You're Too Sexy for This Party. GTFO.
September 6, 2012 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Ladies: have you ever been targeted/harassed/insulted by others, particularly women, for being too sexy or attractive? Have you witnessed such a thing? Naive as I feel for asking this... does that sort of thing actually happen in the real world and not just on TV? More inside, forgive me if I'm being horribly inarticulate...

I'm thinking about situations where one would understandably want to look good -- parties, dates, dancing, etc -- and less about when "sexy" is inappropriate (clubwear at grampa's funeral). I also presume that such attacks are generally veiled, but having never been raged on for my own awesome sexiness, I don't want to presume. :P

I don't go out clubbing. I don't hit bars. My social circles are heavily populated by geeks & nerds... several of whom are very attractive women, to be sure, but I've just plain never seen cattiness about appearance among said female friends. We have LOTS of discussion about the ridiculous appearance of women in comics, video games, etc... but amongst themselves and in relation to real people, they're all generally appalled when anyone mocks someone else's appearance.

Thing is, lately I've been around women outside that social circle who seem quick to mock -- and often it's more about body shape or voice than it is about style of dress, but there's that, too. It's always behind the other woman's back. And it almost always questions the target's level of intelligence, or the company she keeps.

I guess what I'm asking is, does that sort cattiness and envy ever come out into the open? Do the insults and mockery ever get made to the target's face? I've never seen it, but I'm a guy and I wonder if the lens of my own subculture has anything to do with my lack of knowledge here.
posted by scaryblackdeath to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (74 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Do the insults and mockery ever get made to the target's face?

Full disclosure: not a lady. But I parent a teenage girl so I'm exposed to a fair bit of this.

The usual thing seems to be that no direct attack is ever made until a large amount of preparatory social undermining has been performed inside the victim's peer group. This kind of constant white-anting seems to be the expected behavior; everybody participates. The net result is that direct attacks are rare but devastating. If there's any actual rationale for this, it's probably some variant of MAD.
posted by flabdablet at 6:18 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ladies: have you ever been targeted/harassed/insulted by others, particularly women, for being too sexy or attractive? Have you witnessed such a thing?

The only time that I can think of that this has happened to me is when I've been "negged" by male PUA's, or had horrible things yelled at me by guys on the street. I can't think of a time that it has happened to me personally by other women.

I have seen women do this towards other women a handful of times, but not JUST for being "too sexy." It's more like, the woman is behaving in a way (and the guys in the group are responding in a way) that is totally changing the group dynamic. And is not about interacting with everyone in the group and having a good time with everyone but rather about drawing all the attention to oneself - like she is sitting in everyone's laps, flirtatiously touching guys in front of their significant others, talking really loudly/talking over people, etc.

In my personal experience I've seen men behave this way towards "extremely sexy" men way more often. Making remarks about how much of a "pretty boy" or "metrosexual" or how "gay" the attractive men are. Commenting on how the man is a douche, or a bro, or must be an idiot, etc.
posted by cairdeas at 6:21 PM on September 6, 2012 [15 favorites]

Being told "You clean up nice." is the most insidious form of this I've encountered from erstwhile friends. It can be uncharitably parsed out as both "you look attractive right now" and "you kinda schlubb it up all other times". Is that out in the open enough or still too subtle?
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:28 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I can't take this, starting with that shirt." is a comment aimed at me at a party, by another woman, when I was about 28 years old. Swear to god, I'd naively never believed I could be sexy -- but her comment made me realize I could be, and that I was -- but it also made me want to cry, and I did almost immediately leave the party.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:29 PM on September 6, 2012

I've seen mocking and cattiness, always behind the back and not to the face as far as I can recall.* However, it's never directed at a hotter woman, it's always the reverse, i.e. thinner, prettier women criticizing/attacking someone they see as less attractive. Super gorgeous girls and women are much more likely to be treated better by other girls and women, in my experience. The exception being the behavior that cairdeas describes. That attention-seeking stuff can elicit a fair amount of eye rolling from other women, but though that behavior might go along with good looks, it's definitely the behavior, not the looks alone, that makes other women lose respect.

*Dissing someone to her face would involve ignoring, not mocking. (I think this might be very regional though.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:32 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am skinny in what many parts of our culture dictate is a "good" way (mostly in a healthy range, but occasionally a little smaller than that) and I've absolutely had other women say pointedly snide things to me about it. Never for how I'm dressed or anything, but yes, pointed comments directed at my size-0-ness. Never from anyone I know more than in very passing, certainly never from friends. Mostly just in the "at least I'm not anorexic" or "well you know I won't throw that up later" camp rather than the ascribing other non-weight-related insults (intelligence, etc.).
posted by brainmouse at 6:34 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've found it's mostly an age/weight thing for me. (You look so young! You're just a baby! I bet you can eat whatever you want!) More condescending than outright insulting, but still annoying.

Maybe I have pretty thick skin, but this doesn't really bother me. A group of fratty dudes driving by as I tried to cross the street last weekend telling me I looked like a whore kind of did, though.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:34 PM on September 6, 2012

Response by poster: So I feel like I should say this: I'm certainly not trying to enjoy anyone's pain here. I asked friends on FB once to tell me about their experiences with less-than-criminal bullying because I was trying to work up material for a story, and within about two hours I practically wanted to cry. So for what it's worth, I'm not asking this because I'm in search of a laugh or anything. Pretty people don't deserve abuse anymore than not-as-pretty people.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:40 PM on September 6, 2012

Yes, this is a thing (or at least in one particularly unpleasant social group that trended towards women using it as a singles meetup). My...friend....was significantly thinner and also got more male attention just by virtue of not trying so hard for it (so "too sexy" in a different sense). Relational bullying among women is much more subtle, much cattier....comments on wardrobe, a comment on a (relatively modest but very well-fitted cocktail dress): "What, is that supposed to be a BOW in the back?" (Said about a sash that was inexpertly tied.) Comments about "butterface", or inexpertly applied (subtle) makeup; a size 20 asking, "did anyone ever tell you you look like a man?" (The comeback that might have been said: "No man has ever confused me for a man.") Women competing for male attention can be stupid and brutal to one another. These women were particularly offended that someone in inexpensive clothes, little makeup, inexpert flirting, and the "wrong" kind of job, apartment, etc. was making more headway.
posted by availablelight at 6:42 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, I've had decidedly nasty, mean-spirited remarks made to my face, especially at holiday work parties where spouses are invited. Sadly, they weren't even "disguised" in the age/weight type "compliments" that others have mentioned. They were directed to my face, by the wives of coworkers. Not all their wives, but more than enough of them.
posted by kellyblah at 6:42 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

...oh, and it was always in a very condescending tone. That's how women try to remaster situations where they feel shown up, when girl on girl social violence happens, in my experience.
posted by availablelight at 6:43 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is something that is overrepresented in media, just as the straight male analogue cairdeas describes is underrepresented in media.

Some people are jerks who try to make other people feel bad with whatever tools they can find to do it. "Aren't you attractive (and therefore superficial or whatever)?" is a bit blunter than "Aren't you ugly (and therefore worthless or whatever)?" but it will still do as a weapon in malicious hands.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:44 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

My only familiarity with this is in two ways.

The first way is the common trope that, when you get married, you should pick an ugly bridesmaid dress so that you easily outshine your bridesmaids. That said, maybe my friends are just super amazing and comfortable in their own skins, but none of my female married friends have done this or even joked about it. It seems like probably more of a running joke than a real thing that non-sociopaths do.

The second and much more prevalent thing is that I will straight up admit that it's harder for me to see a really good looking woman as super-competent in a professional context. I have a bad habit of assuming that pretty young thing = resting on good looks, or that women can't be both pretty and smart at the same time. This especially goes for women with a conventionally pretty sorority girl bimbo-ish look. I'm really working on this, but it's possible that I "discriminate" against pretty bubbly blonds who are at or below my level on the professional ladder. (This is not something I do to such women who outrank me, obviously.) I use scare quotes because I'm not talking about, like, not hiring someone or actively sabotaging them. I'm just probably less likely to trust them if we are on equal footing, and less likely to delegate and challenge them if they report to me.

All of that said, no, I would never be openly mean or start some kind of TV sitcom cat-fight. It's mostly unconscious and not even an active dislike. Just a lot of internalized gender nonsense.

I will also add that I have been condescended to about my age, and back when I was thinner, my weight/ability to eat "anything". But I don't see that so much as insulting as just a sort of coded way that older women talk to younger women to sort of enforce the pecking order.

Blatant sexual harrassment from men in all its myriad ways, shapes, and forms is a million times worse than any of the stuff I've mentioned above.
posted by Sara C. at 6:48 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I dunno, it really depends on the crowd you hang with because this just isn't my reality as a woman. Like at all. Unless you count those months in 7th grade when some classmates became fixated on the notion of popularity and social hierarchies and I decided I'd rather have friends who didn't care about such things. I wouldn't choose to surround myself with people like that in the first place.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:54 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really can't say I've ever been punished for being too pretty. But I've definitely been punished, what feels like a hundred times that I knew of, for not being pretty enough.

Sara C., I know what you mean about prejudice in the workplace against women who are conventionally pretty. It happens. Given the historical tendencies of patriarchy, it has happened many times that unqualified women were promoted too far based on superficial characteristics, so I think it's actually quite understandable to have some wariness here if you weren't the hiring manager. But for me, ultimately any estimation of them stands or falls on their ability. Some of them bring it; some of them really are just a pretty face. There are certainly plenty of drop-dead gorgeous - and conventionally pretty - and homely - women who are at the top of their field, brilliant, full of chops, and at the top of their game. If someone's got the chops I'll be the last to want to take them down and the first to defend them.
posted by Miko at 6:55 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was despised and ridiculed as a little girl and teen because I was considered prettier than my classmates, so yes, people do punish others for being pretty -- particularly if they consider that person's sex appeal a threat to their own.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:57 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I will straight up admit that it's harder for me to see a really good looking woman as super-competent in a professional context. I have a bad habit of assuming that pretty young thing = resting on good looks, or that women can't be both pretty and smart at the same time.

Oh, this reminds me of when I got my first professional job in my early 20's. I think this was way more about my age than my looks because per se, but I looked my (very young) age, and have a really feminine/girly appearance and voice. At that time, I also had very girly mannerisms too.

I had to consciously modulate my voice to be less "girly" and young-sounding, and I had to completely overhaul my mannerisms too. I had to take on this demeanor of being deadly serious, no-nonsense, and almost stern. The quality of my work and content of everything I was saying and doing did not change in any way. But before I did this, most people I interacted with condescended to me and treated me like a total idiot. Afterwards, they treated me like an adult. Most of the people I had this problem with were, again, male.
posted by cairdeas at 6:58 PM on September 6, 2012

Yes, this has happened to me once, but this might not be exactly what you're looking for: it happened in a chat room. Two other chatters attacked me (that's the best way I can describe it) by telling me that I need to leave and not come back because all the guys liked me. They went on in that vein for several minutes, but I don't remember the details; mostly I was "hogging all the guys". I wish I had just left, but I was so stunned I sat there and took it. I didn't do anything to bring this on except be nice, friendly, outgoing (it's much easier for me to be that way online rather than in face-to-face situations, stupid social anxiety disorder). It was quite upsetting; remembering it has my hands shaking right now.
posted by deborah at 7:01 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: In my personal experience I've seen men behave this way towards "extremely sexy" men way more often. Making remarks about how much of a "pretty boy" or "metrosexual" or how "gay" the attractive men are. Commenting on how the man is a douche, or a bro, or must be an idiot, etc.

This is... totally true, and I'm a little chagrinned to have not given it much thought before now. Huh. Really good point.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:03 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

At the first school dance I ever attended, in the fifth grade, a group of (slightly) older girls came over to me and cooed over my hair. It was beautiful! It was amazing! They petted it and made a big deal.

I did have pretty hair in those days. Golden and naturally prone to ringlets. The next morning I realized they's stuck several wads of chewed gum into it.

Does that count?
posted by Andrhia at 7:04 PM on September 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

I would be teased and bullied in Middle and High School by other girls when we all came back from Summer Vacation, because I was tan, and they were not. Tanning was 'in', and often they spent nearly their entire summers trying to darken their alabaster skin a shade or two, and not succeed. I, OTOH, have olive skin, and I tan whether or not I want to. So I'd spend my summers indoors in the library, and come back with a tan that they would kill for, that I got without even trying.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:05 PM on September 6, 2012

Blatant sexual harrassment from men in all its myriad ways, shapes, and forms is a million times worse than any of the stuff I've mentioned above.

The catty ladies catfights trope is way overrepresented in pop culture, and blatant sexual harassment and other insulting/annoying treatment from men is minimized and glossed over.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 7:05 PM on September 6, 2012 [16 favorites]

And middle-schoolers are universally horrible. I was chased around by a group of boys asking me about my tits (and making other lewd remarks I'd rather forget) for most of 7th grade - bullying is an equal-opportunity phenomenon.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 7:06 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

At one of my last jobs, Halloween was a big thing, with every team in the 1000-person building getting involved with decorations, party events, etc.

A young woman (mid 20s) on my team came dressed as a "sexy cop," but it was pretty tame by Halloween standards. As in, literally take away the badge and hat, and it's business appropriate clothing -- a black dress shirt, short black skirt and black tights. No skin showing, not fetish gear, etc.

An older woman (late 40s) on the team lodged an official complaint. Too sexy, she says. The collective reaction was "Wha...?" Mind you, this is Halloween. The CEO was dressed in a feathered chicken suit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:09 PM on September 6, 2012

Oh, and at another job, the exec editor was literally a former nun, and made a teenage news assistant cover up because she had bare shoulders.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:10 PM on September 6, 2012

I've had women tell me I made them feel bad about themselves, or that I wasn't as pretty as I thought and that men didn't like me as much as I thought or point out that I'm getting crowsfeet or have put on weight: in public! In fairness, most of these women were drunk. I've been called a bitch because some guy asked me out that someone else liked. My own mother used to be the worst but I had a sit down chat with her and she stopped. Her sister remains a bitchy bitch though.

The worst is you just get drummed out of a social circle because the other women decide you're a threat to their relationships. That stopped when I was "taken" but in my 30s when I became single a group of couples I was friends with dropped me and I later found out it was because one of the women (who is a headcase) had asked her SO if he thought I was attractive, he'd said yes (just an objective assessment he told me later) and she told everyone she was afraid he'd leave her for me. This was entirely a fantasy in her head that neither I nor her SO knew about but she just kept asking I not be invited or excluding me until I got kind of forgotten. Some people even thought we'd had an affair because she talked about it so much! Super lame especially since I am never inappropriately flirtatious nor have I ever cheated on or with anyone. I really liked some of those people too.

The pretty young thing at work is constant and annoying and I'm 37. I try to ignore it and let my work speak for itself but I do occasionally smite someone.
posted by fshgrl at 7:11 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

My wife has always been put down by other women because of the size of her chest. At one time, out of the blue, some old lady in the supermarket called her a "whore." I was with her: She was wearing a freaking turtle-neck at the time. After 4 children, her "problem" has only gotten worse, and women still tend to treat her badly.

She gets similarly treated by men: Either they naturally assume it's Ok to come on to her, or they conflate her chest size with some sort of reduction of IQ.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:18 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

fwiw, I don't think I'm amazingly attractive but I'm perfectly happy and confident about how I look and I'm athletic and active, both of which seem to get under people's skin. I also think I'm perceived as an easy target because I'm not very good at the whole catty girl thing and I'll often just ignore stupid shit like the above. To a point anyway.
posted by fshgrl at 7:18 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

It totally happens. It's usually either a) getting called things like slut and skank to your face regardless of your sexual activities, or b) getting called those things behind your back.

Beautiful women will also get accused of being bitchy, thinking they're so hot/ better than everyone else/ thinking they can steal other women's men- job- friends- etc just because they are hot, and so on. This will happen to a beautiful woman's face and behind her back, and is worst between the ages of 13 to 21.

I'm not claiming I'm beautiful enough to have this stuff happen to me, but I have some incredibly gorgeous friends, and have seen them get treated really shittily. When it happens to the face, there is usually (but not always) alcohol involved, or it is in the type of dramatic social circles where everyone, girls and guys, are just looking for reasons to get into fistfights.

I'd call people behaving like that trashy if there wasn't so much of it in my own family. I knew a lot of girls like this in one of the smaller towns I lived- it seems to be a more rural/ smalltown phenomenon. I'm not trying to generalize, only saying what I've seen. I don't understand how people can think small towns are a good place to raise kids; with absolutely nothing to do, a small town is often a horrible place to raise kids.
posted by windykites at 7:50 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who is an absolute knock-out -- she was a South American model before she got married. She is stunning. She is smart. She is bilingual.

There were a couple of mean-girl moms in our mommy-and-me class that would say sort-of snarky things to her face along the lines of, "When you're so pretty, I guess you don't really have to be very smart" if she screwed up an English idiom or "I guess when you're that pretty, it must be easy to get a green card marriage" if she mentioned growing up in another country. It wasn't quite that blatant, but that was the gist of it. My friend is a little shy because English is her second language, and she often thinks she must have misunderstood the English when someone's not very nice, but this has happened to her more than a few times. She is kind-of lonely because her shyness about her English (which is very good) makes it hard for her to reach out, and other women are a little slow to reach out to her because she is so beautiful that it's a little intimidating, and I think it's easy to assume that very pretty women must be mean or snobby (because we all knew ONE in high school).

I think what bothered these women in particular is that they put a lot of effort into looking really good for mommy-and-me class (which is a jeans and yoga pants sort of milieu), doing their hair and make-up, wearing stylish clothes, and obviously put a lot of emphasis on their physical image, while my friend comes in in old jeans and flip flops and a T-shirt and a messy ponytail and still looks like a South American model.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:55 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ha, I was scratching my brain about whether I've ever encountered a woman doing this to another woman to her face (in my experience, a really powerful woman will only insult you in a way where it's not clear it's happening to your face--because it's disarming and confusing and disempowers you on top of insulting you because there's no proper response--and in a more overt way only behind your back), and then I remembered that my mom does this to me constantly. Started when I was 12 and my breasts got bigger than hers. Comments range from criticisms of clothing ("you look ridiculous" or "your boobs are hanging out" when, uh, they're not) to outright whining ("It's not fair! Where did those come from? No one else in our family looks like that!") Every few months we have to have a conversation about how we're not competing and how it makes me feel weird and miserable about my body, but it never seems to stick.

But I don't know if dysfunctional family dynamics are what you're looking for.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:59 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's happened to me in various female-centric circles, from the nerdy-geeky chicks to the model-actress chicks, and I don't consider myself to be that attractive and it's not just been about my looks, but just questioning my "nerd cred" (if such a thing exists) or whatever group identity I need to share to be part of the Thing.

I've also gotten it from men. Cattiness is not gender specific. Some people just really need to or really enjoy putting others down/putting them in their place.
posted by sm1tten at 8:00 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my experience, if we're real live grown-ups and not Real Housewives of wherever, the face-to-face targeting tends to be extraordinarily subtle and not even really "mean." For example, maybe Girl A feels insecure because Girl B is, I don't know, very thin. So Girl A says something like "I couldn't get a date here to save my life. I know you don't have a problem with that since you're so skinny!"

In this manner, Girl A gets to simultaneously shame Girl B, while also appearing to compliment her. Girl B is meant to feel guilty about her skinniness/big boobs/whatever, but doesn't get to feel offended. She's also put into a position of offering comfort and reassurance, denigrating herself (the great lady pastime!), and ensuring Girl B gets her share of attention.

Most decent people know this dance and avoid it, but it's still pretty common. It's also exhausting as hell. When people try to pull this crap on me (not often since high school, thankfully) I just roll my eyes, make a frustrated noise, and refuse to participate. It works!
posted by aintthattheway at 8:01 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm not pretty. I'm not sexy. I'm a big woman. What I am is confidant. I talk to people, including men in a friendly manner. Some women see this as a threat and act accordingly. They make remarks about my weight. They make remarks about my looks. They make remarks about my clothes (I'm never "in style" I'm always comfortable). I even had one woman say to my face, "I don't know what these guys see in you, you're not even good looking." (pardon me while I roll my eyes). What irritates me most though, is when they accuse me of trying to "steal" their man.

I've told more than one woman that I do not need to steal their man. I generally have a man of my own, thank you very much. I don't need to steal theirs. It's very annoying when confidence is misconstrued as trying to be sexy.
posted by patheral at 8:03 PM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

I get this from the occasional new girlfriends of my longtime male friends. Whatevs, I am not responsible for their sad insecurities. And it is not my fault I am superawesome.
posted by elizardbits at 8:03 PM on September 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

And seconding those that say they've dealt with this with platonic male friends and the women attached to them--either other female friends or new girlfriends. I find it pretty weird, though. Like, I just want to play video games with the guys, not schtup them, who cares what I look like?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:08 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

This thread is really make me count my blessings.

I don't think I've experienced this since junior high, and since I was the new kid in the school, I think it probably had at least as much to do with that, since I was not remarkably beautiful. And I'm pretty sure I haven't witnessed it since around then, either. I'm in my 40s, and I've been an out dyke for more than 20 years. I'm sure that somewhere there are lesbians who do this, but I've never had the misfortune to encounter them.
posted by rtha at 8:09 PM on September 6, 2012

I've found a significant percentage of my nerdy-geeky female friends can be devastatingly snarky and mean to anyone with stereotypical female outfit or interests in hair/makeup/jewelry. My wife even got the stinkeye a couple times at gatherings because she came straight from work and her job requires stereotypical female professional attire (skirts or dresses), good makeup and hair, nails done properly, etc. Thin women also get the usual "Needs a sandwich/Can't eat a hamburger/Needs curves cause a real woman has them/anorexic" treatment.

They do it to guys, too, for whatever it's worth. If you wear stereotypical "jock" clothes like a polo shirt or a baseball cap, lord help you, and a button-up dress shirt invites heaps of derision.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:19 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

I was trying to think of any examples of this post high school and then realized that high school girl politics are why I mostly have male friends. I don't handle the super competitive looks thing well at all and it makes me shy of other women who are into it.

That all sounds sexist and it is but after being burned pretty badly in girl friendships where I got knives in my back I've been wary.

Taking down pretty girls is just the flip side of making fun of girls you think are ugly or (this was my problem) girls who don't want to play the game of constantly performing hotness while pretending you're not.

After enduring constantly being accused of lesbianism and or being treated as a walking joke it just became easier to be friends w guys who mostly had no idea if my shoes were fashionable or not.

As an adult I do hear some women make snide remarks now and then re other women dressing inappropriately but not because they are pretty per se.
posted by emjaybee at 8:24 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can think of a few incidents, but they're never direct. For reference, I'm in shape because I'm into crossfit and some sports. I'm 22 and maybe average to slightly above average in appearance. I'm nowhere near girly, and I don't wear short shorts, yoga pants, or really anything besides a t-shirt and jeans or conservative skirt. I have two pairs of heels, both of which are rarely worn. Light makeup about 50% of the time. So yeah... I'm obviously not dressing to impress.

I've had random women loudly mock my appearance without confronting me. They'll say I look like a piece of meat, that I need to eat something, or just, "Look at that bitch." Once, someone openly speculated that I had an eating disorder, then made gagging noises. Stuff like this usually occurs in shopping centers or on my community college campus. It's not *common*, but it happens often enough that it's extremely upsetting, and I have great difficulty not thinking about the incidents for days afterward. I've cried about it because it's so random and harsh and uncalled for.

These comments are always from people who are significantly overweight or dressed to impress themselves. Always complete strangers. Almost always women, but I've had men agree with their lady friends about their opinions of me. They're just bouncing their insecurities off me. Even though I know they've made themselves feel better and forgotten about me 10 minutes later, it doesn't make me feel any less crappy about it.

If I'm with my boyfriend, I'm safe; I'm invisible.
posted by plaintiff6r at 8:27 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's happened to me in various female-centric circles, from the nerdy-geeky chicks to the model-actress chicks, and I don't consider myself to be that attractive and it's not just been about my looks, but just questioning my "nerd cred" (if such a thing exists) or whatever group identity I need to share to be part of the Thing.

So my most recent experience with the cattiness and behind-the-back derision was at Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle this past weekend. A gal my girlfriend and I had just met -- who seemed awesome until this -- just started ripping on other girls there. It came out as her mocking the cosplayers, but A) the ones she mocked weren't even scantily clad or anything, and B) her comments were more about the size-of-head-to-boobs/ass ratio than they were about costume choices or whatever.

AND she called out the nerd cred. Of the cosplayers, no less. I just couldn't wrap my head around that. I really felt like virtually all the women at PAX seemed like they owned their nerd cred. I saw a few gamer-moms, but hardly what you'd call any "gamer girlfriends" (and so what if they were? 'cause girlfriends never go to football games with their guys?). Just really blew me away. I'm used to a more accepting attitude amongst my nerd friends. They don't call one another out over being overweight or pale or whatever, so why's it a sin to be pretty?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:38 PM on September 6, 2012

From the article just posted to the blue about misogyny in Australian politics:

And it is not just the men. Opposition front bencher Sophie Mirabella has been known to call out, “Here comes the weather girl” when the attractive Kate Ellis, Minister for Employment Participation and Early Childhood and Childcare, goes to answer a question.

posted by Trivia Newton John at 8:49 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

yes, pointed comments directed at my size-0-ness. Never from anyone I know more than in very passing, certainly never from friends. Mostly just in the "at least I'm not anorexic" or "well you know I won't throw that up later" camp rather than the ascribing other non-weight-related insults (intelligence, etc.).

Like brainmouse, this.
I am, indeed, very slim. I am on the very slim side. I always have been, since I was a kid
Never, though, have I had an eating disorder. And while I am very thin, and wouldn't draw the admiration of Christina Hendricks (because I don't have quite those curves, eh) or Queen Latifah fans, I do not look like I have an eating disorder. It is obvious and apparent to all of my physicians, like ever, that I do not have an eating disorder, and it is even more obvious to those who have seen me naked or in swimsuits that, hey hey, I have the ladyhips and tits and ass that you can't generally sustain while starving yourself. I also have really small feet for my height and weirdly knucklely fingers, but what can you do?

Anyhow - I've gotten a lot of anorexic comments/taunts/insults thrown in my face, and have since I was about 12 or so. It happens with some regularity. In four cases, the individuals who made those comments were personally known to me, and I knew that they were struggling with eating disorders, themselves. For the others, who knows?

It used to really hurt my feelings. Now I don't give a shit.

Additionally, I've also encountered some hostility from others while discussing mainstream beauty ideals and the sexist pressures that surround them. At times, I've been told that my input is not appreciated because I am too thin or too pretty or too whatever to understand what they are going through. And, yeah, they are right, in certain regards; the Hollywood Size 0 world doesn't confront me in the same way, because I'm almost that size. However, body issues and mediated portrayals are way more complicated than that, and sometimes entering that conversation can get tricky, and I've been known to sit a few out, though I might let others know why. On the other hand, I think a lot of women know that there's just a lot of bullshit body stuff flying in the air, and no matter who you are or how you look, some of it is going to land on you, because the problem is rooted in something more fundamental than appearances. So those conversations are sometimes great. It's a crapshoot, I guess, and maybe depends on how diplomatic or sensitive or caffeinated the conversation participants are on that particular day.

However, it's never directed at a hotter woman, it's always the reverse, i.e. thinner, prettier women criticizing/attacking someone they see as less attractive.

I've not noticed this trend, personally, as I don't see it running rampant in my social sphere. I don't doubt that it exists in others, though, and know others who have similar experiences to yours.


Frankly, we live in a culture which is generally hostile to women's bodies on a variety of fronts, and creates an environment in which physiques are held to a variety of unrealistic standards. Additionally, we live in a culture where women are often put in competition with each other, or are forced into subordinated roles, which makes hostile competition seem like a reasonable or desirable out, as it seems like the only option you've got to be taken seriously or to be respected or to be considered attractive or whatever.

So, yeah, hot women experience hostility because of their hotness. Women who don't fit the typical Hollywood mold experience hostility because of their looks. Women who are meek can experience hostility because of their perceived weakness, while women who are assertive get called a bitch. This is why there are still feminists and gender theorists out there raising some rabble - because there is a lot of bullshit out there, and it gets thrown everywhere.


Also, honestly, I seriously think 99.5 percent of the population is very attractive. We are all very attractive, and very human. I've seen maybe, like, two people in my life who genuinely made me think, "this person...not so pretty." Everyone else? Pretty! Beautiful! Cute! Stunning! Everyone is just so human and alive in their own way (and, frankly, I just don't think there's that much variation in physical appearance, once you start looking at a lot of people). I wish people would just embrace that. I know I'm hot. I also know you are hot. Everyone is hot! So can we just get over it, already, maybe?
posted by vivid postcard at 8:53 PM on September 6, 2012 [12 favorites]

I don't consider myself super hot by any means but before my breast reduction and when I was younger, interactions with jealous women was an extremely common thing for me. Being called a slut (to my face and behind my back), people insisting my breasts weren't real because I was so thin (to my face), girlfriends of my guy friends bad mouthing me and forbidding their boyfriend to hang out with me, being excluded from outings because I would get all the attention (said to my face). I could go on. I had almost no female friends in my late teens and all throughout my twenties. I think another factor is that I'm pretty outgoing and confident so that also helped attract male attention and piss of the females around me even more. I still have a very hard time getting along with women even to this day but that is from my end and not because I have anything against anyone, it's just that I'm still gun shy I guess.

I witness women badmouthing other beautiful women pretty regularly but I work with some insecure people.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:01 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

scaryblackdeath, your experience reminds me of this thread on the blue. The article which posits that "pretty girls pretend to be geeks for attention" was written by a dude, but in the comments there were several women who thoroughly agreed with him.

I recall a particularly heated exchange where one woman got into it with several other commenters. She argued that pretty girls made her feel badly about herself just by virtue of being pretty and existing in the same physical space as her, so pretty girls should have the decency and consideration to stay out of comic-cons. She considered comic-cons to be a safe space where she and other less attractive women didn't have to be reminded of the mediocrity of their looks, and was quite offended that attractive women were trying to take this away from her.
posted by keep it under cover at 9:09 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I get the questioning of my intelligence and the general assertion that I sleep around - and I get that far more when I'm skinny and far more when I wear my (long, curly) hair out - but I get that from both men and women. Men tend to comment directly - women tend to comment indirectly/covertly. I do think it's a confidence thing as well - I'm more confident when I'm skinnier, and confidence is a problem for people who feel insecure/under the weather/stressed out - or people just feel that they can give you more shit when you're confident and seemingly-extraverted. I'm actually very shy and I am often very nervous around other people (although it doesn't often show), so it really throws me for a loop when people give me crap about my looks/intelligence/age. But, I actually don't think people really realise what it is they're actually saying/doing - they're just too preoccupied with their own insecurities and it's them venting about themselves in their own (special) way.
posted by heyjude at 10:37 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

One other thing to note is that a lot of people in relationships will try to make their partner demonstrate their loyalty by rejecting or ostracizing members of the opposite sex they themselves find of note, regardless of their partners feelings towards the person. There are approximately eleven millionty AskMes where someone says "is it reasonable to demand my partner unfriend/ ostracize/ hate/ talk shit about their platonic friend/ coworker/ ex/ cute neighbor? And usually the overwhelming answer is "yes! They should totes do that for you!" I've seen this really hurt single women professionally and socially, generally through no fault of their own, because they are automatically seen as a homewrecker type when the man ends the friendship because his partners uncomfortable, even if there is nothing there at all. It doesn't seem to affect men the same way if a newly coupled woman pulls back in the friendship she's seen as acting in a seemly fashion for an attached woman and no blame is attached to the man. It's a subtle but effective way of shunning a woman.
posted by fshgrl at 12:26 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Women who lose weight and/or get fit can get a lot of criticism and undermining from friends, large or small, which can be extremely upsetting. I've noted this several times through the years.
posted by LyzzyBee at 1:09 AM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm extremely overweight and don't consider myself particularly attractive, and even I still get this occasionally. Most obvious instance was at a Christmas party at my husbands work. A co-workers girl friend (who had been nice to me for years) seemed to take exception to the fact that this time I'd made an effort and done my hair and makeup...and was wearing somewhat dramatic neckline. Oh boy - snide, nasty catty remarks were the order of the evening until I buttoned up the shirt I was using as a shrug so that there was no neckline at all. And it all suddenly stopped. Just like that. It was an interesting lesson.

Another anecdote: an acquaintance who was morbidly obese got gastric banding. It worked well for her despite having a host of other related issues, and she lost about 70 kilos. It took a year. It was painful and she was often sick. Talking to some friends at the gym, one said to her "Oh, well, YOU did it the easy way." There's no way that surgery and the pain that goes with it is easy, but there you go.

Woman can have female friends, but what we sometimes have is competition. We wear the clothing, the shoes, the makeup and so forth to attract mates, but it's not for the guys (god, my lovely husband can't tell half the time if I've had a haircut, coloured my hair or bought a new wardrobe). It's for the women around us, stupid as it sounds. Our competition. I think it's why the thin (but to her mind not thin enough) women make comments about the fat ones - they seem to resent the fact that we can show them up in some other way without trying, when they've expended so much effort to get where they are. So they fight back with whatever ammo they can find, weight being an obvious start in an insidious arsenal, and then go on from there. And I believe that half the time they don't realise what they're doing, either. Not an excuse, but an observation.
posted by ninazer0 at 1:58 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've seen this really hurt single women professionally and socially, generally through no fault of their own...

Geez, with this and Eyebrows' stories about her bilingual South American friend, I think my own shy, tall, single bilingual self is finally starting to comprehend more of the snide treatment I get here in a foreign country. (Foreign according to others, as I in fact have citizenship, though my non-native French will never be as fluent as my English, thus the shyness and tendency to wonder if it's me who's out of the loop rather than implicitly understanding that someone's being a twit.)

To the original post: I do get a lot of snide treatment from women here in France, but honestly I think it has more to do with me being viewed as foreign, not fitting into the more conservative gender presentation norms here (especially my height, 85% of French men are 4 centimeters/nearly 2 inches shorter than I am), and also not fitting into the unspoken French feminine ideal of being meek and flirty. Snide remarks are generally along the lines of: "you're too tall", "you're ugly", "you're too direct", and the more roundabout but still obvious "men aren't interested in women like you". Note that many men tell me the same things, though it's worse with them because it usually gets aggressive and personal, as in I have never and am finally accepting that I probably will never be seen as competent enough for a promotion at my job, despite having run my own businesses in two different countries (neither of them my home country), supervised teams successfully, and, y'know, that whole thing where I've built my own life in a foreign country with no help from family or fortune when none of them have ever even lived outside of France. I believe jealousy plays a huge part there, but how can you ever know for certain?

I think women-on-women aggression is more visible simply because it's more acceptable in our still-patriarchal society. It's still uncomfortable for a lot of people to admit that there are so many men who are so openly aggressive and demeaning towards women, in a way that is much more hurtful and detrimental towards women than towards other men (glass ceiling etc.). When women do something similar, yet tamer, to each other, it's pointed out openly because it does two things: it reinforces the patriarchal idea that women are inferior ("look! they even tell each other they are!") and implicitly, even if irrationally, absolves misogynist men of any shame or guilt they might feel for their own sexist behavior. And the vicious circle continues.
posted by fraula at 1:58 AM on September 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

I am a bigger girl. My weight goes up and down. I get very strange reactions from women to when my weight goes down and I fit more into the conventionally accepted definition of "pretty". I get told to my face that I look tired and ill, that it doesn't suit me, that I look scary, and asked if I am eating properly or if I have a disorder. Keep in mind that I've never lost weight unhealthily or particularly fast. These reactions never came from my friends, just women in my wider social circle.

The weird thing about these reactions is that I have never, ever been slim. It would have been a little more understandable, though no less rude, if I'd gone from fat to extraordinarily skinny... but even at my very thinnest I am very zaftig because I am naturally a big girl. So it seems ridiculous to imply that I am ill, scary-looking or anorexic and seemed more to stem from a place of ill will.

I've seen this happen with other people too. There was a big girl who went to my school who lost a ton of weight years ago. To this day, decades later, whenever she comes up in conversation, I hear women comment on her weight loss in a negative fashion - that she fasted or took diet pills or whatever to get that way.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:03 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a connoisseur of most forms of bullying, and I can't say I've had a female make a mean remark about my appearance since school. I got quite a bit of stick in school about being ugly, and I guess the usual amount of ridicule from men in adulthood. I did used to be very skinny, and people commented on that, but it didn't bother me so I never really cared if it was meant to be mean-spirited or not. I mean, yes, I was very skinny; your point? They probably wished they were skinny.

In general, though, I haven't had a problem with other women ragging on my appearance in my entire adult life. Well, yes, I did get a couple of remarks about being really pale from a narcissistic dance teacher, and a snicker from her associate, but that's the kind of thing narcissists say out of their disorder, so it doesn't really count.

I don't know what women say behind my back nowadays, but if my female associates snark about other women's appearance behind their backs, they don't do it within earshot of me. Of course, I never would voluntarily associate with the kind of people who would say that stuff, and in unchosen relationships (like at work) I don't gossip, therefore, others don't gossip around me. So maybe I just don't know about it.
posted by tel3path at 2:45 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

The catty ladies catfights trope is way overrepresented in pop culture,

Not in my experience. I've seen far more examples of outright meanness from women directed at women than I have ever seen man on man or man on woman. Partially, I think, because there isn't any kind of taboo against it.

In every social circle I have experience with, there is a direct correlation between the "hotness" of a woman and the awful things said about her by other women.
posted by gjc at 3:16 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Recently actually and I found this kind of behaviour is directly proportional to how attractive I'm perceived to be in relation to everyone else multiplied by how insecure the other women are who are doing it to me.

Relational bullying among women is much more subtle, much cattier.

I think is what men have a hard time seeing because women aren't generally aggressive in the way men are and women attack things that matter to us, a sense of belonging and community and, the more socially adept can cut you down with a tone of voice and/or look that flies over the heads of most men.
posted by squeak at 4:39 AM on September 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

At a middle school dance, I was asked to not dance because the bounce in my chest was upsetting people. I was in a B cup bra by 5th grade and a D by 6th.

At a formal work holiday party a few years ago, I wore a bespoke corset with a ball skirt. Nothing was said to my face, but I got ugly looks and people turning their back on me from a handful of women. I just stood a little taller and moved on. One of my male colleagues told me later about the verbal drubbing the women received because they commented on "her shelf" among other catty remarks. The male colleague told them I was rocking the outfit and they were jealous that they couldn't pull it off with such confidence. I hugged and thanked him.

I'm very aware of the disapproval I receive for being a plus-size woman who assumes she's sexy and knows she's intelligent. Some men are intimidated by it. Some are tantalized and try to make work time into flirty time. Some women are intimidated by it and use exclusionary tactics or claim that I'm a bitch. Other women recognize that I'm a smart, busty person who's pretty darn comfortable in her own skin and don't find an issue in that. They're the few that I count among my friends.

I find that there's an assumption of competition in all this. I dress the way I do because I like me and how I look. I'm not dressing this way to snare your friend, partner, whatever. I'm happily married and have no doubts about where or who I'm sleeping with tonight.
posted by onhazier at 5:38 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have been told by a female boss that she couldn't understand how I could be a librarian in those heels. I've been told I'm too pretty to be a librarian. I even once had a dean of another department tell my boss, "Not only is she really smart, but she wears makeup and heels. So unlike a librarian."

All of these comments were by women.

This shit happens all the time. Girl on girl psychological violence isn't just a tv trope.
posted by teleri025 at 5:39 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've seen far more examples of outright meanness from women directed at women than I have ever seen man on man or man on woman.

I might say that if you don't see man on woman aggression to the same degree of frequency, it's because as a male you miss a lot of it. But 'outright meanness,' if that means the kind of social undermining that women's aggression often takes the form of, is more characteristic of tactics women end up using to be aggressive to one another, since the rules of patriarchy often work to forbid or discourage direct assertiveness.
posted by Miko at 5:50 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

On the other hand, sometimes catty remarks may be brought on more by someone's attitude, than by their actual appearance. Example: I used to work with a woman who pretty much considered herself sex appeal personified, and let everyone know it..... no one was as sexy as she was, no one as attractive; and she made sure everyone knew the rest of us were schlubs. As you can imagine, this does not make one very popular with the people you might be putting down, although she always insisted no one liked her because of her self-perceived level of attractiveness, rather than her actual rudenesses.

Which is certainly not to say that all (or even many) attractive people are self-centered like that: fortunately not!
posted by easily confused at 5:52 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

This thread has been very interesting. I started it thinking "oh, that sort of thing never happens, outside of TV and movies," but as I read on it brought to mind some of my acquaintances from my teens and twenties. I was very much a tomboy, but also on the thinner side, so my body was subject to constant scrutiny from my female peers. It made me deeply uncomfortable. I have never been traditionally girly at all, and thought that by wearing baggy clothes and being boyish I could avoid playing this game altogether. Nope. Fortunately, I don't have anyone in my life right now who does least to my face. (Except for my mother, but sigh. That's not going to change.)
posted by indognito at 5:53 AM on September 7, 2012

I have a friend who is in her mid-fifties. She is ridiculously attractive, she's extremely active and I would say she dresses more youthfully than the majority of women her age. I have personally witnessed women who do not even know her shun her. If she is at an event with her ridiculously attractive husband and they are talking to a group of men about a sport they all enjoy, their wives will appear out of nowhere to move them along. She gets treated like she's going to steal everyone's husband simultaneously and it sucks.
posted by crankylex at 6:43 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure if you are talking about the insiduous way women talk down to each other, but my experience was different and much more agressive.

Oh yes. This happens, although it's more like the very first poster suggested. I was (for lack of a better word) bullied in high school, college, AND graduate school. All of them were about my looks, my size, and my attitude (which, it was suggested to me, was too aware of my attractiveness). The general pattern revolved around a boy and ended with some slut-shaming, attempting to get crowds to buy the negativity, and general shunning. It looks something like this:

1. Have a group of female friends. Have everyone get along well. Make sure some of those friends are uncomfortable and insecure about their appearance and make sure at least one of them is more attractive or skinnier or some thing that equals "better" (bear in mind that this girl can [and probably does] think she's not pretty or not skinny or be insecure and uncomfortable herself. In fact, it's better if she denies that she is pretty/attractive, because later that can be used against her as false modesty. I don't think I'm pretty; I've been told my whole life by my family that I am not. I don't think I'm skinny; my husband informed me last night that being Size 2 and 120 pounds qualifies me as "a little fat.")
2. Introduce a boy. One of the girls who is "less attractive" should like this boy. This boy should make clear his intentions to go after the "prettier" girl. Prettier girl can reject his attentions, circle around her friends, accept the attention, date the boy, not date the boy, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that the boy likes the "prettier" girl to the exclusion of the "less attractive" girl.
3. Have the "less pretty" friend feel jealous. Have her decide to tell all the other friends that "pretty" girl is a slut, or that she is an ice-queen, or that she thinks she's better than everyone, or that she is a bad person, etc. This starts in the immediate group and then gets bigger, incorporating people in neighboring social circles, new people coming to the school, etc. This goes on for some time, the back-stabby, bad-mouthy, making-shit-uppy portion of the event.
4. After all this, which goes on for weeks, or months or even years, there will be a confrontation. The "pretty" girl will have moved out of the social circle. She will be friends with other people, she will be dating the boy or not dating the boy or be a lesbian. None of that matters, either. The affronted ringleader of the bullying will approach the "pretty" girl and attack her for being uppity, or being slutty, or being annoying because she has false modesty about her looks. This will happen in a public place, but not a lunchroom or a hallway, but in a small group (like before a class starts). Perhaps at a party. It will be public and awful and there will be general attempts to ignore or get out or pretend deafness until it is over.
5. Once it is out in the open ("less pretty" confronts "pretty"), it is over. There will be general snarkiness for a while longer, then silence, then a call or an email or a hurried confession at a party that the "less pretty" girl was jealous.

I think the main thing here is: YES. This happens and not in the petty, backhanded compliment kind of way that most posters here seem to suggest. That's awful and it's a thing that needs to stop, but the outright bullying and making people change friend groups, go to therapy, be belittled in front of groups, etc.? THAT HAPPENS. And it is awful. Second, I would suggest it almost always has to do with a boy. Like 99% of the time. It's a concrete thing the bully can attach to, and it's a grievance that stings like the dickens.
posted by mrfuga0 at 6:53 AM on September 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

For the most part, no. I'm a big chested girl with a small framed body. I dress appropriately at work. I once had a cardigan with a tank underneath (no cleavage) and a skirt below my knees. I stopped by my former boss' office to say hi, see how she's doing, etc. Totally friendly. She instead turned to me and gave me the look of death and said "your dress is totally inappropriate and offensive. I can't believe you come to work like that." Note that she had twins and she was concerned her husband was after the nanny so anyone younger than her got the target of "tramp".

For other girls, no, no one has said it to my face. Instead they just talked about me behind my back (often saying "I bet those are fake") and how utterly stupid I was. It was so grand to walk in on that conversation. The head project lead was a female who hated me and bandwagoned together the rest of the girls to snark me. Only ONE of them took a liking and threw me my bridal shower at work. When the time came you could tell no one wanted to be there.

At my current job now my former boss says I should get a reduction.

At the country club where we belong I clearly saw/read lips of a wife telling her husabnd "OMG those boobs, how offensive." And quite honestly, her husband had the look of "OMG you're so fucking petty". I empowered it and told the bartender we get along with and the one girl who is also "gifted" and not liked that my boobs offend. Happy day!

At 40 I've learned the hard way to think that everyone can go fuck themselves if my body offends. I'm not flaunting my 'assets' they're friggen 38DDD. No way to hide these puppies. People can fucking deal.

Now if I could only make money off of them. :)
posted by stormpooper at 7:29 AM on September 7, 2012

the first time this happened to me I had moved country, and middle class Spanish girls and women have a very competitive streak when a single foreign woman enters the equation. Due to it's recent history foreign women were seen as easy, although the false equation caused far more problems for me with men than it did with women. But you specifically asked for examples regarding women.
I remember the first time I really made a effort to dress up for a disco in a small town in Palencia, the girl I did the exchange with and I got on brilliantly until there were men present. As soon as that happened there would be suble and not-so-subtle remarks about my clothing make-up and appearance (and relate those comments to me being an extranjera), that were meant to undermine me in front of the men, whoever they were. Since the first few times it happened I was so surprised I actually didn't play to the rules and would actually call her on the catty comment there and then, things got quite tense.
"but Ana-Isabel, you never told me at home when we were getting ready that green made me look fat, why are you saying it now?" I realised after a while that this 'bad girl' was my role in these equations, to draw attention to the "good" girl. my questioning openly in front of the guys who were the audience made her more angry.
I had years of similar experiences while I was single in Spain and never had anything remotely like that happen to me back in my female group in Ireland. When I eventually moved in with my then partner but had to leave him to finish my Master's in Spain, another Spanish friend asked me openly (but only when males were present whom she presumably was trying to impress) if living with my boyfriend made me feel like a whore "no te sientes puta?".

My weight fluctuated a lot until recently and after my first child I was visiting friends in Spain with my 2 month old. My friend's mother, whom I had never met but who'd seen my "slim" wedding photos first words when I walked into her house were "aiii, que gorda te veo!" My husband entering behind me said "did she just say you look so fat?" and I learned a bit of a lesson. Many Spanish women are quite direct about the slightest deviation from how you should look if they think they know you. It's not just the kind of competitive cattyness to impress some dudes. They police each other.

the reason I started this with "middle-class girls and women" is that I never faced it when socialising either in Spain or back home in Ireland with any group less than middle class. My feeling was you had to have a certain level of feeling entitled already before you engaged with this activity.

the only recent experience I had was after I lost a lot of weight and started to really enjoy dressing up and going out, one female friend was unhappy. Before I was the fattest woman in our group and while she never made me feel bad exactly about that it was clear that she was the "pretty one" in our group. As soon as I also qualified she began a campaign that was distressing, mainly becasue the catty comments would only ever be said in front of men, often random blokes in a pub. I decided I would call it out as I did with Ana-Isabel, so I'd say "are you just saying that because these guys are here? I mean you could have said that earlier".

over the course of my professional life I have never had anything happen like this, and as I said in the start those few examples pale in comparison with the awful everyday harrassment I got from men.
posted by Wilder at 7:31 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

An ex-girlfriend (who had a feminine presentation) once said to my sister, "Oh, well, you wear jeans and sneakers most of the time anyway". I can't remember what my sister said that prompted that remark.

My sister told me she was not offended and it was no big thing but two of our cousins who were also present at the dinner and observed the interaction later told me it was a put-down.
posted by mlis at 12:22 PM on September 7, 2012

I had to quit an all-woman workplace because the cattiness just got to be too stressful. Nothing anyone did in that place was good enough for anyone. They pecked at each other day in and day out, and god bless the young, good-looking grad students working there part time. Since there were no men around, the full time women didn't harp on the part-timers' looks or how they acted towards men (couldn't call them slutty or flirty). But it was obvious that these good-looking grad students were just plain stupid, right?

The semester I worked there (as a part-time grad student who was neither young nor good looking) was one of the most stressful in my college career. Even being around the second-hand shaming was just too much for me. Nothing I said or did made any difference so I had to quit. It was awful.
posted by patheral at 12:46 PM on September 7, 2012

I have had experiences parallel to many of those already recounted in this thread, but I've also had the odd experience of several friends telling me that when they first met me, they disliked me because I looked like the kind of pretty girl they tended not to get along with, but as they got to know me, they realized I "wasn't like that." In every case, this was meant as a compliment, but it always made me really uneasy, and this thread is helping me understand my discomfort better. Yes, it's true that some pretty girls are mean to those who are less attractive by whatever standard, but the inverse is also the case, and is just as troubling.

I also think it's interesting how few women in this thread have been willing to say things like "I'm really beautiful." I doubt it's because the women posting here are anything less than beautiful, but more because making that kind of statement (even if it's true) is precisely the kind of thing that gets punished in the social worlds we're describing. I don't meant to imply that this isn't a safe space, but rather to point out how difficult it may be for many of us to say that kind of thing.
posted by dizziest at 1:08 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

From what is being said here, either I'm really ugly and therefore nonthreatening[1][2] or there really are groups of women who don't hack and slash at each other like this.

I mean, I've encountered negative groups and no mistake, but it's weird when I think about it that the negativity wasn't being levelled at my appearance. I mean if people are going to insult all kinds of things about me to my face, they probably weren't also talking behind my back about how beautiful/ugly I was and somehow keeping that topic completely concealed from me with no leakage whatsoever.

And as for the positive groups - I don't think they'd do that, and if they were doing it you'd think there would be some leakage.

Historically I've always attracted bullies like bees to honey. If even I can't find enough women to treat me like this, they may not be as common as popular culture suggests.

[1] Not being funny, I actually do think that's possible
[2] But then, bullies attack you for both your weaknesses and for your strengths, so you'd think that if I were really ugly I'd have heard about that too post-high school.
posted by tel3path at 1:46 PM on September 7, 2012

Yes, this has happened to me on a few unfortunate occasions.

My most recent example could also just be flat-out antisemitism, but here is what happened:

I was with a bunch of my girlfriends and we were drinking wine and chatting. My (former) friend turned to me out of the blue and said the following:

"You've had a nose job, right? I mean, you're Jewish and your nose is just too perfect so I figured since you grew up in LA you had to have one. I mean, you don't have a Jewish face at all, you're gorgeous."
posted by ohyouknow at 1:55 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hope the next thing she said was "OWWW!!!!! BY DOZE!!!!!! YOU WIDGE!!!!!!"

I think women's feelings about themselves get expressed through appearance, so I think it's likely that this was flat-out antisemitism expressed through appearance talk. It's not either/or but both/and.
posted by tel3path at 2:13 PM on September 7, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh I wish I'd decked her! To this day I regret that her comments stunned me so much I felt like a deer in headlights. But she is happily completely out of my life now, even though our mutual friends tried in vain to get me to "move past" her "silly comment" for a few months. I also gave them some stern talking to's about remaining silent when she made those incredibly hurtful and strange remarks. It was overall an extremely horrible episode.
posted by ohyouknow at 3:07 PM on September 7, 2012

I've had Hollywood-style cattiness happen once. I was 17, a friend was jealous about some attention I was getting from a guy, and she made a comment to my face -- and in front of him, as well -- drawing attention to a matter of my physical appearance that she knew I wasn't happy about.

But I can't think of any time it's happened out of jealousy as an adult. I've had people say rude things, but not because they were trying to take me down a peg.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:51 PM on September 7, 2012

I went to a very small high school, under 100 kids per class. My class was about 60% male. In our senior year, a new girl called Mary came into our class who was head-and-shoulders prettier than any other girl in our school. Overnight, the social orbit of our majority-male class altered completely as all the boys who considered themselves to be socially successful enough to date Mary began to move in for the kill. At the same time, it became immediately clear which of the girls in our class had previously privately considered themselves to be the hottest girl in our class, because whenever the room was all girls they'd turn the conversation to what a superficial, dumb, mean, awful person Mary was, and how pathetic it was that boys were so interested in her. I was pretty sure that I was nowhere near being in the running for hottest girl in the class, so I watched this whole sickening process with detached amusement, thinking that envy and insecurity had really come out in a sort of gross and obvious way in all these girls.

After our AP exams were over, in one of our classes, we were given carte blanche to create our very own project about anything that interested us. Mary approached me and asked me if I would be her project, as in, she wanted to make me over, like at the end of a teen movie. She said she thought I "had potential".

Suddenly I wasn't so sure the second-hottest girls didn't have a point. Most backhanded compliment anyone's ever paid me, to this day.
posted by town of cats at 12:06 AM on September 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ladies: have you ever been targeted/harassed/insulted by others, particularly women, for being too sexy or attractive? Have you witnessed such a thing?

This has happened to me so many times that it has become A Problem. I don't think that I am a stunner or especially sexy but this particular problem began when I was in elementary school and has continued into my 40's. Most jobs have been pure hell. I will never work in an office made up mostly women again. Not for all the money in the world.

And for the record, I do not dress sexy at all. I wear loose but tailored clothing and flats to work. No low necklines even though I have a small bust.

Women can be very very vicious towards one another in very insidious ways.
posted by futz at 7:13 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

This seems relevant.
posted by dizziest at 12:37 PM on September 8, 2012

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