The Shame of Beauty

When I was a little girl, people would often tell me how pretty I was. My parents, other family members, friends of my parents. My grandmother would tell me I was going to grow up to be Miss America (yea, I know, ugh).

Whenever someone would tell me how pretty I was in front of my mother, I would just stand there, silent. My mother would say, “Say ‘thank you’ Marnie.” But I couldn’t. I would just clam up. She’d get embarrassed, and later chastise me for my rudeness.

I guess if you are pretty, you owe the world a thank you.

I’m not trying to sound all woe is me, don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. I actually plan on making a point.

As I got older, around 12 or 13, I started to develop, you know, that womanly stuff. And I started to notice something. I noticed men noticing me. Not boys, MEN. Grown men, OLD men. They looked at me differently now, and I wasn’t sure what to think about it. I guessed I had changed and it was noticeable. But I know what I felt. Shame. 

Today, I guess I’d have to call what happened to me a “verbal sexual assault.” My landlord (who is ancient) was in my apartment while the plumber worked fixing my sink. He sat at my kitchen table, told me about his ex-girlfriend who I apparently resemble. According to him, I look so much like her it is uncanny. He told me I was “built” the same as she was. He had a plastic grocery bag with photos he had brought of her to show me (so I’m guessing this conversation was pre-meditated?). He had four shots of her – three nude (only from the breasts up, but still), one in black lace lingerie – all carefully in matte frames which he set on the table in front of me. Whether or not I look like her is debatable I guess. I could see some resemblance but she was hardly my exact twin. I guess it’s more a way I have about me, as he also informed me she was a free spirit, much like he suspects I am (and to re-iterate a point I often make, in man language “free spirit” means “slut”).

He told me how she really enjoyed one of his talents, which is oral sex. He told me some couples like to take naughty pictures, or make pornos together, which she was totally down for, but he opted for these tasteful shots. He said she eventually dumped him to “settle down.” (So much for maintaining her slutty free spirit status I guess). He mentioned that the Playboy channel is available to watch (um, yeah, I knew that, but um… why are we having this conversation?). He told me he had three other girlfriends who had each brought him a gift – another girlfriend that wanted to be “serviced” by him, and that that was quite a feather in his cap. Yes, I know, threesomes are something guys consider quite a score. Got that memo.

Every time I tried to redirect the conversation, he would take it back. He asked me if I was embarrassed, I said it was more like uncomfortable. He did say “I hope I didn’t make you mad.” I said, “I’m not mad, but this is really awkward.”

Why the hell wasn’t I mad? I’m mad now!

Needless to say, I finally got him to leave with my subtle standing and walking toward the door body language.

He told me repeatedly before he left that he was “at my service” and all I had to do was call. I tried to play it off and act like he was talking about sending a plumber to fix my sink (not a euphemism) but I know what he meant.

My ancient landlord is actually blatantly offering to lick my pussy.

As soon as he left, I burst in tears.

I used all my therapy tools to try and cope with the feelings I was (and still am) having. No matter how strong and independent and assertive I am, I still let this man talk to me this way. I still let him make me feel small and dirty and most of all ASHAMED.

I felt 12 again. I felt the shame that would wash over me when creepy old guys would stare at me like they wanted me, and hated themselves for it.

I felt ashamed of how sexual a person I am. He must know. He must have sensed what a free-spirited slut I am. He must know the dirty things I’ve done, and even though I did them with someone I wanted to do them with, I’m a dirty whore and every man should get a turn. I must have been too friendly, too open. I must have been putting my sexual heat, my beauty, my appeal out there for him, as I do for everyone, because I am a dirty fucking skank. It must be my fault.

I suddenly had one of those “aha!” moments. I have struggled since adolescence with my beauty (or lack of it). Maybe I’m no supermodel, but here is my dirty little secret: I am a beautiful woman. I know it. And I think the real reason I beat myself up and try to insist that I am unattractive is because of the shame and guilt I feel when I know I am pretty. Being beautiful, and even more so sexy, makes me feel weak. It makes me feel like a victim. That is fucked up. Ugly makes me stronger and more powerful. It makes me feel like I can own myself, instead of being owned by men.

This is a world dominated by men. I have been a man’s trophy. I have been a man’s shame. I have been a man’s dirty little secret. I have been a man’s desire. I have been a man’s revulsion. I have been a man’s victim. I have been held up by a man. I have been held down by a man. All of these things mean the same thing though: I belong to men, not to myself. That is not okay. And I can’t be the first woman who’s felt this way.

I feel violated. I went for a walk to calm down, and of course the whistles and hoots came from various men, because they always come more when you are in no mood to hear it. Men behind me in line at the grocery store had a loud conversation about kinkiness and whip cream, which I’m sure was elevated for my benefit. Normally, I’d just ignore these idiots, but today I was too fragile to handle it.

My eyes have been filled with tears most of the day, because I don’t want to be dominated, controlled or owned by these men. They either reject me completely or hold me down and humiliate me. And it’s always the same: the one I want will reject me, the one I don’t will hold me down. He will hold me down with inappropriate comments, unnecessary touching, or lewd stares. Or he will just hold me down literally and take what he wants.

I am a beautiful woman. I am a sexual woman. I do not belong to anyone but myself.

I do not belong to anyone but myself. I do not belong to anyone but myself.