One woman's typical odyssey of bad boyfriends, anorexia, and feeling uncomfortable around men.
The author, looking objectifiable
I do not love men. Really, I love the idea of men. And the attention thereof. It is nice to be wanted, needed, desired; these are confidence boosters only men can give me. While I am certainly not immune to the charms of the fairer sex, women lack the ego-salving, life-giving validation I feel only the male gaze can provide. (This is, presumably, the result of decades of heteronormative programming pushed on me by television, a.k.a. my real mommy.) As such, my lizard brain does not hold gals in such high regard as their chromosome-deficient counterparts.
I go out of my way to attract masculine attention—even when it's stupid, even when it's pointless, even when they're taken, even when they're terrible. The circumstances surrounding and the reason for their attention mean nothing. Attention is all I seek, so long as it's from a semi-reliable source. While some random, mouth-breathing asshole on the street who calls me "baby" elicits my ire, if a man I respect (or at the very least, tolerate in the slightest) shows even the suggestion of an interest in me, I run to him like a dog to its master. I see Pavlov's dong and start drooling.
When you are a woman, you are told through miscellaneous channels that sex is one of the precious few powers you possess. You are told this by people who have your self-interest at heart; you are also told this by people who do not. When I found myself in an abusive relationship, it was because the man I was with resented the fact I had cheated on and, as a result, used my sexual power against him—this act, a striking blow to his manhood, was, in his mind, unforgivable. He lashed out in the only way he knew how, by exerting his masculinity through physical abuse (that's what he told me, anyway). At the time, the logic he used to explain his actions made sense. While I no longer blame myself entirely for what occurred, his reasoning does, to some extent, nevertheless ring a bit true. We all do what we have been programmed to—and while it's always theoretically possible to download the latest, bug-free update of our software, some don't or can't.
I didn't wear makeup during my formative years—my mother never taught me how to apply it, ostensibly because I never asked her to. Makeup, I felt, was for vacuous cheerleaders and future mothers. It wasn't for me. Sure, I'd occasionally smear red lipstick on my practiced pout, but that was only because Courtney Love did it. On a daily basis, I operated au naturel.
Thirty pounds heavier and with my own feminist-inspired agenda to prove, I put myself out there, warts and all. It turned out, however, the public at large was not particularly interested in my warts. Department store employees would ignore me; the good, decent people of the world refused to look my way, lest they catch a glimpse at what untreated acne really looked like. Once I caught the acting bug and started dabbling in makeup, I gained my license for humanity. I became a person, a woman, deserving of attention. I now wear makeup on a daily basis. I am, in fact, wearing it right now, in spite of the fact I have not, nor do I intend to, leave my apartment today. It has become rote.
I remember the day I first manicured my enormous, unwieldy eyebrows. I had hired another woman to do it, a professional, because I wasn't confident enough to perform the task myself. "Honey, is this your first time doing this?" she sweetly asked. I answered in the affirmative. "Well, good for you," she told me in a Southern slur before engaging in the laborious process of whittling my caterpillar-esque brows into a thin, appealing arch. Before the act, I resembled a Rid of Me–era PJ Harvey. Afterward, I resembled an Is This Desire?–era PJ Harvey.
I returned to my house and, situating myself like a statue on a pedestal, anxiously awaited my then boyfriend. He had been making derisive comments about my appearance of late; I hoped this improvement in said appearance would make him want me, love me, stop judging me. It took hours before he offhandedly asked, "Did you do something different?"
This was not a mere haircut. This was a deliberate, drastic change of my facial makeup. I have Mediterranean blood—my biological eyebrows are dark, rich, and inescapable. The hatchet job that had been done to them (which I still maintain to this day) was as obvious as rhinoplasty. The changes I made, I decided, weren't drastic enough. I needed to go back to the drawing board.
I became an anorexic for the reason most women do, because I felt it was the only semblance of control I could exert in my life. I just wanted the world to see, externally, how unhappy I was internally. Any reinforcement of this was a victory. I remember when my ex and I evacuated New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. We picked up our debit cards full of Red Cross relief funds in Bloomington, Minnesota, and instantly drove to the Mall of America, where he purchased a Slayer shirt and I purchased size 00 slacks. Two zeroes! Why, that was the absence of size! Unfurl the banner, my mission had been accomplished—at size 00, I may as well not exist.
My next conquest's grandmother, upon meeting me, remarked, "There's not much of her, is there?" I took this as a compliment. Said conquest (my ex-husband) would consistently tell me he was afraid that, when we fucked, he'd split me in two. Again, I took this as a compliment.
The boyfriend afterward loved me for me, sure, but I always felt as though he could have loved better. When we first coupled, I was still anorexic—as time went on, I filled out, looking more like a human being than I had in years. But it is difficult, as a woman, to gain 20 pounds and still feel as though you deserve the right to vote. I'd look at pictures of myself on miscellaneous social media platforms with disgust, listening when he said I was still beautiful yet refusing to believe it. He, unlike the gents I had become accustomed to over the years, was not a complete and utter piece of shit. I found his support for me, in my uncompromised form, nearly impossible to accept.
We broke up; I lost weight. People told me I looked great, better than ever. "Thank you," I'd always reply. "I've been grieving." It was ironic, the fact that I had become more desirable—in my assessment, anyhow—once I was completely alone. Adding to my confusion, the one fellow I fancied, the only one I did a modicum of anything romantic with post-breakup, respected me enough to treat me like a person. Sure, we'd make out while The Gong Show played in the background, but he didn't even try to fuck me. Hell, it took him a few times before he even mustered up the chutzpah to touch my tits! What kind of a pussy doesn't take it upon himself to make a woman uncomfortable? I thought.
In spite of it all, I still don't feel comfortable around men unless I'm being made to feel uncomfortable. Old habits, of course, die hard. I'm just waiting for the new operating system to come out.
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