Frowner had to say was fantastic advice, but I particularly liked this:

-Tumblrs. I look at a lot of fat-people-fashion, queer-fashion, and radical fashion tumblrs, especially ones with a lot of consciousness about race and class. It has dramatically altered both my ideas about how I appear and my appreciation, sexual and non-, of other people's appearance. I replace the messages in TV and magazines with these other messages and it helps a ton.

It may seem like such a small thing, but mainstream media has such a narrow range of who you even get to LOOK AT, let alone who gets considered attractive. Just sheer exposure to alternative visuals can be surprisingly effective in countering the messages from mainstream media.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 8:56 AM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's not you; it's the people you are hanging out with/comparing yourself too.

And yes, the sexist stupid world we live in that enables douchebags to flaunt their douchebaggery.

Lookswise, I am probably similar to you. All my siblings had much more of a social life when we were younger because they were better at looking and acting like the social norm. I was nerdy, not thin, do not have good hair, blahblahblah. Didn't enjoy high school all that much.

Nowadays, I am still just as nerdy/dowdy (in conventional terms) with the added bonus of now getting to middle age, when no one thinks you're glamorous unless you look 15 years younger. Which I don't. But I have friends who like me, don't pity me, and certainly don't act disgusted about my having a love life, should that topic come up. Because they're not assholes.

So; let the glamour thing go. You could try to surgery yourself into being as good looking as your douchebag coworker, but that would leave you in debt and would not solve the basic problem that you're jealous of a douchebag. The only thing that would is treating your own life as something besides a referendum on your sexyness. This is the only life you get. Go out and do stuff. Anything. Do stuff that matters, hang out with people you like, stay away from those that don't, and take care of yourself as though you were taking care of a friend. You might find True Love, you might not. If you don't, does that make your life worthless? Hell no.

Life is full of awesome things that you miss if you let assholes shape your world.
posted by emjaybee at 8:57 AM on August 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

Seconding, nthing Frowner's advice. It's all about empowerment. Favorite 1000 times.
posted by 3491again at 9:57 AM on August 29, 2012

Some great advice upthread!

Everyone starts out beautiful. Look at children, they're all beautiful. Every woman has beauty. The challenge of bringing out your own beauty, learning to enjoy it and becoming comfortable in your own skin, can be an exciting and creative process. There's nothing superficial about wanting to look and feel your best. It doesn't mean you're caving in to society's beauty myth to do this. Give your self permission to feel good about how you look.

I have a theater background, so I tend to think in terms of the self as being fluid. As an actor, you learn to make the audience believe that you are the person you're portraying - because you believe it yourself. Your ability to inhabit your role becomes profoundly persuasive to everyone around you - the audience, the other actors. I've seen actresses who came off as meek and nondescript in person, suddenly assume a powerful role - that of a queen for example - and not only did they sound different, but they looked amazingly different as they spoke and moved in their role, even during a rehearsal without any change of makeup or costume.

Instead of focusing on how you look, think about which character you want to be on any given day. Take an acting class where you work with a partner for a few weeks, and prepare a scene from a play. If you're cast in the role of a beautiful woman, you will be utterly convincing as that person by the end of the course. You will have located an inner source of beauty and power in yourself that you didn't know you had. And whether you continue in theater or not, you will always be able to find that powerful person again inside you when you need to.

I'd also recommend taking a dance class, any kind. Learn how to move and feel good inside your own body. It really will change your life.

One other thing about being ignored, bumped into, people forgetting to hold the door open for you, cyclists grazing you on the street - this happens to everyone in the city, so don't take it personally :)
posted by cartoonella at 9:58 AM on August 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

I can relate. I've got the racial-minority-version of your problem. There's only so much feminist/anti-racist/etc consciousness one can do if reality is still highly stacked against us (and the same shit still happens in more "empowered" circles; people just hide or justify it differently).

You might find some insight or solidarity in Mia Mingus's Moving Towards The Ugly.
posted by divabat at 11:01 AM on August 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

I hope this isn't too much of a detail, but weight doesn't always translate into curves. I'm close to the OP in height and weight, but I'm not curvy-figured. Whenever I hear my size range praised as "curvy," it just makes me feel like there's one more way in which I'm not conventionally attractive.

Ugh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make anyone feel bad. I guess I was just trying to point out that the OP is NOT fat by most conventional definitions. In fact, I plugged her height and weight into a typical BMI calculator, and her result was 25.1--just veeeeeeerrrrrry slightly overweight. The tiniest, teensiest bit. Upper limit of "normal."

I realize that BMI is problematic--OP, have you seen Kate Harding's BMI Project slideshow? Very, very enlightening. But my point is that any guy who calls 5'7 and 160 pounds "fat" is a douchebag and deserves to be called a creep and have drinks thrown in his face, and yes, that kind of douchebaggery is epidemic, unfortunately, which still doesn't make it at all acceptable. I was 5'7" and 155 when I was in high school, and I went around believing I was fat when I really wasn't. (But, yeah, now that I think about it, I was kind of shapeless.)

So OP, since you describe yourself as "not fat, but not fit," maybe it would help you feel better about yourself and the world if you were to, well, get fit. It sounds as if it wouldn't be hard, given that you're not really overweight to begin with, and a little effort would probably lead to great results. When I was much younger I hated to exercise because I saw it as something I was forced to do to conform to other people's (i.e., men's) standards of beauty. Now, however, I do it because I love to run my hand along my leg or arm and feel the muscle there; I love having good posture and being able to bicycle up steep hills without getting out of breath; and, yes, I love the way it makes me look and how well it makes my clothes fit, regardless of whether men look at me or not. I feel more confident and just all-around better about myself, and that is the best reason of all to exercise. If you do so and perceive that people respond more positively to you as a result, sure, it could be that they're shallow and superficial and only think you're worth knowing when you're more physically attractive (in which case, time to find better friends) but I'm guessing it will be more likely because they are responding to your own, much more positive self-image.

(Actually, I do love that my husband appreciates the effort I've made on my appearance. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that people should try just a little to be attractive for their partners. But it wasn't my primary reason for working out, just a side benefit, and obviously, he's the only man whose opinion actually matters in any way.)
posted by tully_monster at 11:15 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

So much good stuff in this thread that I don't know if I can add to it by further picking apart such a fascinating and complex question, but a couple of things come to mind, so I'll try and offer a bit of practical advice.

First off, let me repeat what many have already said - pretty young women come in for a ton of abuse and misogyny. You've probably heard it a thousand times, but the kind of attention you feel you're missing is at best unwelcome, and can be downright scary. You really don't want to be on the receiving end of that kind of random harassment. So in at least that respect, growing older does have its benefits. It's true people tend to view you differently, and yes, few people pay that kind of attention to women as they approach the end of their childbearing years. But you are a long, long way from that in your mid-thirties, and there is no reason in the world why you should feel invisible, just because you don't get hit on by jerks.

Secondly, everyone likes to be admired, but hardly anybody achieves it via an idealized, overtly sexual and frankly artificial construct of femininity. At least, nobody you'd want to hang out with. As Frowner says, the beauty game is one absolutely nobody ever wins, but I have a hunch that s/he would agree with me that it's a whole lot more rewarding if you can engage with it on your own terms. There are all kinds of ways to do this (surgery is not one of them) so at the very least you need to cultivate a bit of shameless vanity. Work on those things you like about yourself, and focus on changing the things that are easy to change. Got body art? Flaunt it! Don't like your haircut? Find a great hairdresser! Experiment. Think a bit about how you'd like people to see you, and work on that. When your outward appearance corresponds to your very best self, people will respond to it, and pretty soon you won't feel so invisible any more. Beauty may have its privileges, but please believe me that there's not much more empowering for a woman than great personal style.

Which is a roundabout way of saying: of course beauty is important, and more so for women than for men, but perhaps not in the way you think. And while it's preposterous to think that appearances are the only way we can measure our value in society, life in the city is definitely better when you have a good look going.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 11:17 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is a gender-neutral problem. Straight or gay, male or female, we all get unfairly judged based on looks. It's totally a result of our Darwinist programming - animal brains are programmed to find mates with the highest fitness for survival, so we respond strongly to visual signals of physical health and fertility : clear skin, youth, bright eyes, body shape, etc. It's programmed really deeply into all of us, even if we know it's not really that important.

At least woman have a measure of control over how they are perceived by changing hair, makeup, clothes.

Men are judged a lot on their height, which they cannot change at all, don't have socially approved access to makeup, and really there is no "sexy" clothing for men that doesn't just look silly.
posted by w0mbat at 5:17 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can't undo evolution. Males of almost all species are the pursuers, and pursuit has evolved to be based on surface physical attraction because that is what resulted in maximum reproduction outcomes. Despite the sophisticated nature of the human species, that evolutionary foundation of our genetic and physiological make-up can't be ignored or discounted (as much as a lot of women I know unrealistically would like it to be). That being said, IMHO a woman who is less physically attractive (by whatever standard) can make herself more attractive with a big, animated, fun, and/or sweet personality. Just like men.
posted by Dansaman at 9:31 AM on August 30, 2012

Best answer: You can't undo evolution. Males of almost all species are the pursuers, and pursuit has evolved to be based on surface physical attraction because that is what resulted in maximum reproduction outcomes. Despite the sophisticated nature of the human species, that evolutionary foundation of our genetic and physiological make-up can't be ignored or discounted (as much as a lot of women I know unrealistically would like it to be). That being said, IMHO a woman who is less physically attractive (by whatever standard) can make herself more attractive with a big, animated, fun, and/or sweet personality. Just like men.

Yeah, that is a remarkably simplistic understanding of how evolution and sexual attraction work, even among nonhuman species. Which the OP wasn't asking about.

Dansaman is really being part of the problem by telling the OP to change herself to fit some standard of attractive, when she specifically said she already struggles with hating her looks.

See, OP, here's the thing; the game is rigged. Women are given a list of physical attractiveness indicators and told that if they just meet them, things will be great. But actually, it's not; meet them and now you are just dismissed in a different way. You can be fucking Secretary of State and get told to go make a sandwich or quizzed on your pantsuits, if you're a woman.

Sexism is real, it's a cultural artifact, and all the justso fairytales about it being inevitable always fall apart because there is no data on what our "natural" state is or what "naturally" attracts us. Just lots of cultural baggage, of which sexism is part.

So anyway, this is the fucked up world we have. Make yourself as happy as you can within it. What someone else thinks of your appearance is their problem, not yours, as hard as it can be to turn off your programming and stop caring.
posted by emjaybee at 1:18 PM on August 30, 2012 [13 favorites]

I have a big, animated, fun personality. It scares people because I'm not submissive or docile enough.

As emjaybee says, it's all rigged.
posted by divabat at 5:29 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You describe yourself as more or less average-looking, but you seem to feel like you are surrounded by beautiful woman. That seems mathematically impossible. Most people are average, by definition. When I think about it, I really don't know that many truly exceptionally beautiful people. I also really don't anyone who is really that unattractive. I know A LOT of average people, some of whom are more charming, stylish, confident, put-together than others. I guess i know a few average people who have knocked themselves down a few pegs through lack of self-care. Some of these average people have a particular assemblage of average physical traits I am more into than others; there's a lot of variety in average and people like what they like. What's going on with all the other average women who you don't mention in your post? Are they invisible to you because you have developed a distorted version of your position in the world?

Another thing that stands out to me is that you say that you "literally have to charm the shit out of to keep them in the conversation (even though I often could give a shit and am only looking to cure boredom in talking to someone." This strikes me as weird. First of all, most people can sense when other people don't give a shit and are just trying to cure boredom. They probably are trying to get out of the conversation at least in part because it's clear that you're not into it. They may even feel like you're treating them like the "second class citizen" you feel like because you're giving off "I couldn't give a shit" vibes and send weird mixed signals by simultaneously trying to "charm the shit out of them." Men are people. Treat them the way you want to be treated, and assume they have a the usual range of feelings. Other people have said that you seem to surrounded by toxic douches. You certainly seem to think so. Could that be impacted the way you treat people and then the way the respond to you? Regardless, you should involve yourself with people you genuinely like, whom you are genuinely interested in talking to. You need to set up your life so that people seem less like objects-- beautiful women who are superior to you, men who find you invisible or repulsive-- and more like people *to you.*
posted by lalalana at 1:07 AM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I didn't read all the comments but queried 'evolution' and 'genetics'.

Men (and women) are certainly attracted and drawn to physical characteristics. Those seemingly arbitrary characteristics allowed humans to pass on their genes more successfully. That is why those attractions are there.

But there is a higher calling, asking us to act above our animal instincts. To see love as something much more than passing on genes. It is an opportunity to complete our selves! Humans have the capacity to grow into this higher voice. Some would argue it is our 'purpose'.

There are guys out there who get this. If you let go of pretense, being who you truly are, not wishing you were someone else, they will be attracted to you. They won't be tripping over each other to get to you but the ones who would aren't the best candidates to be your soul-mate anyway.
posted by lake59 at 5:04 AM on September 4, 2012

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