About two months ago I had a disturbing experience that really drove home to me how entitled some men (and women, of course, but this post is about a man) feel they are to offer unsolicited opinions on women’s bodies. Until it happened to me, I thought the epidemic of weird body standards and unthinking criticism was largely limited to glossy mags or bitchy fashion sites.
It was a Sunday afternoon and I was in desperate need of a haircut, stalking around my city’s downtown desperately searching for a salon that was open. I finally found one that was located in the basement of an old, historic hotel. As a note, I’d say basements are probably not ideal locations for businesses, unless they’re dark pubs or dens of iniquity or branches of the Freemasons.
After I walked down the stairs, I saw that this salon was also closed on Sunday and was about to head back up, when an old, very tan man with flowing white hair stopped me, said he could open the salon, and ushered me inside.
Here is where things got wacky. I made it clear up-front I just wanted to get a trim, that I didn’t have much time, and that I wasn’t interested in dying my hair. The man immediately began pressuring me to dye my hair darker and to do it myself, loudly talking over me when I tried to insist I wasn’t skilled enough to attempt that. After a few minutes of pestering me while I looked for an escape route, the man interjected:
Man: “Are you going to take this constructively?”
Old man: “Your skin. How old are you?”
Old man: “You are far too young to have those wrinkles developing on your forehead.”
Note: I have two, shallow wrinkles on my forehead. I am comfortable, if not overjoyed, with having them. They are likely the result of living on the Texas/Mexico border as a child and never wearing sunscreen.
Me: *blushing with the force of one thousand suns*
Old man: “We only get one skin. Look at me! I’m 76!”
He then dramatically unbuttoned his shirt and thrust his remarkably hairy chest into my face. I can vouch that the man looked his age, what with white chest hair and some prominent age spots. Of course, I don’t think it’s a sin to look one’s age and there was no way I was going to tell him he looked 76, so I nodded obligingly.
But the man wouldn’t let the wrinkles go. For at least five minutes he kept repeating versions of “Are you comfortable looking older than you are?” and “You are going to look so old if you don’t take care of this,” not to mention shilling some miracle cream that would supposedly erase the wrinkles. I could feel the heat in my cheeks just growing and growing, but I managed to stay calm and reiterate that I’d like to get a trim, please.
Man: “Oh, I don’t do services on Sunday. I only sell products.”
That he’d wasted my time made me feel angry on top of humiliated, so I mumbled a hasty “Thank you” and didn’t give him a chance to rope me in again before I beat a quick retreat. I fought to control my tears all the way back to my car (which was parked about two city blocks away).
I’m not proud to admit this, but here goes: despite knowing that this man was pushy from the beginning, and that he was holding me and my skin to an unattainable standard, I still closely scrutinized my forehead in my car’s rear-view mirror as soon as I got to my car.
Then when I got home, I spent even more time checking out the wrinkles in different lighting.
It’s amazing how vulnerable we women can be to complete strangers. I wish, at the time, that I’d deflected the man’s criticism as the nonsense that it was, or that I’d stood up to him, but I was completely cowed by the hurtful comments he made.
It particularly galls me now to think that it was a man who thought he knew what was best for my appearance, who pretended to understand the pressure not to age. No matter how much money and time a man expends in taking care of his physique, he will never be scrutinized solely based on his looks. He has infinitely more leeway to look “ugly.” Just think: no one would ever expect a man to wear makeup, no matter how small his eyes or how spotty his skin or how pale his lips.
My experience is certainly not unique. I’m not sure what it would take for all the male critics of the world to take a seat and shut up about women’s looks, but I imagine it’s the sort of healthy dose of self-awareness you can’t force-feed someone.