I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it because I’m tired of a man having an insight which gets treated as a news event about an experience a woman has daily which is ignored. However, he seems so damn sincere that I was moved by his emotion and share the link here in case you haven’t watched.
Until I was 12, I was no one’s definition of beautiful. I was overweight, tall and poor. I wore my favorite sweater and light blue sweatpants, stained, like a uniform. In fourth grade, I was taller than my teacher and by sixth grade I was basically the height and weight I am today (5 feet 8 and a 160 pounds). Even at birth, I was not petite.
By seventh grade, I had my period but had not discovered the products needed to deal with it and so along with stained paints I spoke with a thick Boston accent. Only my Coke bottle glasses were thicker and sometimes taped or held together with paper clips because I was clumsy. Did I mention I also wet the bed? Instead of an awkward and sad soundtrack I was accompanied by my the wretched perfume which smelled of neglected child.
However, I was rather oblivious. I LOVED school. I loved learning. Teachers loved me. I also ADORED humor. I loved to laugh and to make others laugh and listened to Steve Martin’s comedy repeatedly and watched sitcoms like Soap and Saturday Night Live. I didn’t know about bras, tampons or popularity. I didn’t even mind my own odor. I had little sense of the mileage a beautiful person gets in our culture or that I hadn’t been existing in that room of the world before. I was a little jealous of my sister’s leaner frame, more muscular body and how she could make her hair straight or curly but that was that.
Dustin Hoffman’s AHA moment came when he realized he could play a woman convincingly but no amount of make-up or acting could make him be a beautiful one. He knew himself to be interesting but couldn’t create pretty and that opened his internal eye.
My moment came in eight grade when I got contacts, lost weight, discovered showers, soap and blow dryers I learned about feminine hygiene and how to hold my bladder all night long. I returned to school and was suddenly popular. Instantly.
I wasn’t kinder, smarter or funnier. I was prettier, thinner and wearing Love’s Baby Soft. For this “achievement” I was “rewarded” with whistles on the street, unsolicited comments about my appearance and was hit on my boys (and men). I got to sit at different lunch tables.
It was horrifying and sad and depressing. I wanted to scream for at least a full year, “I am precisely the same person. I am exactly the same. I was this person last year when I was virtually invisible.”
One boy, at recess, tried to pin me down and kiss me in the room off of the gym where the mats got folded up and put away. He said, “You were BOW WOW action last year and now look at you.” I have never forgotten his words, his face or his force. He pushed me against the mats and wanted to kiss the pretty girl. I ran away afraid of his body weight, words and how clearly and without apology he defined my entire worth as I became not a person but an ice cream he thought he could lick and realized how much my looks mattered to others whether considered ugly or attractive.
I wish I could say, I never went to any popular girl parties, never cared about looks for the rest of my life and embraced my deepest inner worth. I did not. I knew something I had not known and it changed me. I knew I was more powerful, more noticed and seen, when I was pretty.
I’d play it up or down, like dressing up. I’d wear glasses and bangs to cover my eyes when I wanted to be invisible. I wore boring clothes too big and without shape when I wanted to blend into the background. When I wanted to be noticed, I’d lose the glasses, lose fifteen pounds and lighten the hair. My favorite song became Ani DiFranco’s, “I am not a pretty girl” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cZ-nAfSkW4 and I played it like an anthem. I could slide in and out of being attractive like it was a costume.
Sometimes I rejected attractiveness in myself and others. I dated men and didn’t care what they looked like at. If anything, I was suspicious of men who valued their appearance too much and assumed they must not have enough depth to get by on integrity, kindness or intelligence. I didn’t trust men who cared too much about my looks because I knew them to be transitory (the men and my looks). Sometimes I dressed or “dolled myself up” but often I wore little make-up, clothes a few sizes too big which lasted a decade or two and twisted my hair into a bun with a pencil.
Now I have a daughter and I wonder how much has changed in the world she is growing up in. Is it actually worse? There are so many Iphones and frequent Facebook posts with constant smiles and self-portraits. Kids make movies of themselves and each other non-stop. Models are thinner than ever. Real bodies are air brushed and we can even Photoshop our own bodies as celebrities bodies are cut, cropped and super sexed for magazines, concerts or while getting groceries.
How many actual women, who aren’t considered pretty, are leading ladies in movies or sitcoms? Who gets more attention, still, as a woman, when looking like Tootsie? And that’s why Dustin Hoffman’s clip does matter. Because it hasn’t changed.
I’ve dated guys who I have helped emotionally, financially, on every practical level possible, who have noticed my body more than my heart. But it wouldn’t matter at all if I didn’t internalize my own worth based on my external appearance, if I didn’t feel better when having a “good hair day” as though that matters at all.
I take my glasses off for a photo even though I can’t see a thing and put them back on after the shot is taken. I hide my cellulite and rarely wear shorts or bathing suits. I check the mirror too often for wrinkles or gray hair when the wisest part of my soul knows how little these things matter. I have never cried out in agony and said, “I need someone with perfect skin to hold me.” I have never been in crisis and thought, “A beautiful face to look at would really make my day.” A good listener with kind eyes who are willing to share their hearts and who ask, “What’s your experience?” are all I have ever needed in order to feel loved.
Dustin Hoffman got choked up when he realized all of the people he had not paid attention to. What parts of ourselves have we denied and ignored and failed to let be seen? What aspect of others have we admired for shallow or superficial reasons?
What’s the currency we want to use to get attention and how can we better spend our precious time? No one has an obituary with their crowning achievement being, “She was put together and looked really great most days.” Would you want that to be your legacy?
I want my words and deeds to matter and have lasting significance. I want my energy to be like a street light that illuminates at night and rests during the day to rest under the sky. And I want to be as solid as the wooden pole holding it up to keep me centered and be someone others can lean into and rely on. “I am not a pretty girl. That is not what I do….”