Women are intelligent, sympathetic, creative, strong, driven, and talented. Women are beautiful, shapely, and aesthetic. Women are often only acknowledged for their looks, but they are so much more.
Women are often valued based on their looks rather than their abilities or accomplishments. Why is it that some women grow up and believe that they’re in some sort of competition with every other woman? They don’t compete for talent, intelligence, or bravery, but for beauty. Everywhere they go is a beauty contest in some women’s minds. We were raised this way.
We were raised to believe that our greatest asset is what our external appearances have to offer.
We were told to fix our hair when we were young before going out so that we could look nicer. We were told no boys would like us if we weren’t behaving like a girl.
Growing up, I remember being a “tomboy”. I liked playing in the dirt with toy cars and enjoyed romping around with the other kids. I was heavily influenced by my older brother who was only two years older than I was. We were very close, and he was my role model at the time. I admired my brother for his strength, his bravery, and his freedom to be who he chose to be. I thought I could be just like him. I quickly learned at a very young age that I could not do that.
It’s an innocent yet embarrassing memory. I was at home hanging out with my brother, as always, and he had noticed my dad’s routine: he would come home after work and lounge on the couch without a shirt on. My brother thought it would be funny to copy him one day, and I thought it would be funny too. We both casually walked out into the living room doing what my dad would do every day. I only remember the feeling of deep shame after my dad yelled at me for not having a shirt on. “Solo los hombres hacen eso!”, he said red-faced. Only men do that. I’m pretty sure I hid in my room for as long as I could avoid coming out. It was all very innocent, but it was my first lesson in, “What It Means To Be A Woman 101”. From that day forward, I was aware that there were certain rules that come with being female.
As we got older, my brother and I slowly grew apart.
My dad would often take him to work with him in order to teach him work skills. At a young age, my brother learned how to drive, use tools to repair machinery, and learned how to be independent. Meanwhile, I was spending an increasing amount of time at home with my mom and sisters. We were taught how to clean, cook, and groom ourselves; being conditioned to become traditional housewives. Although there is nothing wrong with learning basic living skills, there were skills that we didn’t learn because they were reserved for the men of the household.
The more time I spent with the women in the family, the more I began to shape myself into this mold that was expected of me. I began to notice how my mom would fix her hair up nicely and put on her prettiest lipstick with her best smelling perfume just so that we could take a trip to the grocery store. I remember many times, more often than not, we would have to wait for my mom to finish getting dressed so that we could go out to dinner. I never questioned whether my mom was beautiful or not, no matter what she was wearing or how she looked, but she insisted on looking her best at all times. Soon, I was doing the same.
I heard her make a comment to one of my older sisters one time about how, “tu marido no te quiere ver toda mechuda cuando llega de trabajar”. Meaning, your husband doesn’t want to come home to a hot mess after coming home from work. It was probably then that I learned the idea that your looks do matter. This stuck with me, and it even still crosses my mind to this day. It was then obvious to me as a child that women have a different role in society; one that relied heavily on their looks.
I remember wanting to cut my hair short, right above the shoulders.
I just really wanted to cut it. Every woman on 90’s television shows had the short bob hair. I expressed my desire to cut my hair to my mom one day. I remember clipping my hair up so that I could create the illusion of the haircut I wanted to have. I stepped out into the kitchen to show my mom how great it would look and told her she should let me cut it. She told me, “girls shouldn’t have short hair, that’s for boys”. There were so many “rules and regulations” regarding women that I picked up throughout my childhood. My family spoke very openly about each other’s appearances, and I would often get an idea of what these unspoken rules were. “She got really fat, her make-up makes her look like a clown, she has a flat butt, nobody wants a woman that acts like a man…”
A woman that acts like a man. Even as a child, I knew they were being overly judgmental, I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with that type of woman. They were describing a woman that is independent; one who is strong, opinionated, and can take care of herself. She’s loud and isn’t afraid of what others think of her or what she believes. The nontraditional woman, a woman we should admire, one who has more to offer than just her beauty.
As you can tell, I grew up in a very traditional household.
My parents were immigrants that came to the United States from El Salvador back in the 80’s. They brought their traditional gender roles with them. A woman was to only destined to be a housewife and caring for her appearance was a must. I don’t blame them for the way they raised me because they helped me see everything that was wrong with their way of thinking. They weren’t familiar with anything outside of their traditions.
Hispanic cultures tend to value a woman’s worth based heavily on her looks. Tune into any Spanish news channel and you can witness a great example of what I’m talking about. It’s no surprise that my parents, especially my father, was not afraid to express how proud he was of his daughters’ beauty. It was a source of pride for him. What they didn’t realize was that this was having a negative impact on our self-image.
My dad led us to believe that we were superior to other girls, but this was a direct reflection of his own ego. He was always confident that he had the best of anything and everything. He was the macho type of man. His ego certainly rubbed off on his children. As much as I wanted to hold on to the idea that I was more beautiful than everyone else like my dad would tell me, I had to realize on my own that that was not at all true. I realized that that idea was very flawed. I would notice how unique everybody was. No one was truly lesser or more superior to one another. It was all based on a matter of opinion.
I’m thankful that I was able to realize that it is better to have a catalog of great assets—those that are not expected of you—than to try to achieve a type of perfection that didn’t exist. It is better to possess skills, intelligence, bravery, and strength. I can do what I please and it didn’t matter if men were the majority doing it. I grew a desire to be independent and free from the idea that the only thing that should matter is my appearance.
My upbringing has still had a lasting negative impression on me, though.
I still think of my mother saying I shouldn’t look like a hot mess when my husband gets home. There are times I’ll feel insecure, and after a long day of being at home, I’ll quickly put on a little makeup so that I feel more comfortable. There are still times when I fall into the competitive mindset, and I have to go through a mental checklist of all the other qualities I possess besides my looks in order to ease my insecurities.
It was difficult being brought up this way, but that is what has made me feel stronger, knowing that I was strong enough to fight these old ideas. Fighting to become someone I wanted to be has since been my sole purpose in life; to be who I WANT to be, to know that my gender does not determine what I can and can’t do, and to know that I am more than my looks.
At the age of 23 years old, I finally got the short haircut I always wanted. Secretly, it meant more to me than anyone would ever think it would. Of course, I got questions as to why I cut my “beautiful” hair. It was because I wanted control of my appearance. I no longer wanted to have the typical long silky hair associated with the ultra-feminine type girls. I did it to have an edge, to stand out, and protest those traditional ideas. A very silent protest it is, but a very personal and meaningful one.
My parents still say I’m beautiful, but now that they’ve seen the woman I’ve grown up to be they acknowledge my intelligence so much more. They have seen the positive impact I am having on my own life and are proud of the path I have chosen to take in life; to be an independent, smart, brave, intelligent, strong, young woman. We, women, possess an infinite amount of qualities. We can become anyone we would like to be. We can do anything we want to do. We should compete to become better as a whole, as intellectuals and as leaders, instead of for the subjective idea of beauty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we are all more than just a pretty face.