When I was young there was a moment I realized I had to decide how to feel about other women — beautiful women, especially. Would I do that default thing so many of my friends did and tear other women down for being beautiful? Or could I recognize their beauty and celebrate it for what it was? I knew which way felt better and I made a conscious effort not to hate other women because I was jealous of their beauty. It is one of the first practices I added on my own.
I knew what I didn’t believe. Other women were not beasts because they were beautiful. Neither were their lives perfect. I remember being jealous of a new girl because she was exotic looking and attractive to boys. My father ignorantly tried to make me feel better by denigrating her heritage and elevating our own Polish-American ethnicity. I knew that wasn’t right, either. There is so much bad information circulating around being a young woman, what that means, and it’s all very confusing. I also had a friend who was telling me that because I had magazine pages of models and ladies wearing lots of makeup on my walls I would grow up to be “a hooker” and that meant I would “pay people to have sex with me.” Like I said: bad information.
Being from New Jersey I remember feeling like putting on any amount of makeup was never enough makeup. I would dig into my best friend’s cosmetics drawer that she and her older sister shared and play with all manner of Terracotta bronzers and really bright blushes. I loved it but somehow realized that it never would be enough. And that makeup wasn’t the answer. What if this whole system is total bullshit? I wasn’t sure how to untangle it all but I tried to just back away from thinking makeup really had much to do with anything.
Obviously this isn’t just a New Jersey thing. Feeling no amount of makeup is enough and pitting young women against each other happens everywhere. The good news is if I could manage navigating it by following my inner rudder, and how I wanted to hold my heart when I looked at other people of the same sex, then other people can figure it out, too. Socially there was pressure to look at other women as competition but naturally in my body I knew this was wrong. So we have conscience on our side, in that way. And beauty is not in and of itself evil — it is beautiful. And when your face breaks open to someone, smiling, or to just be, just feel, you have beauty on your side, more so than if you are sneering at another woman.
To say you’re more beautiful when you’re not operating from a place of jealousy and competition is focusing on something way back behind the point. It isn’t about beauty at all. It’s about celebrating other people. And you know what? Your eyes are gorgeous. And now I feel prettier.
Jenn Sutkowski didn’t grow up to be a hooker by her friend’s definition (or by the real definition).
This Full Frontal column appears originally in the Newport Mercury.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
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