Dear Men: Women Do Not Owe You Our Beauty

by Marquaysa Battle

In 2015, I shouldn't have to still make this point. Unfortunately, my recent encounter with an incredibly intelligent man I thought would know much better tells me otherwise.

A work friend of mine, who is also a world-renowned photographer, asked me to come and be his photo shoot subject for an upcoming digital magazine. I could wear whatever I wanted and even write an accompanying reflective article that expounded upon my feelings expressed in the photos. Freaking cool! I ended up wearing a wonderful metallic 1920s-influenced jumpsuit with a loose silhouette I had planned to wear on New Year's and never did. (Instead, I wore a sweater and jeans that night because I flip-flop between feeling like getting glam-squadded up and not being able to care less.)

I wore the jumpsuit for the shoot and enjoyed hanging with my work buddy, yet quickly deduced that modeling isn't for me—though not because I don't fancy getting pretty. Anyone who knows me knows that's hardly the case. I study and write about fashion for a living and I've poured over red carpets my entire life. I also emulate celebrity street style trends for sport and live on Fashion Bomb Daily. So yeah, glamming's kind of in my blood. Where my love for fashion and distaste for modeling come to a head is the fact that I truly dress for me. I could care less about (regularly) posting my outfits up for social media review or what anyone has to say about how I dress.

It was a fun shoot, but Grace Jones-ing for the cameras is not my “thing”. I can barely remember to post photos on my Instagram, much less pause my life to capture a moment I could just be living and basking in. I'm not into getting pretty for anyone—not even a photographer. And when he asked me to just do what comes naturally and let him capture it, I did.

But I suppose it wasn't enough. He later told me that he confided in someone else from work that I'm an incredibly beautiful woman who just doesn't know it or how to express it, and he was hoping to bring it out of me with his photography. He also said that he likes to take photos of women who don't understand their own beauty so that he can show it to them.

That's where he got the game wrong.

First, we know each other and see one another only at WORK. Why in the heck would I be focusing on "expressing my beauty" at WORK? You know I'm there to WORK, right? Just like you, man. I find it especially irritating that men aren't expected to "express their beauty" at work yet my beauty is a topic of conversation betwixt my colleagues. (Yes, I'm the only woman in my office.)

I actually do know I'm beautiful. I love everything about the way that I look—from the deep melanin in my skin to the tight coils of my hair. I love my slender frame, even in the Age of Booty Worship (though it took some time) and I look in the mirror often and gush at the face I see. And more than that, I love the person I've become. I enjoy me on a regular basis and could give two damns about whether or not some man at work feels like I know I'm beautiful. As long as I know it, then my body image priorities are checked off and complete. I feel no self-esteem depravities that would encourage me to remind everyone around me that I'm beautiful. I'm just not that brand of woman. Sorry, not sorry. Believe it or not, women actually think about other things in life besides being appealing to men. Outside validation is nothing without inside conviction, so you can cut the cape because this damsel's only distressing over your pompous gall.

What the photographer saw was a girl who could care less about being "classically beautiful". Or trying to be overly sexy. Or trying to impress anybody. Or trying to be anything that's beautiful according to a man’s definition. Just because I didn't place my hands on my hips and serve Marilyn Monroe pouty lips doesn't mean I don't know how beautiful I am. Just because I'm awkward doesn't mean it isn't something I embrace. Just because I wore a super loose jumpsuit instead of a flirty floral print dress and Mrs. Cleaver pearls doesn't mean I'm not in touch with myself as a woman. It simply means I don't express beauty or sexuality or self-love according to anyone else’s standards. It means I do me and let the chips fall where they may. I am a human being, not an ornament of yours that needs dusting off. Being a woman and being beautiful and knowing it aren't always tied to mainstream standards and representations.

What I ultimately gleaned from the photographer's statements about me "not knowing how beautiful I am" and wanting "to show women their own beauty" is that (1) too many men have a singular notion of what a woman's beauty is and how she should express it; and (2) too many men think women like me care about whether or not they think we're beautiful. Thus, too many women subscribe to and impress upon other women these same patriarchal ideals and standards of beauty: because we are women, we don’t have rights to our own bodies and therefore should dress to impress and arouse men.

In fact, the most misogynistic insult ever slung at me came from an elderly black woman in a nursing home who, unfortunately, grew up in an even more suffocating time, where women subscribed only to beauty standards set by men. She looked at me with all of her good sense in the world and told me that I would be raped. With a “sho-nuff” nod. Why? Because I was wearing a skirt that came just above my knees. And the girlfriend I was with? She laughed. Back then, I was young and pretended like I didn’t hear it and it didn’t hurt. Today, I still remember it as one of the vilest things ever said to me. Women and men should be loving on each other way better than that. We should know better than to try to tell someone else how beautiful he/she should be, how they should dress, and what they should do to express how they feel about themselves. We should know better than to police women’s bodies for the protection of men’s integrity or their amusement.

So… to the men who are misogynists and don’t know it: Women don't owe you our beauty. You don't get to decide which women know, love, and value themselves. I know the world has told you that you own women's bodies and thus, can police them anyway you want… But you can-freaking-NOT. You don't get to decide how we dress, flaunt, cover, display, and enjoy them. You don't get to decide if I smile or flatter your silly advances when I walk down the street minding my own damn business. You just don't get to decide.

And all of your attempts to "make me feel (your version) of beautiful" based on your ignorance of my self-awareness? However subtle, they are sorely unwelcomed. You aren’t doing anybody any favors.

Remember this the next time you ask a woman why she never  "dresses up" or wears make-up.  Or why she isn't smiling. Or why she isn't skinny or "thick." Or why she isn't covered up or scantily clad. It is pure assault on our individuality, womanhood, and self-ownership to expect us to define ourselves according to the musings of a man.

Men, please understand that women don't owe you anything. And for the women who have internalized men’s misogyny, please understand that your beauty is yours. Your body is yours. How you interpret it, decorate it, and feel about it is all yours. So many men want to own women, but be encouraged by the golden knowledge that you are your own woman.

And you don’t owe anybody a damn thing.

Photo: Shutterstock

Marquaysa Battle is a 23-year old 90's baby with an unshakable passion for black women and other marginalized groups. She’s due to begin pursuing her M.A. in journalism at New York University this fall. Visit her online at

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