Sunday, 13 September 2015

"I turn a lot of heads, I turn a lot of stomachs" what it's like when you're not the object of desire

A friend on Facebook posted this article by Sarah Einstein and my response to it feels bigger than I could reasonably call 'a status'. In the article Einstein talks about her experience of being an older, less physically attractive wife to a younger, more physically attractive man. The two speak freely about their situation- he is not attracted to her body and she is working through her negative feelings about this. He is however attracted to her mind and she feels good about this. 


Like Sarah Einstein '(...)beautiful has always been beyond me. If people find me so, it’s only after they’ve come to know me. (...) I minded this quite a lot in my teens, when it seemed that only beautiful people mattered, that it was a prerequisite for a good life.' But more than her writing about how she doesn't turn heads or has always been plain, I find I turn plenty of heads. I have always repulsed people (especially men) and can't walk down a street without an extended look. Hardly go a day without comments being made  about me. On my first day of my current job my boss gave me diet advice. I get comments about my unattractiveness online a lot (A LOT). And why is this? Well, it's not because I'm plain, I wish I was plain! Plain would be a godsend.


 By conventional standards I am deeply ugly (in part due to my being a fat person, in part a hairy mixed white/arab woman, I have a heavy brow, a giant chin and a strangely cartoonish look). I also have large disfigurements on my body. I can say these things. I can say them and know that they are true to society's standards but not absolute fact. I spent many years feeling like it wasn't my job to be beautiful, I rebelled against beauty, wore sexy clothes on Wednesday mornings without waxing my eyebrows. I took a few years out to readjust what I expected of my body and myself. 


Somewhere down the line I began to feel my subversion of norms was actually, very attractive. I am not easy on the eyes, my presence requires space and attention & work. It always has, but importantly I stopped trying to make myself smaller & I started occupying space in my own life.



When I was seventeen a (frankly mediocre) man once said to me 'I think about us being together. Usually I go for good looking women but you've got this intellect'. 
but you've got this intellect.
He's married now, to a beautiful woman, a friend actually. And I hope at least for her that he has let go of the abstract standard beauty he had decided it was his job to enforce on women. 

Though this statement stung (stings, even after eight years) I can see where he was coming from.I can see why she is his wife. I can see why I am not. I can see why Sarah Einstein is doing herself a favour by working through her feelings on her desirability.


I'm not Sarah Einstein. I'm a queer, fat, disabled and working class person. I'm also polyamorous. I work really hard to undo the messages society has taught me about myself (in the full knowledge that not everyone I sleep next to has bothered to do the same). I try my best to avoid toxic media messages, I look at myself naked in the mirror even on the days I don't want to. I read books written by other fat people. I shout at men who harass me in the street. I call out abusive behaviours in the queer scene (usually to my own exclusion and suffering). I take myself on decadent dates. I eat in public. I talk about sex. I care more about Janelle Monae than Jeremy Clarkson. I have several sexual and romantic partners. I cut toxic people out my life (where safe and possible to do so). I do most of my online interacting in explicitly queer femme spaces and the people whose opinions I listen to are mainly other fat working class femmes.



But something is rotten in the state of Denmark (my life). On a daily basis I feel my relationships (despite my attempts to work against it) have been/are still highly impacted by the thinking that my body is unsexy, undesirable and that my merit (smash merit tbh) is based purely in how much I can perform the role of funny fatty and clever prole.  I know lots of other people I know feel the same. And I want to tell you- it is not your job to fill in the deficit others consider your body to make with with, intellect or entertainment. Beautiful, thin, young people are allowed to be vapid & so are you.



The other day I was thinking about polyamory and the very real and harmful way in which people stack, hierachalise and demote their romantic/sexual partners. Polyamory is supposed to an alternate method of loving and dating to the typical white heterosexual nuclear family of Western economic creation. It's not a massive surprise that it ends up reinforcing a lot of the really shitty dynamics that already exist. I can't tell you how many times I found myself pushed out of relationships by people who were more conventionally attractive than me. You see in our relationships there's no need to break up, we can just invest more time in the people we think gain us more social capital. And slowly us uglies fade away.



And I'm sorry Sarah, but I'm just not as strong as you, I can't make peace with being the person who is the last resort date (or friend, femmerades, let's not pretend we aren't stuck doing the dishes whilst the cool andro and masculine people gain queer points by misquoting Marx). I can't make peace with my body being a barrier or a hurdle for people to love me. 



Me stating this doesn't mean it isn't something that effects me. If only acknowledging this shit meant it went away. I assure you, I'm well aware that all my relationships are subject to my partners not finding someone more attractive and thinner. And yeah, I spend a lot of my time stuck in scarcity mentality (warning on this link for discussion and take down of dieting).  Reading Einstein's article I felt deeply emotional at the passage 'In our early days, before my husband could articulate the ways in which he both did, and did not, feel desire for me, we sometimes fought about our sex life. I’m tired of always having to be the one who makes the first move, I’d say, and do you think I’m ugly, and of course are you sure you love me? (...) And we’d make love that night because he’d reach for me, and then not again—sometimes for weeks—until I reached for him.' because man, I know those feels. And it's not just about sex because as other people who are reminded daily by the behaviour of partners, friends and family- we all know that it's difficult to feel loved by someone who to all intents and purposes feeds our self-loathing. I feel like we (fat femmes, working class women) wake up every day and exist, fight through family meals and obnoxious men and horrible media messages about ourselves. We are strong. But your oppressive body politics are your issue and something you need to work through to be safe to date us. It's not about education it's about work. Your pseudo sex positive 'preferences' don't exist in an apolitical vacuum. 
 

A while back a friend who was having a difficult time read me this article by Derek Sivers entitled 'No more yes. It's either HELL YEAH! or no' (warning there for overly enthusiastic straight dude). We need to be 100% clear that being fat doesn't make you unsexy and being older doesn't make you undesirable and being attractive in a non-conventional manner isn't an excuse for a lack lustre approach to us or our bodies. Equally, the kyriarchal bullshit that slips out the mouths of your partners and family is no excuse for a half-arsed approach to loving yourself. It will hurt when the person you were filling in time for (shout out at this point to Samantha Peterson for writing this amazing poem) comes along and they are thinner, and funnier(although funnier is unlikely) than you. They are literally you lite. It will hurt and then it won't. It is not evidence. It does not confirm anything other than the person who pushed you aside is a grade A trumpet. You do not have to spend another moment being pushed aside or undesired. I could tell you that I will always find beauty in the piece of you that they recoiled from, and I will, but the most important thing is that we find ourselves worthy. Even when how we feel about ourselves is negated by someone we love. Sarah Einstein's article registered with me in several ways, and I know that what she is saying is important and true and sad and beautiful. But for me, it's not the end of the story. 

If nothing else- it is a lot of work to be the person holding up both (or all) sides of a relationship. Call me an entitled millenial (or whatever bullshit term people are using to describe young women who they disagree with these days) but I'm not willing to hedge my future happiness on an Ann Summer's catalogue & the hope that I find someone who tolerates my powerful, exciting body.


 You cannot validate yourself through other people. And if they leave you in the fruit bowl in hope of finding less bruised fruit, then- fuck them. Or rather, don't. They are not your safety.

Lately I have been writing things down to make sense of them, I have been reading more in order to improve my writing and in my reading I found these words. I repeat them to myself when ever I feel devalued by someone I love, or am invested in

'you can't make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful 
something not everyone knows how to love.' 
-Warsan Shireh
For women who are difficult to love


No comments:

Post a Comment