No, I don’t want to marry you. I know it seems ridiculous that after 30 seconds of conversation/cat calling/leering/ I haven’t fallen head over heels for you, but it just isn’t gonna happen. Sorry, but I’m actually not sorry.
Having been in Ecuador a month, I’ve had the opportunity to experience and reflect on the different cultural attitudes towards women and women’s bodies here. While in the U.S. there is an unhealthy fixation on appearance, the social circles I run in seem to acknowledge that the obsession is unhealthy. Here, that is not the case. Bodies (particularly women’s bodies) are public domain here.
The first few weeks, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the frank discussion of appearance–is it refreshing, or is it offensive? Again, in the States there is a very different culture and set of social norms surrounding the body-appearance discussion. People may think someone is ugly, fat, or ill-appareled, but they’re typically not eager to approach the person in question to tell them as such. Here, people compulsively tell others what they think about their appearance. And I’ve decided that I do not appreciate the frankness, as it underscores the idea that our appearance and our bodies belong to anyone but ourselves.
A few weeks ago, my host sister and I were going to go out to a celebration. After getting ready, she looked me over and told me to “fix yourself up more, yeah?” Excuse me? I was so baffled I didn’t know what to do, so I sheepishly put on more makeup. Similarly, just a few days ago we were going to leave the house another time. I was ready and was thus finishing up some research work on my computer while I waited for my host sister to go through her beauty routine. My host mother came over, concerned that I was not aware we were about to leave the house. “I’m ready to go,” I assured her. “You don’t want to put on makeup?” she questioned. This got my ire up, and I told her curtly that I was quite aware we were about to leave and that I was ready. She then proceeded to go get a few different shades of eyeshadow and encouraged me to try them out. Cultural differences of beauty standards aside (I don’t want to put on so much makeup I look like a clown, thank you very much), I was angry but deflected in a statement about how I liked a simpler face, and how I think people are beautiful without makeup (and y’all, I had makeup on.)
“No, we aren’t! We’re uglyyy without it!” she responded, joking.
For me, these interactions underscore the emphasis placed on women’s appearance here. Like the time a friend told me I was a little bit fat, or my host mom told me my keratosis pilaris (a skin condition that makes people’s arms bumpy) wasn’t too ugly, or when my host sister apologetically told me “I’ve gotten fatter” as we looked through her old pageant photos.
I was well aware of the cat-call culture before I came to Ecuador, but being here I am hyper conscious of it, and extremely angered by it. These interactions range from the group of men, whistling obnoxiously and yelling out “hey gorgeous!” or “hi baby!” to actually beginning a conversation with a man and him derailing two minutes in to tell me how amazingly beautiful I am and that we should get married. Um, what? Yesterday as I was walking home an old man stopped me to introduce himself, held my hand for an uncomfortably long time and told me he just had to meet this lovely lady.
Such an emphasis on women’s appearance by men and by women reinforces the idea that women are only valuable because of their appearance. Not once has someone proposed to me citing an interest in the research I’m working on. My host mom has never suggested I spend more time reading, or to fix up the research summary I’m turning in the next day.
I am more than a face. More than a potential wife. More than a body.