For A West Virginia Girl
I grew up in West Virginia, still here. I have a stamped passport and have lived other places but it’s been years. I’m here and by choice. I hate to even have to qualify my choice by stating that I have “traveled” and that I’m “here by choice” but my Appalachian need to prove myself is something that may not sound foreign to my Appalachian brothers and sisters, the ones that claim themselves Appalachian. They know, it’s unspoken the way you feel when you represent West Virginia – my neck of the Appalachian woods – at any hotel conference outside the App that’s not about the App when you state your State and are greeted with the sudden look of surprise. It happens, often.
At these hotel conferences or retreats there is always a new BFF to be found, a friend from another state or region with whom you bond with and then he or she says, “You’re SO cool for a West Virginia Girl!” and sometimes cool is pretty and not pretty cool but “You’re SO pretty for a West Virginia Girl!” I’m always unsettled by these comments. I’m always thinking there is a Deliverance joke coming and I’m always confused at to what “cool” or “pretty” really means.
These “compliments” have been common to me over the years as I enjoy traveling – but lately not so much, perhaps as I have been reminded (by men or one man) – I’m just not as pretty (or cool) as I used to be. And. Sometimes when it happens in my home State I post about it on Facebook.
“You don’t look like you from around here?”
Oh. Well. I am. Where do I look like I’m from?
“New York City or something.”
You ever been to New York City?
Well. How do you know what people look like from New York City?
“I’m just saying you look pretty. “
Thank you. But you’re basically saying that I look pretty for a West Virginia girl – like West Virginia girls are not pretty – it’s a put down in many ways. With that said – Sir, I have to take your flying WV hat. You can’t wear this logo.
“What?! You from Boone County?”
*I show him my birth location on my handy hand map. I smile.*
Now gimme that hat until you get your thinking right.
“Who are you Lady?”
It doesn’t matter where you are from, we do a lot of judging other people’s books by their covers. I tend to compare and contrast region and race and attractiveness as perceived by others. This is a surprise – I guess. In that, I have defended and not defended my “place”, “race” and “likeability”. I have felt uncomfortable and comfortable as an examples of what it means to be cool or pretty for a West Virginia girl.
Yet, nothing being said to me, about me or in the news today about West Virginia is at all surprising. It’s a familiar narrative. And there is always a struggle and protest for some kind of change and stereotypes. Oh the stereotypes. Oh the fatalism. There is a lot of well meaning unassuming but assuming yearning for power, respect and definition when it comes to West Virginia and her people.
I don’t know what people really mean when they say “You sure are pretty or cool for a West Virginia girl.” I just know that there is nothing that can compare to the beauty or the cool because we not cool of West Virginia.
I just hear — You sure are pretty cool West Virginia girl.