Today when I woke up, what was on my mind were the words of one of my former therapists. I had just turned twenty, if I recall correctly, and was in the same glum mood my birthdays always bring about, so I spent the therapy session looking out of the window, mute, ignoring my therapist’s attempts to help me the best I could. I felt ‘what’s the use anyway?!’ about everything.
So after the session was over and I was on my way out, the therapist took me by the arm to stop me and shook her head while looking me in the eye. Then she said something like ‘I really wish I knew why you don’t grasp that chance you’re getting here’. In the sullen mood I was in I just shrugged and mumbled something about ‘what’s the use’, to which she shook her head again and said: “But you’re such a pretty girl!”.
I remember that at the time I was confused more than anything, because a) I don’t think of myself as pretty at all, and b) even if I was, what have looks to do with therapy?! Not knowing what to make of that statement I tried to do what I did with the rest I learned in therapy – forget it. But I couldn’t. The sentence kept coming back to me later that day, and the following day, and the following week and month and years. Crisp as if she’d said it only yesterday, I have ever since heard her voice in my head saying it over and over again.
“But you are such a pretty girl!”
It was probably meant to be… what… encouraging? Uplifting? Well, shit, I don’t really know what way she even meant it. But I know what her statement did.
I started to feel guilty. People consider me pretty, so I ought to be better. I shouldn’t be feeling so low, after all I’m “pretty”. Whatever “pretty” is, pretty people are obviously not supposed to be feeling shitty. I’m not feeling pretty, but people think I am, so I should be living up to that expectation. Should I be feeling pretty, too? Am I ungrateful for not feeling pretty? I must be ungrateful! Ungrateful and repulsive, because here I am feeling afwul and despicable, despite being so “pretty”.
People seem to believe that physical looks are like some special gift – and in a way I see where they come from, after all everyone has been given a face and you can’t do much about the way you look, unless you pay lotsa bucks to some plastic surgeon. So you could probably say that physical looks are a “gift”. But hey, most people look perfectly fine, not disfigured or anything, and entirely okay to look at, so what’s the big deal? Why that statement? Why the implication that someone who’s nice to look at, should not be neglecting herself so? Would it be more okay to do that if people considered me ugly?! Would my therapist have said “yeah, well, just go on feeling crappy because you’re ugly to look at anyway”?!
Looking back, I think that after I had heard that comment I got a lot worse than before. I stopped putting effort into looking nice. I didn’t wash my hair often and was probably not smelling good because I dodged showering whenever I could get away with it. I started using black eye liner and lipstick and nail polish. I didn’t care if my clothes were dirty. I tried my best to not look pretty, just to get rid of the guilty feeling.
I got better about it after I met my family and moved in with them. Mom insists on hygiene, I get new clothes if I want or need them, my clothes land in the washing machine when they’re dirty, and I kind of started to want to look pretty so they would like looking at me. (With frequent lapses to the opposite, but altogether I do want to look nice now.) But with it the worrying guilty feeling came back, making me feel like I shouldn’t be having a mental disorder, shouldn’t be struggling so much when, after all, I’m “pretty”.
Inside of myself I think ones outer appearance does not really say much about what that person looks like on the inside. I sure don’t feel pretty, but more like the way I look is some curse. Who knows, maybe if I had been a really ugly child, maybe my stepfather wouldn’t have wanted to abuse me then. Maybe he would have been repulsed, left me alone and put his dick elsewhere. Maybe my mother wouldn’t have felt threatened and would have thought “gee, she’s ugly, but at least she can be useful around the house” or something. I don’t know. And maybe if I was ugly, it would not be so darn easy to find some willing moron who doesn’t hesitate to let his pants down to fuck me. Maybe I’d be way better off now if I’d been looking less appealing. But even with those thoughts on my mind, I can’t really shake the guilt off.
So thanks a lot, therapist M, for the ongoing guilt trip. What a stupid thing to say. I wish people were less focused on looks.