Last summer, I was out in my hometown and saw a guy who’d been an acquaintance in my early 20s. This was the first time I’d seen him since. We were chatting a bit and right before he walked away he said, somewhat arrogantly, ‘You’re still beautiful, but two things: you look better with long hair and you should really stand up straight.” And he told me how he and his wife always remind each other: ‘shoulders back!’ (although I would bet that it’s really just him telling her to do so. He might have even said, ‘shoulders back, chest out,’ but I could be making that up because I had had a couple adult beverages. But I wouldn’t put it past him.)
So this brought up a few things for me. First off, I’m almost positive he thought he was complimenting me in some weird way. I think the reference to my supposed beauty—’still,’ because I’m ancient in ‘woman years’—woman years are like dogs years in some men’s minds I guess. I know men wonder what the problem is with complimenting women on their looks, and the majority of them mean well. But dudes: it’s not necessary! We aren’t living for your approval, believe it or not. Most of us are comfortable with ourselves enough and don’t need or want the validation that the male gaze supposedly affords.
But back to this guy: who the hell does he think he is to tell me I look better with longer hair? (I have more thoughts about this; keep reading lest you think I am being unfair to him.) I hadn’t seen him in more than 20 years! What if I said to him, ‘You’re still handsome but maybe use some moisturizer every now and then?’ Would that be ok? I doubt he’d appreciate that.
Here is where I point out that he wasn’t wrong, on either front. I probably do look better with longer hair. Most men on the planet think women look better with longer hair, and in my case that could be true. Secondly, I do slouch, a lot, and I know it’s a problem. I’m working on it. But who is he to comment on either thing? Bottom line is that men have been conditioned to believe it’s fine, even appropriate, to comment on a woman’s appearance.
Here’s how I am trying to see this differently: I do agree with something someone shared with me a long time ago when a mutual friend had disparaged me to him, ‘I think we all need naysayers.’ The trolls do help us see things from other perspectives, even if it feels shitty in the moment. I do need to watch my posture. And I don’t think he meant any ill will. Having heard that did help me think about it more. I’ve learned that one way to look at things differently is to think about the criticism and ask, ‘is this triggering me because there’s some truth to it, or was it just mean and troll-like? Is there a way I can use this criticism/comment constructively?’ If there’s any accuracy to it, use it to your advantage. Make a change, work on the problem. If not let it go and move on. Life is too short to dwell on things we can’t control (like trolls.)
I think overall, men need to keep their thoughts about women’s bodies to themselves. There’s really no need to comment when you weren’t asked for your opinion. And men please note: the majority of women actually don’t like catcalling, as everyone should be aware of in 2019.