On Gratitude

Gruesome or awesome? You decide.

When I started reading about the harassment some female bloggers have hurled at them, my first reaction was confusion. I’ve seen trolls be rough on bloggers, but the vitriol people were reporting seemed above and beyond anything I’d seen. Once I remembered that harassment is part of why comments are sometimes screened—and that witnessing unpleasantries is part of why I’m not often found in most sites’ comments sections to begin with—the confusion lifted, and I’m glad that ladybloggers are calling out woman-specific (and feminist-specific) harassment as being exactly that. I also realized that what was really prompting my confusion was my own lack of harassment. I’ve gotten the occasional nasty comment on here, more so when I publish on other sites—but really, the number of mean-spirited comments I’ve gotten is so few as to be insignificant.

This wasn’t what I expected. I never expected to be called a “loud-mouthed booze vacuum” or “victim complex twat” as other ladybloggers have been christened, but I know that some people will see a woman writing about her appearance without shame or apology—especially a woman who is nice-enough-looking but isn’t the prototype of “hot”—and consider it an invitation to let her know she’d damn well better start apologizing, and quick. One of my biggest fears about launching The Beheld was that anonymous readers would be eager to let me know I had no credibility whatsoever in writing about “beauty, and what it means” (which, for those of you who read this in ways other than visiting the-beheld.com, is the tagline on my logo).

Going into this project, I understood that in order to effectively talk about personal appearance, I had to make sure I had a reasonably accurate idea of how I appeared to most people. I knew that to write as though I were either a Helen of Troy or a Medusa would be disingenuous, but I also knew that part of what makes appearance a complex subject for women is its secrecy, and that if I feigned modesty, shame, or pride I would be participating in that secrecy. We don’t share our deepest vanities for fear of being judged narcissists; we don’t share our most terrifying moments of doubt because once articulated, those doubts sound as ludicrous as they likely are. And while I haven’t shared either my deepest vanities or my most terrifying doubts on here, I have at times taken what feels like a risk. When I started The Beheld, I feared that saying in a public forum that I think I’m “nice-enough-looking” or “attractive” (do you notice I put these in quote marks? It is still difficult not to) would invite people to say, Actually, you’re not.

And on the rare occasion I’ve gotten rude comments from readers, they are along this line. How could they not be? I write almost exclusively about how women look; the bait is irresistible for anyone remotely inclined to seize upon that as an attack. I expected it when I wrote a piece for a branch of America Online; not only is AOL’s readership far different demographically than other outlets I write for, the topic was my “bombshell makeover,” and plenty of readers were happy to let me know I was “more of a dud than a bombshell.”

I’ve gotten the occasional off-comment on other outlets as well, and every so often someone pops up on The Beheld for a smackdown, but I genuinely can’t remember the last time this happened. So when I was reading the catalogue of nastiness that other ladybloggers had received, amid my horror I tried to consider various reasons why I haven’t received much harassment: Was it that I have a smaller readership than most of the bloggers who have gone public with cataloguing “men call me things”? Do I not serve enough strong opinions for trolls to feast upon? Was it because my topics are softball compared to the more political offerings other feminist bloggers have to offer? Is it because while The Beheld has plenty to offer men, my readership is overwhelmingly female? (It’s worth noting that the most vitriolic and the most complimentary comments on my AOL piece were from men, or at least people with male-sounding handles. I know men don’t have the monopoly on nastiness, but certainly the sexes have been socialized differently as far as combative tendencies.) Criminy, is it because I’m nice?

It may be any of these that prevents any particular harassment-inclined individual from trolling me here; it may be none of them. (Certainly there’s many a nice ladyblogger who hasn’t been spared harassment.) Whatever the case, I’m thankful that dealing with harassment isn’t something that’s taken up much of my mental energy here.

But the biggest factor in me not having to direct my mental energy to warding off harassment isn’t me; it’s you.
Yes, I’m thankful that my readers aren’t jerks who come on here to call me uglyface poopy-pants; indeed, visitors here have repeatedly proven themselves to be intelligent, thoughtful, inquisitive, and, on occasion, side-splittingly funny. But what I’m more thankful for isn’t the absence of harassment, but the presence of vibrant minds.

When I started writing here, my goal was just to be a part of the conversation about beauty. What I didn’t anticipate was how much that conversation would enrich my life. Every time I see a new comment here, every time I receive an e-mail from a reader, every time I see readers having conversations with one another, I am thankful. The affirmation is nice, sure, and it’s an ego boost whenever I see various bloggy metrics increase. But my thankfulness goes beyond that: Every time a reader finds me, it means I find another person who wants to move past the what of beauty to look at the why, a person who wants the conversation to go beyond the beauty myth and look instead at its mythos, a person who suspects that maybe for every shackle placed upon us by a beauty standard, somewhere else on our bodies lies the potential for liberation. And I am grateful for each person who has shown up here and volunteered a little bit of themselves to help us all create a conversation. That means the people who have taken the time to let me know they’re reading—and it also means the people who haven’t, because the whole point is to take these conversations out of the blogosphere and into our lives. If you have ever gotten anything from what I’m doing here and allowed it into your personal conversation—whatever form that takes—I am filled with gratitude for that.

Which is to say, I am filled with gratitude for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.