Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m here to emphasize that the people you find attractive, as well as the people you find neutral or unattractive, don’t belong to you.
I don’t understand why people feel the need to comment on how someone else looks.
Well, I should be clearer: there are certain ways people comment on other people’s looks that I don’t understand. I’m completely in support of people who notice something aesthetically pleasing about someone else and compliment them for it. That can brighten someone’s day. I also get why people might point out that someone has food stuck in their teeth, or that they’re wearing something that isn’t professional enough for the job interview they’re headed to. Some people want that kind of warning, especially in the second example, since it might make or break an interview.
Any other comment related to appearance strikes me needlessly critical of something that has nothing to do with you.
I notice this most when women in the public eye alter their hair somehow, especially when it involves cutting the hair short. Despite the fact that women have been cutting their hair short forever, a lot of people think women look “objectively better” with long hair (perhaps because long hair is associated with femininity, and we all know how people like to keep women in a feminine box). There’s this weird possessiveness involved with fans of these women, and a lot of them act personally offended if one of them changes her hair in a way they don’t approve of. When I cut my hair in July, I deleted plenty of Instagram comments that said things like “Nooooo!” and “Whyyy???”, mostly from men. Apparently, I was disrupting their lives somehow by making a choice about the hair sitting on my own head.
I vote that we stop passing critical judgments on how people should stylistically express themselves. The main reason why: “objectively better” doesn’t exist. Beauty is subjective. There isn’t a single thing in the world that every person on Earth agrees is beautiful. Keeping that in mind, we should allow every person to be in charge of their own personal beauty, because odds are, the way they’re presenting themselves is their idea of beautiful. Your criticisms of their beauty are invalid, because their opinions about their body, face, hair, etc. will trump yours every single time. This includes well-intentioned comments.
Not every compliment is even safe from this, because they can sometimes come off as backhanded. I’ve had several people say to me that it’s lucky I “have a face for” a pixie cut. So, if I didn’t have the “face” for a pixie cut, whatever that is, I shouldn’t get one, even if I want one? If I think a pixie cut looks good on me and I want it, that should be the end of the story. I don’t care what height or width you think my face should be, or how my jawline should look relative to the hairstyle, or what shade of skin “works best” with what hair color. Aesthetic theorists have been trying for centuries to come up with a working definition of beauty and no definition has been agreed upon by everyone. Any supposed “standards” for what the ideal pixie cut face looks like have been invented by our culture, our media, the advertising industry, etc., which are all biased towards white faces and bodies. They’re not as relevant to your personal taste as you think they are.
As far as those in the public eye go, this speaks to a larger problem in society of fans treating people like they’re commodities rather than, you know, people. Some artists and actors draw people in partially because of their physical aesthetic. Okay, that’s fine–nothing wrong with enjoying what a person looks like as long as you don’t dehumanize them. So when one of these artists tries something new, i.e. alters that aesthetic, fans react like the “product” sold to them didn’t arrive with all the features the Amazon description promised. They get angry. They feel betrayed. The artist in question becomes something they own, and they demand that “it” switch back to what they “paid” for. This especially affects people who aren’t content with one style for long and change it up often.
But this isn’t limited to celebrities. Most people do this in some form or another with the people in their lives, especially their significant others. The idea that a significant other needs to monitor or approve of how their significant other looks inherently suppresses individuality. It can lead to someone folding themselves into an ill-fitted box so that the other person likes what they see (I know, because I’ve done it). It can reduce someone’s chances of trying something new and exciting because they fear the backlash from their significant other.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t a thing that people expect between couples in this society. Not tolerate, or put up with, or ignore. Expect. And it grosses me out.
I once dated someone who “playfully” whined every time I got a haircut, and who made comments about how he missed the long hair I had when we started dating. Days after we broke up, I cut it shorter than it’d ever been (mostly because I’d wanted to, anyway, but there was some spite in there). I’m thankful every day that I didn’t let his complaints influence what choices I made with my hair, and I wish I hadn’t let him influence my fashion choices in the same way.
I’ve made a couple drastic changes with my hair in the last few months, but not once did I ask my fiancé if they would be all right with me having a pixie cut, or with me dying it red. I also didn’t ask their permission to change my glasses frames to larger Ray-Bans. And, because they respect my autonomy, I’ve gotten nothing but support from them.
You are not your significant other’s parent, and they’re not yours. With that in mind, it doesn’t make sense ask them if an outfit is okay to wear, or if they’d be bothered if your nails were a certain color, or if they wouldn’t want to be seen with you in those shoes. Of course, this is different from asking for their input, such as, “Do you think I should go with the blue or green eyeshadow?” or “Which pair of jeans do you think fits me best?” Any opinion they give in response to those questions is invited. But if you treat their opinions on your appearance as the be-all, end-all, you risk burying your individuality. This is about you and your body, not theirs.
If you can’t read the above captions, here’s the text:
Paul: Holly, I am in love with you.
Holly: So what?
Paul: So what? So plenty! I love you! You belong to me.
Holly: No. People don’t belong to people.
Paul: Of course they do!
Holly: I’m not gonna let anyone put me in a cage!
Paul: I’m not gonna put you in a cage. I wanna love you!
Holly: It’s the same thing!
While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Holly Golightly that being loved and being put in a cage are the same thing, I don’t blame her for thinking so. She was a woman in the 1960s, and most of the men who claimed to love her acted like loving her fell right into step with owning her, like Dumbass McGee up there. If entering a relationship with someone involves giving up some crucial part of what makes you you, it’s not worth it. Sure, people in relationships make sacrifices for each other, but said sacrifices shouldn’t result in you absorbing your entire being into another person. Don’t give someone else ownership over you. Establish a partnership instead.
This doesn’t just apply to women, or to people in heterosexual relationships. Occasionally, people nag my nonbinary fiancé about trimming or shaving their beard, or cutting their hair. Usually, they say they don’t want to, because it’s their face/head and they should be able to do what they damn well please. Sometimes, people will say that it’s fine if they don’t shave/cut it, as long as I’m fine with it. What the hell? It shouldn’t matter whether or not I’m fine with it. I don’t set boundaries for my fiancé’s appearance, no matter how big or small. They’re at their most beautiful when they’re happy with how they look.
So, go out there and have a nice Valentine’s Day. Spread judgment-free love. I don’t care if the person’s your friend, your significant other, your child, your sibling, or your grandma. Let people be themselves.
*Avatar by Charlavail