This post was inspired by Lisa Hickey’s powerful article/confessional, Chasing Beauty: An Addict’s Memoir.
I don’t think I’m beautiful.
And I don’t – in any way, shape or form – mean that as a self-pitying, self-deprecating statement. I am not fishing for compliments. I don’t have low self-esteem.
When I say I don’t think I’m beautiful, I mean it as a matter-of-fact, realistic statement. This does not mean I don’t think I’m attractive. I think I look pretty good most of the time, especially if my hair is sitting right and my skin is behaving and I took the time to moisturise. I’m confident enough to say that I’m attractive, that I like my body and I like my face and I think I scrub up pretty nicely when I make the effort.
The depth and breadth of the beauty industry is almost unfathomable and the vast majority of it manufactured for and targeted at women exclusively. Taking care of your appearance is like being sucked into an endless vortex of products and procedures. I don’t know what age I was when the light dusting of brown hair on my upper lip became something I absolutely could not live with, something that detracted from my appearance so dramatically that painful monthly waxing seemed like the only option. Then it was tweezing. Then electrolysis. Then it was bleaching. Then back to waxing. For better or for worse, this is part of my routine, something I can’t ignore, something I now live with as part of the basic essential maintenance of Marianne.
I have been considering getting my eyebrows threaded, because they have always been a strange shape and not particularly feminine. However, I hold myself back because, if I start getting my eyebrows threaded, they will be another part of my body that needs regular maintenance if I am to continue to consider myself attractive. This is how I feel about subjecting my battleship-sheeting toenails to a pedicure. This is how I feel about investing in expensive shampoo and conditioner. Arbitrary items and rituals become necessities in the daily struggle to be beautiful, time and money that could be spent on more important things, such as learning and partying and travelling and helping other people.
I smile with half-amused, half-exasperated fascination at women who spend their lives with hair-straighteners grafted to their arms. I’m simultaneously baffled and horrified by the entire concept of Botox. But then, I remember that I only use pure mineral make-up and l only wear Victoria’s Secret bras. From observation, I feel like my beauty routine is possibly less stringent than that of most women, but that does not change the fact that the mentality is exactly the same. I don’t feel confident without these rituals I have established for myself. I feel unprepared and anxious facing the world without concealer and eyeliner. I hate getting caught with unshaven legs or unwashed hair. I’m willing to bet every woman, to a greater or lesser extent, has similar dependencies that stem from the need to be beautiful. I constantly resist adding new lotions and potions and appointments to my arsenal, because I am all too aware that I will become dependent on them.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I know deep down in my heart that even if I drank only water and ate only grapefuit and celery and lost ten pounds and went running and did yoga every single day and got regular mani/pedis and all my excess hair lasered away and my teeth straightened and whitened and monthly facials and haircuts and all the most expensive oils and creams and scrubs and soaps and a timelessly trendy wardrobe full of permanently flattering items, even if I did every single one of these things, I would still just be me. I would definitely be at the peak of my attractiveness, but realistically the improvement would be negligible in comparison to the time and effort and money spent on maintaining it. I would probably get a bit a more superficial attention than regular Marianne, but I would also never be satisfied. The vortex is bottomless; it would just suck me in further and suffocate me with an infinity of tempting new ways to be beautiful.
Jaw-dropping physical beauty is a gift you are born with. It’s not in my repertoire, it’s not something I was given. That’s fine. I have other gifts, like being able to fit my entire fist in my mouth and incredible long-distance vision. I’m not hot, I’m not stunning, I’m not beautiful. I could strive for it forever, for the rest of my life, and I would still not be a girl who turns heads at parties and gets phone numbers on the bus. But that does not mean I am not physically attractive in my own way. I’m also intelligent, loyal, kind and fun to be around, which are other factors of my overall attractiveness. I do not believe I will ever be lonely because I don’t look like Megan Fox or Katy Perry. There’s a weird liberation in that. There’s a strange but palpable freedom in my DIY haircut and my bitten nails and the knotty callouses on my feet.
That said, I’m still probably never going to stop exfoliating. I will still cave-in and splash out on a proper haircut from time to time. Society demands a certain level of maintenance, as much as we would like to deny it. There’s a delicate tension between feeling confident and comfortable when you walk out your front door in the morning and being utterly consumed by the media-driven quest for beauty.
I still cannot help feeling a pang of jealousy when I see girls who can wear red lipstick and high-waisted shorts with natural and effortless grace. I also gaze with frank admiration at girls who don’t feel the need to shave their legs. Maybe one day, these girls will be the same person. At the end of the day, it’s all kind of beautiful.
This post originally ran on my old blog, deathofnewgods.tumblr.com, and has been backdated to reflect this. It was also subsequently appeared on the Good Men Project.