Tired of Chasing Beauty

I used to obsess over appearance. Like…all the time. As a little girl, I had a small collection of princess costumes and glitter. As a teenager, I hid behind long hair and baggy clothes so that the other kids wouldn’t comment on my acne or body weight. Now, at twenty-five, I can’t help but wonder…why?  Why did I obsess over my appearance so much? Why was visual appeal so important to me?

For starters, it’s almost a given that society plays a big role in perpetuating faith in beauty. Since the invention of commercials, we’ve been bombarded with ads featuring various clothes, face-cleansers, hair products, and make up products. Beauty pageants are still a thing. And we often hear unsolicited beauty tips like these:

“Why don’t you smile more? You’ll get more attention.”

“Nice girls shouldn’t get dirty.”

“Wear your hair down more often, it’s so pretty that way.”

But that still leaves the question: why did I, like so many other girls, buy into that lie in the first place? I have two theories.

One: exposure. As a kid, the only movies I remember growing up with were Disney movies. And while Ariel and Jasmine were a clear sign of Disney trying to evolve their storytelling (I didn’t see Beauty and the Beast until I was ten), the first Disney princess to actually confront and reject gender stereotypes was Mulan, and her movie came out in 1998.

Two: easy way out. We live in a crazy, complicated world. As a result, we tend to look for easy solutions to make the world less complicated. As much as my teenage-self looked up to female characters like Kim Possible, Luna Lovegood, and Violet Baudelaire, I didn’t think I could be strong or brave or smart like they were, no matter how much I wanted to. I wasn’t good at math or science, gym class was always a nightmare, and I was that one kid who climbed up the high dive, took one look at the water below, and then climbed back down the ladder. And while I wasn’t confident about my looks either, beautiful felt at least obtainable in comparison.

But is it even worth it? On occasions where I make myself a little more presentable than usual, the compliments and attention I get only last a few seconds. And on the two occasions I intentionally dolled myself up to look pretty, one guy (who had a girlfriend at the time) told me I was beautiful and then years later admitted it was a mistake, and another guy—one I was actually trying to impress—started a relationship with another girl the next day. And on non-social occasions, looks never played a role in anything. They never increased productivity at the workplace, and they never had an effect on anything I’ve ever written.

I’ll admit, I was ready to give up on caring about my appearance altogether. If the upsides to beauty are trivial at best, why bother? Then I talked to one of my close friends from college, and she mentioned that giving appearance some thought can have two actual benefits:

One, health. Yes there’s weight watching, but some beauty products contribute to things like healthy skin and healthy hair. She may or may not have also mentioned that, and I quote, “supportive undergarments [help] avoid back pain.” Kind of weird, but then again, we live in a weird world.

Two, sense of identity. Again, to quote my friend, taking note of how you look can allow you to “mentally see yourself. You’re allowed to make yourself look any way you feel like looking, without worrying about how others perceive you.” I spent a few good hours mulling over what she said. And the more I did, the more I realized she might have a point. It’s hard to explain, but the kinds of clothes we wear and the way we set up (or don’t bother to set up) our faces say something about who we are and what we think. For example, feeling at home in a $3,000 tracksuit either screams “eccentric billionaire” or “wealthy and proud of it.” A sharp suit can say “I’m ready to go, so let’s get to work.” Or a look as simple as jeans and a t-shirt can say “this is who I am, and I won’t pretend otherwise just to make you happy.” I’ve noticed some of these trends in my own life as well. Finding the right balance is a hassle, but having it there allows me to relax and focus on what I’m doing. I’ll wear dresses and skirts as long as I’m allowed to add leggings, but slipping into pants makes me feel more like myself.

So maybe there is something to be said about the way we look. It just might take looking at the issue from a personal standpoint as opposed to a societal standpoint. Again, it’s a little hard to put into words, and again, it can be tiring to find clothes and makeup products that tell others—and myself—who I am. But maybe some good can come from it.

Special thanks to: Ashley Peters, admin

Photo source: https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-16095685-stock-footage-woman-applying-makeup.html?src=rel/68941:8

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