I’ve never considered myself pretty.
Not in a self-deprecating way, I just am far too familiar with my own face.
I used to spend hours staring in the mirror when I was in middle school, anticipating — praying for — at least one of my features to jump out.
I longed for my hollow brown eyes to suddenly turn blue — at least then they wouldn’t seem so plain against my tan skin. I held my breath and wished for my short black hair to transform into long golden locks, the kind that wouldn’t make me look bald whenever I pulled my hair back. I thought if I concentrated enough I could make my legs longer and my nose shorter. With enough focus, maybe I could even miraculously fill the gap between my teeth. I’d squeeze my eyes shut and plead that when I opened them I would suddenly look different. More interesting.
For years I practiced this sacred tradition in the sanctuary of my bright yellow bathroom.
And for years I was convinced that everyone saw exactly what I did — a plain face with nothing notable to mention. I genuinely believed that my physical appearance didn’t stand out to anyone.
Until about three weeks ago.
On that fateful day, a guy from one of my literature classes invited me to his apartment to work on our final essay for the semester. After not even half an hour of talking with him, he attempted to impress me with misogynistic jokes. He referred to women as “you females,” and rambled for an hour about a comedian who compared the “inevitability” of workplace harassment to grizzly bears hunting salmon.
As the apparent salmon in this analogy, I became alarmed.
I immediately objected.
I described the times lonely men followed me home, the times they harassed me, the times they touched me, the times they cornered me. He quickly interrupted my rant with a phrase that continues to run through my mind:
“Do you really consider that oppression? Sounds like pretty bitch privilege to me.”
He spit it out as if it had left a bitter taste in his mouth. I sat there, partially in shock and partially confused about what he meant. How ironic, I thought to myself.
To him, an apparent grizzly bear, my appearance waters down any oppression that I might face. He is wrongly convinced that having a noticeable face is a good thing, but as a woman, standing out to men can single you out. It can put a target on your back.
To this day, I still torture myself with all the things I should have said to him, and on the off chance he reads this, this is what I came up with:
I didn’t feel pretty at 12-years-old, my knees covered in blood and my palms caked in concrete pebbles. I was on a walk alone. A group of boys chased me down the road, telling me to lift up my shirt. I immediately regretted begging my dad to let me buy it from Justice the weekend before, and the shoes I had chosen to wear that day – it turns out twinkle-toe, light-up shoes only slow you down.
I didn’t feel pretty at 14, mascara running down my face. A close friend told me the boy I liked would never ask me out because “white guys just don’t like brown girls.” I can still remember the heartache I felt when she told me I was built more like a stripper, while she was built more like a wife.
I didn’t feel pretty being compared to Mia Khalifa all throughout high school.
Stereotyped and oversexualized, broken down and defeated.
I did everything I could to fulfill society’s standards of “beauty.” My black hair is now dyed red. Braces have closed the gap between my two front teeth. I’ve grown three inches taller since middle school.
Yet none of that matters. None of that will ever matter. Because what I’ve had to learn the hard way is that, as a woman, prettiness will never buy me safety. It could never grant me protection.
I’ll never have “pretty bitch privilege.” Men simply have the privilege of calling me pretty.
Kayla Estrada is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Kayla Estrada is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum. She is an English major who enjoys rainy weather, “Bob’s Burgers” and asking people who they voted for. When she’s not writing, she can be found hunting for odd-looking knick-knacks at the nearest thrift store.