Saturday, April 26, 2008


“Beauty is dangerous” –Gerard Manley Hopkins

I totally agree. Beauty is dangerous and risky and scary and controversial and much more. I am obviously relating from the female side of things. But hear me out.
I notice a significant difference in the attitude of my students if I wear a new skirt or wear my hair down. It is a big deal. The boys are more quiet and shy and just look me up and down. The girls are more worshipful and giggly. It is kind of obnoxious because they will make such a big deal about what I look like, as if that is my primary focus in life. They will talk on and on about how beautiful or “sa-at” my hair is or how stylish my clothes are. If being the most beautiful person in the world was my only goal in life, then I would be so flattered. But living in a country where white skin is favored and adored no matter what you look like, it doesn’t feel so special anymore. I thought I was escaping shallowness by leaving the States.
I believe that beauty is dangerous because the same thing happens on the street. My usual uniform for town is a white Hanes t-shirt, boy-cut khaki shorts, and Crocs. Many times I’ll pull my hair back tight like an uptight librarian or just wear a hat. I wear my SAR’s mask and big sunglasses. I hide in my own body. I don’t wear a moto helmet to be safe, I wear it to hide. I wouldn’t dare wear high heels in fear that it would attract more attention. Heck, I don’t even have high heels! I have only worn sports bras since I got here. Nail polish is not an option and I haven’t used a blow dryer or curling iron since I’ve been here. I never wear my hair down, because the men give me extra attention when I do. I never show my shoulders, much of my legs, or anything low cut. Granted, it is good to modest no matter what country you live in. But I live in Cambodia where I fear looking like a woman because when I do, I get the curses, the stares, and the touches. I fear looking like a woman because in many people’s eyes, I am “just asking for it”. That makes me sick. The moto drivers say I am lucky because I am beautiful. Does he really mean I am lucky because I am white? If they call me beautiful, they must be confused.
I guess I really noticed this the other day when preparing to go out I purposefully changed into baggy clothes, I pulled my hair back tight, and put on my “I am completely uninterested in you” face. Doesn’t really sound like a good missionary does it?
I don’t think dressing like a woman has to mean showing a lot of skin, dressing provocatively, or wearing a lot of makeup. I would just like to wear a flowy skirt, or pink, or something pretty. But I usually don’t. Too risky. The attitude is, “Suck it up and move on”. There is not time for peace or beauty.
I don’t feel feminine here. But why would I want to? The only thing that femininity gets me is being treated like a prostitute. Do you see how a girl’s very feminine spirit is attacked here? Do you see how feminine spirit is being attacked everywhere?
I’ve thought a lot about how this relates to my eating disorder. I know that back in January when I was attacked one morning exercising, I binged more than usual because I didn’t want to be attractive enough to be touched that way ever again.
My ED counselor back home told me that she substituted as a counselor for an alcoholics group session one time. She said you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between our eating disorder group sessions and the alcoholic’s session. Same issues, same conversations, just a different weapon of choice. At one point, one of the members turned to her and said, “We know you aren’t an alcoholics counselor, why do you think you can understand us?” She explained that the core issues of control and self-hatred and escape were the same with one major difference. Alcoholics need to wean themselves away and eventually go cold turkey from their addiction. Those with eating disorders must indulge in their addiction several times a day and still get better. That is like forcing an alcoholic to become sober while drinking three times a day. My ED counselor was optimistic that people can fully recover from eating disorders. I am really not so sure anymore. There is more support for the opposite, unfortunately.
My ED has definitely gotten worse since I have gotten here. I am not back to where I started or anything like that. I am always making progress and I will at least agree that being here has made me stronger. But I wonder if being stronger has also made me steel. I wonder if being stronger has made me insensitive. I wonder if being stronger has made me cynical. I wonder a lot of things I just can’t answer right now. Mostly I feel attacked on all sides with no chance of relief until I get home. Still, 10 months is a long time to keep fighting. I’m really tired.