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Learning to Take Praise

"But this is, like, a thing, right?" he asks me. "All women want what they don't have."

He nods toward his wife's hair, a mass of curls I have only seen loose a few times, tonight pulled back into the usual tight bun. She has a habit of joking about her appearance. She cracks jokes about her 240-lb body, about her stretch marks, about her tired eyesight and her short height. Most often she comments on her hair, complaints cloaked in humor that sting me every time. She says her hair fits someone like her, the "funny girl" or "the fat girl". I think about her husband and the way he looks at her, in a way I recognize not only as love, but lust. A reminder that even when wanted by others, we might never want ourselves.

Tonight she is almost 100 lbs lighter than the day we met. She has worked hard every single day this past year to recover the body she had before children, before postpartum depression, before a job she hated and quit. She bought new clothes and replaced her glasses with contact lenses. She is going to a therapist she likes. She says she is happier, that losing weight has made her happy.

Her husband does not like my answer.

My hair is long, dark and straight, the type of hair some would call boring and plain, and others sexy and effortless; some would say it's just hair. It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, it's all of those things.

Some days, I look at a magazine and I think, "I want her hair."

Some nights, I wish my scalp wasn't so oily. 

Sometimes, I give up on trying to detangle these knots.

Most of the time, I don't think about it at all.

I love my hair; I tell her husband so.

I run my fingers through the long locks and he stares at me, surprised by the confidence in my response. It's a proud moment, a short one, when I think, "Hey! Good for me, I actually really love something about my appearance!" followed by:

Am I supposed to pretend I don't?

I struggle with my weight. I live in a constant state of: I will lose weight at some point, but not today. I work hard never to pass a certain number, but I don't work as hard to get to a number I am happy with. I avoid sleeveless t-shirts. I avoid shorts. I avoid certain photos on Facebook. To some people, I am chubby. To some, I am fat. To some, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. To some people, I am beautiful.

I am proud of my confidence. Not necessarily the confidence I have in my body or face, but the confidence I have in my brain, my sense of humor, and my character. It has taken me years to get here, but I can say, loudly and firmly: I love myself. I can say to myself and others: I am beautiful. I have noticed that this makes some people uncomfortable; I am still trying to figure out why.

It's like that Inside Amy Schumer sketch, when a group of girlfriends meets in the street and start dishing out compliments to each other. They all reject them one by one. "Oh my God, you dyed your hair, it looks amazing!" "Oh no, you're just being nice... But you, look at your cute little dress!" "Little? I'm like a size 100 now." This goes on until a woman shows up and when complimented on her jacket says, "Thank you." Nothing else. She takes the praise. The women all stare at her, shocked bordering on offended, and start killing themselves one by one. It's the type of comedy that's funny because it is true. When I watched the sketch, I laughed. I have been one of these women and I know many of these women. But it also made me ache inside, realizing at one point we need to learn to take the praise.

After I say I love my hair, she makes a remark to her husband, saying not everyone hates themselves like she does. She chuckles right after, as if asking us to take the comment as a joke. We change the subject, but the rest of the night I catch her touching her bun, squeezing the curls, looking down. I think of all the weight she lost and how hard she worked, and I wonder when she learned that curly hair means ugly hair, or that curly hair is the fat girl's hair. I wonder if somebody told her this once, or if she saw it in a movie. I wonder if her husband thinking "all women want what they don't have" really does make her feel better, hearing that she is not the only one.

I think of all the times I have cracked a joke about myself: about my back fat, my blackheads, my small breasts, and the fact that I outweigh my husband by more than a few pounds. I have learned to laugh at myself, but more importantly, I have learned I am not a joke.

The truth is, I haven't seen this woman in months. That night changed things between us somehow, and the texts and emails stopped both ways. A part of me is angry because I believe women shouldn't be expected to dislike the way we look. If we take a compliment, it shouldn't be a surprise. But a part of me is angry because maybe I should have said something. I participated in this sketch, accepting her remarks as comedy, my silence a part of the problem.


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