Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression

I offer buckets of thanks to blogger August McLaughlin and her wonderful idea for a blog festival. Inspired by Sam Levinson’s poem The Beauty of a Woman, which you can read on August’s blog here, we are talking about beauty, feeling beautiful, aging gracefully, and lots of other girlie–and not so girlie–stuff. Check out her blog today and tomorrow for stories, prizes, and links to other great blogs!

Here’s my contribution. And may I just say, this blogging thing never really turns out how you expect, but something is always revealed…

I went to college in Los Angeles, which is a varsity league kind of place for people concerned about how they look. Especially young girls—young women. I hadn’t picked USC because of the preponderance of pretty people; I was more interested in the solid reputation of the International Relations department—I know, geeky of me, wasn’t it? I quickly realized (like in the first 10 minutes of checking into my dorm!) that my J. V. grooming skills were not up to the task of competing in this world where everyone was tan, blond, and fabulous, not to mention somehow connected with the film industry. I was thrown into a river of piranhas when I didn’t even know how to tread water.

My parents were native Californians but I was from Philadelphia by way of New Mexico, and I had the short haircut and pale skin to prove it. My mom, who had nurtured me all the way to this crossroads–her second child, her last child, her only daughter–looked around at the sudden influx of Barbie look-alikes (and maybe at my shell-shocked face) and promptly took me shopping. God bless her! Believe me, shopping was not, and is not to this day, anywhere on my mom’s list of favorite things to do. But a few hours at the Galleria, and several hundred dollars later, she left me sitting on my dorm room bed feeling a little better because now I had a few OP (remember those?) tops and some cute shorts to go with them. Who wears shorts in September in Philly? But I wasn’t in Philly anymore, I was in Southern California. Still, I cried when my mom walked out of the dorm and got in her car. Buckets.

I eventually found my niche at USC, academically and socially. I grew my hair out, enhanced the blond, had a boyfriend, and graduated with honors. One night near graduation, I was in a friend’s room primping for a party. A friend of hers was there too. This other woman was drop dead gorgeous, a standout in a land of standouts. She didn’t go to our school. In fact, she wasn’t in college at the time, but earning a living as a model. I was sitting on the bed sipping wine and watching my friend curl this knockout’s long, shiny blond hair. They were both in their underwear so as not to get hairspray and long strands of hair on the little black dresses they were going to wear. I have such a clear picture in my head of them laughing together in front of a floor length mirror. I didn’t feel part of their group of two, so I wasn’t talking, just sitting. Out of the blue, the beautiful girl turned to me, flames shooting out of her lovely eyes, and yelled, “Stop f*%ing STARING at me!”

I bobbled my wine glass. “I’m not staring,” I mumbled. Then I made some excuse and left the room, fighting tears. My friend later apologized to me for her friend’s outburst, but I had shrugged off the sharp needle of hurt by then. What kind of inner imbalance and pressure was such a woman under to react that way to me? I asked myself snottily.

Maybe I should have asked, What kind of vibe was I giving off to cause that reaction? I was so envious, after all. And I had been thinking (even though I knew better), Look how beautiful she is, it must be so easy for her…

What I really WANTED to say back to her (later, when I thought of it) was, “I’m NOT staring at YOU. Get over yourself, bitch.”

Maybe what I should have said was a much more honest, “Oh, wow. Didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I was just thinking how amazing you look. And envying you. What products do you use in your hair to make it shine like that, or is that just God-given luck-of-the-draw?”

Here’s the thing. We women compete for men and resources and position. We vie with our looks, our brains, and our bodies. We judge, we evaluate, we make improvements, we collude with each other at the expense of others, and we send out little darts that draw blood. But I have always thought (and it’s not a terribly original thought, just a true one): What if we used all that energy we spend competing on collaboration? We could rule the world, maybe. And wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?

In my late twenties and thirties, I plunged into all the feminist and post-feminist manifestos: Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, the classics of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, Ms. magazine. One book stuck with me though, and I have it prominently on my bookshelf even now. Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography spoke to me with her truth and her language. Here she is on why we struggle to conflate the aggression that wells up inside us with the image of ourselves that our culture hands us:

“The problem with ignoring female aggression is that we who are aggressive, we girls and women and obligate primates, feel confused, as though something is missing in the equation, the interpretation of self and impulse. We’re left to wander through the thickets of our profound ferocity, our roaring hungers and drives, and we’re tossed in the playground to thrash it out among ourselves, girl to girl, knowing that we must prove ourselves and negotiate and strut and calibrate but seeing scant evidence of the struggle onscreen or in books or on biology’s docket. We are left feeling like “error variants,” in the words of one female scientist, wondering why we aren’t nicer than we are, and why we want so much, and why we can’t sit still.”

So for our celebration today of The Beauty of a Woman, I offer a toast to women: Here’s to roaring hungers and profound ferocity. Beautiful, dangerous, and strong. May we feel the envy, but reach out a hand anyway.

What about you, my readers? Were you ever in a place and time you felt out of your league? Was it the people around you, or was it really YOU causing your discomfort? Can women work together, collaborate, share? What makes you feel beautiful?

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30 thoughts on “Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression

  1. One of the best things about aging is that the envy of our youth disappears. We begin to accept each other as equals and in doing so, we begin to collaberate and move forward instead of standing still.

    Wonderful blog, Kecia. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Kecia Adams says:

      I think you’re right, Sheila, the envy of our youth disappears, but we still feel those moments of envy from time to time (not so much of someone’s looks anymore, but other things). It’s is in those moments that we have the choice to be truly powerful, I think.

  2. Shannon Esposito says:

    She probably thought you were noticing her flaws…you know, the ones she alone could see 🙂

    Sheila hit it on the head, I love being older for that reason!

    • Kecia Adams says:

      Yes! Knowing this person, that’s probably exactly what she was thinking. If we can just own the aggression along with the gentler emotions associated with femininity…

  3. Debra Kristi says:

    I have felt that way plenty of times. I used to organize and coordinate fashion shows. The women working for me always put me to shame. But I was the one handing them their paycheck at the end of the day. So there was that. So at least none of them where turning and yelling any obscenity at me. LOL But it always made me want to eat less, if you know what I mean. I’ve since gotten over that. I realize they aren’t any happier. Sometimes, much less so.

  4. Coleen Patrick says:

    Love that toast Kecia!
    I took a lot of Women’s Studies classes in college and I remember being confused and intrigued all at once–it was such a huge clash with what I thought I knew!

  5. Such an important topic, Kecia! I’ve experienced that kind of aggression from both sides, and neither feels remotely good.

    Feminist manifestos have played an important role in my wellness as well. They continue to empower me anytime I feel strain.

    Today and tomorrow I’ll be raising my glass to you and all the beauties in the fest. Thanks for this terrific post. CHEERS! 🙂

    • Kecia Adams says:

      Thanks, August! My hat is really off to you. It is so interesting for me to blog like this because I have found that what I thought I was writing about turns out to be something else entirely. But it is certainly all mine. 🙂 A toast to you, my friend! Cheers right back atcha!

  6. Julie says:

    It’s funny, I went to college at the University of Michigan, and I was from Michigan. Most of the people who went there were from New York, California, etc. So I too felt like a frump and out of league the whole first year.

    I think it is so hard to accept ourselves when we are young, and that is why we’re constantly comparing and competing. Luckily, that dies down as we age. Great post!

  7. great post, Kecia, and I love the quote. I still have times when I feel less than the other women in the room. Mostly now it’s because my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. I know more but I can’t always express it as eloquently as I’d like. it’s good to remember and reveal and consider. thanks

  8. susielindau says:

    I am a Midwestern girl at heart and you know what they say, you can take the girl out of the Midwest…
    I have often felt out of my league so to speak. The vibe some women give off as well as the things they sometimes say can be so ridiculous. I just chalk it up and choose my friends wisely.
    Great post!

    • Kecia Adams says:

      Two of you from the midwest…you and Julie. Do you think it’s the weather? I know in Pennsylvania we were often covered to the eyeballs in winter. Hat head and chapped lips. 😀

  9. Wow, what a story. I wanted to hate that woman a little bit! But I think Shannon is right – she probably thought you were searching out her nonexistent flaws, until she opened her mouth and showed you the real one. I can soooo relate to feeling out of my league. But as others have noted, the older we get, the less it matters. Of the women I admire most, a trait many have in common is a refusal to take crap from anyone, while still being diplomatic and kind. I’m happy to say my daughter is one of them.

    • Kecia Adams says:

      Aren’t daughters wonderful! I have two and they are constantly showing me how strong and smart and, yes, beautiful they are. Even when they are at their drama-filled worst, they impress me with their sheer, determined individuality.

  10. My toast to you, Kecia, for this wonderful and moving post. Having grown up in a family that could not afford to buy the latest clothes, I wore not only my sister’s hand-me-downs, but even some things from a male cousin. I know well what it is like to be snickered at and avoided. But it eventually served to strengthen my, yes, aggressive inner amazon woman.

    • Kecia Adams says:

      It’s funny, there was a time I loved getting hand me downs from my older cousins. And then all of a sudden I didn’t love it so much. Wanted my own brand new OP shorts, I guess. It’s great to embrace that inner GRRR, right?

  11. Hope I’m not too late for that toast, Kecia, because I love it! Strength, determination, ambition, accomplishment, these are beauty traits more useful in life than shiny blonde hair, for sure.

  12. […] Joy of Mascara and Other Fun Stuff Write On, Jana!: What Makes a Woman Beautiful? Kecia Adams: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression Coleen Patrick: Beauty of a Woman BlogFest Marcy Kennedy: The Lie of Helen of Troy Debra […]

  13. I always feel out of my league when I read all these amazing blogs. You ladies all rock, you are my heroes and inspiration.

    • Kecia Adams says:

      Hey Pru! No, no! We are all on a learning slope here. Especially me. And your support means so much. Thanks for stopping by to read…taking a few minutes of your valuable time to post a comment is so huge. Makes me grateful for my WANA buddies and in awe of the power of networking. 🙂

  14. Kecia, you’ve got to offer that toast at the cocktail party in Anaheim after the RWA-WF mini-conference. The toast rocks–and so do you.

  15. Minnie says:

    Kecia, feel your thoughts! Felt the same way when I decided to attend a small all women 2 year collge my first two years of college. Actually felt more in place once i graduated and transferred to NCSU.

  16. gingercalem says:

    Wow, what an experience to have. I agree with Shannon, she probably was thinking you were seeing the flaws she saw in herself. Kind of sad.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  17. Great insights, Kecia. I raise my glass to you and all the wonderful women of the Beauty of Women Blogfest.

  18. […] Kecia Adams:Beauty of a Woman BlogFest: The Beauty of Aggression […]

  19. […] My contribution from last year surprised even me. As I said then, this blogging thing never really turns out how you expect, but something is always revealed. For this year’s post, I got to thinking about the question, “When have you felt most beautiful?” […]

  20. […] a Woman BlogFest III at August McLauglin’s site. And you can see my previous two entries at BOAW I and BOAW […]

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