you're like really pretty

"He said she was interesting. She made him laugh, he said, and in any case prettiness didn't matter. She was witty, she had an interesting mind." - William Trevor

As a teen and early 20 something, receiving the compliment of "pretty" was like the holy grail. Even better was hot or gorgeous. Coming from my depressed mean girl filled years of middle school, hearing this was everything. I know that sounds shallow, but it's true. A truth that so many women can relate to.

While this was way before likes or selfies, women's value being based on theirs looks is not a new issue. From what I have seen, women usually receive beauty messages from their mothers. Growing up in Long Island, it was like eating disorder central. You could walk into a store and instantly hear a mom berating her 14 year old for looking fat in an outfit. This was not my personal experience. It was instead my father, the man who I looked up to the most, that placed a high value on the external. Hello internal mess. 

Going out into the world, hearing that I was beautiful became a high. And when it came time to return home, the beauty message was pushed even harder. On the first Friday of every month, my father would come home with 50 new magazines. One by one, he would go through them, tearing out everything that struck his eye. By the following week, couture on consignment was at our door. He was a man with a vision, but one that included me being a super model. Something that was never going to happen. 

As a result of my dad growing up with such intense pressure to succeed, he wanted to do the opposite with his own children. This meant that we weren't validated for our school-based achievements. I could walk in with an A or an F, and it all sort of meant the same thing to him. But if I came in with a great outfit or at a lower weight than usual, the praise poured out like water. 

When I moved from New York to Los Angeles at 17, I found myself surrounded by a group of beautiful girls. The kind that can get flown around the world because of the way they look and garner girl crushes regularly. Amongst these people, I became the eccentric one who didn't quite fit. One night, a friend and I were out at a club. In standard fashion she was trying to fend off some well known actor and his entourage. Well aware of how much I struggled with my own self image, she leaned over and whispered something in my ear.

"You know, sometimes it really sucks to only have people want you for how you look. This guy doesn't want to know anything about me. It makes me sad sometimes." 

She wasn't a vulnerable type, so I knew she meant what she said. As we got older, I grew apart from this group. I needed time away from a world that so deeply reflected the dysfunction of my upbringing. Instead of "hotness" being of utmost importance, I focused on my insides. I explored the realms of creativity and healing, reconnecting with gifts I had abandoned. Being called responsible or inspiring or a good friend now meant a lot. I wanted to be radiant, not some idea that men desired or girls wanted to be friends with.

Recently a guy friend reached out after seeing beach picture of mine on Facebook. After commenting on a specific body part, he posed a question: 

"So why didn't we ever have sex?"

Gross. I was annoyed at him, expressing that I didn't enjoy being objectified like that. 

"Oh c'mon. Do you want me to find you ugly?" 

"Look- it's nice to be wanted. But that comment feels creepy. You are my friend, not some random guy. I feel like that was such a dude moment. The photo I posted isn't a "sexy" beach picture. I wasn't looking for that kind of attention." 

"You're right. I'm sorry."

It's funny how we can think we want something, until we get it and it feels all wrong. My girlfriend joked that if he had said something like, "Oh my god I finally read your blog. Why didn't we ever have sex?", he would have had a way better chance of getting in my pants. I laughed because it was true. Yes, I want the person I am with to think I am attractive, but that can't be all I am good for. If you aren't interested in the things I work hardest on, it will be hard for me to be interested in you.

The 15 year old me would have never felt that way. She wasn't aware that a sense of a humor and a brain were worth a ton. But the 28 year old me, the one who has experienced the fleeting highs and lows of beauty, knows I need more. I could spend all of my energy trying to achieve a certain look, but there are already so many who fill that role. At the end of the day, I would rather be different. Wouldn't you? 

 

Photo: Unknown

HealKenna Conway