By this point, it's no secret that I run a personal plus-size style blog in which I share posts pertinent to lifestyle, health and, of course, fashion. Last month, one of these posts ended up being shared quite a bit on social media. It was about the different experiences I've had at the intersection of fat prejudice and racial prejudice. Although there was a photo of myself within the piece, my looks weren't really the point of the story. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a comment that addressed how I wasn't even "all that pretty." It's always awkward to stumble across a person critiquing how you look — but it's even more awkward when that Internet troll is doing so on an article or image that wasn't intended to relay any kind of message about your actual looks.
The comment was fascinating to me because the person in question actually enjoyed my article, and was on par with what I had to say (something I gathered based on some follow up comments). And yet, their first priority was to comment on my appearance, before they could share their appreciation for my work. It was a strange and nonsensical backhanded compliment.
Of course, I'm not the only woman being appraised for her looks online. I've seen comments toward some fellow female bloggers and friends that have made me cringe — comments that attack them on everything from their height to their weight to their hair, all after reading what these female bloggers have to say about a given topic (usually a topic that doesn't have to do with their appearance). So I'm curious: When women offer up their thoughts, why do we criticize their looks?
I love the Internet for the way it connects me to people whom I would never have known otherwise, but it's also a double-edged sword. I've encountered some really awful humans online — usually in the "comments" section of different websites. Internet trolls are simply the worst kind of specimens! When I use this phrase, I am referring to a person who posts rude and sometimes hateful comments online. Internet trolls are "special people" who are shielded by their cyber anonymity, and find refuge behind their computer screens.
I think we're all pretty clear about the double standard that exists when it comes to judging women versus men. Men are judged primarily by their merits (be they academic, professional or otherwise), and women are judged on their beauty (usually via quite a linear definition of beauty, at that). This type of thinking crosses into many arenas. In an interview with ABC News, Priscilla Choi of Keele University points out that female athletes are often offered sponsorships that aren't based on their sportsmanship. “Women in sports are still being valued more for what they look like than their sports' performance... It is the more feminine athletes who also get more sponsorships,” she says.
Following the same train of thought, writer Deborah Cruz notes on the digital magazine The Broad Side :
"The world has two sets of standards — women are treated like property and men are treated like they can do no wrong. No matter what a man looks like — fat, skinny, tall, short, brown, yellow or green, he isn’t judged by what he looks like. He is judged by the measure of his merit. Why can’t we expend the same courtesy to our women?"
When it comes to my personal experiences, I've seen too many women turn to blog posts and op-ed articles to offer us a glimpse into their beautiful minds, only to be torn down for their physical appearance — when in reality one has nothing to do with the other.
I normally ignore Internet trolls, but today I thought I'd give them a special hello:
To all the trolls out there who like to appraise women based on their looks, we really don't care what you think about our bodies, our faces, our hair, our height, our femininity, our relationship status or any other insults you reserve solely for women online. I know that men get trolled online too, but I've yet to see a comment telling a man that he needs to "go, get a wife," although women are told to "go, get a man" pretty constantly. I've yet to see a comment telling a man he needs to "soften" his appearance, although I regularly see Internet trolls complaining that women are too "mannish." But if having a thought in my head and expressing it makes me appear mannish, then call me Mr. CeCe — I'm cool with that.
The problem is, of course, that people are often mistakenly assuming that we value ourselves based on the male gaze, or anyone's gaze for that matter. But gone are the days when our sense of self worth is down to how attractive we are to other people. Gone are the days when the male gaze is the most important gaze.
A person telling us we are "ugly" doesn't have the sting it used to, because as women we are so much more than our bodies. And we're getting to a point where we're starting to know that. I mean, who actually decides what's "beautiful" or "ugly" anyway? The mainstream definition changes pretty frequently, after all (as you can see from the above vintage ad). Deep down, we know our beauty (our true beauty) is enhanced every time we speak fearlessly and confidently on the things that matter to us. The power of our femininity can be found in our beautiful bodies, yes, but also in beautiful brains — and we don't have to choose one or the other.
So, dear trolls, the next time you're on one of your vengeful missions, do us all a favor and engage with women in thoughtful debate. Trust me, we can handle it! We welcome opinions that differ from ours; we welcome unique points of view. But when you take pointless, cheap shots at what we look like, you challenge our work in a non-intellectual and useless way. Oh, wait — maybe that's the point of what you're trying to do! But we're not feeding you any longer.
Images: Fotolia; Giphy; Vintage Ad