Being Looked At Isn't The Same As Being Seen

I definitely had no awareness of it at the time but the underlying reason why I loved to be looked at was because I'd never truly felt seen and so, I couldn't know the difference between the two.

Being Looked At Isn't The Same As Being Seen
An IG post from my past life when I was definitely more interested in being looked at than being seen.

Am I Ugly?

I follow a subreddit called "Am I ugly?" where people post pictures of themselves and ask the Reddit community to tell them whether or not they are physically unattractive. I find this subreddit fascinating for a couple of reasons: first, the vast majority of the people who I've seen post there are not ugly at all, in my opinion; and second, I truly don't understand the value in asking strangers to judge your appearance. I get that there is such a thing as being "conventionally attractive," but I don't really understand it because attractiveness is 100% subjective. For instance, I personally find the vast majority of Instagram "models" I come across to be unattractive, regardless of how symmetrical their faces are or how curvaceous their bodies are. I can totally see why they're desired by many, but I'm much more likely to come across someone I'm really physically attracted to in the freezer aisle of Trader Joe's than I am on the recommended page of IG. It really bothers me how so many women seemingly can't post a picture of themselves online without some heavy filter effect masking their imperfections. It is evidence that social media has created a culture that places a lot more value on the image we project than it does on who we are in reality.

Every now and then, I come across a post on the "Am I ugly?" subreddit and think to myself, "the way this person looks is really unfortunate," and am truly saddened when I try to imagine how difficult and isolating being physically unattractive must be. As much as I would like to pretend that looks don't matter, the fact is, the way we look plays a large part in how the world sees us and how we see ourselves. The way we look plays a large part in our sense of identity because it sets the basis for how the external world treats us and how we are received by our communities. I honestly don't see myself as conventionally attractive, but I feel like I've been treated like someone who is conventionally attractive. I feel this way because I've often been told that I'm handsome or the like, I've often been on the receiving end of overt flirting, advances, and/or preferential treatment, and because, when it comes to romantic relationships, I've always had a good bit of options available to me—and even if I didn't, people have always assumed that I did.

I remember when I was 15 and was trying to convince my mom that I deserved a car for my 16th birthday and her saying to me that I don't need a car because "I'm already a hoe," implying that me getting a car would only contribute to me expanding my whoredom. Ironically, I wasn't a hoe at all at 15. I hadn't even really come close to losing my virginity at 15. But she assumed that I must be getting a lot of attention because of the way I looked. The same sentiment was mirrored to me by men, but instead of calling me a hoe, they'd say things like "Mike, where the hoes at?" or "Man, I know you got all the hoes," admitting, in a roundabout way, that they can understand why women would find me attractive. And I can't lie, having people assume that I must have a way with women certainly inflated my ego and gave me a sense of confidence that, while superficial, empowered me when I sought to make their assumptions a reality.

But what's funny is, I couldn't tell you what it is about the way that I look that sets me a part from any other man. Don't get me wrong, I do think that I'm handsome but like I mentioned earlier, I could say that most of the men I've seen post in the "Am I Ugly?" subreddit are handsome too, in their own way. And if you were to put my face right next to the face of an "unattractive" man, I would struggle to tell you why I'm seen as attractive and they're not. Still, I've had enough validating experiences regarding my appearance that I learned to lean into it at an early age, and for the vast majority of my life, it was the foundation of my identity. This was certainly exacerbated by the fact that I am Black and grew up in a time when whiteness was still very much the standard of beauty. Being attractive is one of the few things that allows you to transcend your race and socio-economic status within society. I feel like most Black people in America likely suffer from some sort of an unworthiness wound because conventional beauty standards have always excluded darker skin. So, in a fucked up way, I felt being seen as attractive by white people as humanizing. Being seen as attractive allowed me to be accepted by and supported more by those in powerful positions which often led to me getting more opportunities than my peers who were not seen the same way.

"Pretty privilege" is certainly a real thing and more attractive people certainly have less trouble in society when compared to less attractive people. But being primarily valued for how you look can be as hurtful as not being valued at all for how you look because deep down we all want to be seen and valued holistically. While I could never deny that being seen as physically attractive has made my life easier in many ways, it also greatly diluted any sense I had of my internal value and created a sense of self for me that was largely based on who I appeared to be on the surface. For both the conventionally attractive and the not, the physical body is a shell that projects a shallow image of the depth of who we truly are inside. The outward appearance of our faces and bodies casts a shadow on our self-perception and distorts our capacity to see ourselves, and others, in the fullness of our divinity. So while being "pretty" will increase the chances that you are looked at, it will also decrease the chances of your being seen, and will likely make you feel less like the unique expression of God in form that you are and more like an animal in a zoo.

Magic Mike

Couldn't resist 🕺🏽😂

Desire is a powerful force. As such, being desired can make one feel really powerful. Back in high school, I had a short lived dream of becoming a male stripper. And no, it's not because I wanted to be in community with other fatherless men who enjoyed spending the bulk of their time half-naked, lol. The reason I dreamed of being a male stripper is because I really enjoyed feeling desired and the idea of being so desirable that a woman would pay money to see me naked was the ultimate power fantasy in my mind back then. Fortunately for us all, thanks to the respect I have for my mother and to the fact that I got a full scholarship to college, we'll never know how my career as a male stripper would have panned out (likely really, really terribly) but unfortunately, my addiction to the power that being desired made me feel still caused me to adopt behaviors that were detrimental to myself and those around me.

I definitely had no awareness of it at the time but the underlying reason why I loved to be looked at was because I'd never truly felt seen and so, I couldn't know the difference between the two. Much in the same way that popularity looks a lot like love to someone who's never experienced love – being looked at looks a lot like being seen to someone who's never been seen. Subconsciously, my fantasy for feeling desired by strangers was rooted in a reality of feeling unseen by my family. A low sense of worthiness coupled with a high sense of attractiveness is a deadly combination and it created a monster who terrorized himself and others until, by the grace of God, his golden mirror shattered.

It seems like all the relationships I had in my early twenties eventually boiled down to power struggle between who cared the least. If you've done this dance before yourself, you know that it's rooted in a fear of vulnerability and intimacy where, instead of admitting and embracing the insecurity that comes with opening your heart to another, instead both parties feign to be the least emotionally invested in an attempt to feel more in control. Someone once said to me that "a man is only as faithful as his options", and while I've never made a habit of physically cheating in romantic relationships, back then I pretty much always emotionally had one foot out the door. I definitely would not hide the fact that I was desired by others from my partner to intentionally make them feel jealous & insecure. I would dangle the fact that other women wanted me in their faces because it made me feel powerful to not only have the desire of the person that I was with but to also know that if that person no longer wanted to be with me, I could easily replace them.

In this way, the way that I looked was an obstacle to me ever being in a loving connection with someone else. The superficial allure, which initially attracted others to me, became the very barrier that prevented deep, meaningful relationships from forming. Instead of fostering genuine intimacy, my physical appearance and the behaviors it encouraged—seeking validation, weaponizing emotions, and maintaining a safe distance from intimacy—sabotaged potential connections. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy of isolation, where the fear of not being seen for who I truly was led me to hide behind the facade of desirability. Ironically, the more I chased the fleeting high of being desired for my looks, the more I starved for the kind of recognition that could only come from showing someone who I really am inside. And what's really scary is that I probably would have never changed had it not been for two life altering blessings in disguise.

The first was my mother being diagnosed with cancer & it forcing me to take a good hard look at my own suffering as well as the suffering I'd caused others. The second was rapidly losing my hairline in my mid twenties which essentially, at least to me, felt like losing my physical attractiveness altogether. It wasn't until I had to face the fact that I would no longer be desired like I once was that I was forced to look within myself for the beauty I no longer saw on the outside. But to my surprise, this inward gaze also made it apparent to me how hollow the past victories of my immature games really were. Looking within revealed to me how carelessly I'd treated people I supposedly cared about. Looking within revealed to me how my appearance made me feel and treat others as if I was superior, something that I knew in my heart to be wrong, and it led me to start questioning what I had actually gained from this so called power of feeling desired.

Everything That Glitters Ain't Gold

It's hard to gauge depth by just looking at the surface.

I often joke about the pain of being bald and knowing I'll never fulfill my man bun dreams of yore but in truth, if tomorrow I was offered a $50 procedure that would give me a full head of hair back, I don't think I'd invest in it. And that's because losing my hair has been an obvious blessing to me and I know better than to reject a gift from God. I definitely feel like I get looked at a lot less now than I did before I went bald but I also definitely feel more seen now because not being able to depend on my looks to connect with others has forced me to share who I really am inside. Connecting with my inner self has enhanced my ability to pierce through the mask that others have been conditioned to present which allows me to see and connect with who others are inside as well.

Those who are interested in me these days are interested, not because they like to look at my face (because I don't leave the house, lol) but rather because they see my heart. And perhaps that's why I'm so repulsed by instagram models – because I know the attention they get from their appearance has likely blocked them from connecting with their souls. You can only meet someone as deeply as they've met themselves and fortunately fate forced me to meet myself beyond my physical appearance and connect with my spirit. And as someone who is connected with his spirit, I now only want to connect with others who can meet me in the same space.

To fully embody the highest versions of ourselves, we have to use the light of our awareness to illuminate the ugly shadows that our physical forms have casted upon the beauty & majesty of our inner being. Being looked at, while at first might invoke an egoic sense of pride and pleasure, will eventually lose it's luster once time inevitably withers away our physical form. I feel that the fear of getting older is really just a fear of becoming irrelevant in the eyes of society at large but I've found that becoming irrelevant to outside eyes isn't as bad as it seems. Because once we've lost the allure of being looked at by outside eyes, we can begin to embrace the joy of seeing ourselves with our inward eyes, and seeing with the most beautiful version of ourselves that there is.

Growth Challenge

Objective: To identify the difference of feeling looked at vs being seen


  1. Reflect on Being Desired:
    • Think back to a moment when you felt highly desired, primarily for your physical attributes. This could be a compliment on your looks, a time you were chosen based on appearance, or any instance where you felt valued for how you looked rather than who you are. Write down how this experience made you feel, focusing on the emotions and thoughts it elicited.
  2. Reflect on Being Seen:
    • Now, recall a time when you felt truly seen for who you are—your thoughts, feelings, values, or talents. This might be a moment of deep connection with someone, being acknowledged for an achievement that was meaningful to you, or simply being appreciated for your essence beyond the physical. Document how this experience differed from the first, noting the emotions and thoughts it brought up.
  3. Compare and Contrast:
    • With both experiences laid out, compare them. How did the nature of the attention in each scenario affect your self-esteem and happiness? Did one type of validation feel more fulfilling than the other? Reflect on why that might be and what it tells you about the value of being seen versus being looked at.
  4. Identify Key Insights:
    • Based on your reflection, identify key insights about how being looked at differs from being seen. Consider how these insights might influence your future interactions and the way you present yourself to the world.
  5. Actionable Step:
    • Choose one action based on your insights that you can take to cultivate more opportunities to be seen for who you truly are. This could involve expressing your inner thoughts and feelings more openly, engaging in activities that reflect your true passions and interests, or simply communicating your desire for deeper connections with the people around you.

What's Going On With Me + Fun Fact About Me

Fun Fact About Me

My Favorite Color(s)

When asked my favorite color, I usually just say "Purple", but the truth is, my favorite color is "Iridescent Purple" which is a more like a group of colors. I really like iridescent jewelry and the chain I wear daily is a piece I got custom made off of Etsy. It is made in a byzantine chainmail style out of niobium rings which I appreciate because niobium is shower safe and I'm lazy 🙃 I also recently got a set of peacock pearls that are naturally iridescent.

The beaded bracelet is hematite and I bought it just because I liked the way it looked but I later read that hematite is a mineral that is good for helping sensitive people ground themselves so maybe that's why I was attracted to it? The chainmail bracelet and the bangle are both anodized titanium.

What's your favorite color?

What's Going On With Me

I don't know if I should blame Mercury retrograde or what, but I had such a hard time writing this newsletter, not because I couldn't think of what to say or that the subject matter was challenging to reflect on, but because when I re-read every sentence that I wrote, it sounded like I was having a stroke, lol. Even now, I'm unsure of how coherent it was so if it didn't make much sense, it's not you, it's me! I think it's a slippery slope to outsource our power to external forces but I must admit, there's something going on that currently has my mind feeling like mush. I'm opening up more and more to the idea that the planets behaviors have an effect on our behavior. I know in my heart that everything in the Universe is connected so it's really not that far-fetched of an idea when I think of it within that context. We know that the moon's cycles has a great affect on how water moves on the Earth and seeing that the human body is primarily made up of water, it makes sense how the moon's cycles can affect the way we feel and behave too.

Visualization of the moon's effect on the tide that I got from Reddit.

Lately I've been noticing how many of my peers have multiple kids and mortgages and well-established careers and how I don't have any of those things. And while I can't say that I'm jealous, it does make me reflect on where I am in life and of the fact that I'm not as young as I might feel. I really don't believe you need any of societies markers for success to live a fulfilling life and a part of me feels like my life is meant to be a testament of that. But I also wonder if I'll ever get bored of spending the vast majority of my time alone and in flux. I've never truly grown roots in any of the seven cities I've lived in so far and for now, though I'm really enjoying Pittsburgh, it doesn't seem like I'll settle here either. Idk if my soul is meant to settle anywhere, honestly, but we'll see. Maybe that'll all change if I ever find a place outside my Self that feels like home.

I hope the upcoming eclipse reminds you that you are surrounded by beauty all around you and that this newsletter reminds you that the origin of all the beauty you find around you is in you.

With love,

Magic Mike 💜