On Conventional Beauty by Alternative Standards

By Rivka Yeker

It is often exhausting to be the perpetual wingman and friend at parties and hangouts. Often, the thinner, cuter, smaller, slightly more tattooed girl with an off-shade of colored hair will be approached while the thicker, louder, slightly less "alt" looking friend with the not-so-white features will be either glanced over or greeted with overly friendly banter. Not to say that this is all spaces, because a majority of queer spaces do a great job flipping off any sort of conventional beauty standard. But in any “punk,” “emo," or “alternative” space, the straight guys are immediately drawn to the not-so-brash-and-talkative types, with cute smiles and sweet eyes. In no way am I trying to shame these women for being this way, because being shy is a personality trait and it is okay to be passive, too. It has just become evident to me that even when I’ve escaped to “alternative” spaces, I still feel terribly unattractive, too big, and not “alt” enough.

I remember one time someone told me that they couldn’t have a scene phase because they were “too fat.” Because somehow, even amidst all the Warped Tours and embarrassing bands we blasted in suburban traffic, there was still a standard for how “scene” someone could look. The most ridiculous trend had a standard, and the fat girls were made fun of a ridiculous amount more than any of the thin scene girls. Boys with swooped hair chose their hot scene girlfriends (always thin with the same traditional white facial features) and followed their fame on MySpace. This all might sound incredibly trivial, but my concern lies more in the idea that someone was judging someone’s size more than they were judging the music they embraced and the amount of money they spent at Hot Topic.

It is sometimes hard to not be jealous when you are strapped into your body and face, and can never really be looked at as one of those “cute alt girls” because your body will always be sexualized due to its curves. And regardless of what you wear, you will always look chunkier and (by traditional standards) unappealing. It is interesting how even for a scene that tries their hardest to avoid conformity and structure, there is still some type of patriarchal model that is perpetuating social popularity based on appearance (specifically for non-men). And after I got bangs, I was suddenly a “cute alt girl,” even though I’ve been listening to the same music and wearing the same clothes for years.

I have never been “normal pretty.” I have mastered the art of helping my pretty friends get laid, scouting out people that would be into my attractive peers, setting up good-looking couples, standing and talking to someone as platonically as possible because I have already assumed that there is no attraction on their end. I don’t want this to sound like I am asking for someone to tell me I am good looking because it's not that I don’t get complimented. It's just I know that there is a certain image that every “alt boy” has in his mind, and it is flashing like a giant billboard while his eyes dart in every direction at a show or a party, and I am not that. I am also not the standard businessman or college guy’s definition of “hot,” but that’s an entirely different idea that I gave up on in high school.

The alternative world’s benchmark of attractiveness holds the same high stakes that any other group ("normal" or not) has. As politically correct and progressive as punk tries to be, it is evident that all the male-presenting people still value the more attractive and more “alt” or “punk” girls in a light that is almost humiliating to those that feel like they don’t belong. It seems as if the girls and non-men in this scene are trying their best to mold themselves into an image that these boys have created: this "manic pixie dream girl" that goes to art school and doesn’t speak much. After tweeting about this and posting a selfie and a rant in a Facebook group that is filled with only non-men, I was flooded with “I feel this” and messages describing their struggles as a chubbier, less feminine person who is also attracted to men. These constructed standards have made girls and non-men feel unsafe in many spaces, often too afraid to look “too excited” at shows in fear of letting their personality actually show, or begin feeling invisible at parties that seem like they were made to isolate them.

There is a whole mob of girls and non-men that hang out in these alternative spaces. They are loud, ambitious, and they take up space. They talk back and make statements; they have big noses and wide eyes and their thighs shake when they dance, and their band t-shirts are starting to barely fit them. Their veins are pumping with energy and they are fed up with these ideals they thought they escaped by stepping into sweaty basements. But misogyny doesn’t leave at the door. It follows you and it lingers, and you can feel it. Even while there is a skinny white boy screaming into a microphone about his ex-girlfriend, and the ground is vibrating and your ears are ringing; you can feel it.