Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Not a Pretty Girl

Dear C and Dr. B;

I have a friend who told me that every time someone tells her that she’d be pretty if she wore makeup or did her hair, it makes her want to cut herself. She feels that it’s demeaning and humiliating to be seen or noticed because of her “meat bag packaging.” She says she gets “a nauseous, helpless feeling in my gut. It is my truest guide to seeing that it’s not me they are even addressing.”

If people say anything like that to me, I simply don’t get why they comment. I don’t see myself the way they do. I take pride in looking good – my mom was a “you can’t leave the house without your pantyhose” kind of person. I look good for me and I like when other people admire it, but if they do not, I say “screw ‘em!”

My friend insists that it utterly dehumanizes her. She’s bright, driven, funny, quick, strong – but even well-meaning talk about “natural beauty” irritates her, as if those who don’t match our current cultural standards are somehow “less than.” She says the comments are about them belittling her, making her feel smaller.

I can’t help but think that it’s just shitty self-esteem that my friend is reflecting, not some “Me Too,” kind of thing. Do you think she has a point?


Dr. B: You are both right. There is no reason a person should feel bad for what they look like. There is no reason a person should feel they should be other than what they are. But there is also no reason a person can’t play with the beauty products and styles available in order to “be all they can be.” Yes, it’s unfair that a person doesn’t get the same opportunities because of their gender, race or physical characteristics, but the world we live in is just made that way. In general, you don’t get to have your cake and eat it, too. In other words, you either exist outside the game or you play it as best you can.

Unfortunately, the game seems to be rigged. Men aren’t taught as boys that their physical characteristics are “meat packaging” – they are taught it is gift wrapping. And you know how the packaging is usually more fun than what’s inside; expectations are what packaging plays to. In order to have a culture that appreciates the real thing, we would need to be comfortable with the real thing. No covering up, no subterfuge, no false promises, no heightened reality, no products – just what it is. But that is not going to happen. It never has. Beauty products are found in 6,000-year-old Egyptian tombs.

Miah, you clearly have the skills to play the game in such a way that you are comfortable within it. That’s not a bad thing. But it is also true that this life that humans have created isn’t a nice game. 

C says: Your friend has a serious psychological problem. A confident woman would brush such remarks off as meaningless. Strong people understand that not everything is about them; weak people are expecting to be demeaned by others, so they interpret even meaningless pleasantries as personal attacks.

I remember that when I was younger and less certain of myself as an artist, if someone criticized me or suggested changes to my style, it cut like a knife and I wanted to kill them. Now that I know myself as an artist and have had a chance to learn about how the market works, the remarks of others are just that – remarks. I can take them or leave them. I know when someone is just mouthing off through ignorance, or when they simply prefer a different style. Sometimes I can even learn something and use it to improve what I do, which is a welcome thing.

There are expectations placed on every member of a society, and no one is exempt from the judgment of others. Men don’t have it any easier than women – while women fight for equal pay and recognition, there are many men who wish that they could just stay at home with the kids. And there are women who feel demeaned by comments on their appearance…but there are also women who get no comments on their appearance at all, and it makes them feel invisible and unimportant.

I sense that your friend would be no happier if the comments stopped, or if society suddenly decided that it would judge people by their overall worth, not just their looks. That is because your friend feels, deep inside, that she isn’t worth anything. She really needs to talk to someone. I hope she does.

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