I have this friend; let’s call her Ana. Ana is composed, thoughtful, quick to laugh and to listen; she’s also smart and accomplished and a fun person to be around. But most importantly for this piece, Ana is beautiful: long, thick, (brush-able) hair, a bright smile, the coffee brown skin commonly found in bi-racial people. Yes, beauty should matter very little, and we are all so much more than how we look, and yes, we are all beautiful in our unique way. But pushing aside all the other, more important sides of ourselves, Ana turns heads; men – okay, these are not men you *necessarily* want to have over for supper with your parents – go out of their way to do things for her, eager to help. This is not to say that she takes undue advantage of these offers, or that she sees this attention as anything more than superficial – she is quite capable and can handle herself. In fact, the only reason I mention this is because I recently went on vacation with her and it was arguably the best vacation I’ve ever taken. People were astonishingly nice and hospitable to us and didn’t take me long to figure out why. Her prettiness was like an incredibly persuasive, disarming, and good-will-inducing third person in our cohort.
Some context: we went to Turkey for almost two weeks – so we were probably novel and interesting. We were two black women travelling together in a country that has few visible kinky-hair folk – so we were ‘exotic’. The public sphere (and, more specifically the touristy areas we frequented) were dominated by, often young, men – so, assuming that some of them were straight, we probably seemed intriguing.
Throughout our time in Turkey, our treatment seemed to me excessive and bewildering: the countless free tours offered, the amount of time helping us find our way, walking us places, giving us tea, explaining tidbits about the city – the amount of help we received was endless. That said, much of this attention was showered on Ana first, and me as sort of the package deal. Twelve days is a long enough time to feel like the ugly stepsister so, to stop myself going crazy, I clung to these helpful tips:
- You’re gorgeous – beauty perceptions are fickle
You know you’re beautiful and funny and quirky and lovely just as you are. Just because the (few) people you’ve encountered in this place don’t see that, doesn’t make it any less true or meaningful. It’s obvious, but important to remember.
- Soon you’ll realize how little these people’s opinions matter
You’re leaving in a few days (or weeks, or months), these people are not the people you love or whose support you need. It’s alright if not all the people in all the world think you’re the queen you so are.
- Yes, it’s fucked – let go of your inner feminist
You may be confronted with ‘macho’ habits and behaviors that make you squirm. You may want to avoid the bigotry you see and side-step interactions with people with whom you fundamentally do not share a worldview. These are valid thoughts. But here’s what I learned in a place that seemed to have many clear rules about how a man “should” act: that, if you only focus on what’s wrong and how unjust somethings are … you might seriously miss out. On really important chances to learn something new; on heartwarming kindness from strangers; on the beauty of a different culture; on finding a humility within yourself.
- Be grateful – you’re not the one being hounded constantly
Call it mercenary, but I could not have handled being the ‘pretty friend’: I have no patience, not to mention serious rbf. Ana on the other hand – perhaps she’s had more practice – took it in stride. She drew certain lines and accepted offers freely given and generally seemed to understand that the intentions were not completely innocent – and this eased both of our minds. I’m not arguing that Turkish men are not extremely welcoming and kind people, nor that they would not have been as lovely otherwise – I’m simply voicing the suspicion that her prettiness was a factor.
- Just drink your *free* apple tea
You’re on vacation – savor it.
Valentine Marie is a co-founder of Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. A restless person, she loves good food, travel, and family. You can find her in a coffee shop or a used bookstore near you.