I was always in love with him; the minute he brazenly admitted his past mistakes with a sweet note of arrogance, as though he had no shame about anything. His blue eyes sparkled confidence in a friendly manner. He rarely smiled wide and yet somehow looked happy. Him and his perfect suits and perfect job and perfect success. He had everything I desired. Being beautiful enough for him felt wonderful.
Growing with a perfectionist
Compared to the other school mums picking their daughters up at 3pm sharp, my full-time working mother was glamorous – a full face of makeup, fitness intact and style mirroring a young 30-something. Never to leave the house without at least an hour’s worth of grooming, her one flaw, smoking, only ceased when e-cigarettes became widespread. Her perfectionism stitched through my brain and clothed my complexion.
“What have you been doing today? Why is your face so shiny?” she once remarked. I’ve grown accustom to her blunt and direct comments. I still addictively ask for her opinion, knowing she’s the ultimate voice. As a child, I raided her 90’s white dressing table. Tubes of Estee Lauder lipsticks, Dior pots and Chanel fragrance. There was one cheap eyeshadow palette gifted by my uncle, me and my sister had permission to ‘play’ with. Picture sea-blue lids, plum cheeks and fuchsia overdrawn lips.
My tiny, clumsy fingers masterfully learnt how to camouflage their evidence. I use to delicately spritz her fragrance in my bathroom sink, adding toothpaste, shampoo and soap to devise a potion. Both my best friends moved away before I turned seven, and I didn’t have friends to play with. In a bid to gain attention, I experimented with my appearance.
The ease of being beautiful
I wore several hairstyles at once. Pigtails put in a ponytail then plaited, a half-up do plaited. When I arrived at school with a chaotic plaited bun, kids laughed. I waited a good ten years before honing a bun again. Finally, in high-school I utilised my freedom to apply makeup. My parents gradually gifted me a Bobbi Brown leather box, filled with designer cosmetics. Additionally, a set of artist brushes and a beauty book to improve technique.
Being beautiful I thought, made the world easier. Pretty girls are popular and cool, beautiful women date charming men. Statistics prove I’m not wrong. The benefits of being beautiful include a better chance of promotion, higher pay and a more trustworthy, kind image. This according to an article by Tech Co. Social-media is obsessed with beauty, but I’ve devoted my life to shamefully making myself fit Western beauty standards.
I’ve starved, bled and slept inadequate hours. I trained my body to not require food for lengthy periods; my mind quickly stares in a mirror and spots imperfections quicker than a cheetah pouncing on a gazelle supper. All I’ve known is perfection.
There was a turning point in school. The most popular boy in my year felt confident enough to admit he fancied me, and compliments on my looks increased. Conversation based on my exterior typically attacked my awkwardness and tomboy fashion. Suddenly my strenuous beauty regime equalled enough that me being beautiful stopped sounding perplexing. My routine started matching my mother’s.
Naturally I became a makeup artist and painted away women’s insecurities. I felt bad knowing a woman’s issues before she told me. And if she didn’t say, I’d slim a nose or chin anyway, and they’d thank me for making them feel good. The more accustom my face and body to cultural ideals, the more attention and validation bestowed. I was continually searching for acceptance. Drowning my lost senses in adoration.
No adoration came greater than a powerful, intellectual man falling for me. Fluent in 5 languages – 2 of them self-taught, adept at playing musical instruments, experienced flying a helicopter and riding a motor cycle. Travelled the world over – knows every must-visit club, location and restaurant. Two beautiful apartments and a closet full of expensive jackets and crisp shirts. Buckets of charm making me stutter and shake; the mere thought of his presence catapulting my heart.
Intelligence over looks
Being beautiful for him nursed my self-loathing. Though loving his personality and everything he slowly unravelled, I knew I also celebrated such a successful man finding worth in me. Me, who didn’t bother to study for GCSE exams and chose a career helping to feed my fixation on beauty. People may have said I was pretty, but they stopped short of calling me smart, witty or insightful. It bothered me once dating him. I don’t want to waste my life comparing my attributes with my partner’s and noticing everything he has that I want.
Becoming a makeup artist is a fantastic career but my unhealthy obsession with appearance caused disaster. I feel fuller now as a writer. Especially when realising my love of makeup from an early age was due to my young self-hatred. If I began my makeup career again, I’d stop short of removing every potential flaw on clients.
Beauty is projected online as perfection. Perfect skin, backdrops and makeup. Society applauds plastic surgery. Instead of appreciating Sophia Loren, Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry for being beautiful and yet different, we regard women like the Kardashians who repeatedly deny cosmetic procedures as ideal. Virtually half of Instagram users have had fillers, lifts or some kind of treatment to enhance their physique.
What’s really empowering?
Women covered in makeup, wearing revealing outfits and posing seductively are supposedly empowering. What it’s secretly saying is – look how much I’ve edited myself to look good. A piece written by Julie Bindel for The Independent argues females should ditch their makeup bags. Surly that’s more of a statement?
Lately I’ve contemplated what being beautiful means to me and how much I adapt myself daily for approval. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feed slightly off of flattering comments. Like a dose of fresh blood transfusing my esteem. There is a shame in hearing or reading praise about my looks, reflecting on the years of change I’ve endured. How much hope and beliefs I placed upon my face; sometimes my younger self appears and whispers if I’m perfect enough yet?
How do you feel about beauty standards today? Do you feel guilty for obsessing over your looks?