For as long as I've been alive, I've been called "small and cute." I've often thought about the ways in which these two descriptors have held me back in life — would I be viewed as more professional or womanly if I were taller? Would I have less of a Napoleon complex, and a higher opinion of my own capabilities? — but I'm also under no illusions. There are many worse things to be in this world than a small, "cute," white woman, and it's worth acknowledging and checking the privileges that come with it. I'm not bragging here; I think it's important to shed light on these privileges, since they're very real — and very problematic. If I don't start by acknowledging and checking my own privilege, what right do I have to ask men to do the same?
I use the word "cute" in quotation marks here because, unlike being thought of as small, I'm not so comfortable with the label. For one, I'm nearly 29, and it is infantilizing. I'm not a cute little child — I'm a grown-ass woman who's been Peter-Panned by society. For another, calling myself cute opens me up to trolls calling me ugly. I guess I mean "cute" here to signify that I'm usually considered attractive and/or "young-looking" by enough of the population for it to afford me advantages in life. Men have usually called me "cute" before they call me "beautiful;" because I'm small and more emotionally fragile than I let on, I seem to attract the type of guy who wants to take care of me, paternal types without a cruel bone in them. Yet another privilege.
As I've grown up, I've recognized the ways in which moving through the world this way has afforded me advantages that are simply unfair (and which I will mostly lose as I age, as I become a cute, mostly-invisible old lady instead of a cute, young, valued sex object). Many of them can be attributed to my white privilege, but some of them are due to the particular combination of being a small, white, "innocent-looking" young woman. Acknowledging these privileges here is one of many steps I'm taking to address and check them, both in my personal and professional life. I'm not trying to "get away" with these privileges anymore — I'm trying to point out how unfair they are in the first place and stop taking advantage of them.
1. People Assembling/Fixing/Doing Boring Things For Me
While there are plenty of small women who know how to put together IKEA furniture, service a bike, and fix a toilet, I am not one of them. Doing things with my hands has never interested me, and when I was young, I always left the mechanical, "teamwork" tasks to other friends. Later, I would have boyfriends to do these things for me, but before that, there were always friends — usually guys — who were willing to fix something for me, reach that, unscrew this.
I'm not proud of this trait of mine, and I don't think it's served me well in the long term. Because I grew used to people underestimating my physical capabilities, a part of me started to believe that I am indeed less capable. I have a bad habit of sometimes acting "adorably" clueless when I'm really just being lazy; if I were a guy who didn't know how to assemble something, I doubt it would be considered endearing, even attractive. Sure, all women may sometimes experience this privilege based on the assumption that they are also less capable, but being small seems to lend extra credibility to the assumption that I shouldn't have to do anything too physically demanding.
I don't shoplift anymore, but when I was in my early 20s and annoyed at my (well-paying, by the way) job, I used to occasionally shoplift from drugstores and supermarkets. I shoplifted some bougie shit too; I'd sneak truffle oil, or overpriced almond flour. I never got caught, and I felt certain I never would. No one expected me to steal, and no one followed me around the store like they would have if I were a woman of color (one study found that though black people represented approximately 10 percent of all shoppers at a particular department store, they represented approximately 90 percent of all shoppers stopped for suspected shoplifting. Or, remember the story of the black single mother who was shot by a guard after shoplifting in Houston? I knew that was not a risk for me in my shoplifting days). The system is completely rigged.
It never surprised me when viral stories of small white women like Winona Ryder shoplifting popped up in the news. I understood the impulse. When the world thinks you're harmless and cute and constantly objectifies you as such, a certain type of rebellious woman wants to prove the world wrong, if only to herself. Of course, the joke's on us. It's also almost as if when "cute" women get caught shoplifting, it's still considered a silly, "cute" crime.
3. Smoking Weed In Public & Never Getting In Trouble
When I was in college, I used to smoke weed in the middle of Union Square Park, where multiple cops patrolled on a regular basis. I was from California, so I guess I never thought it was a big deal; but smoking weed in public isn't decriminalized in New York, and I could have gotten in trouble. I think I knew I wouldn't.
When I'm out with men, I notice they are often more nervous to light up in public, and it's occurred to me that this is a very specific privilege I enjoy. Of course, if I were a woman of color, things would also be very different, and I doubt I'd feel so secure. Even though you'd think the smell would give me away, there's a certain hubris to being a small, white woman smoking weed. I'm not profiled as a potential criminal, and as a result, I have the privilege of not being bothered by police. Arrest rates for marijuana possession are completely skewed; in certain states, black people are eight times more likely to be arrested for the crime than white people. It's one of the many reasons drug policy reform in America is key to addressing the reform of our unjust criminal justice system.
4. Asking To Hold Strangers' Dogs & Babies
I love dogs and babies. When I sit next to someone with an adorable baby or dog on the subway, I make eyes at it the whole ride, and I'm never interpreted as a pedophile or dognapper, as far as I can tell.
It wasn't until I spoke with my gender-non conforming friend (she uses female pronouns but reads very "masculine") that I realized just what a privilege this is. She spoke to me about how she often only feels comfortable playing with younger boys; she's always worried that if she's affectionate with a younger girl — even a cousin — people will think she's doing something shady, because she's queer and butch. I've also heard guys express their hesitance to enjoy kids they don't know well for fear of also being mistaken as a pedophile. The worry never occurs to me, making it an obvious privilege.
I'm sure that many other women of all sizes and ages experience this privilege, but I do think that this is a situation where being small and "cute" almost makes me come off like a teenage babysitter. I'm not big and threatening enough to steal your kid, and the owner may even view me as a "kid" themselves. As a result, I can take it to that next level and easily ask to hold a stranger's puppy or baby without seeming so threatening.
5. Staying In Public Parks Past Closing
I've done this more times than I can count, just because I didn't want to leave. If a guard catches me on the way out to hop the fence, I know I can just give him my innocent Did I do that?! shrug, and be on my way. Sometimes, they even ask if I need help finding my way out.
The other month, I was hanging out with Mik, a tall, accented black guy I'm sort of dating, and we stayed at a botanical garden past closing. We smoked a joint and made out, and when a group of guards found us — me sitting sideways in his large lap, short, bare legs dangling over him like a little kid — I thought I might actually get in trouble for once. Instead, the guards cracked a smile, and one came over to Mik, saying, "I want to shake your hand, man. You're my hero." They then kindly escorted us out of the park, laughing all the way. It wasn't lost on me that had Mik been alone, things might have gone down very differently. If an unarmed man of color innocently trespasses — or merely exists in a public space — he is at risk of being killed by a security guard, or neighborhood watch. I am at risk of getting scolded, at most.
6. Not Having My Body Trolled On The Internet
Recently, I got noticeably trolled on the Internet for the first time. It wasn't for posting pictures of myself half-naked, or in a bra, like I have before — it was for coming out as non-monogamous. When it happened, I was annoyed, but also recognized my immense privilege. I had just spoken to a coworker who writes about being plus-size, and she was considering actually changing her name due to doxing — a horrible kind of next-level trolling where the person exposes your address and other personal information in an attempt to harass you and destroy your life.
That I've been able to write about my life and body in such explicit detail for this long and have never had my appearance ripped to shreds is the direct result of my thin, white privilege, and it is totally unfair. Trolling is never cool, but plus-size writers and women of color are trolled simply for existing.
7. Being "Adorably" Violent
I really don't like this about myself, which is why it's important to check this double-standard of a privilege. One of my earliest memories is of me and my (also small and cute) friend Shifra chasing this huge boy named Sam around the playground, kicking his shins "for fun." One time, in 5th grade, I kicked my friend Andy like I always did, and he finally snapped and called me a "bitch," slapping me in the face. I told on him, and he got in huge trouble. I got in no trouble, and probably kept kicking him.
As I grew up, I mostly stopped being randomly violent, though I often bit my friends out of loving affection (and got away with that too). Now, it's only when I'm really, really angry that I've realized I'll still have the impulse to "harmlessly" shove a man I'm dating in the middle of a fight. I try not to, even if they are always "bigger than me" and usually end up just laughing at me. The fact that I've gotten away with being occasionally aggressive for this long completely has to do with the fact that I'm a small woman — and it's not OK.
8. Having My Strong, Visible Feelings Not Viewed As Threatening
This can be really infuriating — when I'm frustrated or angry and a boyfriend just laughs because something about it reminds them of a little kid having a tantrum. It infantilizes my emotions, and drives me nuts. But it can also sometimes double as a privilege.
When people don't fear your anger or negative emotions much, you're free to express them — in public, and in your relationships. Without the fear of being stereotyped as "the angry black woman" or seeming like a potentially dangerous man for raising my voice in public, I've always had free reign to express my emotions, and that is an immense privilege. Furthermore, I haven't had to worry that crying or otherwise being vulnerable would make me less attractive to men; on the contrary, it often seemed to endear me to them. If men felt as free to cry or otherwise express their feelings as openly as I have, the world would be a very different place.
It's always struck me as the biggest privilege that comes with being a small, "cute," white woman; because my presence is both underestimated and tolerated, I at least don't have to try to make myself any smaller. But with that privilege comes an obligation to use my advantages for good, not personal gain.
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.
Images: Rachel Krantz/Instagram