Stories are messy, but perhaps that’s the reason we need to be more willing to tell them. We should be more willing to sit in the mess around us and just think—with no clear solution for cleaning them up nor any indication that cleaning up is what should be done.
Her story is messy.
She blurs lines, making you feel uneasy about laughing or crying. Nothing seems the appropriate response. And you’re left feeling uneasy about her.
Uneasy about yourself.
Uneasy about the world you live in.
Uneasy and isolated—which is why most of the best stories aren’t told.
You’re not sure if you should be rioting or applauding but you’re pretty sure that no matter which direction you move, you’ll be isolating yourself. Soaking in the judgment of others.
Here is a piece of my story. I am an attractive woman. I’ve never said that aloud. Never written that out. It’s too messy a story to tell. It’s too isolating.
I’m not the most attractive person in the world. There are plenty of women around me at all times that are more attractive, but even in writing this I’ve begun to isolate and insulate myself with justifications of a subjective truth. There are stories you are telling yourself about me right now... perhaps that I’m conceited, vain, a bitch. Perhaps those stories are true. Perhaps not. Either way, it's messy.
We are taught not to be honest about being attractive because the associated traits (being conceited/vain) aren't attractive, but we are also taught to relish the attention beauty brings and never to talk about the negatives that come along with it (talk about staring a gift horse in the mouth, right?). How dreadful is it when you have to listen to some billionaire talk about how tough it is to have so much money?
Same concept. I get it.
But stories are messy.
I know full well that this truth of mine has given me a multitude of advantages throughout my life. Teachers and friends and mentors and clients and lovers have all been attracted to me physically in a way that has allowed me to gain their attention, trust and sometimes their adoration. In many ways, I’ve been coasting through life on the coattails of my benefactor – a decent draw on the genetic lottery.
Look, I’m a professional speaker. How many gigs have I gotten as a result of a LinkedIn post or video where another slightly less attractive person with content that was just as good, was passed over? Judging by the messages I receive from a lot of “professional” social networking sites that begin something like “Hey Dr. Hot,” or “Beautiful lady,” the number is not small.
This is not me trying to brag (continuing to isolate myself).
This is about telling an honest story.
The flip side of the story is that being attractive has been incredibly difficult (and there go the remaining few of my supporters. “Seriously? She’s going to complain about this now? Let’s all pull out our tiny violins.”).
*For the record, I want to note right here how many times I’ve typed “relatively” or “marginally” in front of the word “attractive” and gone back to erase it.*
If the story were neat it would be this:
“I’m a relatively attractive female who has enjoyed moderate success as a result of this combined with my other attributes and a little luck.”
It’s the tidy story I tell to anyone that listens, including myself.
But the messy, more truthful version goes like this:
I’m both terrified of aging out of my “beauty” and ecstatic. Over the years I have received thousands (literally) of propositions, hours of unwanted attention, passes, inappropriate comments and pictures, and random gropings.
I have been frightened, threatened, forced, coerced, and abused. I have said no, and had sex forced on me anyway.
I have been powerless. I have been stripped of my humanity.
(Incidentally, the isolation continues here for those who will now label me as a victim, and roll their eyes because “we all suffer ills and why should I be special?”)
I'm not. That's the point.
We don’t tell these stories for precisely this reason. I don’t want to be labeled as a victim and I don’t want to be labeled as a wannabe victim. And so we all suffer in tidy boxes of isolation.
And so I live in fear—but so too do I fear the loss of it all.
I fear that despite all the ill that it brings, I’m addicted to the power of my own attractiveness. I can grab attention and hold it for some time. I can be heard in ways that others won’t be. Does that give me a responsibility to speak louder? What becomes of me when I lose that ability? When I fade into invisibility? Why is anyone actually listening now? Do they value what I have to say or ...?
What stories do I need to tell now while I still have an audience? (or at least had one before this blog post).
Am I responsible as the voice of women? Of victims of abuse? Of those that are voiceless because of the judgment inherent in having a messy story?
There are so many messy stories that are left untold.
This will not be one.
What are yours?
***I want to add an amendment to be explicitly clear about an important point here. There are plenty of women that are not traditionally physically attractive (by whatever standard you want to measure that), or who have aged out of the societally based "attractive youth years" who have incredibly strong and powerful voices! This post is not meant to undercut them in any regard. Rather to empower and recognize that their struggle to hold those voices is that much more difficult. Bravo to all the women/men/gender non-conformists/big/small/and all of humanity that continues to speak their truths and tell their messy stories!