Can I talk about beauty tonight? My space within myself that may or may not be beautiful?
I’m maybe 50 pages in Naomi Wolf’s famous book The Beauty Myth, and – like any other time I read a particularly provocative feminist text, I’m riled up. Of course I’m angry at the way the patriarchal media machine has dictated women’s self-esteem and lives for generations. It’s enough to make me want to inflict some weird virus on every computer in every beauty magazine office so these editors, photographers and designers can never use Photoshop to lie to women about what our bodies should look like, as if I was some sort of feminist Tyler Durden. C’mon, ladies, we need to shake these shackles (and guys, too, if they feel the pressure to have well-sculpted abs and thighs or else no girl will ever love them for their brain)!
And, to be fair, I like to think our society’s impossible beauty standard has not touched me. If I can be honest, I don’t wax my bikini line. I can’t stand in high heels. I don’t know how to apply eye shadow, and I feel far more at home in a nerd shirt and a pair of jeans than I do in a lacy skirt. I take a certain pride in all of these things, they make me unique – almost rebellious – and I enjoy that.
Still, there’s an uneasiness in me. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth coming back to: I do not believe I am pretty. I’m usually okay with that idea because I try to emphasis my intellect (or at least my curiosity) and my kindness over my physical appearance. But sometimes I give “pretty” a shot, you know? I may throw on a skirt or let someone apply lipstick and rouge to my face and then suddenly it’s like I’m an entirely different person! I’m sexy and confident, but I think more importantly, I’m SEEN. Because that’s my normal presentation: intelligent and sweet and not bad to look at, but I don’t primp and preen to fit our society’s beauty standard so I often feel invisible.
It’s like I’m down a rabbit hole. Do I refuse to wear make-up (and thus highlight my natural assets) because I don’t believe I have any assets to highlight, or am I feminist rebel who down plays her physical assets to let her intelligence shine?? If it’s the latter, then HELL YAH, but can it really be that simple? I have a lifetime of my mother telling me to stand up straight, to dress nicer, asking me if I like this skirt or that dress when all I want to do is burrow into my hoodie and hide. I have an entire industry telling me that a size 8 jeans is “fat,” much less a size 12 (and then my father’s voice: Don’t you want to be a size 10 again?). I have pounds and pounds of flesh on my bones and I don’t know how to look at it. The self-love tip for today is that I am not my body, and sure, when it came to some awkward physical encounters with the opposite sex, that advice saved my life. But beauty is something else entirely. Beauty defines my worth and my value, even as I try to kick that notion to the curb. If I perform, even a little bit, I am praised and seen and valued. I bask in that attention. But dammit, is there an alternative? Can I have that alternative? Instead of telling me I need to “Keep the red lipstick!” can someone tell me, “Holy crap, you are so sexy when you get fired up about cis privilege!!” Has someone already told me this and I didn’t notice? Is that my real problem?
I’m rambling again, but my point settles here: I love myself for the rumbled, slightly-masculine, intellectual-hidden-in-a-book-cave self that I am now. I just don’t think society does, and I suspect even those who love me for the version of myself I prefer to present wish I would perform to a higher standard of beauty than I do now. It’s a sad thought and makes self-love seem impossible.
Action is needed in this instance, but I don’t know what sort of action. Do I torch all my dresses, run out and buy an entire wardrobe of dress slacks and shirts in an act of feminist defiance? Do I start highlighting my enormous eyes with mascara and amazing cheekbones with rouge to gain more confidence in myself? Or do I just love myself for the confused jumble I am, become this font of eternal light that the “right” sort of people are drawn to, and trust everything will fall into place (like Dita von Teese tells us, “You could be the ripest juiciest peach and there will always be someone who just doesn’t like peaches!”)? The choice I make depends on the person I want to be. I just want to be myself, but what does that even look like?
This self-love post was submitted for the 31-Day Self-Love Writing Challenge. Even though January is over, you can continue to write from the prompts if they inspire you. February’s self-love writing prompt is Be Your Own Valentine. Join our February Self-Love Writing Challenge Facebook event to continue sharing your self-love journey in a safe community.