Sorry, two relationship-y pieces in a row. I know. It just happened that way. This one was on the Frisky originally, for my column there, and it was also syndicated on XoJane. So if you saw it either of those places, I hope you’ll forgive the redundancy. Even if you’ve already seen it, I always love the discussions that happen on this blog, so I wanted to share it with you guys, to see what you thought.
The other day, a girl emailed me:
“I’m worried that I’m not pretty enough to get a guy. I’m single, and want a serious relationship, but sometimes I think I can’t find one because I’m not prettier.”
I wanted to exclaim, “That’s ridiculous!” But instead I thought, Well, of course you’re worried.
When I was single, I reasoned that being hotter was always better because it would give me more options. The hotter I was, the more guys would be interested in me, and the more choice I’d have in the matter. So even if I thought I looked fine, it would’ve been better to look, well, even better. (And then there is no limit—you can always be hotter, somehow.) And when I thought that I looked significantly, depressingly less than fine, I was scared, because I felt as though I might miss out on something essential.
This is not irrational. It makes sense, when we think of women’s worth as being closely matched, at least initially, with their beauty.
From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught that if we were prettier everything in our lives would be better. We would have the things that we want. Girls become preoccupied with their appearances in an effort to control and improve their lives, and are too often driven to despair when they don’t see themselves as fitting into restrictive and seemingly arbitrary beauty standards. And this is not some dramatic interpretation—it’s just life. Some of us escape unscathed, and some of us are blissfully oblivious enough, and some of us recover from middle school and go on to not care very much, and some of us continue to be chased by the howling, hungry beauty demons into our adulthood and even until we die.
So it’s no wonder that someone might worry that not looking good enough might interfere with finding love. It sometimes feels like it interferes with everything, after all. And what is more tied to beauty than selecting a partner? Isn’t that what beauty is all about, ultimately–being able to attract desirable partners? Isn’t that the biological reason why we even have this thing called beauty?
Sure. Sort of.
Looking good is an important part of dating. But the critical part is looking good to a particular person who you would like to look good to. It’s taken me perhaps a surprisingly long amount of time to adjust to this idea.
(how many times have we seen a version of this dilemma? Let me guess…he gets the girl! we’re not given that many examples of stunningly beautiful men and the nerdy women who win their hearts….source)
“If I were prettier, I’d have more of a chance with guys,” I thought, shamefully, secretly, when I was single. At the same time I was telling my friends, “Whatever—guys are so lame these days.”
But even as I worried that I wasn’t naturally beautiful enough to find someone great, everywhere I looked, there were real-life examples to the contrary. Lots of fabulously happy, well-matched couples in which neither person struck me as conventionally attractive. Couples in which the woman was not obviously “hot,” and the man obviously thought she was. Stunningly lovely single women who couldn’t seem to go on a second date. Nerdy couples, married in their mid-20′s, fabulous women who were happy being single and fabulous women who were heartbroken over being single. Opposites-attract couples and couples who looked almost eerily sibling-esque. Couples who’d fallen in love at first sight and couples who had waited forever. Looking at the people around me, it almost seemed like no rules applied to love. It almost seemed like anything could happen, regardless of what a person looked like.
The thing about beauty is that we are taught that it applies in the same ways to everyone, and that we can all see it the same and judge it the same and experience it the same and value it the same. That is the reason why so many girls and women fight so hard and spend so much money and energy trying their best to look the same ways. Very thin and lustrously-haired and large-eyed and plump-lipped and full-boobed and narrow-waisted. And while it’s probably totally true that these beauty standards exist for a reason, that they are rooted in biology and confirmed by eons of culture, it is ALSO true that often, they just don’t matter a whole lot when it comes to finding love.
Maybe when it comes to finding a sexy one-night stand, yes, yes, definitely, the more stereotypically, standardly hot you look, the easier it might be to select from a larger number of eager volunteers. But when it comes to finding longer lasting love, it’s a different story. And that story is much more about individual tastes and conversation and that mysterious spark that wafts between people and sometimes suddenly ignites.
That’s the awesome thing about people—despite everything we’re told about the way other people should look, and despite all the ways in which we are influenced by our culture, our own desires often prevail. I have always wanted a squishy, hairy man, for example. I have heard these characteristics dismissed thoughtlessly as “gross,” and I don’t admire them because I am so subversive and such a social rebel. I just like the way they feel and look. The belly that Bear is convinced makes him unattractive is one of my favorite features. Meanwhile, I’ve spent a long, stupid, but maybe inevitable amount of time hating my big nose, but on our third date, right before we kissed for the first time, my husband said, “I love your nose. It’s so striking.”
(Gisele, advocating for worldwide breastfeeding. source)
There are men, I’ve seen their comments on the internet, who complain that Gisele Bundchen needs another nose job, because her nose is hideous for being “too big.” There are men who have passed me over in a second for my beautiful blond, buxom friend. And there are men who have fallen madly in love with me and told me that I am the most beautiful thing they have ever seen. One of those men happened to be fantastically gorgeous and amazingly awesome in my eyes, and I married him. So that worked out.
I think it works out most of the time. Not just because of my own life, but because of everything I’ve seen, when I’m looking around honestly, instead of through the lens of self-criticism.
Feeling unattractive can be all-consuming, but it’s usually misleading. Just because you feel like you don’t look good enough for this or that or true love or the other thing doesn’t mean that you actually don’t. Because “good enough” is a complicated, indefinable measure that is too easily moved around to accommodate our own worst fears, rather than the reality.
Maybe ironically, though I’ve been concerned about my appearance when single, I’ve felt my ugliest in long-term relationships. Maybe because I had more time to think, and I realized that my concerns about my appearance had very little to do with other people, they were mostly about my relationship with myself.
I don’t know your whole story, girl-who-is-afraid-she-isn’t-pretty-enough-to-get-a-guy, and of course stories are complicated, but I promise you that love is not waiting for you to get prettier. That’s just you, waiting. The rest, I think, has a lot to do with coincidence and luck. But in the meantime, it’s time to start feeling good about who you are. And in my opinion, it’s really important to learn to feel better about the way you look, not so that you can get a man, but so that you can learn to stop blaming your looks for the way your life is going. And then you can be happier all around. That is the real victory.
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Unroast: Today I love the way I feel when I look around my apartment and realize that I chose everything on the walls.
P.S. I’ve started contributing regularly to the fabulous Australian site Daily Life, and this is my first piece in what will be a series/column. It’s about why sometimes we need a thing called a friendship contract. At least, I do. I hope you like it!