Note from Heather Gray: Last week, I wrote an advice post: She’s Hot. I’m Not and Tired of Hearing It. A man had written in asking for ways of responding to leering and sexist comments about his wife’s appearance. He and his wife were forever being questioned about how they got together because his wife is perceived as being out of his league. After I offered my take, a reader of the piece asked for his wife’s respective. I reached out and here’s what she said. She prefers to stay anonymous, telling me she wants the focus to be on her words, not her appearance, an opportunity she has never had before.
I remember the first time I apologized for my looks.
I was in the 7th grade and I was in the mall with my girlfriend. She was shopping for her mother’s birthday gift and asked a store clerk for help. The employee, probably college-age, would only talk to me.
He asked me if I was shopping for my mom, too. If I needed anything. Meanwhile, my friend was still waiting for help getting something off a shelf that was too high for us to reach.
I don’t know why but that’s when I began apologizing for the way I looked and I don’t think I’ve stopped.
I have lost track of how many uncomfortable and awkward situations I have been in because of my appearance. Still, though, it stuns me that I am now writing about it.
To answer your reader’s question, my husband and I have been dealing this with since we began dating. I’ve always thought of this as something we managed together, even though we are usually alone when this crap happens.
No one ever really says anything when we are together.
It’s when they catch us alone that the inquisitions begin.
I’ll be cornered in the restroom of a restaurant. He’ll be questioned standing in line at the bar getting us drinks. When guys and girls go off in their separate corners to talk and catch up, that’s when the inquiries begin.
We’ve both heard hateful, mean-spirited things. At a neighborhood party, after arriving in our new car, someone asked me if my husband sent me in to do the negotiating and distract the salesperson. A co-worker once questioned whether I’d been sexually assaulted, if I “was just playing it safe” by choosing my husband.
My husband and I are childless by choice and more than one person has “joked” and said “Oh, I am sure. If I looked like that, I wouldn’t want to lose my looks to childbirth either.”
At least once a month, we find ourselves in some awkward, hateful, jealous moment like this.
It makes me cry. It hurts. He comforts me a lot through it, even though he, himself, is the target of insult. I always get hurt that our relationship is insulted.
I reply to the comments by saying that I love and am attracted to my husband. I share how he won me over with his intelligence, humor, and kindness but no one wants to hear it.
They prefer The Beauty and the Beast story.
They don’t believe me. They have already made up their minds before saying a word to me.
We felt so much relief when you told us we didn’t have to go to the parties or places where we get treated like that. I used to think that by not going, the hate, jealousy, and judgment were winning and we are losing out. We did skip his work party and instead went out and had a beautiful evening, just to ourselves, doing our favorite early winter activities.
I don’t think never going and just staying silent is always the answer, though. That doesn’t feel right and it would feel isolating. The “bad guys” would win.
I do think people need to hear that their words have impact and that their comments are insulting. However, this situation has always felt so out of our control. Deciding when to say something, when not to, when to show up, or when to pass does give us some control back.
Let me tell you something about my husband.
We met in college when we were working on a group project. My computer froze and I couldn’t get it to do anything. In a panic, I called him. He tried to help me fix it and when all else failed, he had me dictate what I’d written to him over the phone while he typed it on his computer. Remember when we only had desktops?
That’s who I fell in love with. That’s who I married. I don’t always want to respond to hate with “Oh but you don’t know how great he is…” That only seems to validate their error in thinking…that he has to be great in some other way to make up for his appearance.
We live in an image obsessed society and I am not sure we have any new answers here but I appreciate knowing that we can decide how and when we participate in the conversation and when we just go out on our own.