Don't Call Me Pretty

Yesterday, I received an email notification that an Elance position for which I’d applied had changed. I clicked over to the site to see how the job posting had been altered, and moments later, a fellow Starbucks customer emerged from behind me and cleared his throat.

“Sorry to interrupt, but have you ever found any work on Elance?”

“No,” I said, a little unsettled to learn the man who’d been hovering by the condiments table for ten minutes had apparently been reading my screen. At any rate, I continued, “Dozens of people are competing for openings, so actually landing something is tough.”

“You should upload a picture of yourself,” he said, winking and circling his own face. “You’re cute, so that helps.”

“I did include a profile photo. No luck,” I replied before returning to my PC, uncomfortable with the turn the exchange had taken.

I know what you may be thinking. I should kiss my lucky stars anytime random people compliment my personal presentation. After all, I was an ugly duckling a la Tina Fey until age 22, but believe it or not, I don’t need the validation of strangers — namely coffee shop visitors with unclear intentions and boorish neanderthals shouting at female pedestrians from the windows of environmentally unfriendly vehicles — to feel good about myself.

I’ve written about this brand of creepiness before, and some have accused me of “bragging” about the fact that weird guys approach me a lot. I’ve said it countless times and I’ll repeat myself once again: there’s nothing flattering about an unwanted advance of any kind, even a harmless one like the encounter I had at Starbucks. I’m seeking editorial gigs and don’t want to be told I’ll fare better in the large applicant pool by stamping my face all over my clips. Because it’s that simple to get a job in this economy, right?

I mentioned this to my friend and former colleague Elizabeth Plank, a feminist figure as well as PolicyMic’s Social Justice Editor, and she said women are at a major disadvantage in this scenario:

“I feel like when it comes to looks, women can’t win,” Plank explained. “Although we are expected to put a lot of effort into our looks and fit very constricting beauty standards, it doesn’t always come with the expected social rewards. Too much emphasis is placed on our bodies, and not enough on our brains, and that can be very frustrating. If you dress up nice, you’re overtly sexualized, or not taken seriously, and if you don’t, people assume you’re less competent.”

Every once in a while, some of my Twitter followers promise me things will improve in LA. After failing miserably at the whole New York City thing, I’m seeking full-time employment in my home state of California, and constantly digging around for opportunities can be discouraging, especially because “you have to kiss a lot of frogs that send you form rejections to an application you spend 6 hours working on,” as pointed out by fellow HG contributor Anna Swenson. I like hearing that my efforts will eventually pay off, but am uncomfortable when male Twitter followers/readers of my work say I’ll be fine because I’m “cute,” or when they try to woo me with ever-so-charming DMs (side note: don’t hit on anyone via DM. I shouldn’t have to explain how impersonal and middle school it is).

Once again, I don’t want this to come across as “boasting” and apologize if that’s how it seems. I’m not trying to channel “women hate me because I’m beautiful” writer Samantha Brick, because there’s nothing brag-worthy about being inappropriately pursued by random bros who have no idea what I’m really like. The point is, I don’t care if you think I’m attractive. I also don’t care if you think I’m a repulsive hag with puss oozing from my pores. I do care if you like or dislike my work, and the way I look shouldn’t determine that.

When talking about somebody in a professional context, don’t add “pretty” to her laundry list of attributes. It’s quite possible to applaud a successful lady without also noting the fact that she might be considered a good sight for sore eyes.

Have you experienced anything like this before? Would you mind being called attractive in a professional context? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Feature image via ShutterStock.