“You’re beautiful, babe” the message said. I realized I’d been smiling up until the second I read it. “Please don’t call me babe,” I muttered to the computer, hitting dismiss with conviction.
These kinds of comments aren’t unfamiliar to a south Florida girl who tried to model a little and won’t hesitate to post bikini clad pics from trips to the beach or bass fishing. I mean hey, at nearly forty, if you can still wear a bikini, you celebrate that sh*t! Most people just leave a nice little comment, you click like, maybe add an emoticon, and go on with your day. There’s a momentary high from the acceptance, the compliment, and the reassurance that dragging your tired ass to the gym every night after work hasn’t been for naught. But a private message? That’s a different story, there’s an unsaid expectation for me to respond romantically. Also, hey jackass, you know my name, why did you choose to address me as babe? And, really, does that ever work?
A few more seconds went by as I continued through the remainder of my messages, then I realized I was still thinking about this. Fuel for writing? I thought. Maybe. See, I had just read a pro-feminine article unlike others that litter the internet. This one was more real. It urged us to embrace the “feminine” traits we’ve been pressured to hide in shame.
Tears? They happen. You don’t need to “man up”, you can cry. It’s OK. Imagine that! I was raised by my Dad, and the thought of crying (specifically in front of another human, especially a man, or most terrifying; the offending man), still makes me cringe. Honorable mention, my Dad is the biggest supporter I know of feminism (not a typo), and in no way encouraged me not to cry, he just wasn’t the type, and I wanted to be like him in every way, so I didn’t either. Back to the point, excuse the foray into ADD territory, it happens sometimes. The fact that this innocent (or maybe not so innocent?) comment upset me, also made me realize why. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the attention. I mean, hello, let’s just be honest here, I like it when I feel beautiful. I like it when someone tells me so, and I like it more and more the closer I move toward the big 4-0. Here’s the deal. With age does come wisdom. (Thank goodness!) I know myself pretty well by now, and a simple “let’s be honest with ourselves for a second, what are we really upset about” moment usually does the trick. And, reliably, it did. I wasn’t upset about the “objectification”, I think that’s a victim’s term, btw. I wasn’t upset about the perceived expectations, in fact I was a little honored, he’s a successful and good looking man. I was upset because the guy I want to be saying things like this to me has relaxed. A-ha moment right!? Be honest, you didn’t see it going this way did you? You did! Smart cookie! 😉
Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, the meat and bones of my rant. High five for hanging in there this far. I’m sitting at my desk writing this in a cute little floral shift dress that makes me feel sexy in that classy sixties way. My hair is in a ponytail, and I have not a smidge of makeup on. How lucky am I that the guy I’m into prefers the way I look when I look like me? Yeah. Cheers to you dude. (By the way, he is so freaking gorgeous, you can’t even imagine.) When things were new there was a lot of “You’re beautiful,” “How are you so sexy?” “Those shoes are hot,” and just general staring and smiling. You know, the good stuff, the honeymoon phase. Now, there’s noticeably less of those audibles. It happens, especially after a year of hanging out regularly and spending the majority of nights together. He still cooks me breakfast every time I stay, notices every time I redo my toenails, (yes, we discussed the possibility that he likes feet), and touches me whenever he can. Those things don’t go unappreciated.
I know how amazing I’ve got it. But, my mind has reared me to believe that I am not beautiful unless a man tells me so vocally. And if other men are telling me, but my man is not, well, then, Houston we have a problem. (Hint, it usually sets off passive aggressive behavior, and trust me, that is not a good color on you.) It’s precisely these feelings that foster the stereotypes we are so vehemently trying to eradicate.
It makes me wonder, where did these presets originate? Sifting through my past is like watching an episode of Days of our Lives, so, who the heck knows. Was it the sexual assault? The husband who went to jail for possessing child porn? My unapologetic sex drive and penchant for non-traditional relationships? (PS. it hurts when someone you love calls you a nympho because they’re tired and you made the first move.) Who cares, I want it gone, and I alone have the power to change it.
Before you judge me further, and diagnose me with labels like co-dependent and low self-esteem, let me disappoint you by admitting that I’m already very well acquainted with them. One of the things I’ve learned I love about myself is that I have chosen to fully embrace and utilize the tools that were shared with me in therapy. I now seek out people who are good influences, treat my problems with respect instead of drinking them away, and work damn hard to dispose of the negative aspects of my psyche that threaten to keep me imprisoned in this black and white world of feminine vs feminism. (This is where I politely decline to engage in a discussion about politics.)
I have chosen to take this experience and write it out. Personally, I think best when I see my words. It’s harder to escape into denial when your actions are staring at you with their hands on their hip. I like the power that comes from attacking something that bothers me and erasing it. And there is a freedom in putting it all out there and recklessly neglecting to entertain the backlash. Some people hate me now that I speak my mind, and some still love me. The important part is that I care less now about what people I don’t know think. I am real, I am learning how to take a compliment, and I am refusing to continue playing a role that is not dictated by me.
I hope my words have made something stir inside of you like his did in me this morning. We have the choice between jumping to anger and firing off a blame-filled victimized comeback, and investigating further into ourselves to find the silver lining is ours. And that is important to note, because, as women fighting to define ourselves in a still new millennium, I think we should begin the definition with a list of the blessings and strengths we have. Don’t you agree? Our forefathers (foremothers) would be proud. After all, aren’t those freedoms exactly what they fought so hard to create?