By Marissa Matozzo
“You’re lucky you’re beautiful,” he said with eyes scrutinizing my face, “because with that mouth, you’d otherwise get nowhere.”
The two older men began laughing. They looked back at me, shared a mutual smirk and then returned their attention to the blaring television football game. I had known these two men since my infancy.
Just like any other Sunday, we would visit family members for dinner – a weekly event in Italian culture of immense significance, but this Sunday was different. Across the kitchen table, I received the worst insult of my life.
With that mouth, I had attempted to discuss politics, which I studied extensively in my free time. I was fifteen and in a house built in the ‘60s where the patriarchy was as set in stone as the very bricks that cemented the house. Voicing opposing views to what they were discussing was my crime. Being told I was lucky to be seen as beautiful was my ultimate conviction.
A friend of the family came in one Sunday and sat down next to me.
“What do you want to do with your life kiddo?” she asked while patting my back.
“Oh, just become a model!” her husband yelled across the table. “Otherwise all of your beauty goes to waste.”
I could feel a burning rush to my fair skin. I faked a smile and exited the room.
At that time, I had read “The Feminine Mystique” cover to cover. Twice. I had thoroughly creased and placed noted tabs in the works of Sylvia Plath, bell hooks, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou and any other books from tag sales and thrift stores I could get my hands on. I had read David Byrne and Patti Smith and even written my own music. I had performed in multiple venues, on different stages, at every age.
Yet, no matter how much I knew, or even what I knew, I was always regarded as being one thing growing up. The face and body I never gave much thought to was all that they had ever given thought to. The words I spoke, the passions I thrived upon were never acknowledged or regarded with importance.
Disregarding the many qualities every woman possesses while only accrediting her external features seems like an issue for the past, an issue put to rest. Women accomplish so much in their own individual ways, in every avenue of life, to which physical appearance has no involvement whatsoever. It seems like everyone knows this. Nevertheless, many do not. The prevalence of objectification still persists.
For as long as I can remember, my face has been a topic of debate. As a child, my mother and I were stopped because no one could believe the size of the eyes on the black-haired little girl. My mother received letters in the mail, referrals and phone calls. For one agency, my face was too commercial and for another, it was too unconventional. I told my mother I would rather read and listen to music than be photographed in such a setting. She encouraged me to follow what invigorated my passions rather than take part in a materialized industry. It’s an industry that picks apart your features, training you to do the same until you hear their words in your sleep. “Slightly resembles Natalie Portman, favors Winona Ryder. Try again soon.”
As young girls, so many of us are told of our beauty before being told we are anything else. Each is seen by the complimenter to be terms of endearment, of esteemed appreciation and with good intention. But these terms are equivalent in their degradation, causing the demeaning sear that deters young women from actual confidence and towards insecurity. This is the ceaseless pressure of perfection. It reinforces the importance of women being firstly beautiful, while undermining many qualities each woman exudes simply as a person. This further promotes insecurities that shouldn’t even exist. In such a beauty-obsessed culture, women have always been silenced, undermined and doubted, all because their appearances are valued to an extreme.
Before this misogynistic presidency rose to prominence, I thought most men were still not like the ones I knew growing up. And to a degree, I still think this. But with so much emphasis on female beauty and how much credence everyone gives it, the idea of only being viewed for outermost reasons is somehow everywhere.
I attended a college party about a month ago. I walked in with my friend, eager to meet her other friends. Everyone was welcoming, emitting this through their smiles and introductions. One guy, in particular, was very friendly and complimented the band shirt I was wearing. We conversed about music for an hour.
“What an impressive taste!” he said with a laugh, I smiled and left the party. Later that night, my friend received a text from him asking for her friend’s number. She asked which one, and my stomach sank as he referred to me as, “the pretty one with the dark hair.” Not the one who gave him the chords to Damien Rice songs, or the one he learned about Father John Misty from. The pretty one. And yet again, that word would sting more than anything else could.
Whether it’s a whistle, a word disguised as a compliment, or an elongated stare, it doesn’t feel nice. It lacks substance, and encourages objectification. It’s ingrained within myself and so many others to doubt the intentions of those who seem too friendly or eager. I want to believe the kindness, or first impression, but there is always so much difficulty.
I was paired up with a guy in my speech class and he was nice from our first interaction. We were both cooperative, completing most of our work in class. We met up outside a coffee shop to complete the last piece.
“What are your ideas?” he asked and I explained in depth how I would conduct my portion of the speech. As I spoke, I noticed he was listening intently. He never lost focus or looked away when I was speaking.
“Now, what are you thinking of adding?” I asked.
“You have beautiful eyes,” he said with a quick laugh. “I’m sorry, while you were talking I was distracted.”
Like so many other girls, when I see my reflection I don’t see perfection, I don’t see supermodel material, I see the face of someone who has done so much before the age of 19. I realize the importance society puts on female appearance, but do not let anything external be my defining characteristic. I’d much rather be remembered as the girl who knows every conceivable word to “Ok Computer,” or maybe the one who skipped high school graduation for a flight to London. Not the one with large eyes or high cheekbones, never the “pretty” one.
Every woman is empowered in a different way, but she defines this herself. By raising girls to think being beautiful is of great importance, we create insecurities where they need not be. The sexes are unequal for many inconceivable reasons and still remain as such, but the constant objectification we all contribute to reinforces the age-old societal expectations in our everyday lives.
“Pretty” is not the highest compliment one can give to a woman. It is not always a confidence booster or an accolade. It does not always generate a smile or “thank you” after being said. It can damage the way women view themselves and forever trap them in a loop filled with comparisons and parts of themselves they wish they could change. If we took the idea of female beauty out of the equation, think of all the industries that would fail. Think of how much easier it would be to focus on what actually matters. Seeing women as people is an idea that sounds wildly overstated but is still not considered around the world, where they are denied basic rights regarding their own bodies and education. To say that women are so much more than what meets the eye, is a complete and utter understatement. It’s merely common sense.