I am stuck on a project. I'm writing a 5-minute monologue for the Sextacular Show, which I am in. I know what I want to say -- it's a brief rundown of how I got from 'moving to Boston with $300 and nowhere to live' to 'taking off my clothes in front of a thousand people at the Hynes Convention Center on First Night' -- but I keep getting jammed up on the way to say it.

See, the basic idea here is that economics made me realize you make a lot more money with your tits out, and sociology led me to realize that anyone who had a problem with that could go fuck themselves. The problem is that both these being good ideas in current society is predicated on me having the factual knowledge that I am very attractive. Not to everyone -- no one is attractive to everyone -- but to a large enough number of people in my own culture that, even if one specific person doesn't find me attractive, they don't question why someone else would.

You don't say that. Ever. Not out loud, not even when drunk.

There is a lot of lip service paid to encouraging people of all kinds to consider themselves beautiful, women especially. It's half hogwash. You aren't supposed to know that. You're supposed to struggle to believe that. If you actually read this stuff with even a quarter of a critical eye, you'll realize that the woman they're talking to, their target audience, the idols they hold up -- it's not a woman who knows she's beautiful, it's a woman who acts like she knows that most of the time, but is secretly and profoundly insecure and wants other people to reaffirm that she totally is pretty and her struggle totally is noble. Look, they say, this (musician | movie star | athlete | author) is just like us! She tries so hard to have faith but never succeeds! Like real people do! Yes, Reader, we all know your real person pain.

It's blatantly and relentlessly normative. It's also infantilizing -- they basically want you to be a mood-swingy teenager about it for your whole life -- and jesus does it make me want to punch stuff.

The implication that any woman who doesn't struggle with their own self-image is a narcissistic twat is so omnipresent in the GRRL POWER! stuff I've read that I am genuinely not sure if Keri Hilson's "Pretty Girl Rock" is meant seriously or as a backhanded takedown. Meghan Trainor gets a lot of support for "All About That Bass" despite some serious problems with either her message or her ability to communicate her message without sounding like a whiny 12-year-old, but my first reaction to Hilson's piece was to cringe, because a conventionally-attractive girl talking about having fun being conventionally-attractive will get excoriated in the comments, starting with 'you're not all that' and sliding steadily downhill from there.

Just to be clear: I expect Trainor to cop a lot of shit for her song, too. "If I don't meet your standards, change your goddamn standards," prompts a lot of anger from people who think their 'standards' are inviolable, and want to punish her for not meeting them. It's just that everyone will admit she's getting shit for it, and a lot of them will agree that it is undeserved. Conventionally-pretty girl sings about being pretty? "Yes, fine, we know you're full of yourself, shut the fuck up now." Pointing out that it's rude to tell anyone to shut the fuck up is countered with an argument that boils down to 'I think there exists a finite amount of happiness in the universe, and that people are handing you more than your fair share. I wish to redress this imbalance in the cosmos by being a complete knob to you until your happiness level is lowered into a range that I find acceptable.' It's the same dynamic I see a lot within the social justice movement, among people who have staked their self-image on winning a game of Oppresséd-er Than Thou. It's like they read "Harrison Bergeron" and thought, 'man, these people really have their shit together!'.

(If you read the comments on Hilson's video -- which normally I recommend against, because YouTube comments -- you may notice that almost all of the people who are arguing that she's being serious and that the song has a positive message are arguing that the demographic she's singing to is black women, not women in general. The people she's dressed up as are real; The flapper is Josephine Baker; the hair suggests that the 1930s movie star is Dorothy Dandridge; the '60s girl group is Diana Ross & The Supremes; the disco costume I don't recognize specifically but is in the style of Donna Summers; the military jacket is from Janet Jackson's 1989 release "Rhythm Nation"; the satin pajamas-thing is T-Boz of TLC, from their 1995 single "Creep". I'm unaware of any famous black women entertaining the troops during WWII, so I think she's just a generic USO girl for the 40s; she skipped over the 1950s, but I would personally have used Eartha Kitt -- the young'uns may only recognize her as the voice of Yzma in The Emperor's New Groove, and young-at-heart Baby Boomers as Catwoman from the 1960s Batman series, but Kitt was initially famous as a jazz vocalist, and she was one of the few black women who regularly appeared in shows and on TV with white entertainers in the 1950s.)

Not having an awareness of how you look to others and how it prompts them to treat you is fucking dangerous. I twitch angrily at stuff like One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful", where the lyrics say outright that what makes her attractive is that she's the only one who doesn't know she's beautiful. In other words, it presents the ideal woman as one who is incapable of recognizing her own worth and needs external validation. Yes, 'I think you're gorgeous' is a thing you'd get out of a good guy who's head over heels for you, but it's also what you'd get out of someone who wants to take advantage of your low self-esteem to get himself a girlfriend who will put up with a lot of creepy shit because you don't know you can do any better.

I've known other women who were widely considered attractive but were completely unaware of it, often arguing with people who told them they were. They were targeted -- those are the friends who would get tangled up with Nice Guys who were trying to put in enough compliment coins to get sex, completely miss this is what the Nice Guy thought he was owed because they couldn't believe anyone would ever be flirting with someone as plain as them, and end up facing an increasingly bitter and off-kilter suitor who thought they were yanking him around on purpose. The guys were demanding something they had no idea they had. One particular incident that's stuck with me was when one of them was followed around a bookstore by some guy who kept trying to smell her hair; she had to hit him with a large book to get him to go away, and I think why he came up with the idea to follow her in the first place still hasn't sunk in.

Presenting that continual state of inner turmoil as both normal and normative is an excellent way to grow yourself a lot of very pretty girls -- whatever your definition of pretty is -- who need constant reassurance, no? If you don't accept the validation you're a poor sad-sack who is failing at being a Modern Woman who Needs No One's Approval; if you don't need the validation, then you're a stuck up deluded bitch who thinks she's all that. The ideal woman asymptotically approaches a state of confidence, and pretends to have attained it, but never quite gets there.

There is an extra layer of potential shit-flinging involved in my own story, because not only am I aware that I am attractive, I am trading on my looks as a commodity. I can't speak to their specific business practices, but I have no problem with the idea of things like Playboy, because I think there's nothing wrong with sexually objectifying, within a specific context, someone who has volunteered to be contextually thusly objectified. The models in those photos are human beings who deserve to be treated with the same respect due any other human, but the photographs are yours to use as a springboard to imagine whatever you want. If it stays inside your head, no harm, no foul. This tends to infuriate the people who think the only way to keep girls from believing that their looks are their only asset is to tell them that looks don't matter at all, ever. This is an accurate assessment of the social value of beauty about as much as Reefer Madness is an accurate depiction of marijuana use. The truth is, beauty is one of many factors that can adjust your social capital up or down, and it's always going to be, because the average human has eyes, and many of them desperately want to have sex.

And just so you all recognize how profoundly gun-shy I am on the topic, you should know that I edited out about a page and a half of actual examples of what my life is like, on the grounds that either everyone will think I'm making it up, or they'll believe me and respond with abuse designed to cut me down to size. By far the cruelest group of people who pop up when the topic is mentioned are women who, completely independent of what they actually look like or how attractive other people find them, view me as having something they think they don't.

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