A few weeks ago, I went to a party. My husband, John, had a quick shower, threw on a clean shirt and was ready to go. I set aside the whole day to get ready.
First of all, I took a long bath and painstakingly (and painfully) removed every hair from visible parts of my body. Then I covered myself in moisturiser, all the time trying not to cry as I noted every wobbly bit of skin, every mark, line, mole and imperfection. I blow dried my hair, curled it, smoothed it and styled it.
Then I started on my face – a moisturising mask followed by a cleanser, a toner, eye cream, moisturiser, lip balm, primer, foundation, concealer, powder, two different types of blusher, bronzer, highlighter, four different types of eyeshadow, carefully blended together, eyeliner, mascara, lip pencil, lipstick. Eyes – wider, larger, longer lashes. Cheekbones – higher, shaped, sculpted. Eyebrows – plucked – tidier – painful.
That’s twenty two facial beauty products just to feel like I can leave the house.
I painted myself a whole new face.
I did it because I hoped that if people were looking at my face, they wouldn’t be looking at my body.
And at the end of the whole beauty ballet, what did I do? I tried on every dress in my wardrobe and cried off my make up.
I thought I looked fat.
In the spotlight – how I’d like to be seen. Image © Richmond Pictures
As a blogger, I’ve always sort of felt like it’s my job to present the most glamorous side of myself. I’ve done countless photo shoots with teams of hair and make up and (I’m ashamed to say) I’m often photoshopped to remove the imperfections I’m so insecure about.
But a recent diagnosis made me question all of that – is it really my job to look glamorous 24/7? Let me explain.
The truth is far from the glamorous, aspirational image of my life I try so hard to cultivate. I suffer from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) an illness that physically propels you in the opposite direction from the modern standard of beauty and femininity.
Where our society values stick thin women, PCOS makes you gain weight. Where society expects you to be bald from the eyebrows down, PCOS gives you excess hair. Where TV adverts show long, glossy locks, PCOS can cause you to lose the hair on your head, and certainly lose its good condition. And here’s the real kicker – where you’re expected to pop out babies the minute you get married, PCOS makes you infertile.
Having PCOS means I don’t stand a fighting chance of being the glossy, glamorous girl from the magazines. And until very recently I thought it was my PCOS making feel like I’m not a real woman.
Talking to the girl in the mirror
But I’m not blaming my illness for my lack of body confidence any more – I’m blaming the all-pervasive culture that expects women to be as thin as possible (to take up as little space as they can manage) that expects adult women to have bald bodies (to infantilise and stunt us) to have to work, work, work just to feel worthy of leaving the house.
Twenty two products on my face, just to feel presentable.
When my husband only needs to throw on a clean shirt.
My PCOS isn’t to blame for the bullshit: the oppressive culture that values cookie-cutter beauty, high-maintenance standards and ridicules those who fail to meet them – that’s where I’m pointing my currently unmanicured finger.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying clothes, or make up, or expressing yourself with what you wear – in fact I often write about clothes and beauty products, and I enjoy using them, but it was only when I realised that I felt so pressured and harassed by the idea that I need every part of my body to be perfect before I can be happy, that I knew the way I saw fashion and beauty had to change.
I’m not trying to change the world (although it would be nice), or telling you to stop shaving your legs or wear make up (your body is not a political statement) but I am trying to change the way I see it. I can be part of the solution and lead by example.
I want to start by apologising for getting my job description so very wrong. It’s not my job to be the pinnacle of what our society deems to be glamorous and successful – it’s my job to show you that you’re already beautiful without having to try so fucking hard.
Image © Satureyes
So no more hating myself because my life seems to be a constant exercise in hair removal and keeping my weight down. No more crying in front of the mirror. No more hiding behind a computer instead of going out and meeting people in case someone notices all the things I think are wrong with me. If I’m too ashamed to be seen as myself, then what kind of an example am I to my beautiful readers, who I always remind that they are wonderful as they are?
This blog celebrates beauty in all its forms. Beauty is the smile you get when you’re being mischievous. Beauty is the thing you’re most passionate about. Beauty is the spark of humour, the unique expressions we make. We can see that in others so why do we find it so hard to see it in ourselves?
This isn’t new, but it needs to be said again and again and again and again and again until we get the message (and this is so important that it needs to be in caps. Underlined.):
YOU ARE NOT A COLLECTION OF RANDOM, IMPERFECT BODY PARTS – YOU ARE A WHOLE HUMAN BEING WITH A CHARACTER AND A BRAIN – YOUR EVERY EXPRESSION, MOVEMENT AND ACTION IS A WAY OF CULTIVATING BEAUTY – YOU ARE A PERSON IN MOTION, INNER BEAUTY IS REAL AND IT WILL SHINE THROUGH IF YOU LET IT.
So here’s an experiment – I want every woman who’s ever felt like she can’t live up to the ridiculous standards of beauty our society imposes, to strip through all the rubbish and look deeper. I want you to tell me one thing (and the comment box welcomes anonymity if you’re shy) that you find beautiful about yourself. I’ll start. I am beautiful because deep down I am kind – it shapes everything I do. That has to be more beautiful than having a tiny waist or a hairless body.