There’s this theory in writing that there are only seven types of stories that humans tell out of all the stories. Thousands of stories and all of them are either an amalgamation of a few types or one story. I want to focus on one kind of story. The rags to riches trope. A character against all odds pulls themselves out of misfortune into a life of prosperity
On social media, a trend reappears every year or so and people show their glow-up from middle to high school or high school to college. A glow-up is a physical transformation where a person goes from a below-passing level of attractiveness to above average. Experiencing a glow-up can be emotionally challenging when you get treated like a swan by people who previously wrote you off as the ugly duck. Even though in every early 2000s movie makeover montage the person who undergoes a makeover deals with romantic challenges at the forefront. Absolutely those issues appear but somehow money remained at the center of the mangled circus of being beautiful that I inherited.
I had one of these dramatic glow-ups and very little of it felt like I was the princess of Genovia.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I’m going to preface this by saying that I didn’t make any deliberate effort to “glow up.” I was aware that I wasn’t as attractive to my peers, but I was content with what I was, or more accurately, I was more content than I am today. But a few changes to my appearance and the response I got from the world around me was as intoxicating as it was alarming. Everything in this post happened about three years ago, BTW.
How I changed:
- I lost 60 pounds or more
- I cut all my hair off
- I started wearing false lashes
- I started wearing really simple clothes with fewer colors and patterns
- Cutting my hair made me feel more confident (my demeanor was more self-assured)
Unequipped for a New Kind of Scrutiny
This is no secret and probably easy to guess, I grew up very shy, anxious, and quirky. I had lots of hobbies, I liked reading books and never had many friends or a lot of attention. I was okay with that because I didn’t want to sacrifice what I was into to be liked by my peers.
At this point, I was 19 years old, and no one is going to pay for my junior college classes, so I did what a lot of people do and got a retail job. After graduating high school, I took a gap from school, which meant that I didn’t have people reacting to my transformation incrementally. I was indoors, losing weight, only interacting with my family. Then I had a job and started going to school. I was 1000 times more visible than before. I’m autistic as well, my mind is extremely sensitive to patterns. All the feedback I was getting from those around me meant something. But it couldn’t possibly mean I was pretty because I didn’t feel any different. I still liked reading books and writing poetry with awful rhyme schemes. I lived in a constant state of ” is there something on my shirt?” People look at pretty people a lot and always want to be near them. I didn’t understand why someone would clock out of work and talk to me for half an hour, “Don’t you want to go home?” Id say. Other times didn’t understand why someone would just be staring at me. I felt more alone than ever and like I was made of glass. Everyone was constantly looking right through me for something.
Whether it started from feelings of lust
or anything else. I was on a wanted list that I didn’t know how to handle. How do you deal with a grown man leaning back in his chair to peer through your thigh gap? I dealt with a lot of sexual harassment. On a particular night, I was followed by two men at work for four hours. They did this weird thing where they spoke to each other without talking to me or answering my questions.
Man A: She has a nice little body
Man B: Not her body look at her face
Man B: I’m just looking at her face those big eyes
Man A: she is pretty huh
They weren’t more than three feet in front of me having this conversation. I asked them questions if they were looking for something. I didn’t get any answers; they just spoke to each other like that. I ran away to the front of the store to be around other coworkers. I told a few of them about it but mostly nothing except my extreme scare happened.
This was just a really scary day and it isn’t the worst of it. My days at work were peppered with long stares from men, weird compliments, and outright catcalling. My record for how many times I was asked for my number in a single day is nine times. At that point, I couldn’t hide from the fact that yeah I wasn’t imagining it, I was different. This may sound a little “Oh poor me people think I’m pretty”. However, it’s scary to be constantly sought out and you have never dealt with this sort of interest from GROWN ASS MEN. My brain was constantly in survival mode, I was terrified sometimes that I would be kidnapped, r*ped, and killed. Society normalizes this sensation in women but living in extreme fear is not normal.
Along with that, I dealt with jealousy from girls for the first time. Their behavior was passive-aggressive and it felt like I was being gaslighted. I never dealt with female cattiness(in this context) before because to most girls I was never any competition to them when they needed to capture the male gaze. Being nice wasn’t enough anymore, some girls just decided they didn’t like me. I’m so thankful I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius before dealing with these exchanges because… I might have had very different responses to some of those girls. Even though outwardly these girls were very nice to me, a pigeon carrier would always tell me she said this or that. Which made me feel more alone because I wasn’t making genuine connections with men or women and there was more of both constantly around me. When I did feel a genuine connection to someone I got really clingy.
Finally, I piece two and two together and didn’t get five. I figured that even though I didn’t feel beautiful I probably was, Occam’s razor. At this point, all I cared about was experimenting with how much I could get from people. Pretty privilege is real. People treat you differently and with lots of preference. At times it felt like this huge juggling act, how much should lean on this privilege for my life’s upward mobility?
How much am I going to flirt to get the shift that I want?
How much am I going to pretend to laugh for this commission?
How early do I need to wake up to do my makeup?
How much money should I spend on my hair, clothes, and nails?
Because as the saying goes I had to spend money to make money. Not always literal money but there was always a time investment spent on my appearance. So when I arrived at the workplace I sold my time for money. My looks accomplished making people hyper-aware of what I was and wasn’t doing well. I made up for it by working very hard at my job until I was good at it and these combined values produced a higher likelihood that I would be remembered when overtime and promotions were available. That translated to more money for school, my family, and money to invest in the business of making me more attractive over time.
If you’re thinking “Wow this cold-hearted little floozy using her looks to manipulate people for money.” First off, the reason that these ancient rudimentary tactics worked and continue to work for people all over the world. Is it because y’all are shallow in the first place? The true irony of this is I don’t think I’m that cute. I’m adorable in my mind on my best days. But if I could get over the way I did and I wasn’t even trying most days. Then I had to think that,
If someone is profiting off of a broken system, their profiting is merely a symptom of:
THE ENTIRE SYSTEM IS BASED ON FUCKING INEQUALITY.
The way I viewed my body and respective looks had shifted from a vehicle I used to get my brain around. To a resource, a fantasy, that I could use to persuade others and get what I needed. At some point, I think that all girls have this realization that sex is power. Just by being a reminder of sex, you were granted nine lives by proxy. I could seldom do any wrong and walked around with plenty of slaps on the wrist with my family, at work, and at school.
For all the fun I was having with my seemingly benign superpowers. I bumped into a very scary realization. I’m a fairer-skinned black girl with curly textured hair, and I ” talk like a white girl.” So any sort of preferential treatment I was enjoying was upholding a larger racist system. I wasn’t just benefiting from pretty privilege I was benefiting from colorism simultaneously. Again I had to ask myself, how much will I play this game? I had one very simple goal. Get the Hell out of dodge. I was putting myself through school with a minimum wage check, Then I got a second job, helping my sister pay for things while she was away at school, my mom was in and out of the hospital, and for a slew of other reasons that made me the underdog. But had this one thing that could give me a leg up combined with my own willpower and wits. For a little while, I pushed aside how wrong it felt to be on the better side of colorism because I had to survive at a minimum.
That said, I had taken up the responsibility to firm and gentle corrections. I firmly corrected men who said the most asinine things about women. I gently corrected women who said the wrong things about themselves. In terms of social capital, this did not increase my social capital. I had to constantly bargain and trade off my own sense of morality for the sake of resources. I was fucking exhausted. I was angry. That I had to look into the eyes of a 30-something-year-old man and explain to him point by point that “good hair” doesn’t exist. I want to be clear that I wasn’t upset that my access to privilege was stunted because outspoken women are hated by society and therefore by men who were often gatekeepers to the money I wanted. I was upset because these people didn’t separate a biological trait that was entirely random and the inherent value of an individual, naturally in their minds.
Today we know that the cost of living is steadily on the climb. Academic inflation is surging up in talk bubbles as a BA is no longer enough to make you aggressive in the job market. Beauty inflation is also a reality because social media has turned your face into a currency. For all the rapid change my body underwent physically, my self-esteem suffered the most. Everyone is beautiful these days, even though I was no longer unattractive, I was also never enough. People always pointed out that I should get a weave, acrylic nails, just a little filler in my top lip, and then I would really be something. I actually believe that people should be able to enhance their beauty however they see fit. But enhancement and correction are very different mindsets. I was convinced that I needed something cosmetic and not that it was going to add to whatever I had naturally obtained. But that it was there to close a gap between me and physical perfection. That way I could continue to cash in on the social capital I finally had access to. I had to get prettier over time to increase my access to wealth. At a point, the only way I was going to be more attractive was to have more attractive things in my possession because ultra-feminity runs side by side with wealth.
The pretty girl was always a princess or financially well off. How society understands beauty in women literally coincides with her expensive clothes and luxury goods. I mean this to say that looking more expensive would make me prettier somehow. I don’t even perfectly understand it, but it goes all the way back to Helen of Troy and the Lucrezia Borgias of the world. I have a few theories about why though comrades.
In short yah girl was disillusioned. The whole point of me focusing on my outward appearance so much was so that I could start affording my basic needs and school instead, I was stuck keeping up with the Jones. The latest trends in fashion didn’t matter to me, shoes were just shoes. But even when I did conform and wore clothes or acrylic nails that didn’t make me feel like myself, I had to do it all over again. Every week new clothes, new hair, new nails. That’s the other thing I don’t resent women who enjoy shopping or luxury. This was my fragmented view of materialism getting in the way, not theirs. I resented how distorted beauty was being defined by society at large. I was constantly watching my weight and diet, my hair had to be perfect, and all of this forced me to believe that nobody ever truly gave a fuck about my personality. Because of all the opportunities, I started to gain simply because of my looks. “What about the insideeeee lol?!” I naively wondered. First I needed to catch their eye with appearances and then a perfect personality needed to shine through after so that people could say “she’s so down to earth, she’s not like the other girls”. I had to play the game, and convince everyone I wasn’t playing at all and that was how you win. Except I was the one who turned it into a game without fully understanding the risks.
If you’re dizzy imagine how I felt I still didn’t have the social skills to interpret all of this information.
What I learned is that beauty is not a renewable resource (education has that juice, however. ;] ) it is fleeting and constantly being redefined by society. I had to love myself through all the ebbs and flows of my life along with my physical appearance. Otherwise, I would be wasting my youth lost in a rat race when so many other meaningful experiences passed me by. It also reinforced my respect for sex workers and people whose physical appearance was their job. The stigma that beauty creates a life of ease is false false false. Everything in life comes with a set of challenges. Just because their problems aren’t like yours doesn’t mean they aren’t challenging. Above all I continued to see beauty in everyone I looked at, I even searched for it in them. I started extending the same courtesy to myself. I deserved it. If you do “glow up” learn from my mistakes, and only change on your own terms. It’s a bizarre transition that gets more hype than it’s worth. Proceed with caution.