“I don’t do girls with weave”. On changing your appearance for a man.

I didn’t grow up being the ‘pretty girl’. My awkward phase lasted quite well into my late/teens early 20’s, and when I did finally throw off the shackles of thick rimmed glasses and badly done natural hair, and stepped into the glorious freedom of decent skin, contacts and natural hair youtube, it took me a while to get used to the compliments. I still don’t think of ‘pretty’ as one of my primary identifiers, even when I get random people approaching me at to compliment me. I’m actually quite thankful that I didn’t think of myself as attractive as a teenager –  it meant that I always relied on my wit, smarts and generally trying to be a good person as my main selling point.

In fact, as I’ve grown into my looks, I’ve actually developed a weirder complex – I’m scared that being pretty and well dressed will mean that people will assume I’m not as intelligent. At work, I get uncomfortable when  my consultant calls me the ‘pretty junior doctor’ – not because I don’t want to be seen as pretty, but because I’m worried that if I don’t work hard enough it will translate as ‘ditzy and superficial’.

Despite now being very comfortable with the way I look, it took me a while to shed the insecurities of my younger days.

One of the most negative things that growing up thinking of yourself as unattractive can lead to as a young women, is an unhealthy investment in men’s opinions on your appearance. Before I saw myself as attractive I would almost be surprised when men took an interest in me – I knew it wasn’t my looks that attracted him, so it had to be my personality. I would make sure to be as funny and sweet and smart as possible, how else would he still like me?  I was very aware of what men found attractive in the opposite sex, and I knew I wasn’t it. Bushy afros and baggy jeans weren’t really the biggest 14 year old boy magnet in the early 2000’s.   My rebellious streak meant that I had long determined that I would dress however I wanted to, but I was torn between what I knew in my head to be right – that I should dress and behave in a way that was true to myself and my beliefs – and the lurking desire to be what men wanted.  There was always the temptation to don straight hair and a  much shorter skirt, but God, my parents, and my natural independent streak usually won out in the end.

Fast forward a few years, and though my natural hair is more in fashion now, and 28 year old men are slightly more sensible than my 14 year old friends, I still sometimes feel a temptation to dress in a way that is uncomfortable to me, to attract men.

The belief that most women dress for the approval of men is not completely true. Of course women are aware of what men like, and mass media definitely promotes the idea that the way women present themselves should be ‘male approved’. On the other hand, most men would argue that a lot of female fashion is completely over their heads, let alone attractive. I doubt women are wearing ombre hair or 70’s style gypsy dresses because men like them. It’s a more complex situation – women dress for themselves, for other women and for men depending on a variety of circumstances, and all three can happen at the same time for the same woman.

Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with being aware of what the opposite sex likes and dressing in a way that they will find attractive. In fact, I think it would be strange if  heterosexual women didn’t want any kind of male approval of their appearance.

Additionally, I’m not one to believe that in a relationship, your partner’s opinion shouldn’t have any bearing on how you dress, style your hair, or shine your shoes.  I think there are two extremes – allowing someone else to completely dictate what you do with your body, and being inconsiderate of your partners desires. For example, if you’ve worn a short back and sides Afro for 10 years and suddenly decide that it’s time for your Beyonce alter ego to emerge in all her be-weaved glory, I would advise at least giving your dude a heads up, if not a 10 minute consultation. Likewise if you’re a man who has decided he wants to grow a head full of locs. It’s only fair. And it’s only normal to want your partner to find you attractive.

What worries me is the part of me that 10 years older than 14,  is still tempted to wear something a little tighter, a little shorter, hair a little straighter, to be more attractive to ‘men’. Never mind that the type of men who I’m attracted to wouldn’t be attracted to that anyway. The cognitive dissonance is obvious, but nonetheless still there.

It’s something I’m still working on.

Have you ever been tempted to change your appearance in a way that made you feel uncomfortable to attract the opposite sex?

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6 Comments

  1. October 15, 2015 / 9:14 am

    you are speaking my life! I have always been that girl who didn’t feel comfortable following ‘sexy’ fashion trends. I could never get with the waist training craze or the weave that hung practically down to the floor. I guess the choices in appearance that we make and the attention these decisions bring us do really reveal, even if it is subconsciously, how we would like to be viewed by others.

  2. November 13, 2015 / 11:32 am

    Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi said “I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity and I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be. ”

    Something I’ve personally taken to heart because I could relate.

  3. December 3, 2015 / 11:08 am

    Guess I have in the past but it didn’t last me long before reverting back to my old self. On the issue of thinking of myself as pretty or not, I have struggled with that too.
    I know many people consider me a pretty face but I’ve never been that fixated on it, to the point where when someone compliments me on my looks, I seem oblivious. Then this same person goes on to preach about how I should be proud of myself, I should accept myself blah, blah, blah.
    I don’t usually get how I’m supposed to reply to this question that I occasionally encounter from the opposite sex, “do you know that you are beautiful?” or “has someone ever told you, you are pretty?” I always take it as a compliment and think it polite to say thank you.
    Doesn’t mean I have issues with my esteem and need to be encouraged to embrace myself the way the complimenters 😛 always seem to conclude haha.
    I wouldn’t change my looks completely for a man or to attract a man. I love me the way I am. I stopped donning weaves about 2 years back and I doubt whether I will ever revert back to that. I believe that someone who loves you will love the whole package of you. You are not a project for someone to embark on changing you.
    I’m a huge advocate of women doing things first for themselves before factoring the male in mind. Get your style first, understand what works for you without thinking of whether it will be attractive to the men or not. Then just as you say, be considerate enough to inform a man in your life when you want to make a drastic change just so that he knows what to expect and not because you are in dire need of approval.
    Great post and blog altogether. Looked for your “about” page to drop a comment there too but couldn’t find it. Anyways, you get a follow from moi.

    • December 12, 2015 / 1:14 am

      Thank you so much. Yes, I totally agree with this ‘you are not a project for someone to embark on changing you’. Thanks for following the blog, yes I need to sort out an about me page

  4. February 10, 2016 / 4:49 pm

    I wasn’t always concerned with the way looked until my late teens and my early 20s. I am still struggling, trying to fight the urge to strive for what the media/society considers attractive. I have worn the “sexy” outfits and had ridiculous weave but I always find that I am more comfortable wearing more natural hairstyles and less revealing clothes.

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