surprise

I tell myself and other people that I started writing about beauty and body image because I moved to NYC and stopped eating dessert and realized that I was trying to be thinner all the time, and because of my nose jobs, and because I looked around, and it seemed like every girl and woman I met had also stopped eating dessert. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s because of surprise.

I remember sitting on my moss green carpet in my bedroom when I was just barely fourteen, and a couple friends were helping me read through my box of love letters. I have, by the way, always had a shoebox of love letters. A cool one—not Keds or anything. Later, I didn’t let anyone read the letters, but then, they were highly social. It didn’t feel like a violation of anyone’s privacy, it felt like, if you were a boy writing me a love letter, you should probably know what you were getting into.

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(me as a teenager, feeling pretty damn great)

“Ohmygod!” one of my friends was shrieking. “Look at this! He says, ‘You are the stars and the moon and I am always looking up at you’! It’s like, he’s really short, you know? Doesn’t that make it sound like he’s really short, and he’s like, peering up and trying to see way up there?” She acted this out, squinting exaggeratedly and craning her neck.

We rolled around on the floor, laughing hysterically.

“Fuckin’ A,” said Sarah, who was a little older, and always had the coolest expressions, “I can’t even believe this one. He goes…’You are the most ethereally beautiful girl I have ever seen’.” She looked at the rest of us, eyebrows quirked up, her face about to collapse in laughter. “Ethereally beautiful?! Seriously?”

We laughed at the strange, show-offy word.

But she had a big vocabulary. “I mean,” she went on, patting my shoulder, “Honey, you look fine, but no one would ever think you’re ethereally beautiful. Let’s be real.”

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(i LOVED this mysterious photo of myself, where i looked like i could be anyone)

Usually I liked it when she called me “honey,” because it pointed out how she was older and cooler but still liked me. But now I felt strangely hurt. I mean, this boy HAD thought that I was ethereally beautiful, whatever that meant. And maybe I would think I was too, after I looked it up.

But everyone was nodding agreement and moving on to a rhyming love poem called “The Wind In My Boats Sails.”

I felt like snatching the letters out of their hands. Why had I thought this would be a fun idea?

I thought about Sarah’s words for a long time after that. Her tone. The disbelief and skepticism, like a giant eyeroll. Please. Come ON. And I was surprised. I was surprised because I guess I’d just figured that I was any kind of beautiful a big word wanted to describe, before.

This was how I’d been growing up. Not particularly thinking about my beauty or lack of it, but just assuming in the back of my head that I was probably beautiful. Why? I don’t know, lots of good reasons. My curly hair, my square shoulders, my green eyes, my skill on the piano, the fierceness of my attitude, my parents’ love, the fact that boys liked me and girls liked me, the love letters, the basic reality of my me-ness, inhabiting this special, singular body, and why not? Why the hell wouldn’t I be beautiful, if I could only be this one person? It would be a waste and a disappointment not to.

It took a long time for that surprise to wear off. I kept being sideswiped, jolted a little off-balance, as my assumptions about my fundamental coolness, my birthright beauty, my essential worth, were interrupted.

I didn’t recognize myself in these moments. I had to frantically recalibrate, reposition. It didn’t come easy.

I was surprised, when I started hating my profile automatically. Underneath the hatred, was a sharp surprise. Wait—but–

 

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(my original, hatable profile)

I was surprised, when my body no longer made sense to me, and it seemed foreign, somehow, ungainly, full of complicated wrongness.

I was surprised when I cheated on myself with other girls, telling myself they were so much better than me, so much prettier in every way.

I was surprised when I had to be smart because I wasn’t anything else anymore, instead of being smart because of everything I was.

I was surprised when I felt relieved to be called pretty by even the least interesting guys.

I was surprised when I sometimes dated them.

I was surprised when I found myself having sex I didn’t want to have.

I was surprised that I’d been doing it for a long time by then.

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(sometimes i found myself just lying there)

I was surprised by the reshaping of my desire, which became contorted so that I sometimes couldn’t locate it, and sometimes I seemed to be coming at it through a confusing loop, a rift in a the space-time continuum, so that I could only feel lust as a pretend man, because it was only men who seemed to actively lust, and women were always just moaning along, splayed, obliging.

I was surprised that this was supposed to be liberation. That being a free woman meant being a woman who didn’t flinch, didn’t blink, didn’t bother to be hurt by anything. Being a free woman meant, somehow, doing the things to guys that guys already wanted you to do, but doing them because you thought this was fun anyway, because you just felt like it. It was all in the nonchalance, the unaffectedness, the laughing-it-off.

I was surprised to look at myself, finally, and find that I could no longer see myself through my own eyes. Instead, my image had been filtered through all of the other eyes in the world. Through the eyes of every man.

I was surprised by my surprise, which after a while seemed misplaced. Why be surprised at all? This is just life. It just goes like this.

The truly surprising thing, really, I began to think, was that I’d learned somehow to be surprised in the first place.

The thing about these lessons we learn about being a woman is that they are not really practical. They don’t really have that sweet settling sense we get from the inevitable realization that we are not perfect, not the best, but that we are fine anyway. That’s growing up, and it has to be. For example, I thought as a kid that I should become a concert pianist because I was good at piano. But as I got older, I realized that I was not really concert pianist material. So eventually, that dream was shed, and I stepped into other dreams, and the new dreams fit me better and had more to do with my actual abilities. Fantasy is quietly replaced with reality, but reality can be reassuring, exciting, comforting.

The problem with beauty and sex is that the world doesn’t tell you, like with piano, that you’re not as good as some people but who cares about piano anyway? It tells you you have to keep practicing and practicing and feeling bad about how you aren’t Lang Lang, because every day, they’re blaring Lang Lang on the subway, and people are going, “Holy shit, this is amazing. This is the best stuff in the world.” You are still failing, somehow, every day. In these tiny, constant, clinging, eroding, additive, poisonous ways.

The world thinks that being Lang Lang is the best thing you can be. At least, that’s what it’s always showing you.

I was surprised to learn that, too. I think I thought, as a kid, that I was automatically beautiful partly because I didn’t understand how much people cared about beauty. I didn’t think they’d want to examine it the way they do, and squabble over it, and rank and rate girls and women the way they do, and shout definitive definitions, and obsess and obsess. I just thought, sure, yeah, of course I’m beautiful, the way I’m interesting, and smart, and let’s talk about how I made this perfect sling-shot out of a branch I cut, because seriously, it’s so awesome.

It should be OK to not be ethereally beautiful. And you know, I looked it up, back then, but I don’t know what it means, even now, because I can’t separate it anymore from images of models and movie stars. But whatever it is, it should be OK to not be ethereally beautiful, the way it’s OK to not be a concert pianist, or a top chef, or a prima ballerina. Being more ordinary in some ways and more exceptional in others is just the balance of a person.

But there is a problem with beauty. We get stuck on it. We make it into more.

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(this is a photo of me doing a sexy face with my nose taped months after my second surgery. i wore tape every night for a long time)

Why else would so many women stop eating? Why else would so many of us agonize, the way we do, even when we think we aren’t agonizing, stealing glances at our reflection in passing car windows, in anything reflective—that firm, tiny drip of despair, the realization, over and over, “God, I look awful,” or, “Why can’t I just look a little better?”

Not, by the way, because we are just crazy. That is the way people traditionally end conversations about beauty. That is the way people always end all of the conversations about being a woman that they don’t want to have.

We have learned, ultimately, to see ourselves through everyone else’s eyes, every moment of our lives. As though they are the ones who decide us, who define us. We disappear even as we take up what feels like too much space. We are vanishing in front of ourselves. What an obnoxious paradox: to vanish even as you are condemned to scrutinize your physical self, hands and eyes glued to the magnifying glass, forever.

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I don’t think it’s impossible to feel good about the way you look, even later, as a woman in this world. You can feel good even as you don’t look like a movie star or a model. But I think it’s much, much harder to get there than we’re given credit for. And sometimes it requires a special, fabulous obliviousness, and sometimes it requires an extreme refusal to engage. Sometimes it just requires the passage of so many years.

Sometimes it requires an acknowledgement of our own buried surprise.

Wait- what?

But—I thought—

I thought that maybe I was beautiful—

I thought that maybe I was OK—

Maybe we should be surprised at all this insistence that we are not.

There’s a part of my mind, an ethereally beautiful part, I’m pretty sure, that is still surprised.

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(this is photo of me not posing at all– i saved it even though when i first saw it i hated the way i looked, just being happy here)

*  *  *

Do you ever feel surprised by the way you feel about how you look?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look when I look down at my body

If you want, feel free to check out my recent piece on Daily Life about MILFs and how I don’t want to want to look like one

41 Responses to “surprise”

  1. Jenna responded on 15 Jul 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Kate, you got a lot of flack on that Daily Life piece, and I want to yell through the internet – no! She’s doesn’t have an unhealthy obsession with body image, its just this small thing where writing about it is her job, you morons! And any of you denying that you’ve even felt jealous or inadequate are fooling yourselves! ARGHHH!

    But this. I don’t think if any reasonable person read this piece they couldn’t also point to a moment in their life which changed everything for them too. How they see their body, how they relate to it, the moments it surprises them by being ugly, not matching the ideal in their mind, or even more ‘beautiful’ than they thought. Just wonderfully written, and so so relatable.

  2. Sarah responded on 15 Jul 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    Hello! I always love your articles–you never fail to talk about beauty, culture, and everyday life in a wonderfully quirky and truthful manner. However I can’t help but especially love the ones where you describe the way you felt about yourself in your teens, because it sounds like you were such a force of nature, with your unshakable confidence in your talents and beauty.

    I remember feeling similarly when I was fourteen–like I could do anything I dreamed of! It is such a shame that even the most confident of girls eventually gets hammered down a bit (and sometimes more than a bit…), because that belief in one’s power, worth, and beauty can be truly magical.

    That’s one great thing that your writings do–your touching honesty and insight on these matters, both big and seemingly small, helps me and I’m sure countless others question the nagging doubts about our worth in the world. You were and are beautiful in every way, and you are helping others recognize the beauty in themselves through your work on this blog.

  3. Kande responded on 15 Jul 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    The far better surprise, as you are soon to find out, is when you have spent years, maybe even decades, being convinced of your un-beauty … maybe some days resenting it, other days rebelliously accepting it but either way, knowing in your being that you are anything but beautiful … and then being hit out of the blue by the little being you created, saying spontaneously, honestly, and joyfully ” Mommy … you are so beautiful! The most beautifullest ever!”. In those moments – the ache of doubting their view counter balanced by desperately wanting to give anything to see what they are seeing – is quickly followed by gratefulness and the knowledge that children truly do have much different views on what constitutes “beautiful” … and adults should try harder to see what they see!

  4. onebreath responded on 15 Jul 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    “What an obnoxious paradox: to vanish even as you are condemned to scrutinize your physical self, hands and eyes glued to the magnifying glass, forever.”

    You just described my life. With a large dose of punitive self esteem thrown in for fun.

    I am grateful that you write these pieces. They are very healing and help to mitigate the nasty shame that comes when we, as women, admit that yes, we do care about and battle poor self- and body-image. And that no, that doesn’t make us shallow and pathetic. It makes us beings existing in a particular milieu of life that fosters these insecurities no matter how much we would like to be beyond such concerns. If we can admit that, maybe we can make strides in changing it.

    So thank you thank you thank you.

  5. Steff responded on 15 Jul 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    “…that firm, tiny drip of despair, the realization, over and over…”

    This line really reached through the screen and grabbed me. This is exactly how I feel with regards to the the glances I steal at reflective surfaces throughout the day, the way I watch the way others watch me, trying to see how I’m reflected in their eyes and facial expressions … Always with the wish that this latest reflection will be superior to the one before it.

  6. SolariC responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 2:24 am #

    If you care for my two cents, I actually think ‘ethereally beautiful’ is a pretty good way to describe your particular style of good looks. The boy who wrote you had a good sense of what his word meant. It means celestial or spiritual; you have the sort of face that mirrors the spirit very vividly. Not to mention that I could imagine your features belonging to a grand, biblical angel :)

  7. Aezy responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 4:21 am #

    I love this piece! Although for me it was the other way round and I was suddenly surprised when I started looking in the mirror and thinking “Hmmmm I look good today, I like my face”, because I spent a lot of my teenage years thinking I was fat and ugly. Realising that I didn’t think that all the time was surprising but liberating. And nowadays at 23 I can have an ugly day or a fat day and it surprises me but it doesn’t cow me the way it always used to. I’m slowly returning to my own viewpoint rather than using everyone elses’ gaze to judge myself. It’s quite refreshing.

  8. Jiminy responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 6:27 am #

    Dearest Kate,
    Do you do requests? Because there is this fragment of text : „I was surprised that this was supposed to be liberation. That being a free woman meant being a woman who didn’t flinch, didn’t blink, didn’t bother to be hurt by anything. Being a free woman meant, somehow, doing the things to guys that guys already wanted you to do, but doing them because you thought this was fun anyway, because you just felt like it. It was all in the nonchalance, the unaffectedness, the laughing-it-off.” that hit me as if it belonged here, but also it had its own separate piece somewhere in your head. And it’s a piece I’d love to read, because it feels highly familiar, even though it’s touchy ground for each of us.

    <3 and thanks for your pointed analysis, as always.

  9. Cheryl responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 7:44 am #

    “You can feel good even as you don’t look like a movie star or a model. But I think it’s much, much harder to get there than we’re given credit for. And sometimes it requires a special, fabulous obliviousness, and sometimes it requires an extreme refusal to engage. Sometimes it just requires the passage of so many years”.

    Oh yes. This.

    I was eating disordered from when I was fifteen – it’s only in this past year, as I’ve entered into my thirties, that I’m finally beginning to feel comfortable in my skin. I will never be ‘beautiful’. Not in that typical sense, that model-perfect, equidistant-featured, glossy-maned, bambi-limbed sense. But I am learning to appreciate how beautiful I am in other ways. I love my writing, and I think there’s beauty in that. I love how interested and curious I am, about everything. I also happen to think I have pretty eyes (even if one a slightly different shape to the other).

    All those years of hearing people say that it’s inner beauty that really matters, and I never looked beyond the surface of the phrase. I do think deeper understanding comes with a combination of experience and age – there are those girls who will have always understood the concept of inner beauty, but I wouldn’t wish to exchange my experience for theirs. I feel like mine is hard-won, and all the more precious for it.

    Beautifully written and thought-provoking post as always, Kate :)

  10. Nat responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 8:12 am #

    Almost certainly because of my own experiences and insecurities, the part quoted by Jiminy above actually struck deeper for me than the beauty stuff, and shaped my reading of this part:

    “The problem with beauty and sex is that the world doesn’t tell you, like with piano, that you’re not as good as some people but who cares about piano anyway? It tells you you have to keep practicing and practicing and feeling bad about how you aren’t Lang Lang, because every day, they’re blaring Lang Lang on the subway, and people are going, “Holy shit, this is amazing. This is the best stuff in the world.” You are still failing, somehow, every day. In these tiny, constant, clinging, eroding, additive, poisonous ways.”

    Like appearance, sex is often framed as a performance, and it’s made pretty clear that you owe the world in general and your current partner in particular a certain kind of performance. That your very worth is dependant on it. I still feel crushed by that expectation every day.

  11. Alice responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 9:46 am #

    My goodness Kate such a backlash it seems from your ‘Daily Life’ piece. I used to be unhealthily obsessed with my weight/image etc, and i remember I was always insensibly defensive when came to the strive for ‘fitness’ and ‘health’. I think obsession bears hypersensitivity and paranoia. Nevermind them, a piece well written as always!

    Alice :)

  12. Kate responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 9:56 am #

    @Jenna and Alice
    Funny– I’m not experiencing any backlash from the MILF piece! Just positive emails and shares. Are you talking about the comments? I don’t advise reading them on big sites! It’s always depressing, and people tend to get really mean, no matter what. The more a piece is shared, the more comments it attracts, and the more angry people come out to play.

    I remember reading comments on a Slate or Salon piece, where the trolls were telling a woman who was writing about having cancer that they hoped she’d die of it, because they didn’t like they way she wrote the piece or something. Until the level of discourse moves beyond that, I won’t be too hurt when people don’t like me in the comment sections!

    But thanks for looking out for me :-)

  13. Kate responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 9:58 am #

    @Jiminy
    You’re right– it really should be part of another piece, but not a piece I’m comfortable writing yet! I kind of wish I was.

    xoxo

  14. Kate responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 9:59 am #

    @Aezy
    That’s awesome!! I love that your surprise is running the other way!

    @Kande, too. Love this.

  15. Anna responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Hi Kate –
    This post speaks beautifully of disillusionment. I had a similar experience – not with beauty, but with being taught to squelch (or at least mask) my enthusiasm for things I loved.
    Here’s a quote from Thoreau that reminded me of this phenomenon:

    Thoreau’s Journal: 16-July-1851

    Methinks my present experience is nothing; my past experience is all in all. I think that no experience which I have today comes up to, or is comparable with, the true experiences of my boyhood. And not only this is true, but as far back as I can remember I have consciously referred to the experience of a previous state of existence. “For life is a forgetting,” etc. Formerly, methought, nature developed as I developed, and grew up with me. My life was ecstasy. In youth, before I lost any of my senses, I can remember that I was all alive, and inhabited my body with inexpressible satisfaction; both its weariness and its refreshment were sweet to me. This earth was the most glorious musical instrument, and I was audience to its strains. To have such sweet impressions made on us, such ecstasies begotten of the breezes! I can remember how I was astonished. I said to myself,—I said to others,—“There comes into my mind such an indescribable, infinite, all-absorbing, divine, heavenly, pleasure, a sense of elevation and expansion, and [I] have had nought to do with it. I perceive that I am dealt with by superior powers. This is a pleasure, a joy, an existence which I have not procured myself. I speak as a witness on the stand, and tell what I have perceived.” The morning and the evening were sweet to me, and I led a life aloof from society of men. I wondered if a mortal had ever known what I knew. I looked in books for some recognition of a kindred experience, but, strange to say, I found none. Indeed, I was slow to discover that other men had had this experience, for it had been possible to read books and to associate with men on other grounds. The maker of me was improving me. When I detected this interference I was profoundly moved. For years I marched as to a music in comparison with which the military music of the streets is noise and discord. I was daily intoxicated, and yet no man could call me intemperate. With all your science can you tell how it is, and whence it is, that light comes into the soul?

    Loving your posts about pregnancy – and everything! – lately.
    Take care,

    Anna

  16. Dame Greenwater responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    I think this is the best article you’ve written to date, not in terms of skill (though skill certainly doesn’t lack) but of, it feels, having arrived somewhere you’ve been digging towards for a long time and expressing it well.
    It also feels like a validation of every time I’ve felt dissonance between how I feel about myself (okay to superb) and how I think other people feel about me (inadequate). Thank you.

  17. Kate responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    @Dame
    thank you! I feel that way about it, too!

  18. Dame Greenwater responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    *I meant that I think I look inadequate to other people, in case that was unclear.

  19. Lee responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Beautifully and painfully said – one of your best posts xx

  20. Vicky responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Can I just point out that’s an awesome picture of you on the rail tracks? Love it.

  21. Barbara responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    Great piece!
    I also read the piece you wrote for Daily Life and it was wonderful.
    If I could offer you one piece of advice…as someone who has walked the path before you…who is old enough to be your mother…
    LET YOURSELF GO!
    I mean it! Once you “let yourself go” you discover some inner badass-ness that you could have never imagined. You will have strength and wisdom, fortitude and a number of other gifts that you thought were only available to superheroes.
    Oh, but, wait…you are about to be a super-hero…you are about to be a MOM!
    It’s an awesome ride that never ends.
    Best wishes. :)

  22. Angela responded on 16 Jul 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    “Being more ordinary in some ways and more exceptional in others is just the balance of a person.”

    I knew this, but it sure did feel good reading it to remind me.

    I really enjoy your blog. Your probing exploration of issues is highly satisfying. Thank you.

  23. Piloting Paper Airplanes | Article Almanac: Healthy vs. compulsive exercise - Piloting Paper Airplanes responded on 17 Jul 2013 at 9:26 am #

    [...] Surprise | Via Kate at Eat the Damn Cake [...]

  24. Lauren C responded on 17 Jul 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    “I was surprised when I cheated on myself with other girls, telling myself they were so much better than me, so much prettier in every way.”

    I never thought of negative self-talk as “cheating on myself” before. Thank you for sharing your perspective!

  25. Cait responded on 17 Jul 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    Am I the only one who finally reached a point of being able to accept and see myself as beautiful (albeit, maybe only in brief moments) because I was lucky enough to fall in love with someone who tells me I am and thinks that I am, 24/7? I spent years starving myself, avoiding treatment, ruining relationships, and I’m all for getting to a better place on your own and in your own way if that’s what you want or need to do, but there’s a lot to be said for having someone love you and refuse to listen to you put yourself down.

  26. Kate responded on 17 Jul 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    @Cait
    Funny timing– I have a post about that lined up!!

  27. Ariella responded on 17 Jul 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    I love how you describe how you felt about yourself as a teen. Myself, when I hit about 14/15 I had a lot of self loathing. It was a hard road. I don’t know that I ever fully recovered. However, I feel like I try to have a better body awareness now. especially since I have a daughter who is very aware of that kind of stuff.

    You are beautiful and were beautiful.

    Love your writing as always.

  28. kangakate responded on 18 Jul 2013 at 8:14 am #

    Hi Kate,
    this isn’t a direct response to this particular post, more a general comment. I’m also a Kate, from Australia, and I found you through Daily Life a few months ago. I don’t know if you read the other articles on Daily Life, but a while ago Clementine Ford wrote a piece about how feminism for her was all about finding a way of being a girl that doesn’t hurt.

    Your posts do that for me. Whenever I’m puzzling about something, or particularly disheartened or annoyed, I find that you’ve articulated what I was thinking even if previously I hadn’t entirely understood my own response. And you’re usually so hopeful that I feel as if maybe not hurting might be an option sometime in the future, even if I’m not there yet. It helps more than I can say.

    So, thanks, and best of luck with the baby – I’m sure you and Bear will be champion parents.

  29. Danielle responded on 18 Jul 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    As an aside, and not to belabour the point and sidetrack things, but I read a few comments on the Daily Life article and holy shit, people certainly savour missing the point. That is the best that can be said. There is nothing going on there. I congratulate you for not even bothering.

    I feel bad for some readers, that the first thing that they can muster after reading this enlightened, painful, lovely piece is (paraphrasing to save you the pointlessness) “well she just wants to make an excuse to not ‘bounce back’ and … .”

    Don’t people want to be OK? Don’t they want to realize they are lovely – and even amazing, probably? Wouldn’t finding the balnce be so sweet and freeing? If they can just get over the bullshit…instead of getting angry if it is not invited in.

    The same people who would eat up an atypical article telling them to shape up, whip it into shape, “bounce back” – seem to have plenty bad to grumble about an outlook otherwise. Someone calling out the bullshit.

    Challenging fear, meeting the fear, knowing beauty, being a hearty and complex individual, and challenging the status quo is harder than any weirdo diet plan or soul-destroying idealistic notions that don’t mean zero.

  30. Leah responded on 18 Jul 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    Surprise! I faced it at 40. A picture of me. The Ugly Duckling of the family. “It’s a good thing you have brains and know how to use them.” My older sister is the pretty one. And I have no idea what my younger sister must have been, but I was ugly-smart! And I knew it. And when I was 19, I was engaged to a very nice guy I am eternally grateful I didn’t marry.

    The surprise? The woman in that engagement photo is beautiful. Not I-can-now-find-the-beauty-in-you-because-I’m-grown beautiful. Beautiful beautiful. How-did-I–live-all-my-life-thinking-I-was-ugly beautiful? And I am married now, to a man who doesn’t seem to mind that I carry in my purse a wallet sized photo of myself and another man looking formal and formally engaged. I carry it because to this day I cannot see the beautiful. Except when I see that photo.

  31. Vicky responded on 19 Jul 2013 at 7:55 am #

    The sentence that resonates with me the most: ‘What an obnoxious paradox: to vanish even as you are condemned to scrutinize your physical self, hands and eyes glued to the magnifying glass, forever.’
    So true and deftly put.

  32. Neeva responded on 19 Jul 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    @Danielle
    “Don’t people want to be OK? Don’t they want to realize they are lovely – and even amazing, probably? Wouldn’t finding the balnce be so sweet and freeing? If they can just get over the bullshit…instead of getting angry if it is not invited in.”

    I guess that reaction is fear. If you’re really invested in the idea of having to be beautiful/thin/athletic and spending considerable resources in time, money and strength to work towards these goals, you don’t take it to kindly if someone else comes along pointing out the futility.
    It challenges their beliefs about the hierarchy of people – and their place in it – plus it implies that their pains and efforts to climb in this hierarchy are in vain.

  33. Connie responded on 19 Jul 2013 at 11:34 pm #

    I loved your original nose. It was a proud, beautiful significant nose. And you are beautiful – you were right the first time.

  34. Grace responded on 20 Jul 2013 at 1:02 am #

    When I was in my 20′s I didn’t worry about my looks as much as I do now in my early 40′s, going gray and a bunch of pounds heavier.

    I didn’t feel particularly beautiful, younger, but I realize, I was…in the way that young, healthy women ARE.

    And what being (unconsciously) beautiful (in the way young, healthy women ARE beautiful) IS…
    I see, and miss now. I didn’t understand or strive for it THEN.

  35. Simmity responded on 21 Jul 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    Kate, what you write so often resonates, and you were such a gorgeous teenager in these photos, I would have been thrilled to look like you did!! The “surprise” element of suddenly finding out your looks are meant to be inextricably tied to your ability to dream and fulfil dreams is remarkably painful. Now 40, I love finding beauty in other women that are not “traditionally so”, however I loathe that I cannot find the same worth in myself. I have moments of feeling gorgeous, and then I catch a glimpse of myself, or see the look of derision on a stranger’s face, and I retreat back into my shell until I bounce back again. I am separated, and imagine people think I was lucky enough to have a relationship and children looking the way I do, and then I dream about having another partner one day and tell myself to stop dreaming, I am not going to meet anyone worthy looking like I do. I spent a lifetime hearing negatives, from the classmate who said my best feature was my teeth (when they were crooked and nearly in braces), or the boys who shouted out “Great body, pity about the face”, or the man in the supermarktet who wanted to know how someone as ugly as me could have a baby as beautiful as my daughter. I think the most damning thing was that there was not a single person to affirm my beauty. My mum said I had an ugly screwed up face, my nose is large and hooked – I saw an unprintable comment about this written on a desk at school in Year 7, when I told my then-husband about the supermarket incident he put groaned and said he and his workmates had talked about how I am ugly, and on it goes. I think if I had just one person let me know – sincerely – that I am beautiful to them – I would feel so much better. It is okay not to be traditionally beautiful, especially as you get older, yet to feel not even your own family finds you attractive makes it nigh on impossible to believe you are, and I have intense shame surrounding my appearance now. If someone makes a comment, I now hold it to myself, as I feel like it is true – someone who looks like me is deserving of negative comments and judgment, so hwy complain, it is somehow my fault. I know it is not anyone’s fault, and do not judge others in this way, however I feel like I am somehow different to others and deserve each and every judgment.

  36. On balance – all my excuses responded on 22 Jul 2013 at 2:50 am #

    [...] her post, Surprise, Kate Fridkis of Eat the Damn Cake gives me a timely reminder that the pursuit of perfection in all [...]

  37. Heather Peter responded on 22 Jul 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Kate, I throughly enjoyed reading this blog post. You have such a way with words. Beauty in itself is such a big word. When we are young everyone is labled beautiful as a child. Then we go to school and beauty slowly becomes a competition. Who is the fairest of them all? Your words spoke to me on a deep level, as I to once felt as those my beauty was natural, that however was taken away the first time a boy called me “fat”. It seem so cruel how most everyone takes personal beauty forgranted. I think beauty lies within us all inside and out, we were all created with our own unique beauty, but as I say this I will also be putting on makeup and dressing to slim my figure before heading to work. Your blog has opened my eyes to exploring the possibilities of no longer trying to make beauty, but to just be beauty.

  38. Emily responded on 23 Jul 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    I love your blog – and congratulations on the arrival of Eden! This is an awesome post, but I totally got stuck on the expression, “Fuckin’ A” (too bad she continued after that). I used to say that all the time, and one day several years ago, I was surprised – not in a good way – and used that expression in front of my friend’s 8-year-old. After apologizing profusely to the little girl, and a long awkward silence, she said, “It’s ok. I’ve heard that one word before, but why did you say ‘egg’ after it?” To this day, my friend and I will say, “Fuckin’ Egg!” just for the heck of it.

  39. Lovely Links: 7/19/13 responded on 26 Jul 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    [...] think I thought, as a kid, that I was automatically beautiful partly because I didn’t understand how much people cared about beaut…, and shout definitive definitions, and obsess and obsess. I just thought, sure, yeah, of course [...]

  40. Rocio responded on 13 Nov 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    I can’t even begin to describe how this post made me feel. It’s my first time reading your blog. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE the title. You are totally right. You made my heart feel warm and happy and not crazy for thinking of myself as beautiful no matter what flaws I have. Sometimes it’s hard to consider yourself “good enough” in this crazy world. Thank you. Your writting is wonderful.

  41. Melinda responded on 16 Nov 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Kate, I am so sorry she said that to you…I know the feeling when somebody says something hurtful like that. It’s like being stabbed in the heart (OK, maybe not that dramatic, but you know what I mean).

    Some thoughts about this…first, that picture of you at the very top reminds me of a teenage Norma Jeane Baker, before she became the bombshell Marilyn Monroe. I’m not trying to bullshit you here. That picture seriously reminds me of young Norma Jeane…the brown pigtails, the halter top, and your face. The eyebrows, the nose, even your smile. And Norma Jeane (prior to becoming Marilyn) might not have been the most glamorous, but she was definitely beautiful and there was something about her that is also captured in your expression. I also see a bit of Kate Winslet in you at times.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you are a beautiful woman, and you were a beautiful girl back then. Maybe not by everyone’s standards. Maybe not by the standards of catty, insensitive “friends” you had as a teen. But their words do not change the fact that you are, indeed, beautiful.

    I think what also bothered me was the fact that she said “honey” before she pretty much insulted you…some girls/women are quick to make others feel like shit. I mean, fine, she might not have thought you were beautiful. But she had no right to tell you that NO ONE would ever find you beautiful…I’m sure Bear would disagree, and not just because he is your husband and loves you.

    I’ve had so many countless insults from people over the years and I remember nearly every single one. People (including some of my own relatives) calling me stupid/ugly/fat/worthless. Racist insults because of my hair, my skin. Being told that I would never be worthy of anything good in life. And I internalized all of it. In my family, I saw my cousin being treated better than me because people thought she was prettier. She was beautiful and loved, and she threw it in my face constantly. I tried not to feel bitter but it was hard not to.

    Just as painful were the times when I would be in relationships and the guy’s friends or family would insult my looks. Or when one guy would subtly put me down by saying that I wasn’t “anything special” and that “something better” might come along (implying that he would drop me for a more conventionally attractive girl). And it is so difficult to not take shit like this personally. I’ve always known that I’m not everyone’s notion of beauty…that’s fine with me. But what bothers me is somebody else feeling that they can define you (or me) and put us in our “place” because to them, we aren’t pretty. Telling us that not only do they find us unattractive, but that nobody else does, or ever will either. Telling us that we can’t be loved or be the object of admiration or affection.

    It kind of takes me back to my younger days when one guy expressed surprise that anyone would be interested in me. Or when people would say (behind my back more often): “what do you see in her?” and then try to fix my partner at the time with somebody they viewed as prettier and more socially acceptable.