I Don’t Have to be Hot to be Right: hiding from internet sexism

lemonade I Dont Have to be Hot to be Right: hiding from internet sexism

I have lived a lot of my life online, and much of that time was spent trying to hide my body from the internet.

Ten years ago I would routinely Photoshop any exposed photo of me as much as possible. Hips got smaller, boobs got bigger, eyes wider, blemishes disappeared in a blur. I even made my hair more blonde once or twice. I got tired of that, though, after a while. As someone who is essentially pretty honest I was uncomfortable with even minor levels of deception.

After that, instead of creating computer-assisted versions of myself I spent a few years just not existing as a corporeal being on the internet. Photos of me in my early 30s simply do not exist, online or elsewhere. Profile photos on social networks would be a decade old or simply shots of my assorted game characters. I never lied about who I was or what I looked like if someone asked in an appropriate conversation, but I was more than happy to hide behind a monitor otherwise.

There are many reasons I went to such lengths to hide my “real life” self, including just some plain old self esteem issues. I was also incredibly aware of the patriarchal message in our society that women have nothing to contribute except being hot and making babies. Appearance is often the first thing latched onto by trolls and haters when they deal with women, and even as a self-aware feminist it’s hard to ignore the inherent message in “you have made my penis sad and therefore are of no value”.

It’s not good enough to be smart or thoughtful or kind, if you’re not hot to go with it, says popular thought. It was entirely evident that being overweight and not traditionally attractive would cause people to stop taking me seriously, and there is nothing I hate more than being intellectually marginalized.

Perhaps I’ve just gotten older and wiser, or at least less patient with putting up with dumb shit, but in the last few years my body has begun appearing on the internet again. I use real, untouched photos of myself for my social media profiles, and my full name (and with it, my gender) is very easy for anyone to find. I even appeared on camera during our live podcast at PAX Prime earlier this year, and while it made me a little nervous I was pleased that it didn’t stop me from trying something new.

In fact, it was about two days after posting the livecast video and mentioning that I was writing for RiftJunkies now that a comment arrived in my email. It said, “RiftJunkies must be really fucking desperate to hire a fat chick. No one cares what you say.” I wrote back a carefully manufactured “lol, wutever” response, but truth be told I was momentarily devastated. There it was, the reaction I had been dreading all along. No one cares, old fat lady. Go home.

(This was particularly exacerbated by the fact that the dude who sent this email then proceeded to follow me around the internet for a while posting the same thing whenever he felt like it, as though I might forget my status as useless unattractive woman and start thinking that my opinion mattered.)

I put it aside and tried to keep pluggin’ on until I saw this great tweet by Very Lemonade which I included at the start of this post. Then I got really, really angry.

Hey dude who wrote me and all other dudes who have done the same thing to other women (and there are many of them): fuck you. Fuck you for implying that women have to reach some standard of penis-pleasing to write about video games, of all things. Fuck you for not attacking me for what I say or what I do, or for any metric to which I can respond. Fuck you for being an asshole.

There are professions and hobbies where physical appearance is a critical element of doing a good job (model being the obvious one) and enjoying and writing about video games is so far from that, it’s laughable. Asshole Dudes, you might think you’re chasing icky girls out of your hobbies by following them around demanding sexual gratification in some way, and sadly in some cases you’re probably right. In other cases though.. cases like mine.. you’re just making us more determined to be involved in our hobbies, if for no other reason than saving women in the future from having to put up with the same bullshit.

Author: Jessica Cook

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18 Comments

  1. To provide a bit of a counter-point, when I saw you on the vidcast I was actually pleasantly surprised by your “normal” appearance. I say this not because it matters in any way to what you have to say, but as a fellow female geek online, I’ve been in “that” situation too. I’ve never airbrushed myself in pictures, but I did (and to a certain extent still do) prefer to sweep my real life appearance under the rug so to speak. While I still think that this is perfectly understandable, it also has the unfortunate side effect that you never see anything but really hot self-portraits of women online, and if you are of average or below average attractiveness yourself, that just makes you feel all the worse after a while. Finding out that other women whose thoughts and opinions you respect actually also just look like average people is like a little ray of sunshine then. :)
    Shintar´s last post: A World Boss Adventure

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    • I know exactly what you mean, Shintar, and I appreciate the comment.

      Also, just to be clear, I think it’s entirely understandable and justified if a woman (or anyone!) wishes to keep their real life appearance offline. You’re totally right that it unfortunately contributes to the idea that all women on the internet are supermodels because that’s what we see every day, but I totally do not blame anyone who doesn’t want to expose themselves to that kind of BS.

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    • I hadn’t thought about how some women not posting their images has contributed to the collection of published female images which are all “socially acceptable”.

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  2. A very powerful post, reading it does make me somewhat depressed about the state of the internet and the sheer amount of vileness you can encounter. I’m glad the ending is more positive and that you feel more able now to simply be yourself online.

    I suspect I’ve been lucky to be in guilds in WoW, Lotro and other games where there was a good mix of genders, ages etc and such issues were not a problem in my daily gaming life. Since I’m currently floating around more between games I’m more conscious of global chat channels and the /say spam conversations in major hubs.
    Telwyn´s last post: Preparations complete

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  3. I like to think that people who post comments like that are maladjusted sociopaths whose opinions are invalidated by their imperfect brains. They’ll never truly know love. They’ll never trust anyone and rarely earn the trust, love and respect of others.

    And if they are not, then by their actions, they choose to emulate sociopaths, and that’s even more sad. Just pity the poor bastards.

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  4. Great post. Good for you for writing it!

    As a father, I’ve always told my daughter she is a smart and capable as any boy, and I don’t want to see her valued only for her looks.

    While I think women face the worst of this behavior, I think there are a lot of guys who also find themselves in a similar boat — uncomfortable with themselves or how they are treated in real life, and only feeling accepted online when they’re invisible or behind an avatar.

    I can only hope that our culture will continue to mature until all people are judged by what they do and not just how they appear.

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  5. The guy who emailed you probably had a small penis. Those guys have issues.

    Seriously when your dealing with alot of apples, some of them are going to be rotten. This is the internet, our audience is more of a grand scale then the 10 people we usually talk to on a daily basis.

    As a blogger, writer, etc…we open ourselves up, we have to be ready for the haters, and we need to have a little bit of a thicker skin.
    Riv´s last post: The Pally Pal

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    • I both agree and disagree with you, Riv. You’re totally right, I think, that part of being a writer or blogger or anything like that is taking the risk of putting yourself out there. I’m publishing my opinion here and I can’t really be surprised or angry if someone responds to it, even if they don’t like it.

      On the other hand, there’s criticism of ideas and then there’s people being assholes for no reason, and the only way to “fix” the latter is to make it socially unacceptable. Just shrugging it off as the internet being the internet won’t make anything better.. it doesn’t have to be this way if we don’t put up with it.

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    • Define thick skin and why its more important to have thicker skin than for the offending person to have greater sensitivity/humanity.

      I think this kind of statement puts the blame on the victim for being offended, instead of on the offender for being rude.
      Doone´s last post: Torchlight 2 Review I: Scratching the Surface

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  6. I dont give a fig what you look like. I like what you say. I like how you say it. I want you to say more.

    Keep up the good work!

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  7. Sadly anonymity on the internet allows people to easily avoid taking responsibility for their comments and beliefs resulting in many regurgitating any old crap they think of. Hmm, perhaps think is to strong a word here.

    Equally as sadly, as has been discussed a million times already, the portrayal of women in all forms of media results in the easily led to believing only young, rich, attractive women have any value in the world. Its a lose-lose situation for all.

    Sorry to hear you were personally, directly impacted.

    Gobble gobble.
    BobTurkey´s last post: Old Republic expectations and plans

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    • “Its a lose-lose situation for all.”

      I could not agree more. Well put.

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  8. This topic is so loaded for me in many ways, that I had to think for a long time what to even comment. the most obvious up-front: what an asshole. the internet is full of sad, lowlife individuals that use cyber bullying to feel better about their lousy self.

    on topic, the most depressing thing to me is that both the ‘hot woman’ you indirectly refer to, and the bullied woman are sitting in the same boat even if they (maybe) don’t realize it. even if you fulfilled a standardized idea of attractiveness, it wouldn’t make you ‘right’ – it would only make you hot. you wouldn’t be one of “them”; you wouldn’t be taken seriously as a gamer and your thoughts wouldn’t matter more. all that would change is “got nekid pics?” and “yu0 wanna go n a date ololol?” ….
    whoever those show-off ‘hot gamer chicks’ on the internet are and whatever they think they are, they are deluding themselves to think their looks are an easy entry into boys club. am not saying that gamer girls can’t be attractive (although I am convinced many of those you actually get to see are fake), but the attractive gaming woman who is actually that, seriously into gaming first and foremost (and not looking for dates in gamer meatspace of all places), will shy away from posting any of her photographs publicly and cringe at joining male-dominated game conventions just as much as any other gaming woman. and for good reason too.
    I feel bad for younger girls who think their good looks will bring them anything in terms of respect; they don’t. it looks like an advantage but you’re still very much tied to somebody else’s system, playing somebody else’s game (who may also secretly hate you for not dating them in highschool rofl). and that somebody didn’t design the game for you to win, ever.

    But I digress. ofc many male gamers aren’t cavemen (just so I covered that base) but I’ve met too many in my active gaming life thus far – and I’ve battled that hostile system with varying degrees of success. You wrote an incredibly brave post and I admire your honesty here. nobody deserves abuse such as the one you experienced by that troll commenter. I hope you realize though that your looks have in fact very little to do with it and maybe that can be a sort of ‘consolation’ (even if my comment is not meant in any way to belittle or make light of your grief or experiences!).
    the thing is, it isn’t about you at all. it’s about them! attacking somebody’s looks is a very cheap, easy shot and they would always find one. behind that move is a guy or a group of guys that feel horribly threatened and made uncomfortable by your intrusion into what they consider ‘theirs’. it’s low self-esteem, insecurity, inferiority complexes….all the good stuff brought to your doorstep. Don’t accept it – and never let them make it about you. it’s not about you!! :)

    TL;DR version: fuck them and more power to you, however you decide to go about your resistance.
    Syl´s last post: Off the Chest: Unlearning Convenience, One-time Events and what would you do in a Sandbox?

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    • Honestly it doesn’t even matter what a woman actually looks like to this class of jerk. Accusing a woman — any woman, who looks like anything — of being sexually displeasing and therefore being worthless is the first go-to insult for these guys. As Bob said above, everyone loses.

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  9. Powerful post.

    For my part in these topics, I always try to ask myself ask a guy how I behave in these situations. Today I asked how much I have hid behind my monitor.

    And I’ve come to realize I have hid behind the monitor not because of shame of my appearance, but because it’s the only sure way to have people judge me on my merits. Pictures ruin everything in that regard. Every time. I’m not sure its avoidable if you’ve been raised in a western society (I can’t speak for others); how you look *will*, for sure, have an impact on how you are received. Whether you think you look good or bad or whether others think so.

    But I think there’s another issue here that I will respond to in kind with a blog article: why men don’t prefer to post pictures of themselves either. I think the reasons are similar if not the same; there’s a gendered approach to imagery for both sexes. Women feel they need to look a certain way FOR MEN and men feel they need to look a certain way FOR MEN. I arrived there because the general expectation amongst guys when playing a game is that all the others in the game are also male. That’s the assumption we have, not because we’re evil but because we just expect this. Isn’t that fascinating?

    Thank you for being so bold and for inspiring me to take another look at myself. I’ll definitely reflect a bit and write a response article. I think the broader conversation is gendered imagery and for me I’d like to know how guys also see themselves.

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  10. I don’t have anything useful or productive to say, but I echo all your sentiments, and am so very glad you posted this.

    The galling thing – on a micro level, not the macro level of patriarchy and endemic sexism – is the hypocrisy. The dudebros who think calling a woman ugly is a valid criticism of her mind or character generally aren’t exactly male models themselves, but somehow that’s not relevant.

    Assholes.

    *grumble*
    Siha´s last post: SWTOR’s F2P is an unsatisfying compromise

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  11. You mean that you aren’t really a night elf, draenei, or super model? Between Photoshop and airbrushing, all three are equally fictitious.

    I saw the post in question and cringed. I expected that it would get deleted, you have my admiration for choosing to discuss it, instead.

    I’ve always led a charmed life in MMO guilds. I’ve never been in a guild with less than 20-30% women. A comment like the one you received would have meant insta-kick in any of them. Maybe discussing it would be better; but 2 minutes in trade chat seems to confirm that there is no shortage of dicks on the internet.

    Sorry, teenage males are jerks. Most of us outgrow it; but not everyone, it seems.

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  12. Oops, I hate anonymous posts (and dumbass browsers that forget me).

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