Tuesday

Beauty shouldn't be a burden



The corners of my mouth stiffen.

Don't look at me don't look at me don't look at me.

If I make eye contact, I'll have to smile. I don't feel like smiling. I don't feel like being smiled at.

Don't look at me.

I had a friend in middle school who was the most beautiful girl I had seen up close. She was a statuesque, slim blonde, ogled by everyone. Eyes like aquamarines. Outside school, she did some modeling. She danced with the biggest and most mocked nerd in class at the formal, and I heard my favorite teacher take her aside and tell her, full of pride and admiration, "He's going to remember that the rest of his life."


She told me, once, that at school, she would purposely mess up her makeup, try to look frumpy, try to hide that she was beautiful.

There was no hiding it, of course. But why? Why would she do that?

I walked through the Plaza in Santa Fe one day and remember all the eyes on me, remember my discomfort while thinking, If I get this many stares, what must it be like for someone who is actually beautiful?

I told someone about that feeling and they thought I was fishing for a compliment. "You ARE beautiful!" And maybe I was fishing.

I own my obsession with how I look. You can't write about French face powders and own a dozen different shades of red lipstick and claim looks don't interest you.

For a long time I felt ugly. During my awkward phase, I'm sure I was no great beauty. There were boys who told me even after I'd grown out of so many of my insecurities that I was hideous.

And I believed them.

Then I started hearing I was beautiful. I heard it from men trying to woo me, from friends, from strangers. Sometimes I believe it. Sometimes it's super over the top and I think, OK, slow your roll, I have no money to lend you.

I have a profoundly complicated relationship with how I look. Having a beauty blog is a gigantic leap for someone who once tried to cover up all the mirrors in her house and sobbed to her mother, begging for a nose job.

Look at me!

Sometimes I am ALL ABOUT being perceived as beautiful. Which isn't to say that other times I want to be thought of as ugly. But sometimes, with some people, I want to be invisible. I don't want to be winked at, leered at, told to just stand there and look cute, be called "sugar" and "sweetheart" by my creepy neighbor who bangs on the ceiling if the TV is too loud. (Which it never actually is. If I can barely hear it, I doubt it's keeping you up.) I don't want to feel like I'm public domain.

So now I get why my friend smeared her liner and messed up her hair, even if there was no hiding she was frickin' gorgeous. It's related to why I put on my bitchface when I sense some creep blatantly looking me up and down and waiting for me to conform and be a sweet girl and act flattered by it.

It's because we let looking a certain way start to feel like an obligation.

Beauty is frivolous yet fraught. It lures mates. Its pursuit fuels lucrative industries. Assumptions will be made about you whether you have it or you don't, whether you're interested in it or you aren't.

I hate that feeling sometimes, like I have to perform. Better at least put on foundation and mascara so you don't scare small children, Liz. I feel like I owe people something nice to look at. I feel guilty if I don't give the creepy admirers acknowledgment.

I want what I see in the mirror to not be a tapestry of the opinions of others. I don't want to be built or broken by praise or criticism. I want to be solid, steady, not simply reacting. And my voice is not yet loud enough to rise above the crowd, so that I thrive and feel beautiful even without praise, and so criticism doesn't unravel me.

So I'm here to tell you, you don't owe anyone a thing. You don't owe some immature little boy your tears if he doesn't think you're pretty. You don't owe your colleagues a full face of makeup on a day you really want to sleep in. You don't have to feel pressured to talk to someone you don't want to talk to just because they think you're hot and you don't want to be rude. And you don't owe anyone anything that diminishes you so they can feel better about themselves.

Being beautiful is not your obligation. Beauty is many things, many wonderful things. But it shouldn't be a burden. Feeling beautiful, without needing anyone else to tell you so, is bliss.

As far as beauty goes, that's the only thing you owe anyone, and the only person you owe it to is yourself.

2 comments :

  1. "You don't owe your colleagues a full face of makeup on a day you really want to sleep in." Yes! I definitely know what it's like to get jaw-dropped stares wherever I go, but I don't flatter myself that it's because I'm pretty--it's because I look unusual, for here, It's because I'm not Chinese. It doesn't happen ever in America, because I blend in well there. : ) I've never been a fan of getting dressed or doing makeup for anyone's tastes but mine.

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  2. For me, it depends. I think that I get a lot of looks now because of my giant hair, and I often wear louder clothes than people around me. Especially in this deep, dark winter, my bright colors stand out in the sea of black coats. Sometimes it's obvious ogling.


    It's always been abundantly clear from your blog that you march to the beat of your own drummer with your sense of style. I love that.

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