[Author's note: I have been debating for days on whether to post this. It seems to be unacceptable to post "why I've concluded I'm attractive" essays without first running down how the author previously thought she was hideous, and proclaiming that allowing any "proof" or "reasoning" or consideration for the opinions of anyone else invalidates the entire premise, making it tantamount to an argument from religious faith. On the other hand, I have no idea how to explain how to figure out what other people think of you, at least in a general way, without providing examples, and I'm the only exemplar I have handy. I am going to give commenters the benefit of the doubt and assume that anyone who sounds polite is not trollity-trolling, but any response to me or anyone else whose main thrust is "you ain't all that, stuck-up bitch" will be summarily junked as inappropriate, and also completely missing the point.]

It occurs to me that a lot of y'all probably find it more difficult than I do to figure out what people think you look like from the outside. If it makes you feel any better, I don't really have much more success there. I can tell that their reaction to something I am/do is X or Y, and with enough data I can take a stab at what is prompting them to think that, but ultimately, without asking direct questions and taking it on blind faith that they're not lying to me, I can only do so to a very low degree of precision. I have absolutely no goddamn idea how I come off to everyone else, just what they do about it. I can only ever guess -- I just put a lot of effort into guessing well.

(And sometimes cheat, by treating behavior as a crypto problem, where theoretically gathering information will start to show me frequency counts and key-length repeats and other such patterns. The assumption I make is that with enough data I'll eventually hit unicity -- which is likely true, and also likely impossible for me to do personally, on account of human interaction being both catastrophically chaotic, and NP-complete. The technically-inclined may find some enlightenment-by-analogy by looking up how the Allies broke the Enigma cipher during WWII. Linguists may have better luck with stories of the Rosetta Stone and Linear-B instead.)

It is also much easier to tell whether a specific person is attracted to you than whether you're generally considered pretty. Individuals will often exhibit common tells that you can teach yourself to look for, like being suddenly unable to make words when you're around, or trying to follow you home. You can also ask them point-blank. There's no guarantee they won't lie to you about it, but I would consider their missing out on what they want because they were too weenie to tell the truth to be a self-solving problem. They'll learn to speak up or they won't, and it isn't your job to pry harder or educate them in the fine art of Using Your Words.

For the record, here is the evidence I have used to conclude that I fall into the category of "generally considered pretty". (Note that this is different from whether I think of myself as attractive -- I don't need any evidence for what I think of me, it's just my opinion. The data and guessing come in because I'm trying to intuit what's going on in other people's heads.) Because this involves a lot of comparison to the common Gestalt "beauty standards" of the culture I live in, and we can be insane sometimes, there will be numbers. If you think this isn't a good thing to be cramming into your head-space right now, no biggie. Please accept this picture of small furry mammals in lieu of content:


Right. Here we go.

The most objective kind of assessment I have are measurements. Not objective in the sense that science has determined that these proportions are the most beautiful -- just in the sense that I have some numbers for other people and I have a tape measure for me, and I can do basic math.

I'm slightly over 62" tall -- about 158cm. It's difficult finding actresses or models as short as I am. When I do, they tend to be tiny bird people, like Natalie Portman or Audrey Hepburn. Compounding the problem is that bust circumference is often given as a bra size, which is no more standard than a dress size. (I would argue it's actually worse. Dress sizes are arbitrary unitless numbers, whereas bra sizes are theoretically supposed to be based on a measurement in inches, but aren't anymore.) Stats for the same actress also vary pretty widely across multiple sources, depending on how truthful the PR rep is being, and when they were asked. As of ten minutes ago, my tailor's tape said 37"-25.5"-37". In most brands and styles, I wear a 32DD on the largest hook, or a 34D on the smallest. I fluctuate about half an inch in either direction, at least since I started actually checking on a regular basis. I am maybe an inch taller and slightly top-heavier than Shakira, or just about Salma Hayek minus a cup size. Or Charlotte Church, a couple inches shorter and without the really ridiculous knockers.

I have no idea what I weigh. I've never owned a scale. I consider buying one from time to time, then don't, because I'd never use it. The number I put on my comp cards is "120lbs", which is just a blind repetition of what other people say when they try to guess. I have no idea if I look like I weigh 120lbs, but apparently I look like people who claim to weigh 120lbs, which is probably close enough.

Dress sizes are complicated. I usually start with a US 6 when I try things on, or a medium if they're sized S/M/L. My hip measurement typically fits a 4/6, but my waist is usually more like a 2/4. Most studies I've seen conclude that the most commonly preferred waist-hip ratio is 0.7; mine is 0.689... I'm something ludicrous like 65% leg (38.5" to the top of hipbone; 40" floor to waist in bare feet), so despite being short I wear a 30-32" inseam. If I did not know how to tailor clothes, I wouldn't own a single pair of pants that fit anywhere near correctly.

More subjectively, there is the fact that people pay me to sit still for photos. This happened before I decided to put up a bunch of pictures on a modeling site and try to go pro. I've been stopped on the street before by complete strangers who explained that they were taking pictures for a newspaper or magazine story, and would I mind if they took mine? (Non-skeeze, so far as I could tell. One was a girl, probably younger than I was, taking photos for the NAU student paper.) My parents paid for some glamour shots when I went in to a studio to get my senior high school yearbook photo taken (required by the school -- otherwise it never would have happened), and the studio staff fussed over me for well over our allotted appointment time.

It happens occasionally even when I'm in a room full of other models. I was at a fairly large event a few months ago, and through sheer dumb luck I happened to meet a designer whose scheduled model had flaked, and ended up shooting in a couple of her gowns. I walked out onto the floor in one particularly daring dress and by the time I got out to an appropriate backdrop, I was towing a small crowd. At one point there were four people attempting to take pictures of me, and half a dozen people just sort of standing around watching.

I've gotten compliments from total randoms who happened to be around when I was trying things on at department stores and had come out of the dressing room to ask for a friend's opinion, or check in a multi-angle mirror. I was trying on coats on the sales floor at Target once, when some lady spoke up specifically to tell me that the trench I had on looked fantastic with my hat. (I get it from sales clerks, too, but it's their job to be nice to me, so from them I assume it's just conversational filler.) I'm starting to wonder if I genuinely own the World's Cutest Hat; the one I was wearing in Target has since died, but I was wearing an almost identical one the other day, and got stopped on the way down to Davis by a woman who apparently thought it was just about the best thing ever.

I hear about the hair a lot. This one has been going on for many years -- I've had it long pretty much all my life -- but there was sort of an exponential explosion when I moved to New England. Boston has a much larger population of people from places like the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, where having loads and loads of hair is considered a big deal, in terms of feminine beauty. Paleness is also a big thing in many of those same places, but I don't get as many comments on that from people who aren't trying to light me for photos, perhaps because they've absorbed that skin color is a thing you aren't supposed to mention in the US.

Some of this provides entertainment for others. When I was unemployed in Flagstaff, a friend of mine used to tow me out to the bar and buy me drinks because he thought it was hilarious to watch guys get themselves into trouble over me. I don't do it on purpose, but I also don't go around demanding to see proof of relationship status every time I get into a conversation; I only hear about it later when some guy ends up sleeping on his own sofa because his girlfriend didn't like how long he spent talking to me. A different friend once went with me to a gaming convention on a day when I was wearing a very short skirt (it was in Phoenix, it was July, shorts fit me even worse than pants and I hate them) -- I think I was sixteen or seventeen at the time. Afterwards, he informed me that if I ever did it again, he'd be following me around the con floor with a baseball bat.

A lot of it is completely out of the blue. I was walking from the cocktail party/event to the T on Sunday night, when a man (a professional of some kind, I think; he had on a suit and tie, and a fairly nice topcoat) called something in my direction; I had my earbuds in and didn't catch what he said, so I yanked one out and looked quizzical. He explained he was calling his friend, who happened to be behind me, but that I was very beautiful! Just like that, not even a segue. He had an accent that might have been Greek or Albanian or something of the sort, and I gather that phrases like these are basically used as punctuation down around the Adriatic, but it was still a bit of a non sequitur.

I don't know if "younger" is essentially equivalent to "prettier", but people are usually startled when I tell them how old I am. They make that face that means their brain has just changed gears very suddenly and didn't quite get to the clutch pedal in time, momentarily stalling out on whatever they had planned to say next. A few people have asked if I'm a freshman (college, not high school), usually if I'm loitering around a university somewhere, and one person admitted that when he first met me he wasn't 100% sure I wasn't jailbait, but the mean guess is somewhere in the 20-21-22 range. (This was also true when I was a teenager. Every so often, I would be stuck at the mall with my mother or my sister, and some guy would try to flirt with me by asking where I went to school. When I named a local high school, they always turned right the fuck around and walked back the other way.) Whether I get carded at restaurants seems to depend on who I'm there with and how old the server thinks the rest of my party is. I'm 31 now, and this shows no signs of stopping. It probably doesn't help that my fit model is much closer to juniors than misses (for any given hip measurement, a misses size assumes a larger waist and a lower bustline, which is exactly what I don't need), and my dress sense skews flashy.

I try to focus on the more pleasant things, but not all of the evidence involves people being nice to me. Sometimes people can be remarkably shitty. I don't have any more control over how I look than anyone else does. I don't walk around in professional kit most of the time, but dressing down does not necessarily make much of a difference -- I just look like Jessica Rabbit on her day off. I have run afoul of more than one vicious girlfriend, who assumed I was being attractive at her boyfriend for nefarious purposes. To the best of my knowledge, I have never taken anyone else's man. If any guy had to break up with someone else to hang around with me, I didn't hear about it. I've certainly never tried. Unfortunately, I find that the kinds of people who are paranoid about someone else stealing their SO are also the kind of people who have very narrow and insecure ideas about what "beauty" means, and anyone who happens to fit into the generic standard 'pretty' box trips all of their threat sensors at once.

(Surprisingly, I don't get hassled by a lot of the older, super-creepy skirt-chaser types -- I can honestly only recall a couple of them, ever. Even when they're indiscriminately perving on all the other young women in the area, they tend to leave me alone. My best guess on this one is that they preferentially go after people with a 'victim' vibe, and will sometimes pester people who have an aura of 'I would really rather not make a fuss', but they assess me as emitting something closer to 'if you touch me without permission I will stab you with this pen while making angry shouting noises loud enough to be heard next door'. Which I probably would.)

It can also be very sad. There are a lot of women who automatically compare themselves to the other women they meet. A few of them are bitchy, competitive types, but mostly, they're just normal people with the normal sorts of worries. I do try to tell people when there's something about them that I happen to like, but I've never found that my opinion makes much difference; only their own self-assessment counts. Most women are polite enough to keep it to themselves if they feel they come out wanting, or at worst, deliver compliments kind of mournfully. Sometimes, I can't help but notice anyway. I remember once leaving the exercise room at our apartment complex, because another girl had come in and kept sneaking glances at me in the mirror, with this awful look of 'what's the matter with me that I can't make myself look like that?' on her face. It made me uncomfortable to the point where I couldn't ignore it -- it was either give up and go, or try to explain to her that there was nothing wrong with her, and that I was that thin right then largely because I was depressed, insomniac, neurotic to the point of panic attacks, unemployed, and living in abject poverty.

As a final note, I would also add that I probably get even more attention than normal because of how I react to it. Every so often people ask me what I think of all the wolf whistles and comments -- I think they expect me to squirm or sneer at the plebs or insist that I need no external input into my self-image or something. It happens so often that I consider it just sort of a part of the ebb and flow of life. There are a lot more nice noises than not-nice noises, and most of the not-nice noises are the kind that pretty clearly have a lot more to do with what's going on inside the noisemaker's head than they have to do with me, if'n you follow. I don't automatically react to people starting surprise conversations by getting hostile or tense. I have an extensive collection of weirdnesses, quirks, neuroses, and outright irrational terrors, but one thing I do not have is social anxiety. I generally trust myself to notice if someone is doing something that is making my skin crawl, and if no crawling is happening, I figure I'm safe enough either talking to them or declining to talk to them until they go away.

I'm also the sort of person that likes to wear coats with giant fur collars, shiny costume jewelry, and impractical shoes. I've known other people who were stunningly beautiful but didn't have the same kind of leopard-print personality that I do, and they were much less comfortable with other people trying to get their attention. I'm also cognizant of the fact that the number of people giving themselves whiplash as I walk past will go up when I leave the house in particularly bright plumage, so I'm prepared for it.

Comments