Chasing Beauty: An Addict’s Memoir

 Lisa Hickey was beautiful twice, and she hated herself for it.

Here we go again, I think, as I impatiently wait for the hair straighter to warm up. I’ve washed my hair, deep conditioned it, shaved my legs, tweezed my eyebrows. I’ve blown dry my hair, but it’s still a wreck. It’s always a wreck. It’s thin, so thin that when I put it into a ponytail, a pencil is thicker. I plaster down the worst of the flyaways with a hair product that promises something it can’t deliver.

What I really want to be doing – instead of going through that same-same ritual – is learning to write code. Studying analytics. Taking with someone halfway ‘round the world about real oppression. Not the kind of oppression that I feel because of my addiction to beauty.

♦◊♦

Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror, and I’ll catch the light just right. The sun will be setting, the image in the mirror gets dim, the wrinkles and age spots and flyaway hairs meld into the twilight. The angle of my chin clicks into place. And at those times I’ll look in the mirror and say to myself: Oh, I’m not as hideous as I thought.

There is nothing about that statement that is good, or healthy, or intelligent, or perhaps even logical. But it is 100% honest. And every day, that’s as good as it gets.

♦◊♦

It’s weird, this thing called beauty. I used to be beautiful twice in my life. You just know. There’s simply a different look in people’s eyes. They actually look at you. They actually see you.

I was 22, and out on a date and I overheard a stranger talking to the guy I was dating. “Man, you don’t see that she’s the most beautiful girl in this place?”  My boyfriend shook his head. “If you don’t, you’re crazy…here…” said the guy, giving my boyfriend his number. “Call me if you break up with her.”

 ♦◊♦

Anti-aging skin care products are reported to be a $3.5 billion dollar industry. Products are designed to “remove 33% of fine lines and wrinkles.” But do you know what I look like with 33% less fine lines and wrinkles? I look like plain old ordinary almost-hideous me, just with 33% less fine lines and wrinkles. Except I’m standing there holding a $70 container of face cream that could have been a night out, or a textbook, or partial payment on a new laptop. It’s pretty laughable. And yet, I still walk into CVS and longingly stalk the skincare aisle, picking up containers. “Maybe this will be the one.”

 ♦◊♦

I remember reading a book called The Condition. One of the main characters has Turners Syndrome, which causes her not to develop into puberty; to remain as small as a middle-schooler. And this woman feels marginalized most of her life, keeps to herself, doesn’t have relationships. Until she travels to a Caribbean island and a man there falls in love with her. And I remember this next sentence perfectly:  He kept saying to her, over and over, “I love that you’re so small,” until gradually she learned to love that about herself, too. But who says, “I love that you’re so ugly?” Or, “I love that you’re so old?” Of course I believe that love exists for the old and the ugly—as long as they were young and beautiful when you first met them.

 ♦◊♦

A commenter on my last my post “Beauty, Obsession, Men, Women” said, “At 80 years old, everyone is marginalized,” in response to what I’ve found, in talking to other women and hearing them say that they don’t want to grow old because they are afraid they will lose their beauty and become marginalized. But…if people are marginalized at 80, isn’t that because of their LOOKS? Are you telling me that if an 80-year-old looked like a really hot 40-year-old that people wouldn’t pay attention to her?

 ♦◊♦

At 42 years old, after four kids and a train-wreck of a self-image, I became obsessed with beauty again. It started like it always does; I went running. And running – I have to run a lot, 5 to 10 miles a day – but running does it for me. Eventually my body started to look great. And then, even better, I added to my workout pilates, yoga, strength-training, and ballet. And more running. I got leaner and longer and stretched. My posture was perfect. My shoulders thrown back; emerging shoulder blades. I could feel my hipbones again. And then the facials, chemical peels, microdermabrasion’s, Botox. I was in some salon or another every week. Manicures. Pedicures. Hair colored on Boston’s ritzy Newbury Street, “chocolate and caramel swirl for your hair so you look delicious,” the stylist would laugh. New clothing. The perfect bra. A funky pair of shoes. Just the right earrings. A silk dress.

You don’t set out to spend money that should be going to your kids schooling, but instead is going to your beauty regime—at least I certainly didn’t. But a treatment of Botox is a tuition payment. A months worth of yoga classes is a textbook. A mani-pedi is an hour of tutoring. Not to mention the time not being with my kids. I’d get nervous if I couldn’t fit the three hours of exercise in. If a yoga class was at suppertime, yoga it was.

It was totally and completely and utterly selfish, of course. Addictions are always selfish. You justify them any way you can—“It’s important to have ‘me’ time”, “I work so hard, I deserve to relax,” “I need to look good to get ahead in work. I’ll earn more for my family.” “I’m healthier when I’m in shape. More relaxed. More confident. I’m a better person.” But an addiction is an addiction is an addiction, and you start feeding that addiction at the expense of connecting with the people you love.

 ♦◊♦

One day a few months after my new regime, I dashed straight from work to pick up my daughter from a birthday party. Parents that I had known for years didn’t recognize me. One eight-year old eating ice cream said solemnly “Mrs. Hickey, did they turn you into a movie star?”

 ♦◊♦

Intelligence doesn’t walk in the door the same way beauty does.

Most of my life I’ve been afraid of men. Part of that fear was—and still is, quite frankly—I’m afraid I’m not beautiful enough. I like to think I’m intelligent, and funny, and kind, and that those qualities will be enough for any interaction.

But intelligence doesn’t walk in the door the same way beauty does.

 ♦◊♦

A few months later, I’m at a Boston Advertising Awards Show. The Hatch Awards, packed to the gills with people dressed to the nines and I know almost everyone. And 5 minutes after I walk in I hear a loud booming voice from across the room. “OMG, who’s the babe?

I instinctively turn around to see who he was talking about. Then I realized I was “the babe.”

It happened all night. The variation on the theme was, “Who’s the baaaaaaaaaaabe?” Men who usually took care to conduct themselves with the utmost of professionalism seemed delirious. An old boss said, “I always wished you had looked this way back when we worked together. You know, for the clients.” One guy I had worked with for months years earlier turned around and dropped his drink on his shoe when he saw me. He didn’t lose a beat as he hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You look fucking gorgeous.”

You know what I hated most? I hated that I loved it. I hated that I couldn’t wait to see the look in guys’ eyes as they actually looked at me, as if they saw me for the first time. I couldn’t stand the way that for each of the previous 10 years, I had gone to that same awards show—and in all the other years I remembered the joy of hearing my name announced and getting an award, or being asked to interview for the perfect job, or making a hushed deal in the marble hallways of the Opera House. And I hated myself because this time, I didn’t want to hear any of those things. All I wanted to hear was “who’s the babe?” I hated that every accomplishment I had ever earned was replaced by the desire to hear guys tell me that I was once again beautiful.

 ♦◊♦

Gradually, of course, as what happens with all addictions, my life became unmanageable. My kids started begging me to go for cheaper haircuts, so I could afford clothes for them. They’d want to spend time with me when I wanted to go for longer and longer runs. A pre-teen daughter stormed out of Staples when a guy started flirting with me—while we were buying her school supplies. (The only thing worse than a not-hot mom is a hot one.) I’d sneak off from work to go to a “client meeting”, but I’d really be going to a yoga class. Walking back in the office two hours later and trying to hide the yoga mat didn’t exactly inspire confidence in my managerial capabilities. I’d get caught with thousands of dollars worth of bills for beauty services the way some people get caught with bills for phone sex.

 ♦◊♦

And so, reluctantly, I gave up my addiction. But there are still some signs I’m not fully cured. There’s my daily battle with the mirror and the hair straightener. And I’ve joined the ranks of Jezebel readers, who are horrified of the constant photoshopping of pictures of women in the media, like this “Photoshop Shop of Horrors.”

I hope Jezebel makes a dent in things. But until then, what to I do in response to my horror? I Photoshop pictures of myself before they go out in public.

♦◊♦

On The Good Men Project Facebook page, one of our fans once wrote: “What is wrong with men liking women who are beautiful? Why can’t we just like what we like? Why must you make us feel guilty?”

The truth is, nothing is wrong with it. You can absolutely like whom you like. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty. You own your own feelings, not me. And I am certainly not blaming you for my own screwed-up insecurities.

A pretty much un-Photoshopped photo of me.

I am telling you my side of the story so you understand this—I am not a good a person when I am beautiful. I don’t want it to be so important — but I think it’s important to you, as guys, so it’s important to me. And this is my story, not every woman’s and I’m sure there are plenty of beautiful women who are not like me either. But when I’m beautiful—or close to beautiful—it’s all I think about. When I’m beautiful and I’m with you, I’m wondering if the guy across the room thinks I’m beautiful. I think beauty is going to connect us; but I’m not connecting with you, I’m connecting with a beautiful image of myself that I think you might like. It sucks. It sucks for both of us.

And my addiction to beauty hurts men because I don’t give you credit for being the guys you are—someone who likes the incredible complexity of women for who they are.

♦◊♦

Giving up my addiction meant giving up being beautiful. Some people here will tell me I am “fishing for compliments” by writing this. That’s what I am usually told when I talk about beauty.

♦◊♦

Even as I was writing this—even as I was remembering “the guy who dropped the glass on his foot”—I had a physical reaction. It was similar to a fight or flight response—I could either put these fighting words about beauty on a page, or I could go for a run. I was typing as I slid my feet into my sneakers. I was still thinking through sentences, and found I couldn’t get my headphones into my iPhone quick enough. It took an excruciatingly long time to untangle them. I had to run. I had to run through a beautiful day, and then later, at one in the morning, run again, run at a cost to a leg that doesn’t work anymore, run as hard and as fast as I could—chasing a beauty I know I can never catch up to.

♦◊♦

I want beauty not to matter.

 

photo: amyrod on Flickr

More on Women’s Obsession with Beauty

Are Women Addicted to Beauty?

Her Looks, Your Status: Why His Claims Not to Care About Beauty Ring Hollow

The Ugly Duckling as a Gender-Neutral Beauty Ideal

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful

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About Lisa Hickey

Lisa Hickey is CEO of Good Men Media Inc. and publisher of the Good Men Project. "I like to create things that capture the imagination of the general public and become part of the popular culture for years to come." Connect with her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I flat-out loved every word of this and your emotional honesty. Thank you Lisa.

  2. THAT was fucking beautiful.

  3. So much truth here. I completely agree with everything you said. I’m only 20 and even I feel this way. I’ve been called beautiful and I am very often the recipient of cat calls, whistles, and inappropriate staring. But I am known as a geek, and I am not the kind of person that follows fashion. I am a self proclaimed ‘feminized’ tomboy. But my ‘assets’ stand out, and subsequently get commented on. It’s nice to know that people find me attractive, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that people like you for other reasons than what you look like. “I wish it didn’t matter.” That rings so true for me. I really wish it didn’t matter. I wish that intelligence or humor or selflessness got whistles or cat calls. When so many people start calling attention to just your body, you start putting your effort into maintaining that instead of being the best person you can be. Because altruism, courage, strength, intelligence – they simply don’t get the same recognition that beauty (or a nice rack) does. I wish it did. I don’t like debasing myself to become arm candy for my boyfriend. I don’t like neglecting the things that make me who I am. But the attention is just so damn seductive, especially coming from a past where I was an “ugly duckling”.

    • GirlGlad4the GMP says:

      Hear, hear, Steph. There’s another side to it that people just don’t get. Intelligence was always prized in our family…and it’s pretty damn high on my list. But when you are attractive, people don’t assume you are intelligent, and if you prove yourself to be, it’s unimportant. I spent my teens and twenties feeling like an object. When I gained some weight after college, all I heard was “why are you ruining yourself” or “you would be much more atteactive if you lost weight”. But for the first time in my life, my words became more important than my looks. People listened. My intellectual prowess became more important than my lips, my breasts, my ass…I remember even telling a girlfriend that there was a part of me that wanted to keep the extra chub, even if my clothes didn’t fit, at least I wasn’t being objectified when ignored. The decision to lose the weight came on the heels of familial health issues, but with it returns the catcalls, the fact that they just aren’t listening anymore.
      It’s a no-win situation…

      • Lisa Hickey says:

        Well, I have to say that after I gave up worrying about beauty so much, I became much happier because it forced me to develop and highlight parts of me that I might not otherwise. For example, I knew would it took to be beautiful — hours of work, sure, but it was all there in one checklist: body, hair, clothes, teeth, skin, etc. The thing about the media is, when it comes to beauty, they tell you what to do.

        But then — well, for example I always wanted to be funny. How the heck do you do *that*? It’s certainly not as easy as putting on eyeshadow. But since then, I’ve taken a ton of classes on just that — humor writing, stand-up comedy, improv. It’s been great. And if you think it’s hard getting a group of people to shout “who’s the babe” — try getting them all to laugh. It’s been an awesome experience, and if I had let beauty remain as my defining quality I never would have done that.

  4. Lisa, I have had friends with similar addictions (such as eating disorders.) I hope that you’re getting some help with this addiction, and that you also have a stack of well-worn, time-honored self help books. (Books do change lives!) Good luck, and love from a fan of your GMP.

  5. Great stuff Lisa. The only problem is I’m not sure what the solution is.

    I’m sure many women share your point of view. They like being beautiful. And men can see women like being beautiful, so we tell them as much. But then, all of a sudden, being beautiful is bad. And men are not supposed to focus on the beauty that previously gave you so much joy. When we do, we’re shallow and only interested in one thing.

    I can see both sides. I can see why you’d like being lavished with attention, and I can see why you’d view it as a burden. From a man’s point of view, we no longer know how to act. If we see that you’ve obviously been working out or you got your hair done and took a lot of time and energy to look good, isn’t it rude not to say something? But then if we put too much emphasis on it, are we being insensitive and shallow?

    I don’t know. I really don’t. But what I can say is I really admire the way you present things when you write. You don’t hit people over the head with your opinions (as I am admittedly guilty of) and you don’t preach. You write to inform and enlighten. And that’s a rare skill. Thanks for this.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Hey Aaron,

      The part of your comment that says —

      “From a man’s point of view, we no longer know how to act. If we see that you’ve obviously been working out or you got your hair done and took a lot of time and energy to look good, isn’t it rude not to say something? But then if we put too much emphasis on it, are we being insensitive and shallow?”

      That was part of the reason I wrote this. Because I don’t blame men for being confused. And truthfully — people like me are part of that problem.

      In terms of solutions, I think….you you shouldn’t be afraid of complimenting womens looks. But just be consciously aware to compliment *other* qualities also. One of the things that amazed me about writing this piece was how many people complimented me for being “brave”. And honestly, that’s a word I never would have used to describe myself. But I was scared to write it and I was scared to have it published and I was scared to be as honest as I was…so yeah, I guess that’s brave. And now I know.

      The other thing that I think *women* should do is to let men know what it is they DO value about themselves besides beauty. And to not be afraid of showcasing those qualities. For example, there have been times in my life when I’ve been afraid to look “too smart”. Which is ridiculous. I should be just as proud as being intelligent as I am of anything else. But even writing these words now…I think to myself, oh, I’m going to look like I’m “showing off” if talk about intelligence. Yet I never thought I was showing off by being beautiful. So there’s some disconnect there.

      Anyway — thanks — you’ve been one of the people who’s taught me everything I know about being brave with my writing.

    • I agree with Lisa. The problem isn’t that men appreciate a woman’s looks – it’s when she starts to feel that they are the top priority. They should be pretty far down the list of qualities to look for. I’m assuming that your partner knows that you value more than her appearance, so I think it’s perfectly fine to compliment her. And, I think that she should compliment you, too.

    • The solution??? It’s seeing a woman as a whole person. Speaking to and listening for cues about her whole life, not just the external “look.” Just like men would prefer we focus on all of them not just their money, right?
      Not a hard solution.

  6. Todd Mauldin says:

    Beautifully and bravely written, Lisa. Thank you for your perspective on this.

  7. The problem isn’t the desire to want to be beautiful. To be beautiful is to be feminine. And most women enjoy their femininity. And that has the ability to be completely healthy. The problem also isn’t that men find beautiful women captivating. There can be a lot of joy when a man finds a woman beautiful. The problem is the unrealistic standards placed on women about what beauty means. How often it gets twisted into these unreal visions of femininity. Things like Playboy, Maxim, Cosmo, Victoria Secrets commercials….botox, breast implants, hair extensions, false nails, lip injections, anti-aging treatments (cause we all know women aren’t really allowed to age, not like men are.) We don’t socially deal very healthily with beauty. And that goes for men just as much as it goes for women. Women need to reject alot of what has become normalized about our own bodies to the extent that we start getting “procedures” done. And men need to reject the images the media sells them about women’s bodies and looks.

    Lisa’s experience really is an anthem for what most women (young and old or beautiful and ulgy) go through daily in terms of their own beauty and their self critisim. She 100% hit the nail on the head and I thank her for allowing us into that intimate part of her life. It’s a part of life that most women know well. Thank you Lisa.

  8. Call me strange, then, because even though I would never deny that looks act as a sort of lighthouse in the fog of just how many people there are in the world (we truly can’t each pay attention to them all), looks have never HELD my attention. Gaudy neon colors on a shirt might draw my eye to them, but it certainly won’t compel me to buy.

    What I fear at 80 years-old is losing my mind, my wit, and though scientifically it’s been proven that one’s mind doesn’t necessarily “go” at that age (barring anything pathological), one does seem to undergo personality changes — whether it makes one more mild-mannered, or intolerant of noises or distractions (to the point of badgering those younger than you to shut up the racket), or conventional, easily shocked, or whatever. I never want that to happen. I still want to be me, always; I still want my noir, almost disgusting, sense of humor. I still want my occasional urges to dye my hair some weird color. I still want to swear like a sailor. I still want to relate stories and have people be truly INTERESTED in what I’m saying. I still want to make people laugh. I still want people to want me to tag along on their exploits. I’m that person now, and that’s who I always want to be.

    Maybe that will change as I get older, but that’s my only fear in aging — not being “me” anymore, the me that I love so much right now. I can handle gray hair, wrinkles, sagging and bagging, all that. Of course, looks have always just seemed pointless to me, beyond their evolutionary uses. Even if biologically receptive to their charms as any other human being, I just couldn’t imagine wasting time on them.

    So to have a psychological NEED, an obsession, to pay them heed even though you’d honestly rather be doing something else — I can’t even imagine the frustration. The brain is so strange sometimes.

    I wish you peace, ultimately. Everyone deserves to love the person she is, warts and all.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Interesting, thanks for this. I don’t actually fear losing any of my mental capabilities as I age. Maybe it’s because I’ve been blessed with people like my mother and grandmother who have been as intelligent and articulate as ever late into their late 80’s and 90’s.

      The other thing I was telling some friends was that all this — social media and content, and influx of information — it ALL changes me. So as I get older, I’ll just keep changing. It will be a conscious choice for me, and I truly believe that is the way to stay mentally young forever.

      I DO wish looks were pointless to me, I haven’t a clue why I can’t get over that.

  9. This is AMAZING I felt like i could have written this except for the botox and the fact that I am too lazy to exercise. I have been blessed with my mothers youthful skin and my father’s coloring, when you mix a fair haired Irish beauty with a full blooded dark hair dark eyed Colombian adonis you get me (not the hard body) I’ve been complimented my whole life on my skin and my beauty ,I fear most losing this so much that when I saw an age spot on my mother I cried and in my head I know I have at least 18 years until I spot one Sadly she dispelled that by telling my my years of quest for a golden tan will cause them to appear sooner. This entire article was very cathartic for me as I rapidly approach 46 this hit a little too close to home! Well said and I feel your pain sister!!!

  10. Lisa, this is very honest, thank you.

    I have found myself in the same traps several times in my life.

    And I have come to the same conclusion – I don’t want to sell myself or men short. We are complex individuals with rich, robust beauty. Why create a mask to separate us?

    I want beauty to matter. But the beauty I want to matter is true beauty – the complex, unique kind. I want beauty to shine through a woman’s eyes. What is beauty through a woman’s eyes to herself? It is authenticity, I believe.

    I’m tired of beauty as it is defined through a non-complex man’s eyes.

    I challenge myself to think about beauty on my own terms. My purpose is to let my beauty shine – not the minimalizing, distracting kind – but the authentic me that allows connections with men and women and all creatures.

  11. The Wet One says:

    Hey Lisa (no not the author, but the commentator with whom I interlocute from time to time), IMHO this is part of the female desire arousal function at play. The author seeks being the “babe” , the centre of male desire (I bet the other wives in the rooms just hated her when “Who’s the babe?” rang out), the object of male attention. I suspect, though the author did not admit to it, that it made possible her, if not made her, aroused in some way (at least if there were a man worthy of said arousal in the room).

    IMHO (for what that’s worth), this is perhaps a part of the female psychological make up that differs from men. Women, on some level, want to be the center of male attention. Of course, they eventually grow past this, but the desire to at the center remains. The author’s experience at some level speaks to this fact (or at least as I read it).

    I am reminded of my many hours spent in strip clubs and I recall how the dancers would revel in the attention showered on them. And I remember how when some of my regular companions (ahhh Asia, you were the finest of the fine) would react when I excused myself to see another another dancer other than her. It was a noteworthy reaction. Some of the dancers (not all, but a noteworthy percentage) lived for the attention, the compliments, the cheers and adoration sent their way. Eventually, all dancers age and move on (heck, even Asia retired at about 36 as one of the sexiest women I’ve ever known), but I betcha many of them miss the attention that they got when they were in their prime.

    I think that that’s just part of being a woman. It ain’t only dancers or Ms. Hickey who feel this way about being “the Babe.”

    • The Wet One says:

      Hmm… I’m going to get mercilessly flamed too aren’t it? All part of the job I guess.

      For the record, I wasn’t only interested in dancers for their looks all the time. Heck, my opening line on dancers was “What’s the last book you read?” when I was looking for dates. It even worked once! It always led to interesting discussions about more than just the obvious and garnered me a few friends amongst the dancers while I was a regular at the bar. Respect for a dancer’s intelligence went a long way and by getting to know them, I certainly learned the lie that is the stereotype about dancers.

      • You could have asked a girl in a supermarket what her favorite book was, too. But you chose the dancers. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that looks didn’t matter that much… particularly the variety of good looks that are available for a price.

        • The Wet One says:

          No doubt. One of the great parts of the strip club was the fact that there was waay less rejection than you would have in a supermarket. Generally, once you demonstrated a willingness to pay a dancer for dances, you got to talk. No dancers would refuse to talk during lap dances (not that I met anyways). Heck I even learned to swear better in French from a dancer.

          Women in supermarkets are less hot on average than dancers (though I’ve seen some in the supermarket that blow most of the dancers out of the water. I used to work at a supermarket.). Also, you can’t sit and talk to them for an hour on a slow night at the club (women at supermarkets have things to do and places to go, people to see etc., dancers on shift at the club I went to, on a slow night, nope, not so much).

          And like I said “I wasn’t only interested in dancers for their looks all the time.” I did not deny I was into dancers for their looks. It would not be any different today were I still in the market. Nowadays, I know what some women read (this article and my comments for example) and I talk to them! Cool isn’t it?

          And no, I don’t get lap dances anymore. I’ve got a fantastic woman in my life who’ll do so much more than lap dance and there’s no “No hands” rule. Dang, life just got better and better since those days!

          • Wet One, when a man notices me physically, it doesn’t make me physically aroused. Sure, it feels good. Just not in that way. It just feeds my ego. I doubt strippers where on stage horny as anything because of a bunch of drooling men were giving them their money. However, I agree that women that are strippers enjoy the attention and admiration. Conversely, strippers also become more jaded about men. They might like the attention and admiration but they also see men behaving at their worst. They see men with families, they see single men that don’t know how to relate to women, they hear men talk about them in the most degrogatory of terms. They see the worst of men. On stage, they might like the admiration, but off stage, it’s a different story. Behind the games and the fantasy, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It might be a man’s fantasy but to a lot of women, it’s a nightmare. Because it’s the exact environment that promotes what the world tries to tell women is important about them. So they offer the only thing they think they have to offer. Strippers might like the attention but it’s not the positive attention you might think it is. And since strippers get paid more money when they are nicer to their clients, creating fakely intimate relationships between themselves and their clients for more money, I think some men can get confused in that environment about who women are.

            I also don’t think that any jealousy between the girls you might have seen had anything really to do with you specfically and was really a more general jeaoulousy about taking away the attention. It was probably true for any guy with enough money to spend that they developed regular “relaitonships” with.

            • Just a guess, but I am thinking that the women enjoyed (and needed) the money they received (or know they will receive) from customers when they have caught someone’s attention. Losing the “attention” of a customer to another dancer means losing cash/aka a means to support herself and any dependents, not necessarily the attention itself. The attention is a pathway for a dancer to bring home the bacon. Sure, some dancers enjoy the male gaze but a heck of a lot of them play the game so they can look forward to the fact that they will be leaving with some cash in their pockets after paying out the club. It’s a job.

            • Right, I’d think the situation at the strip club is “women seeking the attention from men in order to make money.” Sure if it becomes clear the money isn’t happening and things are slow, they’d take conversation…they’re bored.

              I can’t help but think that, in general, the women working the club are not turned on by the attention, but by the knowledge they are performing their work correctly enough to get paid. I’ve met several dancers. The majority were bisexual or lesbian and preferred women as partners, not men.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      I will readily admit that a good part of my obsession with being beautiful was because I wanted to be “sexually desired by males.”

  12. Dear Ms. Hickey

    I respect your honesty in sharing your addiction. To me it does sound a lot like drug addiction, in terms of negative cycles and lack of reasonability. I am sorry that you had to experience such feelings, and I hope you will find peace with your idea of beauty.

    I will admit I have negative addictions on my own, but yours was one alien to me. Although I am familiar with women’s body-image issues and how beauty industries can take advantage of them, I have never thought self-hatred could be a significant element. My experience with beauty was rather different from yours, which is why I now have so many questions I feel like asking you. But I don’t think this is the proper forum for that.

    I will say that I disagree with your statement “Giving up my addiction meant giving up being beautiful.” No, it just means giving up on a certain idea of beauty. And men are actually a lot less judgmental than you think. The ones worth your time, anyway.

    Best wishes on your journey for peace!

  13. Unfortunately I think the problem actually IS that beauty = femininity. This association comes from a time when women were not seem as full human beings capable of possessing moral or intellectual qualities the same way a man might. That is, there is a long history of woman being valued for their beauty and little else. In the patriarchy of the past women’s place was of course defined from what men thought when they dealt with women.

    The Media and magazines function to create a fake standard of beauty, a standard that happens to be above what almost any woman can achieve. Of course this depresses women who feel they’re below average when they’re not. However even without the media this addiction could have occured, since you could always get a little more attention by trying a little harder to be a little more beautiful.

    I don’t mean to really criticize/insult what others are saying, but comments along the lines of “All women are beautiful!” “Inner beauty counts too!” “Complex Beauty!” annoy me since they’re still saying that a woman’s beauty is all important, they’re just redefining it to be more inclusive.

    But really beauty is NOT an all important thing for a female person. The other stuff matters. Rather than list “other stuff” I’ll just note that a lot of it are things that men get noted for. Some are even considered masculine, but are still a good quality for a woman.

    I guess I just have a slightly more radical position where I doubt that things like femininity or masculinity have real meaning. Where it is possible to say that she’s nothing to look at but we’re still better off that she’s in the world. End Rant

  14. I just read this after returning from the beauty supply store, where I purchased a $40 face cleanser. I relate to every word you said, especially the parts about how insane it is trying to stay on the beauty hamster wheel. Nora Ephron has a really funny anecdote in I Hate My Neck, about looking at a bag lady and realizing she’s about six weeks away (no facial/hair color/mani-pedi/eyebrow shaping/Pilates) from looking like that. Any woman who says she doesn’t identify with your story is lying!

  15. Great article.

    I get really frustrated with guys saying things about how they just like beautiful women. Women just like attractive men. The thing is that people are inside the bodies we see.

    • The Wet One says:

      So a body is not part of a person?

      Interesting…

      • It is, obviously, part of the person. But there are physically perfect men and women out there who are completely cruel people. There are quirky looking men and women out there who are amazing, kind and loving. If we stop with the surface…well, we might miss out on a much better relationship. I guess if the only thing one is into is the surface/sexual or the status of having had sex with “hotness” then go for that, but it’s a top layer and there is much more.

  16. Hi Lisa,
    First of all, fishing or not, that unretouched photo of you is completely lovely.
    Similar to yourself I want to find a happy medium of appreciating beauty just enough without making it SO important. I am a fitness trainer and regarding looks I always tell my clients, “It is not what you have, it is what you enjoy that matters.”

    Regarding money I emphasize the difference between ‘beauty’ vs. ‘Health’ care expenditures. Pay to stay healthy and you will likely be beautiful also. Paying for ‘beauty’ treatments rarely does the reverse. A person who pays for botox…instead of regular dental check-ups…is missing the point.

  17. Privilege has it’s standards.

  18. Thank you for this incredibly honest portrayal of what it’s like to be a woman today! Hugo’s article today has quite a few comments following it that can confirm our worst suspicions: that as smart, funny, loving and kind as we may be, it’s still the young 20-something girls that’ll get so many men’s full attention so your fears are not unfounded,as you well know. But I still think our best matches are men that CAN appreciate the unique “us” that we are….not some 50 year old guy lusting after a 22-year old.
    Your writing about this taskmaster of Beauty was truly masterful, Lisa…
    And I especially loved your last paragraph where you describe just how nervous writing this made you.
    I’m glad you did. Maybe through writing like yours we can let some light in around this beast of a fear/ obsession/ addiction, it’ll dissipate and loosen up some of it’s awesome grip on us. I believe our next generation of young girls need us to, dare I say the word- model this for them? As in, demonstrate that it’s the other qualities besides our beauty that get the majority of our time, attention and money. And by the way, your photo is so lovely….you didn’t go for the super-glam shot with your head tilted just so, the hair fan, and all the rest of it. You gave us the real YOU…smiling a real human smile with lots of life sparking in your eyes. THAT’S beautiful.

    • The Wet One says:

      Nah, the 20 somethings don’t get our full attention. We just want to have sex with them.

      Honest to god truth. Personally, these days couldn’t be bothered with a 20 year old. Too inexperienced, too thoughtless and too caught up in herself. When I was 20, would have been great, but there was no way in stink that was happening.

      I like to discuss politics, economics, gender issues (why I like this site), science, the future (not my future or future, but our species future) and that kind of thing. Not many 20 years old women that I’m attracted to are into those things. But I’d still generally like to have sex with them.

      Thankfully, my sweetie is science geek type, heavily into computers, social justice, food (I do like food!) and can talk about a lot of politics and economic issues from quite a different perspective than myself. I really like that about her.

  19. There’s so much honesty here. Very well done.
    I watch women in my city (L.A.) mutilate themselves on a regular basis for the sake of some sort of bizarre beauty aesthetic. They end up all looking alike, all looking artificial, and all spending a ton of time and money to keep it that way. I’m not exactly low maintenance in the beauty department: I color and cut my hair, work out a lot, get my nails done, but I can’t imagine going to such extremes. Sometimes I don’t think this addiction has anything to do with men, really; it has to do with showing off for other females. Then, there’s also the reverse beauty thing, in which women won’t do anything to improve their appearance and then castigate other women for doing things like tooth whitening. It’s a whole lot of female posturing for other females. Because, frankly, men seem far easier to please, and far less observant.

  20. This article left me shaking and almost in tears. I have never heard another woman explain this. I honestly thought I was the only one. When I’ve explained this to friends, family, boyfriends, etc. they all stare at me like I’m insane. I get questions like

    “Why would you care if a stranger thought you were beautiful?”
    “Wouldn’t you rather be valued for who you are and not what you look like?”

    And the truth is, I wouldn’t. Not really. I want to be beautiful, I want to see that “look” you describe. I’ve been struggling with this since I was a teenager and I’m almost thirty now. I’m slowly learning how to love myself for WHO I am not what I look like. But it’s a monkey on my back every day and every day I struggle with it.

  21. Loved this one, Lisa.

    There is not a substance on earth that could ever compare to the high you get from the look. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a man or a woman, you just suddenly feel worthy of the air you breath. Addiction, withdrawal, relapse – they all apply.

    I’ve only considered myself beautiful once in my life, but I also believe that was the best version of my personality that has existed. I was nicer, happier and just fun to be around. Now I wish I went to the gym after work. Instead I worked on portfolio pieces. Logically, I know that I shouldn’t feel guilty.

  22. “I am telling you my side of the story so you understand this—I am not a good a person when I am beautiful. I don’t want it to be so important — but I think it’s important to you, as guys, so it’s important to me. And this is my story, not every woman’s and I’m sure there are plenty of beautiful women who are not like me either. But when I’m beautiful—or close to beautiful—it’s all I think about. When I’m beautiful and I’m with you, I’m wondering if the guy across the room thinks I’m beautiful. I think beauty is going to connect us; but I’m not connecting with you, I’m connecting with a beautiful image of myself that I think you might like. It sucks. It sucks for both of us.”

    Substitute men for women and beauty for status/money and now you know how men feel.

  23. Powerful, beautiful account of vulnerability, Lisa. I think there is a joy to beauty and a value to – as Arundhati Roy would instruct us – “pursuing beauty to its lair”, but that very pursuit can be enslaving in itself, as you so eloquently discuss. I imagine you have already seen both the trailer for Dove Evolution (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U) and the movie Miss Representation, but if not, I highly recommend them because I think they’d resonate.

  24. Is there not a happy medium where you can feel good about yourself, give time and energy to your appearance and not get lost in it? Everything in moderation, etc. (Not rhetorical.)

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

      But here’s the thing. There’s a tipping point. This is not subjective. When I look good, I go out and people say “wow, you look “nice” or *great*” or “amazing”, or “beautiful”, or “hot,” or whatever. If I haven’t gotten to that tipping point, nobody says a word. I know before I walk out the door whether that will happen or not. And as I get older, it gets harder to get there. There’s also a clear cost of what it takes to get there –three hours of time and $100 a day. And it’s difficult to justify that cost — for what? A compliment? that seems absurd.

      Don’t get me wrong — on the whole, my life is *awesome*. I have a ton of qualities I love about myself. But I just often feel as if other people don’t get to see those, because it is beauty they look for first.

      I recognize that it could just be me. Maybe beauty just isn’t as important as I think it is. Maybe, to most people, beauty doesn’t matter. I truly would love to be proven wrong on that.

    • This is misunderstanding the biochemistry of addiciton. It is like saying to any kind of addict, find moderation, be it in food, alcohol, drugs or sex.

    • This is misunderstanding the biochemistry of addicton. It is like saying to any kind of addict, find moderation, be it in food, alcohol, drugs or sex.

  25. I think Lisa, best intentions acknowledged, has it all wrong. First of all, men are no less vulnerable to the beauty addiction than women. There isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t rather be looked at, admired for their looks than not. More importantly, there is a biological basis for the existence of beauty. In its presence (it could be music, a landscape, the opposite sex) our immune system enjoys a boost and serotonin levels go up. In the presence of ugliness, we are more vulnerable to depression. At it concerns courtship, these positive chemical changes predispose us to consummate courtship and propagate the species, which is Nature’s grand design. Since we can’t override our biology, we should instead make peace with it so as to properly situate it the context of our lives and particular situation. Having done nature’s bidding, Lisa, a mother with 4 kids, should be less concerned with her personal beauty and its effects than a single 20 year old.

    • That’s precisely why it would qualify as an addiction. She doesn’t “need” it. It’s not good for her. She knows it. Yet she pursues it anyway.

  26. As a young woman who was told she was pretty from birth but still felt pudgy and unattractive during her preteen years, I must say that in our Internet’d, Photoshopped, slimmed-down, buttoned-up culture, beauty does not matter as much as people think it does-at least, the older generations appear to believe that we are more concerned with beauty than we really are.

    I can name several young women, most of them friends of mine, who don’t touch makeup unless it’s for a show (we’re in theatre). Others wear it in moderation, but only because they like the way it makes them look-they don’t feel hideous without it; it’s just something fun to them. True, there are stories of 6 year old girls wearing tanning lotion and 11 year olds wanting breast implants-but honestly, just like those crazy teen sexting stories everyone’s heard of (turns out only one in 110 teens has sent even one racy photo rather than 1 in 5…), these are exceptions to the norm.

  27. David Byron says:

    This article has the most perfect picture for it. So I am going to guess maybe Lisa picks out the pictures.

    Now is there an attempt to make each picture unique because if so “snap”!
    http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/fear-less/
    http://goodmenproject.com/good-feed-blog/new-cdc-study-on-sexual-assault/

    Every time I read this story … I guess this is all wrong but I can’t help cheering for the Lisa with the addiction to beauty who decides to become so drop dead gorgeous that guys are dropping their drinks. It’s an epic! A heroic struggle! A victorious finale! And then I feel like I have to say to myself “No that is not the point of the story dumbass! Addiction is an incredibly serious thing and very harmful. It’s no joke when you are spending money your kids need. bad! Bad!”

    But when I’m beautiful—or close to beautiful—it’s all I think about. When I’m beautiful and I’m with you, I’m wondering if the guy across the room thinks I’m beautiful. I think beauty is going to connect us; but I’m not connecting with you

    And I still love it. bad Bad!

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      If I wasn’t laughing so hard when I read your comment, I would have thought it quite sad. :)

      Really, our society is so screwed up. I’m *still* cheering for me to become drop dead gorgeous again — even though I know it’s physically impossible. Literally physically impossible. Insane!

      But your comment is still making me laugh, and I’m glad you can be honest enough to do so.

  28. As much as we don’t want beauty to matter so much, I realize as I get older that it matters more than it should. It is unfair and in many ways so much more unfair to women because we desire it so much. So I continue to spend lots of money on moisturizers, beauty regimens, hair salons and gym memberships because if I don’t I know I’ll degenerate into something sad and ugly.

  29. It seems off that this website keeps talking about women being addicted to “beauty.” Almost nobody is addicted to being beautiful. The women you speak of are addicted to approval, and beauty is the means to the end. And much of the time, it’s not even a desire for approval, just a fear of disapproval.

  30. Ok question:

    If women are so obsessed with their own beauty why do they judge men for being obsessed with beautiful women?

    Not for nothing, I notice it is usually the unattractive women who freak out about men “objectifying” women. Motive?

Trackbacks

  1. […] being addicted to beauty, which lead me to the confessions of a woman who considered herself a beauty addict and an article about beauty and male status which got more than a few angry […]

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  4. […] about my humiliation about pretending to play golf in order to try to fit in with men at work. Or my obsession with trying to look good on the outside, because I thought that’s what men wanted—at a cost to not only my soul, but to my ability […]

  5. […] for their careers. Lisa Hickey, publisher of The Good Men Project, talks about how her unhealthy obsession with beauty dominated a great deal of her time. She partly justified it in the terms Hakim and this study uses: […]

  6. […] all this is happening at the same time my physical looks are fading. I’ve written about my obsession with beauty—I get that it’s my problem and it’s up to me to get over it, but I still can’t shake […]

  7. […] off of Jen’s post on beauty: does this affective work sound like privilege to […]

  8. […] guy can be for a woman Lindsey’s age, amplified for comedic effect. See Lisa Hickey’s article, Chasing Beauty, for more background on the ‘maintenance […]

  9. […] Chasing Beauty and Addictions Memoir @ Good Men Project […]

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  13. […] “What Makes A Woman Beautiful To A Man” and it was written as one man’s response to one woman’s piece about beauty. However, the mechanism of love is one that transcends gender and sexual orientation. I believe […]

  14. […] I wrote this article back when I was doing a lot of reading over on the Good Men Project and it was inspired by Lisa Hickey’s powerful article/confessional, Chasing Beauty: An Addict’s Memoir.  […]

  15. […] Chasing Beauty: An Addict’s Memoir […]

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