Not Born a Woman: Gender Socialization & The Female Body

Candace, 26 July 2005, Comments Off on Not Born a Woman: Gender Socialization & The Female Body
Categories: Bodies, Women's Studies

I cannot remember much from when I was little. My earliest memories begin with school. When I was a little girl I was teased a lot. Children love to taunt when they receive a reaction and because I got upset easily (still do) I became a daily target. Mostly I was told that I was ugly. This was probably the worst name a young girl growing up in the late 70s could be called. Everyone around me, myself included, knew that it was important for women to be beautiful or else no one would marry them. Marriage was paramount and it was talked about constantly on the playground even if we all did have cooties.

Because I so desperately did not want to be ugly I tried to combat this by becoming hyperfeminine in the only ways I could understand. I tried to be a very good girl. I never got in trouble, I did all my schoolwork quickly, I helped the teacher, I helped other students, and I tried to be friendly and ‘nice’. A perfect young lady. Not only did this not help me in the schoolyard, it stuck me with the label Teacher’s Pet.

If “ugly” was the problem I tried whatever I could to be pretty. Mostly this meant wearing frilly dress up clothes to school everyday. If I wore a pretty dress I thought it would transfer some of the dress’s beauty onto me and then I could/would be pretty too. Even throughout the winter I refused to wear pants. I cried in the winter if I had to wear snowpants or pants under a skirt to get to the busstop. I hated boots because they were ugly too. I became convinced that dresses were essential to being pretty. Even when it worked against me (like when the boys ran past me and lifted my skirts to show everyone my underwear) I felt it was still the best choice.

I brought my “ugly” label to high school with me, where I received “chicken legs” on top of it. I don’t think I had any idea of reality or whether I looked any different than the other kids.

I grew to disregard appearances since there was nothing I could do about my own. I quit trying, got some plain jeans and t-shirts, stopped shaving and focused on my schoolwork because I hoped to re-label myself “smart” since I could not be beautiful. When this backfired I tried to develop as an artist so that I could be “talented”. “Talented” did not really work: my parents hated this and called me idealistic and impractical.

I still think of myself as a chicken-legged ugly woman. I still want to be pretty. I just can’t shake that perception that life is easier for pretty people. Even though I don’t wear dresses much anymore I still put one on if I think attractiveness is expected.

I know that I have thought of myself as unattractive since childhood. This has made it very difficult for me to receive a compliment. I wonder if the person is lying to me or looking to take advantage of me in some way and using the compliment as a bribe. I am trying to consider that what they say may be truthful but it’s hard to change the scripts in my head. I continue to challenge this because I realize it’s essential to changing my perceptions of my body.


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