Let me start out by noting that this is in no way an attempt to put myself down, or cry ‘woe is me’ in search of compliments. Self deprecation is a defence mechanism I’ve perfected over the years, but something I’m trying to cut back on as I get older. This, on the other hand, is more like an elephant in the room that I feel particularly uncomfortable acknowledging. But it affects everything I do, every interaction I have, and so I probably should.
Echoing the experiences of almost every woman I know, my body and I have never been on great terms. I learned very young that my appearance was very important, and it took nearly a decade for me to begin to deconstruct that line of thinking. Sadly, its deconstruction didn’t lessen the effect, and really only produced a kind of inner conflict – my appearance doesn’t define me, yeah, to hell with your beauty standards, I have plenty to offer so it shouldn’t matter how long I had to do my hair this morning. Except that it still will matter, no matter how silly I know that to be.
I am so very hesitant to claim a divide between myself and other women, particularly regarding our shared experience of womanhood and how generally privileged I am in that respect. But being surrounded by countless beautiful women, so strong, charming and fantastic as they are, highlights that when it comes to a lot of things – ‘body positivity’ and beyond – we’re coming at it from very different places.
An overwhelming majority of my friends are conventionally very attractive women. They’re a compassionate, understanding bunch who would scold me the second I even hinted at the possibility that I’m maybe, potentially, not quite as hot as Beyonce. They couldn’t be more supportive and so it’s no fault of theirs that they don’t understand, or maybe even think about, how different certain situations are for us.
We’re all well aware that as women, our appearances carry a lot more weight (and thus our personalities carry less) than if we weren’t. We can never escape being looked at before we are listened to, and that’s a truth I wouldn’t dream of denying to any woman. But as someone who doesn’t really reach that bar of ‘conventionally attractive’, I’ve grown accustomed to feeling a few steps behind them at all times.
I constantly feel that I have something to prove. I feel that I must be so funny, so insightful, so understanding, so confident that people forget what I look like – as if with every witty remark, another piece of this cursed outer shell which I can’t detach myself from falls away to reveal more of who I am. Most of the time I have to try twice as hard as my gorgeous sisters to convince someone to find me interesting (and I’m generally someone you need to know for a little while before I’m confident enough to really be myself, so this is especially frustrating). As I search for a post-uni job, I’m more often overcome by visions of walking into an interview and being written off before I even sit down than I am by worries that I’m not competent (I’m backed by the statistics here, too).
In social situations, I often feel I have to fight to avoid periods of time spent not really being talked to by anyone, while people flock to my attractive friends (and I’m not talking romantically here. That is a whole ‘nother ballgame). This is a bit of a catch-22, of course, as being so uncomfortable in the body I inhabit impedes my confidence chronically, so I sometimes struggle to put myself out there in the first place. And if I let my dry sense of humour show too much, I know that I’m more likely to be viewed as, well, just a bit of a sarcastic cow rather than feisty or forward in a *hot* way.
Women all have a hyper-awareness of the physical space they exist in, but that’s heightened if you’re not attractive. The thing is: with the way our society functions, being conventionally attractive gives you a clean slate. If you’re funny, you’re funny, you’re not ugly but funny. You can walk into a room of strangers and know that they’re unlikely to have compartmentalised you in their minds before you even introduce yourself. It’s only human to judge others, absolutely, but if you’re not attractive you’re far less likely to even have the privilege of being judged as a whole person.
I worry that to someone who can’t empathise, this may seem melodramatic, so I feel it worth pointing out that despite the pages and pages of detail I could go into – this dimension of my identity has become something so omnipresent that I often go periods of time without noticing it. I don’t live a sexless, isolated life sitting in a corner and wishing someone would notice me. I still believe I’m of value, I still know I have a lot to contribute to the lives intertwined with my own, and I actually like myself more than ever. But in all the cool things I’m able to spend my days doing, I can’t help but feel I’m viewed as inherently lesser than attractive women.
There’s a lot of self-doubt involved, sure, but this has become less an insecurity and more a bitter acceptance of where I stand. I can acknowledge it or I can be in denial, but this will be the reality of myself and many others no matter what I think of it. Some days I have the energy to propel myself forward those few steps, but some days I don’t.
I’m of the opinion that there’s an inherent shame attached to less attractive women asserting that they’re as valuable as any other, and that’s something I’m not immune to, so even publishing this leaves me feeling a bit exposed. I could easily natter away about mental health, my childhood, anything else so personal without much worry, yet voicing that I feel I’m sometimes treated as ‘unattractive woman’ rather than ‘woman I know nothing about’ (or even ‘Hannah’) makes me very uncomfortable.
It ties back in with my avoidance of self deprecation, too. If someone is going to think about your flaws, they’re going to do so regardless, and you pointing your own flaws out for them won’t do you many favours. I don’t want someone with only a half-formed opinion of me to think of only my appearance from now on, because I placed such a spotlight on it in this instance. And I wouldn’t want a potential suitor to read this (James McAvoy, if you’re out there…) and write me off because I sit here and explain to them in detail why I am an unattractive prospect. Like I mentioned previously: it is so difficult for women to transcend their appearance, and even writing about mine feels like risking erasing myself for good.
This is, perhaps, why writing about it feels so necessary, and why writing is so important to me in general – this way, I can only be measured by syntax and font.