Stop telling me I’m too beautiful to be a writer

What does a writer even look like

It happens all too frequently—the backhanded compliment. Women who are both single and in relationships alike will experience it. Yet, every time it’s never original and just as predictable. This, however, is for ladies who are walking through the dating world and trying to overstep the landmines. And by landmines I mean the kinds of guys who tell you “what you want to hear”. I realize this is a generalization and that phrase has become so trite it doesn’t even make sense—what do women want to hear?

As one, I can tell you one thing. We don’t want to propped up on a trophy shelf by some strange dude.

Sitting at the corner stool in a bar, I was drinking a beer and waiting for a friend. From across the room I saw a man walking to the empty seat beside me. At first I appreciated the compliment of him coming over, that he may genuinely have wanted to start a conversation. He asked what I did for work and what I majored in while in school.

I said that I studied writing and was working on a collection of poetry, something that I felt proud of as a recent graduate. Not many of my peers were putting together work such as this. It was also imperative that I establish myself as a smart woman, a woman who was goal oriented and was confident in her abilities. Which, for a first impression, might seem a bit like overkill but in my mind this would be an attractive quality.

Then, the predictable moment…

With sincerity he said, “but you’re too pretty to be a writer.”

The sad thing was, he honestly believed these words would flatter me. For some women they might, and I’m not going to pass judgement. I quickly swiveled in my seat and pretended to be interested in a football game—I wanted to avoid conflict with a complete stranger, moreover a man sitting at a bar.

I pondered for a few moments as he sat next to me muttering about buying me a drink. Why is it assumed that a woman can’t be both intellectual and also attractive? That creativity and mindfulness only come to those who aren’t classically beautiful? Like you only get one or the other. That it’s seen as a threat for a woman to “have it all”.

Because he was threatened. After ignoring his subtle pleas for more rudimentary conversation, I realized something. I didn’t have to avoid conflict to be “nice”, or “polite” or to not “humiliate” him.

When he asked me more about my writing I responded, “Well, considering I’m too pretty to have any thoughts I guess there’s really not much to say.”

As soon as I called him out for outwardly and unknowingly being sexist and presumptuous, his face dropped, his tone changed. He was surprised that not only did I refuse his compliment but confronted him. Then he stormed away from his seat and out of the bar, not even paying his tab. Refusing to feel guilty or “bitchy”, I resumed enjoying my beer in peace.

I chuckled about 10 minutes later when he returned and sat at the opposite end of the bar, refusing to make eye contact with me.

I want to pause here. I considered the possibility that I may have overreacted or came across as brash. Several moments went by before the sentence even left my mouth, because I didn’t want to lash out and I also didn’t want to be presumptuous. In my mind I ran through the scenarios that if I were to start some sort of relationship with this person or anyone for that matter, the first thing I’d want them to know was that I value myself. That I am confident and it took years of overcoming that very same passiveness, which normally would have forced me to laugh nervously at his comment instead.

I’m sure I’m not the only woman who has struggled with being too passive, feeling like you have to sit there and “take it”.

In a culture that is incessantly emphasizing and criticizing women’s looks, there is an anxiety that comes with it—a self-awareness that’s exhausting. It’s not that I don’t like being told I’m beautiful, because I do. But, for me, it’s not as important.

I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I didn’t rely on my appearance. Studying hard was my top priority, as was graduating from a four-year university as a first generation member of my family. This also isn’t meant to be the word vomit of a pretty girl feeling sorry for herself. Grinding ‘til I own it has been my state of mind and it’s not about to change.

We don’t need to choose between being smart or beautiful—we can be both simultaneously. And as for hurting the fragile ego of that man, I can honestly say I don’t care.