"Beauty is power; a smile is its sword." John Ray
The process of becoming "pretty" or at least "prettier" has been fascinating for me. I vividly remember how people used to look through me, as if I wasn't there, as if I was invisible, as I wasn't even worth a passing glance. Now I get stared at, people do double-takes, and I feel too seen. Couple that with the rarity of my deeply rich blackness in predominantly white spaces and its impossible for me to separate out what's the discomfort or fascination of me being black with me being aesthetically pleasing. Either way, I'm getting a lot more attention because of the way I look and I don't quite know how to deal with it. It seems like a fluke, a practical joke, or some kind of cruel prank but people are genuinely taking an interest in me. The compliments whether it be on my clothing, my smile, or my everything in general just come from every which way. I'm having difficulty accepting that people are genuine in their compliments and well-intentioned in giving them to begin with. I'm always taken aback. You are talking to me, let alone, commenting on my physicality - what kind of parallel universe is this. My internal dialogue is with the remnants of my lowly adolescent self that categorized people as populars and pretties, and was unable to appreciate him for who he was let alone what he looked like. I'm having to reconcile my distorted self-perception with the reality that other people find me attractive. I was woefully unprepared. I'm still trying to accept compliments instead of dismissing them outright. I think I was so used to rarely receiving them that I devalued them, and sought compliments on character traits, abilities, etc. What I have to come to realize is that there is room, and value for cosmetic compliments - it's when that becomes all there is where disingenuous superficiality rears its ironically ugly head.
My favorite thing has been the ghosts of prospects past that have come out of the woodwork, or rather the abyss of their social media disappearances, to say hey, and tell me how good I look. It's laughable and frustrating at the same time. I'm all for improving yourself for yourself, and doing things to step your game up, Queer Eye-style. I'm also of the be at peace with yourself as often as you're able. If that means changing things up, so be it, but that desire should originate within us. Facial hair, abs in progress, and skin-tight clothing can work wonders. It's been unreal how free people have been with their commenting on me and how I look. It's unabashed flirting, preferential treatment, and outright getting hit on without shame. It's the heys, you ups, and what are you doing. It's DMs, texts, double taps, and comments with heart-eyes. It's overwhelming. It seems fake. I'm adjusting but also not taking it too seriously. I'm settled in who I am, and am unwilling to trade substance for surface level looks. Who I am as a person will always be more important that how pretty other people find me.
The way people interact with you when you're attractive is distinctive. I don't think we talk enough about how much nicer the world and the people in it are to you when you're "traditionally" beautiful. I've noticed a marked shift in people being more accommodating, being more upbeat, and being willing to go above and beyond. It's the free extras, things being "on the house," and all the smiling. People look at you in the eyes for longer. They either seem more relaxed or excitedly nervous around you. It's surreal like being on a reality TV show that you don't happen to know you're on. Society tells us we should conform to an ideal but also we should either not know or pretend to not know when we approach that ideal. So you're supposed to be hot but be oblivious to it and be flattered by anyone who pays you a compliment. Why? Yeah, no need to be braggadocios about it but feigning ignorance of how people are experiencing you seems woefully naive. Playing coy and thirst trapping seem to be two extremes on a spectrum but self-awareness is almost always a good thing. Can we blame people for using what they were gifted with - not necessarily, but we can critique the space they create for others to be valued, validated, and celebrated. How are we expanding what's acceptable (and by what, I disgustedly mean, literal human beings who apparently have value based on their appearance)? Beautiful people have tangible privileges and benefits like being seen as more employable, being regarded as more socially apt, and perceived as more confident - among other things - including earning more money. Beautiful people arguably have life easier.
Attraction is subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but the beholder is also subject to relativity and socialization. Beauty is a social construct. Society, namely those with the positionality to control the narrative, decides who and what is beautiful. It's who is represented. Who is praised. Who is sexy. Who is worthy. Who is loveable. Do you see how heinous that is? Know that beauty has changed over time in many ways, but also it has not. The social implications of being tan went from lowly field worker to a status symbol of vacationing, or body size shifting from slimness representing being underfed to now being bombarded with the fitness as the gold standard. If we are constantly shown, told, and taught that something or someone is desirable, it impacts our wants. It's why preferences are not quite our own but rather a reflection of what we have internalized as attractive.
It's the Eurocentric beauty standards that prize alabaster skin, straight hair, flushed cheeks, and light eyes embodied in the TV/movie leads, book protagonists, magazine covers, etc. It's all the ads, media, and content we consume that says the most beautiful people look like Chris Hemsworth or Scarlett Johansson. It's the way our media exoticizes, hypersexualizes, and/or fetishizes people of color, and other people with marginalized identities. It's the narrative we ingest that says people of color are monolith, Asian women are submissive, Asian men are unattractive, Latinx folx are untameable, indigenous peoples are erased, and black people are nothing more than sexual bodies. It's the obsession with a made-up perfection, the unattainable nature of that perfection, and the disposable nature of those who fail to meet that standard. It's everything from abs, to our scents, or the way our voices should/how we communicate. It's how our bodies should look, work, and feel. It's the ableism, ageism, sexism, classism, cissexism, racism, etc. embedded in it all. Unlearning our biases means learning differently and that's a commitment. It's up to us to figure out what we're okay in perpetuating and what we're willing to work on. It's calling out double standards, doing our self-work, and challenging what we're playing into. It's owning up to our own bullshit, striving to do better, and practicing what we espouse. At the very least, and I mean bare minimum twitter level appeasement, it's owning our shit. If you're going to be racist and claim that you're not into people of color, or you don't find ___ whatever group attractive, at least know why, where you learned that, and how genuinely messed up that is. I'm not saying pine after people you're not attracted to but do acknowledge how you've internalized your social environment.
I cannot emphasize how crucial it is to not ground you self-worth in the flimsiness of your appearance or the transient gratification of external approval. The foundation of our self-worth must be internal and rooted in immovable truths. I am loved. I am worthy. I am enough. Those three things for me mean that no matter what comes my way I get to hold on to those absolutes. They are central to who I am, how I understand myself, and how I approach the world. I can weather anything and anyone because my foundation is undeniably human. I recently had someone ask me why I my style was so distinct and I told them the truth about what clothes have long represented for me - armor. No matter how chaotic my day can be at the very least I will always know that clothes are on point, and that's for me, and no one else. For my blackness, for my awkwardness, for my lankiness, for my exaggerated features, for all my insecurities, inequities, and imperfections - I get to protect myself. I get to decide how I go out into the world. In a life where I cannot control how people see me - clothes are where I get to exert my control over my own body and my image. I get to express myself and project the best of myself outwardly. I know I look good, and because I have that knowledge I don't depend on the unsure recognition of others to tell me that. I'm good, I'm glad, and I love the way I look - finally, and nothing/no one can take that away from me. I deserve that. I get to have that. I get to feel that contentment for my damn self.