The Impossible Beauty Standards We Place on Female-Identfied Individuals
I’m just trying to make you pretty…
That is the sentence my mother would say to me nearly every day during the years of systematic abuse I endured at her hands. It was the justification she needed to keep abusing me. Everything she was doing, in her mind, was to try to make me more attractive, because I was a ‘young woman’ in her mind, and I wasn’t living up to the feminine potential she, and society, were trying to dictate for me.
I had horribly low self-esteem, particularly about my looks, and this just solidified all of the ideas I had about my body, my looks, and how I perceived myself. Someone who is raised female, and also happens to have a physical disability, is most likely already self-conscious about their body. This was before I came out as trans. While my mother insisted that I would never find a boyfriend if I was not beautiful enough, by the time I was 16 I made it clear I didn’t want a boyfriend. I preferred to have a girlfriend, instead. However, my looks would clearly not be good enough for any woman either.
I cannot explain in words how horrible it feels to be told you are not pretty enough or beautiful or any other words that describes our outward appearance. Every time my mother told me she was just trying to make me pretty, it reaffirmed the idea I wasn’t pretty. She had to go to extreme lengths to make me beautiful, because as my self I was not good enough. This has had long term effects to the point where I dislike looking into mirrors, and I constantly obsess over every little thing… my changing hairline, any possible potential wrinkle, a zit here and there. All of it is exhausting, but I can’t help but worry about how I look.
The funny thing is, now that people see me as a man, there is a completely different beauty standard. Before, I often felt like other female-identified individuals held me at some type of competition. I didn’t understand it, because I was already at a disadvantage. Those of us who grow up being female-identified who have physical disabilities are often already seen as less attractive than our non-disabled counterparts, just because we have visible disabilities. I remember being told how ugly I was by girls at school, and part of that was my “ugly limp” and later my “unattractive mobility device”.
I struggled to find any type of real camaraderie with the other female-identified individuals around me. I didn’t care about makeup, dresses, etc. unless it got me something I wanted… like to be on television or to get an acting role (I spent years acting and wanted to be an actor, little else made me happy). Otherwise, I was content to slum around in comfortable clothing, notably my brother’s hand-me-downs, which I wore throughout much of my younger years. I believe this is why it was often more comfortable hanging around boys. There were no beauty expectations, and there was no competition.
Men don’t have to be beautiful in the same way. Most people do not care what we wear, or even what we look like, especially once we leave high school. This is not including the very real body image issues that happen in gay culture, but that is for another article. For many men, they are judged more on their merits and less on their physical attributes, even many of us men with disabilities. Now that I am perceived by others as being a man, I’ve been told by women (and men) how cute I am. My hairy beard and chest, and chubbiness make me cute and cuddly. Even as a wheelchair user, people love how intelligent and creative I am. I hear less about how I look and more about who I am.
I used to be very small, until fifth grade when steroid use for respiratory problems made me fat. From then on, one girl in particular used to torture me about how ugly I was. She would make fun of me during school. She would make fun of me during extracurricular activities. I wasn’t pretty. I wore dumpy clothes. My hair was ugly. I needed makeup. I was too fat. I needed to go on a diet. She was a bully, and she told my mother, who oddly enough confronted her because she could never let me handle my own battles, that she was just trying to help me to become attractive. How funny that she would say that to my mother, who was reaffirming that same sentiment at home. Having my parents become involved in my problems made me even more of a target, and by the time I was 11 I hated myself. Of course, I most especially hated how I looked.
It is so eye-opening to experience the difference in how men and women are treated for how they look. As someone identified as female by others, I was expected to be willing to try to make myself beautiful. Any resistance to that made me open to criticism and bullying. As someone people identify as male, I can have flaws and still be good looking. Besides, I’m smart, creative, talented, and funny…so who really cares how I look? The irony is that I was all of these things before I came out as trans. The only difference is in how society views me.
We need to stop dragging girls or other female-identified individuals down. Beauty is more than just how we look on the outside. Everyone looks different, and that’s okay. Everyone has different tastes for what is attractive, so what is beautiful to some might not be beautiful to another. We should not be measuring anyone’s worth by how they look. We do not do this on the same level to men, so why is it okay to do it to women? I may no longer look female, but I certainly still have the scars from how I was treated by being perceived as one.
We are all beautiful. We all have something that makes us unique. That is what we should be celebrating, not inconsequential physical flaws that, in the long run, do not matter, at all.