Why hello, most backhanded of all backhanded compliments, it’s so nice to see you again. I’ve been hearing you for years, from lots of different people, nearly all women.
I hadn’t heard it for a while, until I was sitting in a bar with a group of young women, most of whom would identify themselves as being feminist, and then it hit me smack bang in the middle of the conversation.
First, “Well you wouldn’t think it was a good idea would you, you’re not very attractive”
To which I responded, “That’s pretty rude”
“Well, I mean, OBVIOUSLY I was JOKING”
Followed by (from a different attendee) “I mean, obviously she’s joking, I think it’s great you don’t wear make up every day. It’s so brave”
And there we go. Again. They don’t really mean any harm by it I suppose. But what they’re really saying is ‘hey there, look at you out there, not conforming to what I expect of you and not even caring that I find you disgusting’
How. Fucking. Brave.
The thing about ‘you’re so brave’ is that it’s often a comment that comes seemingly out of nowhere, and it hits you like a ton of bricks. I remember going out to dinner with a family member once thinking I looked pretty nice. I went to the bathroom and after I came back I was treated to, “Wow, look at that dress you’re wearing, it’s so brave of you to show of your curves like that. You’re so voluptuous. I wish I was as confidant as you”
As a young woman who wasn’t really that comfortable with the idea of being called the evil fat a million times while I ate my pasta it really stuck with me. What hit me the most is that I knew they didn’t really mean it, because they would never believe that you could ever be anything other than skinny to be beautiful, attractive or desirable.
That is the crux of the problem. Because of the way that our society is structured we know that the only way to really be attractive is to be stick thin and big boobed and white and blond and able bodied all at the same time. Anyone who doesn’t fit that particular ideal (or at least most of it) isn’t really enough.
As much as I loathe to write a piece about how terrible it is the way women tear each other down (because, lord knows, there’s enough of those around) the idea that you’re just so brave to be willing to exist outside of the ideal comes mostly from women. I just don’t really understand why people find the need to say it.
Is there another way that it should be? Should people who aren’t skinny, or aren’t able bodied or aren’t ‘attractive’ in the traditional sense hide away? Or wear giant clothing that hides any semblance of a shape? Is it that women shouldn’t be out in the world being so open about being fat, or ugly or old or (dis) abled?
So, if any of you who think we’re just so brave are reading this, think about it the next time you go to say it. Because we know what you really mean.
I’d love to hear your opinions, especially on twitter, hash tag what you’ve been told with #sahbrave. Tag @nuswomens for your voice to be heard!