ON THE HYPOCRISY OF BEAUTY IN THE 21st CENTURY

ON THE HYPOCRISY OF BEAUTY IN THE 21st CENTURY


I’m a hypocrite when it comes to beauty and chances are you are too. We can hardly help it living in the glossy , fomo inducing Instagram world of the 21st century with it’s neverending rolodex of perfection. Our skewed perceptions on what it is to be or feel beautiful are generated by our family, friends, culture, fashion or manufactured by Hollywood, but now the banquet of vanity also encompasses internet sensations, reality TV stars and bloggers. I wonder if any woman would’ve started shaving her legs lest it wasn’t advertised to us that hairiness is unseemly and unladylike (thanks Gillette!) but the phenomenon that is the rise of the “rich face” , a face so symmetrically perfect that it almost reaches uncanny valley proportions , currently holding the teen to 30 market captivated,  shows how far we have come since our benign body hair focus – the current obsession with fillers has become a bonafide status symbol for ever younger customers.
Beauty has been desirable by the human race since the dawn of time as a way of ascertaining fertility and good genetics , so we have always capitalized on enhancing attributes through caring for our hair and make up, body, clothes or adorning ourselves with accessories. The unique thing about beauty in the 21st century is that now, along with almost de rigueur fillers, we are also bombarded with self improvement messages that are often in complete antithesis to our desire for the physical ideal and the subsequent inner beratement of our perceived flaws. Spirituality preaches we look beyond the physical into radical acceptance of ourselves on a soul level whilst society sighs over the perfect perky butt and breasts. These messages swirl through the collective consciousness into fears embedded into a worldwide audience of captive women, primed all our lives by the incessant comparison force fed into us, so that we can continue believing than we are not good enough just as we are and need to keep improving ourselves in order of being worthy of desire.
When I was a baby, I had jaundice and was very small. Wrapped up in muslin, I was handed to my father and mother who kept staring at each other, coyly smiling until my mum just couldn’t handle it anymore and said: “Oh my God, she is so ugly!” The rest of my childhood was no different. I often sported embarrassing bowl haircuts, was a total tomboy and never looked in the mirror. I know I wasn’t attractive because no boy liked me until I was 13 when my face had changed and I had breasts. Even though I was oblivious to my own prettiness until I was approached by a modelling agency, I have now lived off my physical attributes as a model and then blogger for 23 years so I know the ups and downs of being perceived as beautiful. It’s true,  being genetically blessed sure does open doors and bestows perks that are wholly entitled and wonderful, but it’s less known that it also closes them. People will often assume without knowing me that I’m stuck up, shallow, obsessed with myself, have an ego that needs crushing or that like some spoilt princess living on a bed of roses, fed a steady diet of grapes by fabulous man slaves at my feet I have had it easy all my life. Some women become competitive, judgmental, suspicious and isolating because they feel that I am in some way a threat or couldn’t possibly understand their struggles and challenges. Men who pursue me split in two directions: some that clearly don’t give a hoot about what lies in my mind or soul and ones pretending that they are not at all interested in me because I’m attractive, yet what do you think is the first thing both versions attack when they feel insecure or inadequate?
In fact my physical attributes became a source of anxiety and self judgement through the simple fact that modelling is a job that is all about regularly dealing with cards of rejection based simply on bone structure. My ex booker used to tell me that I was the first model in Australia that was hired on personality too, so perhaps my inner qualities were a mitigating factor , but when the skin you’re in becomes associated with rejection more so than not at such an early age, your values become warped and relative. There is someone more beautiful, always, there will forever be someone more desirable, with a more perfect nose and fuller lips. Yet, we all know that we won’t ever be that person who we think is so much better looking than us simply for the fact that we are, well, we , and have different genetics altogether. Oh boy does this turn into suffering!
As a tween, I remember 90s supermodels ruling the runway-  glossy, perfect and exuding Amazonian cool . I fell in love with fashion through this pack of incredible models even though their out of this world proportions seemed out of reach for a skinny kid with no boobs. They didn’t intimidate me, neither did I feel crushed by the way they would always seem immaculate – I just wanted to be like them, just like I wanted to be Sheena, Queen of the Jungle,  but I had as much of a chance riding a zebra bareback across a savannah in Africa as I had growing Tonya Roberts or Eva Herzigova’s breasts. Then, the standard of beauty changed and Kate Moss’ body became the new ideal. All of a sudden, my body shape was in. It never stopped me from wishing for Eva Herzigova ‘s boobs though.
Once I started modelling, the insanity increased. When you are surrounded with adults that speak about gorgeous teenage girls in terms like “chunky” ,“Pie eater”, “ thin lips”, “ weird nose”, your whole perception of your own and other’s beauty becomes twisted and judged on impossible standards. Food was always my passion, so I never developed an eating disorder, but I also didn’t live in an apartment with models for long enough to become obsessive about my weight. Still, lets face it , I would make a can of Slim Fast and a Parliament cigarette my breakfast more often than not, running 7 days a week to uphold a thin physique, regularly picking myself apart and cursing the heavens for not giving me even more symmetrical features . I never felt thin or pretty enough, and honestly, never was as slim or genetically endowed as some models,  but now , I look at photos of that kid thinking; Jeez, you were extremely skinny and ridiculously Derrick Zoolander good looking. Yet, at the height of my youth and what’s considered “prime time” , I never felt beautiful. What a waste! Luckily, I didn’t care much about modelling as a career, preferring to amass money and then take off with my then boyfriend on months long trips to foreign lands instead of staying put for booked jobs ( sorry wonderful modelling agencies! ) so my anxieties stayed manageable as I was distracted by other interests and ideas.
Funnily enough, when I got pregnant with my daughter years later, my body put on 30 kilograms, even though I ate healthily. When I gave birth, I remember thinking I had slimmed down so much that to celebrate I decided to buy some new jeans. I asked the shop assistant to give me a size 12, as this is what I thought I was at that point – she looked at me questioningly but brought the jeans regardless . Dear reader, they wouldn’t go past my knees! It was like I had developed reverse anorexia – in fact I was a size 16. I was puzzled by this sudden reversal in how I perceived my body ; where once I never thought I was skinny enough, now I believed I was much thinner than I was in actuality and I couldn’t work out why.
But the biggest lesson in beauty came when I broke up with the father of my child after 11 years together. I felt incredibly sad, tired, old and haggard. I couldn’t look into the mirror without noticing another line, another sign that I was now past some magical prime, just a frightened woman in her 30s back on the dating market. Since break ups are hard as anyone knows and doubly so when you have children involved, you could say that my self esteem took a major hit – petrified of aging, fearful thoughts looped around my head to the tune of : what if no one finds me attractive again? Being horribly stressed about money and eternally tired from a lack of sleep did not help,  but then I wasn’t helping myself either by being angry at myself for feeling angry and annoyed that I kept feeling sad.  So,  I decided to get botox – after all, some of my friends had been getting it for years. Why not? Maybe I will look better, and since it’s not permanent, if I don’t like it, I can just stop. Well, at first I liked it. I definitely didn’t look angry or sad anymore and in photos my face looked more symmetrical which is always a bonus. I was getting the smallest possible amount in my forehead and frown lines but I still couldn’t frown at all. It felt strange to not be able to express my range of emotions anymore though- some expressions were now impossible. Predictably my friends with botox thought I looked incredible, whereas my friends without would tell me that my face would sometimes pull in unnatural and frankly creepy ways ( appreciate the honesty guys).
A year later,  I fell in love with a new man, who seemed to like my effervescence and perpetual happy visage. Ofcourse, dear reader that was all lies. I was still just a regular human dealing with lots of human shit, but you just could no longer see these expressions on my face. My face had become a mask – it had become a shield. Not only did this man not even register that I had difficult emotions, but my daughter no longer knew when I was frustrated with her or meant it. She would push boundaries more because I wasn’t doing my usual frowning authoritative face to stop her. When I tried to explain I was upset, she thought I was joking.
Sadly as my botox wore off , my boyfriend did too. He wasn’t equipped to deal with the full spectrum of human emotion within himself, which led him to drown all his difficult feelings in alcohol for decades, so naturally he couldn’t deal with them in me. He seemed surprised that as he actively sabotaged the relationship with ever worsening words and actions, I was no longer mute and neither was my face . He didn’t like seeing how his actions hurt me – the expressions that convey pain and grief shocked him ; the frown at unkept promises meant to him I was always angry, the tears meant I was crazy – the first time I cried post botox, my weeping face scared him away for a week even though I never spoke a word. And that was the biggest difference- whereas my face on botox would stoically morph into an elegant pained irreverence with an odd tear, a là Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born, I no longer looked this chic grieving. My face was an explosion of agony, a technicolour of suffering –it had returned to that which it was designed to do – communicate my most intimate feelings without a sound. This man couldn’t hack my humanity because he hadn’t embraced his own. All I triggered in him was guilt and shame that came with his wrongdoings , and because heavy emotions scared him and he didn’t know how to process them,  he was unable to take personal responsibility for his behaviours or change them. He ended up running into another relationship whilst still seeing me and thus another limerence phase where he didn’t need to deal with strenuous emotions yet. The years spent with him were a big lesson for me. If I was unable to accept my own humanity and my own “ugliness” in times of difficulty, how could I attract anyone that could? At the time I met him, I resonated at the same frequency as him- one scared of my own and the world’s intensity, trying to pretend that only the positive existed. Additionally, the fact that I entered this relationship with poor self esteem is the reason why I tolerated the way he disrespected me and ogled other women for so long. My belief in having a shelf life made me think that I needed to stay and work on the relationship no matter how I was treated.
But there were deeper reasons to quit the injections as well – mainly that it interferes with our emotional processing. In the excellent book  “The Emotional Life Of The Brain’ , the neuroscientist Richard J Davidson states : “Conventional wisdom holds that brain issues commands to the rest of the body and does all the directing, with the body below the neck meekly awaiting orders and never talking back. But it’s actually a two way street: communication between the mind and body is bidirectional. The brain, it turns out, uses feedback from the body in basic information processing.“  Basically, what scientists found by doing research with botoxed women is that our inability to make facial expressions that indicate sadness or anger directly led to these feelings being processed much more slowly and incompletely because the expressions were necessary for complete digestion of these emotions and subsequent realisations and learning. Which, in layman terms means that we are Stepford Wifing our brain in order to appear perfect on our face.  Could I call myself a feminist and do this? Was I truly living for me or fitting into a patriarchal model of aspiration where a woman could only be pretty and happy?
Every feeling is important and valid – our emotions are signs that lead to effective processing of important life events, that manifest lessons, integration, learning. Anger is a sign our boundaries are being broken so that we can reflect on the situations we are in and change them, sadness is a way of transmuting sorrow, loss, disappointment,grief and helplessness into experience, joy and happiness. We live in a world of duality, we cannot just have easy and good emotions without the hard ones – they are the same coin, different sides. By numbing our difficult feelings, we stunt our growth and emotional development, just as we would if we tried to delete them in any other way-  addictions to substances do the same because they flatline our pain so we never move through it to reach the other side.
It felt dishonest to tell my daughter to love herself just the way she was when I didn’t. I quit using words like skinny, fat or ugly way before she came into existence about anyone because I hate judging people on anything other than their actions and I especially dislike basing opinions on superficial terms – I didn’t want her to think these were words worth speaking or ideas worth thinking , yet here I was , actively crushing my feeling self in order to appear more attractive in the way society told me was important. I wasn’t backing myself.  I wasn’t validating my emotions. And I sure as hell wasn’t in my power or self worth. But what’s worse, by injecting myself with botox I was disrupting an important part of parent/child communication – mimicry. Our children, and especially babies learn about the world through us and our face speaks to them just as much through microexpressions as our voice and actions, so flattening ourselves numbs their own perception of the world and creates confusion around appropriate reactions to situations. Botox also actively reduces our ability to feel deep emotions and empathize , basically reducing our humanity, something we direly need in today’s world, full of Trump, racism and intolerance. Not to mention that if you have an MTHFR mutation, your body will naturally be less likely to expel botox toxins, leading to increased health issues, and since this is a problem affecting 1 in 2 people, it is a pretty important thing to consider.
I’m sorry to break it to you but there isn’t any evidence that preventative botox works – the injections were never meant to prevent anything, but to soften existing wrinkles, and in fact, there is evidence that paralyzing muscles leads them to atrophy – if muscles keep skin taut, then there is more of a likelihood that the skin will sag when treatment stops because the muscles have slacked from disuse.
Whilst I don’t judge anyone who feels a need to modify their appearance in any way because I am only responsible for my own body and no one else’s ( apart from my child’s until she learns how to care for herself) and I love people for their personality not their looks, I feel compelled to inform you of what my journey taught me. Maybe botox isn’t such a good idea if you have young children, health issues or are going through a pivotal emotional time in which you need all your processing powers, and honestly, I look at anyone under 35 getting it done with an exasperated why, but hey, it is none of my business, you do you. If you want plastic surgery and you think this will erase all your problems , this is your life and your body and no one has the right to choose for you. I just need to add though that Patti Smith looks like a freaking legend  , Sophia Coppola and Meryl Streep are gorgeous even with noses a plastic surgery doctor would shave off, and I can’t stand Tyra Banks since she made a budding model surgically close the gap between her front teeth on America’s Top Model, taking away her unique beauty in the process.
All I can tell you is that it has now been 5 years since I started my 1 year long botox experiment and honestly, I feel and look younger than I did then, despite another difficult break up and numerous stressors. How? I am nearly 40 and I feel and look 30, or as some say 27 ( liars) . What is my magic trick? Simply, I have developed self love and acceptance – I no longer feel like I need to put myself down in front of the mirror or think up barbed comments throughout the day. I catch myself falling into my old programming now- let’s face it I was raised by a wonderful mother who sadly kept calling herself fat and going on extreme diets , then embraced by a fashion industry riddled with insecurity so these thoughts won’t go away over night , but I do catch those mean thoughts now and replace them with compassionate ones. At first it wasn’t easy – my brain was tenaciously trying to hold on to making me hate myself. Still, I persisted, no matter how exhausting it would sometimes get to argue with my monkey brain and catch every single unkind word. It took a while but now I speak to myself as I wish a lover would speak to me, not my worst enemy. When I isolated that my issue with appearance lies within me and has nothing to do with the outside world is when everything changed, including the lines on my face. I no longer obsess about my size so my body responds with healthy strength and my skin has become clear and beautiful. Because I speak to myself with loving kindness, I naturally choose what’s best for me because I want to feed myself nutritious foods and give myself feel good energies that come with meditation and exercise. Beauty to me has become about how healthy and radiant I feel, not about how I am perceived by others. Joe Dispenza has said that the quality of our consciousness changes the material world and honestly, I believe this to be 100% true now.
But let’s face it, I am a hypocrite because I still work in the same industry that I love, I still create picture perfect fashion images, I still get my pictures retouched sometimes. It’s impossible not to and still create an amazing image alone – often, its only me, a one woman team, often with clothes crumpled in the back of my scooter or car putting make up on in the midst of a sweaty day in a small mirror, hair ruined from the wind. Having a fashion team to perfect every flyaway hair, every dress wrinkle and every make up imperfection isn’t an option ; yet, it is now possible to get those things taken out by photoshop. I learnt what a good image looks like throughout my long career, I know how to make clothes look good, but is it reality? Hell no. Reality doesn’t excite me in my field of work- when high definition TVs came out , I fought buying one until I had no choice because frankly, I don’t want to see an actor’s every pore and pimple-  I know people have them, I see them with my own eyes every day, that’s humanity, but it distracts me from the fantasy that I want to experience . When I look at a fashion image or a movie, I want to be transported into that world, I want to dream. I don’t feel bad about this, but I do feel bad if my editorial images are something people compare themselves to and feel inadequate because they think it reflects real life that’s unattainable to them. Fashion and movies are not real life, they are like a fairy tale book:  impractical, nonsensical, fictional and fun.
It makes me sad though when people tell me they want to change themselves because they don’t think they are perfect enough because I’ve been there, I was that girl. Let’s face it, I won’t stop dying my hair for a while or wearing make up, because I want to enhance the way I look  just like I want to keep improving my thought patterns, speech or character. But how much hypocricy is in that too? Men claim that they love women natural and tell us to ” take off all that make up” , but studies show that women who wear make up get three times more messages on dating apps and are perceived to be more competent, reliable and amiable at work – make up serves to give us social and economic advantages. But wait, men don’t actually like women with no make up or women with too much make up, they just want us to appear naturally beautiful. Which any woman knows is like at least 5 products , skillfully applied so that it enhances our appearance in a subtle yet definitely not bare faced way. Any more than this and he may notice that you’re actually wearing make up and then 63% will think you are doing it because you want to trick him into thinking you are pretty. Basically men, being men, think that we do everything because of them.
I promised you this piece of writing before fashion week but then felt compelled to dive into the subject more so I could make sure that I had something thought through to say. In the meantime, I spoke to so many women on this issue –friends, colleagues, strangers in my DMs, local women overseas. The prevailing similarity is that most of us don’t feel beautiful enough. We were taught to think like this, this is just a program, and every program can be changed. Since I started accepting myself warts and all, I now instantly notice beauty in others too – how one friend’s eye wrinkles fall into her smile seamlessly gives me great satisfaction , how my other friend’s frown lines persist even after she is finished concentrating is so damn cute now and my favourite shop assistant has so many freckles they are like a stunning galaxy on her face. I just have gratitude for my body now, gratitude for what it’s gone through, how it was shaped by life- I thank my cellulite dimples because it’s fat that keeps me warm and my no longer so perky breasts for nourishing my child when she was a newborn for a year. I love myself and women in my life so much now that the lines that used to frighten me because they pointed at my own mortality, now represent the record of our lives and character, not something that needs to be erased or perfected. I was blind because I was taught to look with eyes that cannot see – what we call imperfections are more perfect than perfection.  Now that I have different eyes, I see beauty everywhere .
 
 
 
 
 

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ON THE HYPOCRISY OF BEAUTY IN THE 21st CENTURY