“I Don’t Think I’m Beautiful”

Marianne Cassidy writes in response to our series on women and beauty.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading over on the Good Men Project recently, because it satisfies the part of my brain that wants to read easily-digestible relationship/sex/gender articles, but doesn’t want to read The 700 Billion Secrets of The Va-Jay-Jay as told by Cosmopolitan. I don’t agree with all of the opinions expressed, but most of it is thought-provoking.

I started reading this article about women 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 responses.

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 99% (numbers make things REAL) of it is targeted exclusively at women. 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. For better or for worse, this (and/or regular tweezing) is part of my routine, something I can’t ignore, something.

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, as the aforementioned beauty addict article points out.

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 bio-fit bras. From observation, I feel like my beauty routine is possibly less stringent than that of most women, but that doesn’t 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, in the most roundabout way possible, 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, head-turning 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 will still not be a girl who turns heads at parties and gets phone numbers on the bus. But I am physically attractive, and I’m intelligent, loyal, kind and fun to be around, which are other factors of attractiveness. I do not believe I am going to be lonely because I don’t look like Megan Fox or Katy Perry. (I think I might be lonely because I don’t chew my food and spend entirely too much time talking about cats, but that’s a different post.) 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 (bi-annually, in fact). 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.

photo: helloturkeytoe on Flickr

 

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About Marianne Cassidy

Marianne is 23 years-old, born and raised in Ireland but currently living in Chicago. She double-majored in Drama Studies and English Lit, and now makes almost no money working in theatre. She spends her free hours devouring comics, blogs and burritos. Read more at Death of the new gods.

Comments

  1. Sigh. I love this. It is the closest thing I’ve ever read to how I feel about myself, beauty, and the beauty industry. There was a time, when I was your age, Marianne, when I passed for pretty, and without much effort. But sometime over the next 25 years–i am now 48–I realized the same thing you are lucky to realize now, which is that the more you add to your routine, the more enslaved to it you become. As I reached middle age, I made the decision not to ever dye my hair, and not to add anything further in terms of make-up or skin care. But, like you, there are basic things I feel I must do to leave the house, such as use under-eye concealer, and it took me two years to let me new husband ever see me without it. I so admire the wisdom you have at your age. You are also a fantastic writer. Thank you for articulating the tug of war women feel between trying to look their best, and avoiding the vortex. Sadly, so many women get sucked down it so deeply there is not enough light to see the futility of the fight. Outer beauty fades, but inner beauty doesn’t. I wish that more women could absorb your message when they are young, and that they could better support each other to age with grace and dignity.

    • I agree with Lori. I also feel like you have articulated what I feel about the whole beauty routine. I have been spending the last 2 weeks trying to decide if I should get a hair straightener. The major draw back for me if that I am not the most careful of people and I imagine that I will have a head full of burns!! Not to mention having to wake up half an hour earlier in the morning. Yeah so that is not happening. Guess I will be sticking with the blonde mane and calling it a win for anti-consumerism!

  2. Hey Marianne- Nice article. I know how you feel. I’ll never be the woman that gets phone numbers on the bus, too flat chested, too short. Oh well. And you’re right, there is a kind of freedom in that. I don’t have to shave my legs because it wouldn’t matter anyway. I’ve always been tempted to get breast implants but I’m scared they may actually work. I think that would break my heart more than being passed over would. What a world we live in when 300 cc’s of silicon and box of peroxide will determine if you’ll be loved or not. I don’t want to tempt fate and find out if that’s true. And is it even real love?

  3. “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.”

    Exactly. I hate it when we take “beautiful” to mean “worth something,” and act as if being/feeling non-beautiful were the same as being/feeling utterly worthless.

    • Well put! That’s exactly what I think I was trying to say. Growing up, young girls are bombarded with a rhetoric of beauty; “It’s important to feel beautiful,” “You have to believe that you’re beautiful,” “Beauty comes from within,” “Confidence is beautiful” etc. The implication is that beauty is the highest pinnacle of female achievement. No one ever told me, with the same gravity, that I had to I believe I was intelligent, or funny, or talented, even though these are equally worthwhile things to be!

      • EXACTLY. The other day my mother mentioned that she read something regarding this subject – Apparently journals from girls from the 1800’s talked about how hard they worked on developing their CHARACTER, and how concerned they were with personality traits and being a good person all around. These days, the focus is simply on beauty. Character traits are even DEFINED as being beautiful. Why can’t we re-adjust and just focus on being good people?!

    • Hey Rebekah,
      In many ways as a man I feel relieved to be judged by my accomplishments rather than my looks.

      However, there have been a few instances in which I think I felt what women felt.
      I remember when I was about 24 I worked in the mail-room of a financial company in downtown detroit.

      I remember bringing a package to one of the law firm buildings. I got in an elevator with about 4 smart professional classy pretty women. At the last second in walked a guy.
      This guy was dressed in expensive clothes, was probably one of the partners (but definitely an elite of some kind). He had the huge jay-leno jaw, was 4″ taller than me, had fashionably long hair, but in a conservative pony-tail, yada yada.

      In any even, my mind kind of wandered to the thought that if these women were polled, I am sure that 4 out of 4 would have preferred the other guy to me. It made me feel pretty small and miserable.

      I have one twist to add:
      The #1 indicator of high self-esteem in women is whether or not they have an engaged and loving dad in their life.

      If you want to insulate future generations of women from things of this nature, then it would behoove women to start thinking about two stats:

      Mothers win sole custody 80% of the time in family courts, and
      1/3rd of children lose permanent contact with their non-custodial dads post-divorce (much of it through visitation interference by the mother).

      If we want better things for our daughters, then we need to give full legal rights to fathers to be a part of their children’s lives. The level of parental involvement a father has after a divorce shouldn’t flow through the permission of the mother. It should be a right for both the child and the father that should be preserved by the courts.

      Feminists have been fighting tooth and nail to stop shared parenting advocates at every turn (who only try to insure the child’s right of frequent time with both parents).

      If you want better things for future generations of women, I would recommend doing research of what feminists are actually doing in the name of women, and investigate shared parenting reforms and how you can advocate change.

      90% of men in prison due to violence are from fatherless homes
      teen girls from fatherless homes are much more likely to
      use drugs & alcohol
      start having sex earlier
      get into trouble with the law
      have low educational achievement
      enter into relationships with abusive people
      wind up a pregnant teen

      Fathers parent in a different way from mothers that many studies show is just as necessary as mothers (for boys and girls) to be given likely advantages to reach a good outcome in adult-hood.

      A few web-pages:
      http://www.hisside.com
      fathersandfamilies.org
      news.mensactivism.org

      • John D-

        I had a father and then a step father growing up. I lost contact with both of them – or rather, they failed to keep telling me when they moved. Good riddance. One was a drunk and the other was a compulsive liar. They were both selfish man-children. Both of their parents were/are still married.

        Before you blame everything on women for the lack of fathers in their children’s lives, perhaps (and I know this is a wild idea for you) you should allow some of the responsibility to lay with the men who failed them.

        There are a lot of things I do not like about feminist and what they push in my name – an insistence that women are competent parents is not one of them.

    • Hear Hear! I don’t think of myself as beautiful. I know that some people will find me attractive, and some won’t. But most of the time I’m not thinking about how I look, I’m thinking about the task at hand or current events or something else unrelated to my looks. I pretty much only think about how I look when I brush my teeth in front of the mirror twice a day, or if I’m getting ready to go to a special event. The rest of the time I’m working hard, relaxing with friends, or taking some alone time to read or plan my next career move or what have you, none of which is interrupted by thoughts about my looks, and all of which can add to my real worth as a person.

      The girls/women I’ve met who are really concerned with their looks tend to be quite boring, probably because they spend all their time:

      “drinking only water and eating only grapefuit and celery and losing ten pounds and running and doing yoga every single day and getting regular mani/pedis and all their excess hair lasered away and their 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.”

      They never have a moment to read or think or see something interesting. Life is too interesting and too short to waste repeating all the same parts of a beauty regimen.

  4. Your article comes at a time, when I’ve been trying to decide to whether to get a nose job or not…I’ve wanted one for years. I think it’s too big (I know it’s too big). I’ve been to see a plastic surgeon…had two consultations; last one used digital imaging to show me what a new nose would look like on me. I’m so afraid the results may not look natural and more afraid if it got botched up – asymmetrical; I’m afraid there’s a possibility it could look worse! And most of all how could I show myself to friends and co-workers after the procedure? How do I go about explaining to them, or do I pretend I had nothing done?

    I’m looking at canceling the surgery date which I’ve already booked two months ahead. i think it’ll be too much trouble and I would feel embarrassed to alter my looks to achieve something that i had not been born with – to buy beauty, pay for a look. But, we’re always told good looking people get paid more and do better in life don’t we?

    • Getting any kind of surgery is always a big scary decision. I used to be very vehemently anti-plastic surgery, believing that people should work with what they have etc., but my views have changed substantially since then. I have an aunt and a cousin who both inherited my grandfather’s large nose with a prominent bump. Both of them have had plastic surgery and they were 100% happy with the results. Neither of them got down-sized to a little button nose or anything so dramatic, they still very much look like themselves, but in both cases it was a change that alleviated their personal insecurities. Neither of them regret their decision in the slightest.

      I think one of the points I tried to make in this article is that beauty “requirements” are different for everyone. Some women can’t live without their hair straightener. Others, their mascara. Others still, their morning run. They point is that you need to find the balance that works for you, the balance where your confidence is at its peak but you are not sacrificing other aspects of your life for the sake of feeling beautiful.

      If a nose job is part of your balance, then you absolutely shouldn’t be ashamed of your decision, or embarrassed to tell your friends and co-workers about it. Also, one of the few good things about surgery is that’s is a one-off procedure, a single investment in something you will have for the rest of your life.

      There is nothing wrong with purchasing something that will make you feel better about yourself. You don’t have to stop shaving and plucking and start weaving your own clothes out of hemp to liberate yourself from the beauty business. You just need to be smart and aware of what your buying into and remind yourself that, really and truly, it’s nothing you can’t live without.

      Ultimately, a nose-job may not make you feel beautiful. But if it will make you feel more confident and happier in your own skin, then you shouldn’t apologize to anyone for wanting that for yourself.

  5. I could relate to a lot of Marianne’s article and it reminded me of Grace Kelly’s statement that she never thought she was a great beauty even though she knew she was very nice looking. I don’t think that Kelly was in denial when she made that statement. I think she was saying what she thought.

    On another note, I’m getting tired to seeing all these articles on women and beauty. I want to see more articles on men and beauty. It would be great to see an article about American heterosexual men who want to look their best without being taunted as “metrosexuals.” And it would be wonderful to see an article that tells men NOT to wear old tennis shoes and baggy old jeans on a first date. Sorry, but that has happened to me and my friends quite a few times.

  6. Marianne, thank you.

    My job requires me to look at beautiful women and deal with beauty products all day. Photographs of gorgeous girls, young models in the flesh, not to mention I live in LA. It’s intimidating and depressing to walk in the bathroom, see the mirror, and NOT have a tall, thin, effortlessly chic woman with long straight hair looking back at me.

    But I went to an art show last night, where many women of all sizes and ethnicities and hair colors and body types were hanging out, performing, all with different styles and individually striking. It was amazing. I realized how beautiful, truly, these creative women were and actually felt like I wasn’t being judged, with my shortness, tattoos, bicycle and red lipstick and too-white hair.

    And your comment about wishing to wear red lipstick- I didn’t realize that’s something not everyone can do. It makes me realize I should be more appreciative of what I do have and can wear. Thank you again. This is a wonderful piece.

  7. “Jaw-dropping, head-turning 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.”

    You conceive of “beauty” as a physical, objective attribute, at least partly so. When you say that you are not beautiful, you say it in the same sense as you would say that you do not have red hair or you do not have green eyes. You are just reporting the physical reality. There is no shame or deficiency in reporting those attributes just as there is no shame or deficiency in reporting that you are no beautiful.

    Feminists, egalitarians, deconstructionists, postmodernists, etc. often vehemently reject the notion that “beauty” has any physical or objective basis. They often cite to examples of how standards of “beauty” have changed over time and locations. They use qualifying terms like “conventionally attractive” to emphasize how “beauty” depends upon context and situation. It is just a “cultural construction.” For them, “beauty” is an entirely subjective, philosophical and ideological value term which hierarchy and patriarchy use to classify, objectify and rank people, usually women.

    Under this standard, “beauty” only refers to what patriarchy, kyriarchy, etc. find good and valuable about women. When a woman says that she is not beautiful, the feminists and egalitarians take that to mean that she has internalized the hierarchy and she considers herself inferior. Since feminists and egalitarians want all women (and I guess all people) to consider themselves and each other as equally good and valuable, then all people must consider themselves and each other as “beautiful.” “Beauty” cannot be a distinguishing, physical attribute, because that is inequality and hierarchy.

    To combat and cancel out this notion that “physical beauty is a gift you are born with,” feminist and postmodernist artists will often promote things like photographic collages of nude, elderly people or containers of excrement, and say “See! This is beautiful! We’re all beautiful! Everything about us is beautiful! Repeat after me! We are all beautiful!”

    Under the egalitarian imperative, everything and anything is “beautiful” (which really means nothing is beautiful).

    • I don’t know if the above was meant to be tongue in cheek, but I agree with what is said.

      Beauty is a subjective thing, hence only meaning something depending on who is watching who.

      “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.”

      Put me in the lesser extent category.

      I shave my legs because it looks better, but not under the thighs because it’s a pain in the ass to do. I wash my hair once two twice a month, depending. I don’t spend much on shampoo and conditioner, don’t use any hair product, and only use a boar bristle brush sometimes (mainly I finger-comb). I also rarely apply make-up at all.

      I don’t think I am conventionally attractive, at least no more than a 6 if I can afford a guess, given my weight (I have a small belly, but it’s far from overweight), but I don’t base my worth on it, either. I don’t have big breasts either. Beauty and rituals and the likes should be much more secondary to personality, values, desires. Because beauty fades, your values should not.

  8. I liked this.

    Thanks,

    -Seth

  9. I dress like an old lady (I love the 50s looks) I don’t think revealing is sexy, rather personality is sexy. I get a bigger thrill, than talking about going shopping. I hate wearing too much makeup. I don’t like the mall I see everyone, I wish I didn’t see, instead I like to go to a little cafe and read a book or do homework. Some people think I am rather sexy others think I am just weird.

  10. Aly Windsor says:

    I really enjoyed this essay. About this line though: “I do not believe I am going to be lonely because I don’t look like Megan Fox or Katy Perry.” Actually, I think the stereotypically beautiful women of the world are often the most lonely. They never know if people love them for more than their appearances nor whether anyone will stick around when their physical beauty begins to fade. Plus they often have a hard time cultivating meaningful friendships with other women.

  11. Luke Davis says:

    I’m faceblind. I love people who aren’t beautiful. It means I can recognise them next time I see them. That little mole, the tuft of hair in slightly the wrong place, the earlobes that aren’t quite level, eyebrows that are too bushy or too thin. This is how I tell people apart. Beautiful people stuff me up, they are way to symetrical and not enough character in their faces. I can’t see beautiful people but I can see interesting people though.

  12. David Wise says:

    While she doesn’t think she’s beautiful (a high bar), she still thinks she’s pretty hot stuff. And that’s all that matters.

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