Zoe Zolbrod, author of the novel Currency (OV Books), is also a contributor to TNB Books’ The Beautiful Anthology, due out next week. Her essay in the anthology, “Pai Foot,” recounts a love affair she had in Thailand.
When did you feel least beautiful?
In my essay in The Beautiful Anthology, I talk about my attitude toward my appearance when I went on a solo trip to Southeast Asia. I had just been through a period of romantic chaos, and as a sort of cleansing gesture as well as an attempt to increase my safety as a woman traveling alone, I presented myself in boyish drag: very short and un-styled hair, no makeup, baggy men’s clothing. It was interesting to move through the world without the cloak of femininity, to see how that did and did not affect how people responded to me. But then I spied a truly beautiful boy, and I couldn’t help but want his attention. In comparison to him, I felt ungainly and dull. Others might have compensated with wit or sparkle…but feeling I had little prettiness to offer him also dampened my personality. Yet as we came together, my reaction to the difference in the way we viewed each other changed—even as he confirmed that he did not see me as beautiful.
What do you think of people who think they are beautiful?
It’s always bothered me that it’s considered a punishable offense for beautiful young women, in particular, to admit to knowing they look great. Why, when they are constantly reminded of the effect of their appearance on others, are they supposed to remain unsure of their loveliness? That is ridiculous and disempowering—dehumanizing, really.
So what is beauty?
There’s a level of agreed-upon attractiveness, and then there’s that unique, ineffable something that really hits you in the gut, and that something is largely in the eye of the beholder.