Leslie Jones had a moment of real honesty on Twitter — something I’ve given myself many times before. She said she exercises, eats right, but in some ways feels like maybe there is no point. “I feel like I’m doing it for nothing,” she wrote. “I know it not [sic] I’m healthy and look good but I really feel like ‘what’s it all for’ if the people you want to notice don’t. I just feel like I might die alone.”
In the wake of this, I found many of my fellow Black feminist counterparts scoff at the idea of wanting — and perhaps needing — male attention. “How dare she value male attention!,” some seemed to say. I do think many of them meant well because they were implying that maybe Leslie doesn’t need the attention of men to validate how awesome and beautiful she is. But the truth is that not every woman can divest from men completely. If you are a hetero Black woman, what are you supposed to do?
Let me be clear that I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to be noticed by the men (or women) you are attracted to. It’s normal to want that kind of validation. It’s human. And I think we should allow Leslie to be human.
It’s also important to note that Leslie didn’t say she ONLY works out for the attention of men. Perhaps she sees it as an added bonus; and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t if you are someone who wants a male partner.
But a piece from Ebony that I read that puts Leslie’s comments in the context of beauty privilege really struck a chord with me. People will go back and forth about whether “pretty privilege” exists, and I’m not trying to engage in that back and forth. It is a fact that it exists — studies have shown it, and anecdotal sources validate it. Some Black women have it, as the Ebony piece acknowledges, and some Black women don’t.
I am a fat, dark-skinned Black woman who has often received the message that I was not considered beautiful or desirable by societal standards. So in this piece, I will talk about why that resonated with me.
Here is something else to consider: nowhere in this piece will I say that I find myself unattractive. I actually do consider myself quite beautiful (and my cute husband agrees). I have milk chocolate skin, almond shaped eyes that I have been told make someone want to clutch their chest, and big, pretty legs, among other things. But unfortunately, we live in a society who does not see me the way that I see myself. And that can present challenges.
Please understand that my intention is not to project my feelings onto Leslie — just to reflect on what I’ve experienced. So try to remember that while reading, okay?
I tried to do this via a thread on Twitter, but the constant back and forth and my tweets being taken out of context made it hard to facilitate a conversation. So allow me to tell my story in long form.
This time 6 years ago, I was living in my hometown of Los Angeles. I had left an unhealthy relationship in DC, had been laid off from my non-profit job, and was now forced to start a new life in a city I hadn’t known since I was in high school.
I am in a much better place now, but my time in LA was one of the loneliest periods in my adult life. I met men primarily online, and nearly every time we would meet in person, the look on their face said it all: “Oh. She’s fat.” Not once did I get past a first meetup with anyone I met there. As for the men at the church I grew up in — it was a complete joke. None them hardly looked at or spoke to me. Most times, when I would socialize after young adult bible study, I felt invisible.
With no close friends in Los Angeles — all of them still lived in DC — and no romantic companionship, I often felt very isolated. Outside of hugs and kisses from my mom every now and then, I had hardly any human touch for almost two years. My mother would always tell me how beautiful and smart I am, and how one day I will meet someone who appreciates that.
Imagine your friends and family constantly telling you this, and not having the person or people you want to date look at you the same way.
And then wondering if they ever will.
That is a real concern, a fear even, for some women who have a lived experience like mine. And to deny that — or to callously question why they “need” that — is to be willfully obtuse.
I’ve established that pretty privilege is a real thing, and I have experienced it firsthand. In my early twenties, I was more slender but had long dreadlocks that went past my shoulders. My freshman year of college, I was totally into a guy who knew girls I was friends with on my campus. I told my lighter-skinned homegirl, who was close with him, to go do re-con and find out what he thinks of me. When asked, he hesitated. “Uhhh…well Loryn is pretty I guess, but I don’t see myself with someone with her look. I want a woman with big curly hair like you.”
She came back to me to tell him what he said. She said she was really sorry and that it was his loss.
But you know what else?
She dated him all semester.
And I had to watch while this guy, who claimed I was not pretty enough to date, while he dated a girl I thought was my friend, who he decided was pretty enough to date.
Not everyone knows firsthand how hurtful that is, and some can sympathize but not empathize. But I tell these stories because I really believe that this conversation can use some more nuance and a LOT more compassion and sensitivity.
Let’s not use a bunch of Tumblr words to invalidate the lived experiences of others that have caused them harm or pain.
And let Leslie Jones and others have a moment of humanity.