Call Me Beautiful, Or Don’t, Whatever

So, hopefully there will be a TRF later today. Instead of writing about shopping, I’ve spent the past two days working on my response to this article: Don’t Call Me Beautiful. I’m still soul-searching about why this bothers me so much but I would truly love some thoughtful feedback on whether you agree with me or the author or have a differing view entirely.

My gorgeous friend posted this article on Facebook with the words,

I made a point awhile ago to stop wearing makeup unless the moment struck me, to stop focusing on whether my outfit was ‘pretty’ or ‘feminine’ enough for whatever occasion I happened to be dressing for. To my surprise, the most telling result of this has been that when I look at pictures of myself, I look happier, more at ease and in general, I like them more.
And just to be 100% clear, this is not something I  think speaks for everyone nor should it. This is something that I personally struggled with for a VERY long time throughout my teenage years and the better part of my 20s. Learning to let go of these expectations is a constant struggle but a freeing one.

Now I would guess that we are about the same age (early 30s) and growing up in the 90s she would have been considered beautiful: tall, blonde, classic features. Me… not so much. I am short, wore glasses, had braces in my early 20s and always carried around about 15 lbs more than I wanted to. I wasn’t ugly but did not consider myself pretty.

After I got my braces off, I started to feel pretty. I finally liked the pictures I saw of myself and I began to smile bigger and bigger for each picture. Those teeth, and in turn my smile, was gorgeous and it lit up my face. People started commenting on how photogenic I was.

And I have always loved makeup. My parents gave me my first small palatte of eyeshadows at 11 with rules about when I could wear it (at home, at special events, not at school or grandma and grandpa’s) and it began a lifelong relationship with ways to paint my face and I have loved every minute of it. When we were 16, when my friends were buying Bonne Bell lipsmackers, I was at the Lancome counter and eventually found my way to MAC which I still frequent to this day.

I have some problems with the article [as I edit this, there is almost 1500 words – ‘some’ problems might be an understatement]. I mean, the author was filled with self-loathing on the days she didn’t feel beautiful?! I’m not trying to downplay her feelings or anything but isn’t that a little harsh on yourself? There’s days when everything works and there’s days when everything doesn’t. Sometime you gotta put on your best smile and say “F*** It! I’m gonna pretend I like it this way!” and head out the door anyways. As I type this there is a stain on my skirt because I dropped my lunch on it. I can’t allow something like that, or that my hair desperately needs a haircut, to ruin my day.

If I wasn’t beautiful, how could I put my best self forward? How could I designate myself as worthy of someone’s time?

Um, you are always worthy of someone’s time, whether you put on a full face of makeup or walked out the door without brushing your hair. I would say this points to self-esteem issues that have nothing to do with makeup or beauty, just accepting yourself for who you are. And rejecting those people who try to convince you otherwise.

There is a familiar anxiety that runs throughout all of these movements, however – the idea that all women must feel beautiful.

The idea that if you don’t feel beautiful, you’ll be miserable without any self-esteem.
In that sense, not feeling beautiful becomes almost threatening.

Which prompts the question: Why? Why should women be obligated to feel beautiful? And what happens when we consider that fact that beauty may not matter?

REALLY? My self-esteem comes from my skills, my smarts, my personality, my husband, my child, my parents, my job AND THEN my beauty. If I didn’t have it, would I never have self-esteem?? I don’t think that’s true. And no, women don’t have to feel beautiful if they don’t want to but to be comfortable with themselves. To accept who they are, that’s all I want for my friends, my clients and the other women in the world.

This one is pretty common sense. If the first thing you routinely think to say to a woman is something about her looks, we’ve got issues.

Do we have issues?? I can tell on the street if someone has good fashion sense and I can compliment that. But I’m sure as hell not gonna walk up to random strangers and tell them they are smart. First of all, they are going to think I’m nuts and secondly, I don’t know that they are.

You might be well aware of unattainable beauty standards. You could feel the need to constantly remind women of their beauty to make them feel good about themselves.
The problem is that beauty can often be inherently reductionist. Imagine how it feels to have all of your accomplishments superseded by your appearance on a daily basis.

I don’t know how that feels. Do you?? Are you really telling me that it doesn’t matter to your boss or your mom that you are smart or good at your job? They would continue to comment on your hair or your outfit? I highly doubt it. I will find a supermodel and ask her.

We need to start teaching ourselves that womanhood doesn’t constantly need validation. My womanhood can thrive without your approval. Further, my womanhood comprises a hell of a lot more than my fashion sense.

You are right. You don’t need my approval at all. And I don’t need yours. But I am always happy to lend a hand with fashion sense.

Womanhood and femininity are not inextricably intertwined, contrary to popular belief. You don’t need to be feminine to feel like a woman, and you certainly don’t have to be beautiful to feel like a woman.

I feel like the author keeps getting beauty mixed up with comfort. Women don’t have to be beautiful or feel beautiful. They do have to be comfortable with themselves, whatever that means to them. I wrote this post a couple of months ago on having a moment where I looked in the mirror and accepted the person staring back at me. Sure, I would love to lose a few more lbs and be a few inches taller but those things don’t define who I am.

I always felt uncomfortable thanking people for calling me beautiful because it seemed to indirectly reinforce the behavior by giving the impression that I was insecure. Instead, without thinking about it, I began to reply to “you’re beautiful” with a joyful, minimally sarcastic “Thanks, I know”.

This quirk produced quite a few chuckles initially, but it also steered the conversation in another direction because I was able to reclaim my right to validate myself and take appearance off the table.

This comment really bothers me. What happened to being gracious? Who wants to be friends with someone who every time you pay them a compliment gives you a snotty answer and refuses to compliment you back? Maybe I’m not understanding the audience. Are complete strangers telling you you’re beautiful? Your  co-workers or your boss? Please explain this to me.

Yet again, there is a nagging insistence that we always have to find beauty in everything and that there has to be something analogous to beauty in every situation to make a person whole, especially in regard to women.

Can I have a “for instance”? I really don’t understand this comment at all.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful as long as you don’t allow society’s definitions to overwhelm you or make you doubt yourself.

Here is where the author and I finally agree on something. I feel that the author has often felt this way and I’m sorry that she has. I’m not judging but by her picture she looks young (yes, I know I’m not so old either) and maybe time will help with her confidence in life and she will feel less like she needs to use her looks to explain her presence and make herself worth of someone else’s time.

I reject all the “alternatives” she gives to say in place of this. None of them would be appropriate in the workplace. I already respect the women I work with and my attitude shows that. Saying things like, “I admire the energy you contribute” comes off as condescending, especially if your co-worker is older than you.

And my friend, the one who initially posted the article, she will always be beautiful, whether she wears a pantsuit or a dress, does her makeup or doesn’t comb her hair. I think both she and the author need to accept that this is part of themselves that people are always going to comment on and that part needs to be accepted just as much as the rest of themselves.

What do you think? I am very interested in thoughtful comments that spark debate. Derogatory or unhelpful comments will be deleted. Thanks and Happy Shopping!

Random Thoughts on a Tuesday

Every once in awhile I’ll be trucking along, thinking I have no wisdom left to impart to the world and that everyone everywhere else already knows about fit, patterns, colours, textures and other fashion questions. And then I’ll get a question (or comment) that stops me right in my tracks and I think, I haven’t told you all about that?!

This week it was my BFF Rebekah who said to me,

I love how you just walk in anywhere and try stuff on. I’ve always wanted to do that… Ooo sale… Gonna see.. Not.. Ooo sale They probably don’t have anything that fits anyway.

And that totally stopped me in my tracks. I never thought of myself as daring but I will try almost anything on be it shoes or clothing. Sky-high platforms, a shoulder-baring one piece jumpsuit, a crop top… my motto is don’t judge the clothing by the hanger – you have no idea how it looks until you put it on.

This comment also leads me to believe that we as women don’t expect alot of things from our clothing and I’ve seen it time and time again where when something doesn’t fit, we put the onus on ourselves instead of the crappy piece of clothing. I mean, when was the last time you tried something on that was truly awful? Did you leave the fitting room discouraged, maybe even depressed?? Did you think, “oh, if I just lost 10 lbs then that would’ve fit properly” or “I hate my arms/tummy/thighs” ? Why not start thinking: no wonder this was on sale. Only a stick-thin person can wear this. Or someone with tiny breasts. Or someone with longer legs. Who are they going to sell this to anyways?? Demand perfection from your clothing, regardless of your size! (Keep in mind that sometimes a great piece needs some tailoring to get perfection and that is perfectly ok).

I’m going to say it again because if you read like I do, you skim and I really don’t want you to miss this: Demand MORE from your clothing. Demand better quality, better lines, better colours, better washing options. Demand structure so your dresses don’t look like potato sacks. Demand wash and wear clothing if you don’t want to go to the dry cleaner. Your clothing is here to serve you, not the other way around.

Any thoughts? Do you buy ill-fitting clothing because it was on sale? Do you quit shopping after trying things on and are depressed the rest of the day?

Happy(er) Shopping!