Training for War and other body image goals

The other day I was walking down 6th Ave towards Bryant Park and there were two men in very sleek suits behind me. I’d glanced at them while we paused to wait for a light to change. One of them appeared to be in his fifties or so, with thick silver hair and a muscular build. The other guy was younger, and looked less in shape and distinct, with brown hair and a forgettable face. The older guy was telling the younger guy about this bar he and a bunch of other guys (their co-workers?) frequent.

“The girls there are unbelievable,” he was saying. “We just walk in and there are all these girls from (indistinct word that could be foreign country, fashion brand, modeling agency, or local high school),like everywhere.” His voice was full of bragging virility.

The younger man said something like, “Uh huh.” He sounded like he was tolerating the other guy, who might’ve been his superior at work.

The older guy kept talking, and I walked faster until I couldn’t hear what he was saying. They caught up to me at another light. I glanced back. He was definitely wearing a wedding band.

He said, “I’m telling you, it’s like a meat market. Like a fuckin’ meat market in there. Love it.”

I turned around in the second before the light changed, and waited until he saw me staring at him. Then I gave him the most disgusted look I could muster and shook my head at him. I mouthed the word, “Ew.” He froze, looked at the younger man, then back at me, and didn’t know what to say. I walked away. Victory!

But I walked faster than I needed to, because I knew he was about to try to save his pride by saying something about me. He did. I could tell by the indignant tone of his voice, and by the way he raised it so I could hear. But I was too far away. Perfectly executed. I felt like a master of guerilla warfare. The streets of New York City are not a safe place. But I’m tough. I’m cool. I got it.

Um. Kidding? The truth is, I almost never do something like that. Not because I don’t have plenty of opinions. Not even because I’m afraid to talk to strangers. I talk to strangers all the time. I’m annoyingly friendly. I learn the life story of the woman at the checkout counter in the Duane Reade. But I’m afraid to confront people, because I know how much power they have over me. I’m terrified of what they might say back to me. I’ve written about this before (getting shot and arrogantly beautiful), but Gena made me think about it even more with her recent post about someone at the gym making a comment about her legs, and how she responded. Spoiler alert: She barely paused before sticking up for herself and telling the person that that sort of talk wasn’t ok. Well done.

It made me think about how much I would like to be able to rely on myself to be my own protector. My own defender. My own champion. Not to the point where I’m like, “You guys don’t even know what you’re talking about, I’M ALWAYS RIGHT! ME ME ME ME!!” Because that, well, it’s bad. And then even your own parents stop inviting you over. But in a quieter way. In a way that allows me to believe that I am essentially someone worth defending on every front. So that when a situation arises in which I need defense, I’m there, to say, “Hey, that’s not cool. Don’t say things like that.” In a way that, beyond that, allows me to draw attention to myself in situations in which I make myself vulnerable to some sort of verbal attack, just because it’s worth it to make a point. There have been many times in my life when I wouldn’t have been able to turn around and give that well-dressed man that furious look, because I’d have been too afraid of how much HE could hurt ME.

And I’m tired of being afraid.

Once, when I was seventeen or so, I worked in a photographer’s studio for a day, answering the phone and cleaning up. It was painfully boring. They were photographing dogs the entire day, and the dog owners were very demanding and kept asking for iced drinks in between brushing Oliver and Duchess for the fifth time. They were wearing pearls and high heels. Not the dogs. The owners. Probably the dogs, too.

The next week, the photographer had still neglected to pay me. He swore he had. I never received it. I wrote to him, asking what was going on. He wrote back, telling me that, frankly, I was lazy and belligerent, and I didn’t deserve the money anyway. I was incredibly angry, but I wasn’t hurt. I mean, I saw no evidence to support that claim at all! I was definitely hard-working, and prided myself on being polite. He was absurd, obnoxious, and pathetic. He seemed to be grasping at straws, flailing around for a way to get at me.

And isn’t that how it always works? Any insults that people fling at you are just a desperate attempt to hurt you, not a valid critique of something about you. They’re just picking stuff up from in front of them, whatever’s there, and throwing it. It’s a tantrum. It’s laughable. But I have always known that if that same ridiculous photographer of dogs had told me I was unattractive, well, then it would be a different story. I would sort of, on some level, in some not-so-hidden part of my mind, believe him. Just enough. Just enough to get hurt.

I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday about male/female dynamics. She’s a gorgeous transwoman who literally turns head everywhere she goes. When we walk together, everyone says hi to her. Almost like they can’t resist having some sort of communication with her. She said the following, and I asked her if I could quote her:

“When men tell me I’m pretty, I say, ‘Thanks,’ but it’s like, ‘I have a mirror. And I looked in it this morning before I left the house. I already know.’”

I LOVE that quote. It’s wonderful to get a compliment, but you shouldn’t be dependent on compliments to build your self-respect. Because when your self-respect is constructed entirely of recycled positive comments, a single fresh negative one is often enough to poison the batch. And then you’re left with nothing. But your understanding of your beauty should be much deeper than that. If you wash all of the comments away, there should be something underneath. There should be you, just looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, “Pretty damn nice.”

I’m working on it. And when I get there, I intend to stare down a lot more married jerks who think it’s cool to talk boastfully to younger men about picking up models/hot Ukrainians/school girls in some bar. And someone should also stop making fake IDs for those school girls.

*  *  *  *  *

Un-Roast: Today I love the way I look in boxers. It’s totally cute. My body is girlish. Not very curvy. My face is definitely a womanly face, not a child’s face. It’s an interesting contrast.

Everyone: Have you ever called out a jerk?


Kate on May 21st 2010 in beauty, body, new york

27 Responses to “Training for War and other body image goals”

  1. Joanne responded on 21 May 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    This was an awesome post. I’m glad you called him out.

  2. Alexis responded on 21 May 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    This blog gets better and better!

  3. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday responded on 21 May 2010 at 1:49 pm #

    I’m hoping to develop enough confidence to not only reject the negative comments but also to believe the positive ones.

  4. Gena responded on 21 May 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    Unless a dear (real) friend is offering you constructive feedback about a situation you could have handled better, I think 99% of negative commentary comes from a place of insecurity and subsequent defensiveness.

    ALWAYS be outspoken! Always! Random strangers have absolutely no capacity to wound you, my dear. Who the F cares what they think?


  5. Katya responded on 21 May 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    “I am essentially someone worth defending on every front.”

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. AND it takes time and trial and error to develop those defenses, because sometimes the people throwing crap at you in a desperate attempt to hurt you are those closest to you, and then you wake up one day unsure how to assess who is trustworthy and who to defend yourself against.

  6. Elina responded on 21 May 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    I’m a new reader and I LOVED this post. First, it is so empowering and just a great message to take with us. Second, rock on!!!!! I’ve heard conversations like that all over NYC (when I lived there) and definitely did nothing about them. It got so typical that I wouldn’t even get mad, like it’s just the way men are in NY (which is why I married a Boston boy :) ). Your reaction was FANTASTIC. Awesome.
    Have a great weekend!

  7. San D responded on 21 May 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    Strangers can’t hurt you because quite frankly they didn’t install the buttons.

  8. Hayley responded on 21 May 2010 at 4:38 pm #

    THANK YOU for reacting the way you did. And it’s so true, negative comments are always so much more about the person giving them than the person they are directed toward.

  9. jenny (green food diaries) responded on 21 May 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    what a thought-provoking, insightful post!

  10. Katherine responded on 21 May 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    I love your blog; this is a must-read. all the posts are so well written, cunning and creative!

  11. Amanda responded on 21 May 2010 at 8:11 pm #

    Oh my god… this post distilled all of the things that I’ve paid my therapist hundreds of dollars to listen to. I don’t think it’s that uncommon for people to have boundary issues that are based out of a lack of self-love, but no one talks about them. Thankyouthankyouthankyou for making this girl feel less alone in this problem.

  12. Rob (R.M. Levitt) responded on 21 May 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    This is why I avoid socializing with most men. Sooner or later the conversation always goes in that direction, or they want to try to top each other’s stories of sexual conquest. Men are only allowed certain “manly” subjects to talk about, like football and hot-wings and “boy-oh-boy, you shoulda seen her shakin’ dem big ol’ titties in my face, know whaddah mean, boss?” Even worse than how disrespectful it is, it’s just so awfully banal. They would be hysterical if they weren’t so completely oblivious to what parodies they are.

    I’m a guy and I like to talk about stuff that matters! Even my FEELINGS! Yes, I do have them, and not just rage and lust! No, I don’t think that makes me gay. I guess I’m not a Real Man™, thank God! I don’t want to hear what you did with whats-her-face the other night. Hey, I appreciate dirty jokes more than most, but it’s not amusing when it’s serious to YOU. It’s sad that that’s the only way you’re able to “relate” to others. I have to sit there and think, “Is this my gender? Is this what a Man™ is supposed to be?” It’s depressing.

    I hate to even refer to myself as a “man” because so much of what men do is ugly and cruel. I can’t be a “boy” anymore, so I try to just refer to myself as a “guy” or a “fellow.” I dislike the word “man” because it refers to a gender role that just seems absurd and clownish to me. I hate the word “woman” as well. It refers to its own collection of ridiculous behaviors learned from reading too many Cosmo quizzes. I’m autistic. I don’t have the social guile to be anyone but myself. The horror! But it hasn’t killed me yet.

  13. bobbie responded on 22 May 2010 at 9:32 am #

    sure, just with a look. sometimes words aren’t needed. loved this post and loved the quote you shared. we should all have that kind of confidence. i have a friend who is attractive, but a little overweight. she thinks she is the cat’s meow and because she feels that way, people are attracted to her confidence. live and learn and it’s never too late are mottos i live by.

  14. caronae responded on 22 May 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. I am very passive and almost never stand up for myself. But it is important to remember that when people say or do something hurtful, it is often coming from a place of insecurity. I’m glad I am not the only woman who struggles with this, but I know it’s something that, with practice, we can overcome. If we don’t advocate for ourselves, who will???

  15. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot responded on 22 May 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Great writing and thoughts. I write about empowerment because I’m no where near as empowered as I should be. I tend to avoid jerks. I’d probably have crossed the road to avoid those two…

  16. M.Rose responded on 23 May 2010 at 1:46 am #

    i absolutely agree with you on being able to stand up to people without the fear of what they can do to hurt you. i have been trying to do this. last week, i was on a bicycle joyride with my boyfriend and a large SUV full of young men started yelling things out the window at me, calling me over, etc… we ignored them but then got stuck next to them at a stoplight. it was infuriating, not only were they preying on me and expecting me to do nothing, but they were trying to get a rise out of my boyfriend as well by harassing me while not addressing his existence. i lost it and made meaningful direct eye contact, making my most disgusted face, and without thinking, i basically fake retched at them. a loud vomit sound projected out of me! there was an instant of shock/surprise in their eyes, the light turned green and they sped off. i was feeling good about it all until about 15 minutes later, when we were almost home, pedaling through our quiet, family filled neighborhood. the SUV came barreling down our 25 mph street; as they passed they threw about 6 full bottles of water at us. luckily we didn’t get hit by any, but if we had it would have caused a potentially serious wreck. on one hand i feel compelled to continue to stand up/react negatively when people talk/act like they are troglodytes, on the other it makes me reconsider whether it’s worth it if the person is maniacal enough to chase me down afterward. hmph

  17. Sarah responded on 23 May 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    Good for you for expressing yourself. It amazes me how some people can so easily disregard morals.

    I also have trouble sometimes expressing my dislike for other people’s behavior, I often myself keeping quiet and thinking: why would they even care what I think? All of the posts from you and Gena lately about sticking up for yourself and saying what’s on your mind are great and very encouraging.

    Also, congrats on the upcoming nuptials! You’re going to have a fabulous time :)

  18. Sunday Five « Imagine Today responded on 24 May 2010 at 12:34 am #

    [...] because I am horrible at retaining sources.] Still, the following quote is fantastic, in fact the whole article is! It’s wonderful to get a compliment, but you shouldn’t be dependent on compliments to [...]

  19. Kate responded on 24 May 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    What a story! I read your comment on my blackberry yesterday and have been dying to respond ever since. Not that I even know how to respond, except to say that I’m sorry you had to deal with that pathetic, disgusting behavior, and I’m sorry that there are people in the world who are willing to act like that. I’m so glad you and your boyfriend are ok!!

    I once had a run in with five guys in a parkinglot. They were getting into their SUV. I’ll have to tell the story sometime.

    Anyway, I appreciate you taking time to share the story, and I hope somewhere along the line, those guys become decent people.

  20. Cindy responded on 24 May 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    oh my god kate, there is so much I could say here. I don’t even know where to start except GOOD FOR YOU.

    I am NOT confrontational (at least I never used to be) I am pretty sensitive soul and “warfare” wears me down…FAST.

    and I had lived at war for the better part of my adult life (my childhood was not so hot either) And it was with my own husband (ex) and even some family that were the attackers.

    This wasn’t about inappropriate comments from jerks on the street …but from narcisstic controlling, verbally abusive spouse.

    I co parent my teenager with the man and war will not be over till he turns 18 (my son..haha) (however being he’s 16…things are fast improving)

    he’s (ex) a sociopath and i don’t know which was harder…being emotionally beat up by him regularly in our marriage or standing up for not only myself but that of our son ever since ..and also teaching my son to do the same (and how sad and hard is that to defend yourself against your own father)???

    you said one thing that is still ringing in my ears and that is

    “Any insults that people fling at you are just a desperate attempt to hurt you, not a valid critique of something about you. ”

    true…very true but I just wanted to add, that this person was simpy also trying to push you away so he didn’t “apparantly” have to pay you. if he could “hurt” you and get you to go away, problem solved.

    his insults were his tactics to create a “alternate reality” in hopes that you’d buy his crap and run away.

    He probably saw how NICE you are/were and knew he could take advantage of that.

    he might have sensed you were the sweet quiet sort who wouldn’t fight back.

    the MORE we show to the world that we can’t be easily tossed by the “crazy making” the faster MOST “jerks” will move on to a weaker link.
    sad but true.

    I didn’t used to be so out spoken at all over such things. but you get me around someone trying THIS crap on me our my kids or others who don’t have thier own voice….

    gloves are off! I have no time for such crap.

    (not sure its a good thing but it’s who I am now)

    BE STRONG..everyone! random hurtful remarks only hurt because we LET IT. If you know what is said is not true …ignore it.

    as always.

    great topic.

  21. vanillavivante responded on 26 May 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    What an awesome and refreshing post. I have a few thoughts:
    - Where do you draw the line between “confident” and “vain”? There is an absolute difference, and your post doesn’t feel vain, but I’ve always had a hard time distinguishing the two in my head (I’m terrified of being vain).
    - How do NEGATIVE comments from the outside world factor into this equation? There are some comments that “friends”/family members have made to me that I’ve tried so hard NOT to internalize—and it’s hard to selectively internalize the GOOD comments.

    thank you for this post!

  22. vanillavivante responded on 26 May 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    (oops, sorry meant to post that on the guest post! will move it!)

  23. Eat the Damn Cake » Caring a lot about what other people think responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 11:52 am #

    [...] written before about moments when I made other people uncomfortable. Check out this, and this. There are others that aren’t about guys, but I can’t think of them at the [...]

  24. MWN responded on 19 Jan 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    I love this post, for the main point in it, and also for your friend’s response to being complimented. Thanks for linking to it so I read it again!

  25. JJgal responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 10:47 am #

    I don’t even know what to say… did you sneak inside my head this morning while I was pondering these very topics? Well done, girl. Er, woman. Er, gal? I hate that even women are referred to as “girls.” What’s the female equivalent to the term “guy”? Is it “gal”? Why don’t we say that more? Anyway, I’m rambling. I love, love, love your blog. And your honesty.

  26. Kate responded on 20 Jan 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Ha! “Girl” is fine. Or anything else, really.

  27. Alicia Cumming responded on 29 Feb 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    I hope you told that man something akin to “you pay me, bitch”. I hope you got paid in the end!