There's a glitch in the matrix. And no, it's not the arrival of The One or 17 billion agents — it's the attractive man who smiled at me while I was hunched over my laptop at my local café. The smile itself was not the anomaly; New York's male population is constantly in heat, scanning every room for the presence of Possible Pussy or Viable Vagina. Even if belongs to a Nefarious Nerd or a Gawky Geek (of which mine belongs to both categories).
No, it wasn't the smile that set things off; it was the moment at which said smile occurred and, more specifically, my appearance at that moment. I wasn't wearing any makeup; my hair was wet and I was wearing sneakers, rendering me as close to my full 5"1 feet as possible -– I looked like a scrubby elf. And my first reaction as he gnashed his perfect teeth at me was not to feel flattered. Rather, I thought to myself, "Dude, what the fuck are you doing?"
Men should not publicly smile at women who have just rolled out of bed. Yes, this sort of behavior is romantic and sweet on Sunday mornings when you're falling in love and the naked man next to you tells you how beautiful look in the dappled light, bare-faced and hair tousled. But in any other moment, attention on an intentionally sloppy looking lady in public reflects an extreme breakdown in communication; a man is acknowledging her existence before she has prepared herself to have that existence acknowledged. I'm not ready for that smile, buddy. I'm wearing last night's eye makeup and comfy pants, and you're supposed to see right through me. Please.
Okay, I should probably be flattered — apparently I look attractive (to someone, anyhow) when I don't "have my face on." Nevertheless, many women such as myself have a ritual that welcomes the gods to rain our feminine prosperity upon the masses. When our ritual is completed, we essentially say to the world, "You may smell my pheromones at your leisure and make eye contact accordingly." My ritual is simple — tinted moisturizer, mascara and lipstick — though some are more complex. A woman might spend hours, nay, days during any given week with straightening irons, makeup, and whatever other thingamabobs she bought at Sephora. For women such as myself, this process is how we prepare, how we ready ourselves to be acknowledged — so stop smiling at me you goddamn freak because if you don't A BLACK HOLE IS GOING TO RIP OPEN IN THE TIME-SPACE CONTINUUM AND WE'RE ALL GOING TO GET SUCKED INTO PURGATORY.
(Of course, there is the flip side to this that should be acknowledged, which is that women wear makeup because it makes them feel good about themselves and not necessarily because it makes them more attractive to potential suitors. And while perhaps the male gaze is what has shaped our perception of what is attractive to begin with, it's an increasingly prevalent exercise in which women are beginning to appear "made up" in order to present a more carefully managed look not only for themselves, but also other women. Whether or not we are claiming control of the female image by judging each other rather than looking to men for aesthetic approval, however, is a whole other can of worms.)
Moreover, all the ladies' magazines keep saying (just joking! I don't read ladymags, but I get the general idea of what they're trying to say, like how you know what's going on a soap opera just from watching the promos), that if I feel good about myself — and that is to feel pretty, to perform my ritual — that will translate into my everyday ability to achieve various life goals that have absolutely nothing to do with the way I look.
So this is a note to Cute Smiley Guy In Local Café. Do not smile at me when I'm not wearing makeup. It makes my rituals meaningless. I mean, come on, dude, help me to feel like the time I put into taking pride in my appearance worth it. I'm as educated as empowered as the next woman — but that doesn't mean I don't love looking good as much as I love a good political cock-fight or deconstructing modern cinema over a nice glass of red and some fancy cheese. And one more thing (also directed at Cute Smiley Guy In Local Café): Call me.
Kat George is a writer living in New York. She's having a good hair day.