The moment I became aware of 'pretty privilege'
Do you think that being physically attractive as a woman comes with social benefits? This week's blog explores one Mona contributor's story of the first time she felt the invisibility that is tied to women who exist outside the typical norms of beauty. She asks the question, what does this mean for women when our social power is shackled to how we look, and why do we go along with it?
On one of many nights in my early twenties, my exquisitely beautiful friend and I went out in Sydney. After spending considerable time getting ready, building our confidence for the night (me in particular battling between feeling inferior alongside her and telling myself to care is ridiculous), we assumed the bar, and the dance floor and the booths.
Having fun rapidly turned into pretending to have fun as my friend was engaged in the art of managing attention from men (flicking hair, glowing laughter). After some time, a random man grabbed me by the shoulder and gestured with his hand in front of my face towards my friend ‘What does she drink?!, What does she drink?!’, before answering (how was I going to answer?), I was physically shoved out of the way to make a clear path to my friend who simultaneously had three other men in raptures (he better hurry). I had experienced being dismissed whenever out with this friend: being ignored when I spoke or the butt of my friend’s joke, or the joke of the stranger. Used to being the only one without a ‘suitor’ when in a group, but never had I been physically grabbed or pushed as a way of dismissal.
I stood there in the middle of the dance floor, holding back the prickling of tears, clocking my b-line for the toilet. I turned away, small and more than anything, mad at myself. How could I, A Feminist, be belittled by this sleazy guy (with small d*ck energy) in this mere and trivial social rejection based on comparative beauty?
This interaction and its context are related to issues of power, patriarchy, misogyny, privilege, and culture, but more specifically, how the dominant conversation around beauty, so steeped in misogyny, plays out in a seemingly insignificant moment. I struggled to write about this moment, because it attaches itself now (as it did then) to feelings of guilt and frivolity. I love my friend, but I struggle when I see that she is oblivious to how she participates in this dance that ultimately subjugates her and all women. Or is she? I wouldn't know, I've never asked.
The ‘social advantages’ my friend has gained over me in public interactions has been established both in my body, in our friendship dynamic and in the broader scope of the Western beauty culture. These have included attention, approval, validation, praise and opportunity. As for disadvantages, in this example, my fear of being disrespected based on the way I look was an unconscious anxiety at play from the beginning of the night. A fear which was realised in the man feeling entitled to physically and verbally occupy my bodily space, disrespecting my autonomy and safety, because my level of ‘hotness’ did not demand more. I am constantly self-conscious and alert from the decisions of what I ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ wear, to how I move, adjust and hold myself, to how and when I decide to dance, how small I make myself. In this, and all other settings that involve others, I am performative. I cannot reject this code for fear of social rejection, of mockery or abjection, yet I am judgmental of myself for letting it upset me. We cannot win!
The social advantages ‘pretty’ people enjoy is objectively acknowledged on a global scale, however, at what point is this phenomenon something that we happily absorb and act out in our daily lives, without pause for thought or objection? When do we ask, who owns my body?
I’m open to knowing if you yourself have experienced the benefits of being ‘hot’ or the dismissal of being ‘not’. How did you act in that moment? What do you feel and how was that reflected in what you said or did? In the past, I have resorted to humour, compliance or furthering their assumptions. And in the past, I have accounted this story and stories similar, with ‘faux’ outrage, ensuring a laugh from the listener. I have done all but admit that it hurt my feelings, that it made, for a moment, but also a history, my body not my own. I have done all but admit exhaustion and defeat. However, all is not lost! I believe myself to be a sexy, luscious QUEEN most of the time, these feelings and conditionings fluctuate on a spectrum and that changeability gives us windows of opportunity to start thinking about our bodies differently, what they mean to us. What they do for us, how we value them. If I can provide myself with a foundation of true body sovereignty and empowerment, although it may not be perfect all the time, it is irrevocable. And that’s hot.
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