Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Beauty

(Note: This post isn't about my lesbian exploits, and is instead about a bit of a revelation I had last week. It was weighty, and I therefore felt the need to write about it, so bear with me as I work some stuff out in this one.)

Last week, my new, but very dear friend A, along with another co-worker of mine, randomly started talking together, in my presence, about how beautiful they thought I was. They went on about it for a good 5 minutes, and I did NOT like it. It made me want to hide my face behind my scarf (which I think I actually did do) and go hide under my desk until they left me alone. I did actually run away in a sense, quickly leaving the common area of the office, where they were waxing poetic, and retreating into my own office, away from their complimentary gaze.

My reaction probably doesn't make much sense to you. But I need you to understand-I HATED that attention. I hated that they were saying such nice things to me. It made me EXTREMELY uncomfortable. I didn't understand my reaction either, but it is not a new one.

I've always had a hard time with compliments, especially about my physical appearance. I thought, up until last week, that this discomfort was due to my disbelief--"You can't possibly think I'm pretty! I'm...not!" I've always thought that my own negative view of myself was why I hated being told I looked nice, beautiful, etc. But then, A asked me later that night, as we had a few drinks to unwind from the day, why I had such a strong reaction to their admiration. And as I thought about how to answer her, the answer came to me, sudden and clear and absolute.

My mother.

I hate that it comes back to her. Such a cliche, right? But it's true. As I sat in that bar, the memories flooded in: my mother putting me in beauty pageants, but never telling me she thought I was beautiful, even when I was dolled up and perfect-looking, and winning those pageants. My mother taking us on surprise detours by her job when I was home visiting from college, so that her co-workers could "see" me. I would stand there sheepishly, in front of women I'd never heard of, who had no true interest in me, as they said to my mother "oh, she's so pretty! Oh, how lovely." My mother would smile and look proud, nod in agreement, and then we would leave. We would drive home, me feeling like little more than a show dog, well-behaved and quiet with its shiny coat, my mother feeling like she'd won some sort of prize.

And yet, even on my wedding day, the only indication I got that I was acceptable to her was when I asked, "do I look ok?" She might have said I looked beautiful then. I don't even remember.

So, then, why do I hate being told I am beautiful? As I sat with A last week, and remembered these things, and cried, it hit me: I hate it because that seems to be the one thing my mother admires in me that doesn't also hurt her (as does, for example, my assertiveness). That one shallow, surface thing, she can feel proud of and good about, and yet she has never even given me that one compliment willingly, and out loud.

But that's not the worst part. Yes, it hurts that others tell me I'm beautiful when my own mother never has, but the worse sting comes in all of the other ways people see me, know me, appreciate me, in ways that my mother never will. When a friend tells me that I'm nice, giving, smart, funny, it hurts. Because somewhere deep inside, as my ears hear praise and compliments, my heart says, "...and your mother doesn't even know."

1 comment:

  1. Uuuuuggghh. Virtual hug, first of all. This sounds like an important realization, and helps me understand your reactions in these situations. I SO related to that last line - except for me it now goes "and your mother died without ever knowing." But actually, this is going to sound crazy, that's better in a way because I don't have to be sad anymore that she doesn't do it. She can't. Your mother is a fool if she doesn't know you - sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's true. I also know how it feels to feel like being yourself necessarily hurts your mother - but we have to remember that is about their limitations and NOT about us being hurtful. FINALLY, you were in pageants!!!!! WHAT?

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