Glennon Doyle Is Tired of Being Judged by Her Looks and Now She's Fighting Back
My best friend at the time was John. I registered even then that when adults acknowledged him, they didn't simply pat him on the head and remark about how cute he was, the way they did with me and the other girls I knew. Instead, they engaged him in conversation, asking about soccer or how he liked school. And he wasn't shy in his answers, proudly announcing that he'd scored the winning goal or gotten an A on his spelling test. Adults seemed to want to know John. With me they didn't venture beneath the surface. I learned to settle for that, to smile complacently when complimented and say thank you without offering more.
Allowing myself to be defined by my appearance turned out not to be the wisest choice, as what inevitably follows childhood is adolescence— in other words, awkwardness, acne, angst. At 10 years old, I entered an ugly-duckling phase, and with the departure of my flawless skin and cherubic smile went my identity and self-worth. People stopped telling me I was pretty, and I stopped feeling that I was. If I wasn't that, I asked myself, what was I? Whereas before I had been at least noticed, now I was neither seen nor heard. I met that invisibility by disappearing further, dropping out of the world and into bulimia for 15 agonizing, silent years.
Then, in my mid-20s, I found writing. It helped me grapple with all the issues that had plagued me since childhood and, along with therapy, enabled me to find my voice. Writing is a miraculous outlet for a woman because the work gets judged, not the person. I began to develop a following and felt a sense of confidence I'd never had before. People who read my words could see only my thoughts, feelings, and ideas. When I wrote—first my blog and then a book—I felt like I was beating the system. I could be heard and not seen. If I wrote with unwashed hair while wearing smelly sweatpants, it didn't matter. All that did was what I was typing. Or so I thought.
Over time my career gained momentum, and I started doing a lot of public speaking and media interviews. Photos of me appeared online and in print when I published my first book. I began to detect a shift in the response to my work. There had always been some who got me and others who didn't, but the more well-known I became, the more personal, even vicious, the negative feedback got, and a lot of it was directed not at what I was saying but at how I looked. I took those attacks especially to heart and tried to stop them by Barbie-ing myself up. I straightened my hair and dyed it lighter. I worked out obsessively. I became more conscious of what I wore. I whitened my teeth and got Botox. But that didn't stop the haters from hating: I looked old for my age. I was way too skinny—it didn't look good on me. I was wearing pants that were too tight or makeup that was too much. Shouldn't a woman nearing 40 cut her long hair? And what about that tan? Always, the theme remained: "Glennon, who do you think you are, and what makes you think you have the right to speak up? And if you do speak up, we will be there to remind you you're not good enough."
I am in excellent company when it comes to outspoken women who are called out in ways that would be inconceivable for men in equal positions. More and more, it's in the air—let's face it. For the most part, men in the public eye are judged on the basis of their ideas, while women must first contend with whether we've "earned" a place at the table. Of course, whether we're worthy of that seat is often tied to our appearance; if we look too good, it's probably why we got there. And if we aren't beauty queens, we don't deserve to be there in the first place. In other words, the system is rigged. Because when it comes right down to it, it's not about whether we're the spitting image of Charlize Theron, but about power and making it even harder for women to gain some. The real goal is to shame us into shushing up, undermining our words before we even open our mouth. Once I really began to understand that, my inner warrior shouted "Fight back!"
We're playing a game in which the other side is holding most of the cards, so what do we do? The obvious choice would be to play along like a good girl. Definitely not the right strategy for me. Option two? Quit playing altogether. But I'm not a quitter. So that led me to one last alternative: create my own rule book.
For one, it's useful to occasionally remind myself that I'm a writer, not a runway model. This means that criticism or praise of my appearance is irrelevant. I no longer concern myself with such comments. Do you know how liberating that is? It's downright revolutionary for a woman to decide once and for all that her looks don't have any bearing on her right to do her job or be measured by how well she does it. In this we must be an outspoken sisterhood. What's the holy grail? To change social mores so that sizing up women based on their looks begins to be seen as a relic of an ancient civilization.
Don't get sidetracked from the important work you're doing by letting looks shamers psych you out. You're too beautiful for that.
Glennon Doyle is the author of Love Warrior,a 2016 Oprah's Book Club pick, and founder of the online community Momastery and the nonprofit Together Rising.