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
I ended up on this thread because obviously, I googled the words, am I beautiful. I’m twenty one years old. It baffles me that so many many women feel like this. It’s not fair. Why is my self worth tied to how attractive i seem? A part of reason is biology and we need to understand it. Understanding it will help us beat it. How much you love yourself should not be tied to anybody or anything. Whether it is a man who claims he loves you or your best friends or random strangers. It simply should be something only… Read more »
Just saw an article written by a girl that didn’t think she was beautiful. It came across as though she was comparing herself to cover girls. Inspired this: What is beautiful? I consider myself lucky i’ve seen beauty first hand I see it in gestures in kindness But, never in a can a lip gloss a needle or a knife I’ve seen the scars of child birth and know what they mean So beauty is about perspective letting whats inside come out a smile to a friend a stranger a gesture of goodwill It gets created faked, and manipulated in… Read more »
Is a sunset not beautiful..? Are qualities such as talent, a good sense of humour, intelligence or being a great mother not beautiful..? And is a well tailored dress not beautiful…? It pains me that the word ‘beauty’ is so closely associated with a salon or a spa… With contrived commercial interests and not self-expression… What a huge pity that is….. It is so much more than that (and so are we.) Thank you for reminding me Marianne, *truly* I appreciate this article, it has come at just the right time for me. I’m now off to go for a… Read more »
I loooved the article! I remember discussing that with some male friends and its just funny how they all started protesting after I said I’m not beautiful, just attractive enough. And indeed its pure irritating how people take such saying as a sign of low self esteem.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I liked this.
“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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
“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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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 more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »
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… Read more »