(If you haven’t already, you might like to see my first article on this subject – That Competitive Steak.)
Here’s a thing I find difficult to admit: I don’t believe I am particularly physically attractive. Now I’m not under delusions that I am run-away-screaming hideous or anything, but my looks are one of my great insecurities. I was bullied for them a lot as a child and teenager, and when I look in the mirror I often still see the awkward kid who got picked on for being fat and frizzy-haired and badly dressed.
Conversely, as an adult, I’ve become conscious of being seen as only my looks. I know it seems weird that these two insecurities could co-exist, but they do… and they’re rather a mind-fuck, particularly when they raise their heads at the same time! When this collision happens, it roughly translates into the concern that if I am not hot enough, my partners will leave me for somebody who is, because some delusion that I’m pretty is obviously the only reason they’re with me.
Now in principal, I’ve always been a poly person who firmly believes that making comparisons between partners is a Bad Thing. I love and care for people differently. If everyone I got involved with was exactly the same, what would be the point? I’m very conscious of trying not to compare partners to each other. All people are different, and all relationships are different. That’s part of the beauty of this life, this lovestyle.
I scared myself a week or so ago. Nomad asked me, hypothetically, what I would do if he (or any other partner) told me point-blank that somebody else was more physically attractive than me. My immediate response, blurted out without thinking, was ‘figure out what made them more attractive, then lose weight/change my hair/buy different clothes/delete as appropriate to emulate that.’ Then I thought this through more thoroughly, and my own answer – my instinctive gut reaction – somewhat horrified me. Am I that conditioned into objectifying myself so strongly, that socialised into seeing other women as competition to be fended off?
The little insecure part of me longs to hear that my partners will never find someone more physically attractive than me, and immediately jumps on anyone they’re interested in to try to assess whether or not this is the case. I hate this about myself. I don’t want that frightened little part, the demon sitting there in my head and laughing at me, to win. I want the strong woman who I know is inside me somewhere to win – the one who knows that I’m attractive as I am, who knows I have value which extends far beyond how good of a decoration I make, who knows other women should be allies, not the enemy.
I’ve been striving to be good enough, attractive enough, for one person or another for years. This is what we’re socialised to do, as women. If we hate ourselves, we’ll always be trying to be better… and if we don’t hate ourselves, you can bet the “beauty” industry will find something to make us hate, so they can package the cure and sell it to us!
All the battles between ‘real women have curves’ and ‘stick thin is attractive,’ or ‘what men really like in women!’ isn’t really about what individual people actually prefer their partners to look like at all. We all know that people’s tastes are as unique and personal as people themselves, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that everybody is beautiful to somebody. No. It’s about people who want to control us – systems which want to keep us down, industries who want us to buy fixes for problems they convince us we have – trying to make women powerless by keeping us hating ourselves, attempting to keep us against each other, instead of united, by seeing each other as competition to be fought. But I don’t want to digress too much from my original point.
If we’re so powerfully socialised to compare ourselves unfavourably to every other woman we encounter, of course it’s going to be even more challenging in non-monogamous relationships… we don’t just have the perceived threat that our partner might someday leave us for someone ‘better,’ but also the possibility that if they’re dating others, they’ll get a new partner so shiny and wonderful that they won’t need us any more. When we believe our primary purpose is to be decorative, the idea that our partner might find someone equally or more physically attractive is a prospect beyond terrifying. Because if they did, what would they need us for, right? Don’t forget that mono-culture also tells us that if we’re really good enough, our partners wouldn’t even look at or think about anybody else. Obviously, as polyamorists we reject that notion, but sometimes there’s still the scared little voice inside begging to be acknowledged, telling us that we’re failing in some way if we don’t match up to somebody else.
So the right answer to ‘is she prettier than me?’ then, isn’t ‘no.’ Because then, someday, you won’t say no – and that will crush me, because I’ll perceive that this is the one to take my place. The answer is to realise there’s more behind the question than the question itself. To realise that when I ask that, I’m not actually asking for an objective comparison of a stranger’s physical attributes against mine. What I’m actually asking for is validation as me. To know you’re not comparing me to anybody else. To know you find me attractive, hot, desirable, as well as finding value in me beyond and greater than my looks, independent of any comparison. To know that if a supermodel threw herself at you tomorrow, you’d still want me.
When I ask you to compare me, don’t. Instead, just let me know you cherish me as me.