There is a lovely essay by Sarah Einstein in Salon, making the rounds of my Facebook friends. In it, Einstein talks about being a plain woman married to a beautiful man. She talks a lot about desire and a little about aging bodies. It is painful and thought-provoking and if you haven’t yet read it, you should.
Initially, I dismissed the essay based solely on the title, “‘I have never turned heads’: What it’s like when you’re not the object of desire” because my initial thought was, Aren’t you lucky? I always turn heads and it’s not fun.
For as long as I can remember my unruly body has been a problem that refuses to be solved. According to my baby book I was put on my first diet around the age of four. I spent my pre-adolescent years going from doctor to doctor waiting for one of them to say, “Yes, yes she is done growing.”
I remember shortly before my twelfth birthday sitting on an examination table in a doctor’s office crying because he said I was six feet tall. I have no idea why this was such a horrible thing, but the reaction of all the adults in the room clued me on the not-goodness of this pronouncement and that led me to tears. What was wrong with me?
Nobody could tell me. Nobody ever bothered to tell me there was nothing wrong with me either. So there I was twelve and shy and in possession of a six-foot body with perky breasts and blonde hair and absolutely no idea how to handle the attention I was getting.
I garnered a lot of male attention in that blink of time when my height and weight seemed to be somewhat in proportion. Or at least in a proportion that a lot of men find super attractive. To say that I was unprepared to handle this kind of attention is an understatement. A lot of times I had no idea what in the hell was going on, and whenever I was asked for my phone number I would say, “I’m twelve.” Some men thought this was like a hilarious joke and other’s were kind of aghast.
Things have not changed at all in the thirty-one years since I was twelve. I’m still grievously ill-equipped to deal with a man’s desire for me or my body. I grew up being told that this was just not something that was going to happen for me. My dad always told me I was too fat for most men. My mom disagreed with him. “You see guys with big girls all the time,” she said. “But never taller ones.”
So now whenever a man expresses desire for me and my body my initial reaction is Really? REALLY? which is the hottest thing a woman can say. I have to ask twice because a lot of times the desire is not for me AND my body, it is for my body. A fat, freakishly-tall woman gets a lot of attention from fetishists and men looking to mark some box off their fucket list.
But this isn’t even the kind of head-turning I sat down to type about. No, I wanted to talk about the head turning that happens to me on a daily basis — the double-takes from people at the gas station or the grocery store; the points and questions from small children; the stage-whispered “whoa look at that”s from rude teenagers. This is what head-turning means to me.
Head-turning induces shame and the longing to wish you could just once go somewhere and not be noticed. Head-turning is embarrassing and makes you feel a little less than human. Head-turning makes the shy and introverted just stay home and hermit because putting on the brave face, answering the questions, pretending to not hear takes a lot of fucking energy.
Maybe this is the same kind of head-turning the beautiful also endure. It might be just as exhausting. I don’t know. I’ve never experienced that.