Hey beautiful, wanna marry me?

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.

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This entry was published on July 8, 2013 at 10:07 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

35 thoughts on “Hey beautiful, wanna marry me?

  1. I wish I could tell you it gets better. We as in women folk, need to start accepting nothing but absolute respect. I will say there is a lot of beauty in this piece. I co sign everything you’ve said.

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  3. I so agree with you! It seems like, over time, we women are expected to wear makeup, straighten our hair, and never leave the house without looking “decent.” Those things shouldn’t substantiate our femininity; we are definitely deeper than our appearance. Loved this post! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Pingback: Hey beautiful, wanna marry me? | Exploradora

  5. madisonneece11 on said:

    Reblogged this on Exploradora and commented:
    Preach. All the talk about women/appearances/bodies so openly is foreign and a little alarming. El Machismo is strong here and something I have not gotten used to.

  6. I am glad you commented on my blog so that I could read this. This is a fantastic read.

  7. wow this was a really well written article. I don’t like people to focus on my body or my looks, i get very uncomfortable but that’s just me. I would like a person to know the content of my character or at least get to know me in order to make a judgement. I’m not much for surface judgement’s and devaluing anyone or anything just by what it wears or how its figure etc are shaped.

  8. Sorry to hear about your experience! I hope you also come across more ‘cultivated’ and mature minds while you are there. That part of Latino culture even flustered me as a man in Costa Rica. Even now, my wife’s aunt and uncle (from Nicaragua) tell me every few times I see them “te veo más flaco”, even though I’m not más flaco.

    • I have, but it’s a pity that the less ‘cultivated’ as you say shout louder and make their presence more known. It is a little bit baffling that our bodies are such conversation pieces (and to see the differences between cultures)! There have definitely been many lovely people as well who are willing to talk about other things, this was just reoccurring over several days and I’ve definitely noticed it is a theme of my time here.

  9. Filipa on said:

    Oh, I know what you mean 🙂 Last year I was working on my research in Africa. I travelled to Namibia, Botswana and Angola, but most of my time I stayed camping on this place in Angola with three more people in the mid of the woods next to the local villages. I lost count of how many times I was asked to marry. They would even offer me land to crop in! ehehe And because I have long hair, they always liked me a lot because of that.

    Regarding my own experience, my advice for you is to not take what they say too serious. It’s a different culture, a different way of seeing things. When a man asks you for marriage, or a friend tells you you’re not ready to leave the house because you have no make up, just breath deeply and take it lightly. You can even make a joke about the whole thing and reverse the situation in your favour. Avoid labelling what’s happening as good or bad and allow yourself to appreciate their honesty, something quite rare in our busy crazy society. Later on you’ll be able to formulate your opinion about the people and the culture in a much clearer way. Remember they don’t tell you those things to hurt you, it’s just their way of acting. Learn how to contour the situation.

    Needless to say, I’m not stating that I like the extra emphasis on the body (and I also prefer no make up). I believe that women’s bodies are beautiful (as well as men’s) but surely we are more than that. There’s still tons of work to do all around the world so that Women and Men can be equally respected.

    Thank you for this post, I truly loved the way you wrote it as well its sincerity 🙂 Love, Filipa

    • Thank you so much for your reflection + advice! Yes, it is important to look at it through that cultural lens and I’ve definitely had to laugh about the times I’ve been told to put on more makeup by my host family. I really like the way you put it–‘contouring the situation’–and I so agree that later on I will be able to process it in a really different way! I’m writing about how I feel about it now both as a reflective tool now and also so I can reflect on it later.
      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing some of your experiences!

  10. Filipa on said:

    P.S. I remembered now that a strategy I used a couple of times in Angola was to tell them I was already married! 😀 and it would work wonders ehehe Big hug!

  11. Pingback: Student Research Woes | michaela wanders

  12. We are SO much more than an appearance. We were creatively and wonderfully made and nothing about us needs to be “fixed”! Great Post!

  13. I totally know what you’re saying. My mother does that to my friends (to my sisters and I, I get it) and they are so afraid of coming over. One of my guy friends refuses to say hello to my mother because the last few times they met, he was told point-blank “hey, you’re getting fatter” or “why so fat now”? Embarrassing!!!

  14. oh wow. that’s sad. and honestly, it’s sad that the culture is the same over here. I lived in baltimore, md about a year ago (for 7 years!) and cat calls were inevitable. eesh. i always wanted to seriously discuss life choices with the “callers,” and did so a few times – but the infiltration is overwhelming.

    • It can be so difficult. In the states, I would honestly probably just flip ’em the bird, but here I feel much more constrained in my actions so I just ignore them. I haven’t experienced it much in the states, but I know when I move to a bigger city and out of the bubble of university that it will probably be the same as what you’re discussing. It’s interesting, I’ve found that addressing a group of men with a typical greeting such as ‘buenas tardes’ (good afternoon) or ‘hola, comó están’ (hi, how are you all) can deflect the group whistles and other comments. My theory is that even that simple interaction makes me a bit more of a person in their eyes and less of an object, jogging down the street.

      What does you ‘life choice’ discussion consist of? I’d love to get a tidbit of it!

  15. heh. life choice = you aren’t going to get any results with the actions that you are taking and (one example being) since you are a valet, i’m copying the name off of your badge and talking to your supervisor to let him know how poorly you are representing your employer by harassing women.

  16. i’m sure you went through cultural immersion/introduction classes prior to arriving in ecuador, but in general, it is expected that men react to women the way that you described. eye contact is seen differently there versus here. direct eye contact of a woman to a man is seen as seductive, which is why women usually avert their eyes (or so i’m told). have you come across that at all?

    *i was a high school spanish teacher for 5 and a half years.

    • I actually am not here with a program so I didn’t go through cultural immersion classes, but I’ve been in Latin America before and am a Spanish major at my university so have had a good amount of exposure to discussion surrounding time spent here. Yes, I’ve also been told and heard that direct eye contact can be an invitation, but for me it is actually the opposite. Typically when I am able to make eye contact and acknowledge their presence first people seem less likely to cat call, whereas if I am just going on my way and ignoring them they’ll be extra-obnoxious!

  17. That’s so cool that you’re in Ecuador! I studied in Sevilla for a semester, and it definitely had its challenges, as well! Hahah.

  18. Pingback: And we danced | michaela wanders

  19. livitant on said:

    I loveeeeeeeee this post michaela! It is so interesting to look at two different cultures and their own ways of dealing with body image…. definitely agree that I like the Ecuadorian way less, buttttt not to say the our American way is all the good either. thought provoking 🙂

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