This is a public discussion thread for anyone on The Unpublishable mailing list — free subscribers, paid subscribers, everyone!
A couple months ago, I wrote this in a newsletter and lost ~40 subscribers:
So many of the beauty standards society foists upon on us are products of patriarchy (and white supremacy, and colonialism, and capitalism). As a coping mechanism, we learn to adopt them as our own, and we perform them well, and it feels good to perform them well, because we’ve been conditioned to see beauty as a moral imperative, and because performing it is a form of productivity, and so we confuse this feeling of a duty fulfilled for pleasure or joy or love.
The following week, I posted this tweet and gained ~50.
Clearly, we’re conflicted about coping mechanisms!
Listen, I get that we sometimes need cosmetic coping mechanisms to deal with the pain and pressure of beauty culture. I get the need for controlled routines and rituals. These things can be helpful and necessary! But I also think we need to release the idea that the aesthetic manipulation of our physical features fits into the category of “healthy coping mechanism.” Besides the adverse physical effects — like skincare’s disruption of the skin microbiome and skin barrier, which can cause more skin issues down the road and trigger the increased policing of our faces and the buying and applying of even more products — there are the psychological effects to consider. An outsize focus on the physical form can actually amplify the out-of-control feelings that prompt “stress-relieving” beauty routines in the first place: anxiety, depression, dysmorphia, obsessive thoughts about appearance. The cycle continues. The skin suffers. The psyche suffers. The industry thrives.
The challenge is recognizing which of our beauty behaviors are coping mechanisms (obviously, not all of them are), understanding the underlying issues you’re coping with, and addressing those issues in order to heal and ultimately release any unhealthy coping behaviors (beauty-related or otherwise).
My question to you: How have you used beauty as a coping mechanism?
I’ll go first! I was painfully shy in college — later I realized I was dealing with extreme social anxiety — and I wore a full face of makeup every day to create an external “character.” My look was ‘50s pinup, 24/7: foundation, concealer, bronzer, blush, eyeshadow, cat-eye liner, mascara, a fake Marilyn Monroe mole, and long-wear red lipstick. Being her seemed easier than being me. It allowed me to feel “seen” without having to talk or interact with anyone. (“Seen” in quotations because, of course, this facade was not actually me.) Once, a guy I’d sat next to in class all semester said hi in the elevator. I said hi back, and he was shocked — he assumed I’d have a Russian accent for some reason. He’d never heard me speak before, he said. “Everyone just knows you as the girl with the red lipstick.”
When my dermatitis was at its worst, I spent so much money on serums, moisturizers, masks, peels, spritzes, oils, everything. None of it helped. What my skin needed was time off from products, time to calm down and re-regulate. But waiting for my skin to heal, just sitting with the pain of feeling ugly and awful and worthless and doing nothing about it, was so unbearable that I continued to buy and apply product after product after product. It made me feel like I was doing something — like I was in control, even though I very much was not. (All those products made things worse.)
I still regularly get my eyebrows microbladed to cope with my trichotillomania (a mental disorder marked by the all-consuming urge to pull one’s hair out). When I go out, I still wear concealer to temporarily alleviate appearance anxiety about my acne scars. I mean, I started shaving to cope with my fellow middle-schoolers making fun of my hairy Italian legs! Almost all of my beauty behaviors can be traced back to some sort of formative shame.
What about you?
Let it all out in the thread below! This is a public discussion area where we can comment and respond to each other — like a big, virtual vent sesh. (Here’s the last open thread if you wanna check out what it’s like.) And please don’t be shy! Getting honest with ourselves and each other about beauty culture is how we start changing beauty culture.
On my 50th birthday, I sank into hopeless depression wondering how the hell I would deal with being perceived as old looking. I felt really shallow and aimless for the better half of the day until I forced myself to lay down and stop all attachment to racing thoughts of acting out in any way that would resist these ‘old’ feelings. Then something clicked, and the aha moment I called “Fuck You Fifty” came and hasn’t gone away since. There is so much joy in this ‘who cares’ attitude that I wish I’d had it starting in my teens BUT… I still put butt firming cream on my face and front, back, and sides of my neck whenever I have a special event😆. Oh well…
Count me as another person with a mother who suffered from depression, an eating disorder, and rejected everything to do with performing conventional femininity. What was learning about makeup and skincare but a way to fit in while growing up in a small town with a mother who was considered strange?
One of the last conversations I had with my grandmother, she expressed her concern about how "fat" my mom is. And how proud she was that I "take care of myself". So my mother managing to grow a blue-collar salary into a nice bit of wealth through teaching herself about trading stocks, ensuring that none of my grandparents died without the best care, was great but wow, did you notice how greasy her skin is? How much she's let herself go? Could she just shave her legs already?!?!
I swear, we're made to internalize this crap in the womb. And it's all total crap.
Trigger warning : diet/EDs/EDNOS . For me it’s my body. For any problem, any stressor it goes right to: “I will reshape my body/get skinny”. Even for things that make no sense. Or it’s clothes…if I dress the part..etc. etc.
It’s armor protecting me from any assaults from life.
Wow, these comments break my heart - but I have to be the iconoclast here and say that for all my adult life and more so now that I am middle-aged, I have used beauty rituals (i.e. massaging the skin, drinking a lot of water, using moisturizer to prevent drying up like a prune) to cope with grief, illness and other dark times; they are first and foremost for me and nobody else. I spend tons of time alone and have learned to stay away from any eye make-up during those times, even though I LURVE the ritual of slowly applying some kohl or mascara, but beauty rituals in the broader sense (including 'eating the rainbow') are essential to my wellbeing and my ability to cope - with work, surgeries, family, funerals and much more. Oh, and I shave my armpits too. Otherwise, I would faint from my sharp post-deadline-smells. :D
I think we should beat ourselves up a bit less.
In the Philippines, where I grew up, whitening products and hair rebond was all the rage for young women. I remember asking my mom to pay for a costly hair rebond for my 13th birthday. I had natural, unruly curls growing up. I was happy for a while but the hair rebond caused longterm damage for my hair. I regretted this. I resorted to cutting all my hair off so it will grow better. Another thing that always bothered me growing up was the lack of actual Filipino-looking people in media, everything was white and eurocentric. I rarely saw people who actually looked like me in my screens, as our local showbiz scene is obsessed with half-white, clearly more good-looking actors. If I do find someone who looked Filipino, they are cast aside as supporting characters or comic relief characters teased for their tan skin or anything related to their appearance. I wish I can go back in time and tell my younger self that it's going to be fine and you'll learn to love how you look eventually. I still have times when I feel like caving in to the standards and moments I don't feel my beautiful because of what I see on social media. But I remind myself that this is not my fault nor it is wrong, because the blame lies on the system that perpetuates these unrealistic standards and lack of representation, which pushes us to anxiety, or even depression.
I’m half black and half Italian, and when I was 11 we moved to Italy. Middle school is brutal for everyone and add racism to it (especially when I had never experienced it before) and it was a total disaster. All of the sudden my hair (which is awesome btw 😉) sucked, my nose sucked, my face was too round and the list goes on. So I started straightening my hair to try and fit in more. Straightening it with a flat iron wasn’t good enough so I begged my mom to let me get a chemical relaxer. And she agreed probably because she saw how in pain I was (but she only allowed it twice). Luckily middle school ended and I went to an awesome high school, but by that point straightening my hair had become like an armor and a coping mechanism. When I moved to the US at 24 I continued to do it, along with some super light and lazy contouring (def not Kardashian approved) of my nose, because I wanted to pass as white. The trauma of the light racism I faced as a kid was still there and it wasn’t until I was 30 or even 32 that I stopped wanting to pass as white and accepted my hair. I still occasionally straighten it, but the intention and feeling is that of wanting to do something different and not modify myself to fit into a standard.
I've noticed that when I feel incompetent or inadequate or powerless at work, or when I feel "not productive enough" or "not accomplished enough" in that shitty capitalist meritocratic-ish way, or when I know I'm going to be around someone who is unkind to me (these situations overlap a lot), I feel a huge pull to wear more makeup/do my hair/etc. I know makeup and hair products are often portrayed as armor, and it definitely is that, but I think it's something more, too. When I make myself look "prettier," I'm not just shielding myself--I've internalized the idea that I am more valuable, or providing more value, when I perform beauty, and somewhere deep down I think that if I'm a failure intellectually, I can at least try to compensate by performing physical beauty, right? I think in my heart of hearts, I am kind of afraid that if I rely on my mind/internal self as my sole source of "value," I won't have much value at all.
I’m a Singaporean Indian and when I was growing up, I was so conscious of my skin colour, weight and how ‘hairy’ I was. And only as I got older and moved to Australia did I realize that I was not much hairier that the average person or European because it was just that my black hair was visible against my brown skin. When I was in secondary school, I used to bleach the hair on my arm and my face so it wouldn’t be noticeable.
But as I grew older, I became more proud of my brown skin and my identity. Realizing that it was great to be unique and not the other way around.
I still wax my upper lip but I feel fine to have a furry back and arms :)
When I am stressed (most of the time, because corporate America and girl boss culture), I cope by either spending money (mostly perfume/candles/clothes, for some reason never something that would add to my life in non-material ways), or I go on a diet and pay for a calorie-tracking app, or I scroll through hundreds of Instagram pages of local med spas, “because l think I am finally ready for a lip filler” (I am 24, have been overlining my lips since I was able to use makeup). I was able to reduce my skincare routine to a minimum thanks to your newsletter, which is a win, but I’m still very much into other ideals of western beauty, diet and wealth culture, unfortunately.
I deeply needed this, especially the bit about how why get stressed about our skin and then buy “destressing” skin products. Just spent 30 minutes on the Tatcha website and almost spent ungodly money on something I don’t need. Thanks for your work your saving me money and also maybe my skin
My mom's old eating disorder was re-triggered by me hitting puberty; it's something she's never really forgiven me for (she was disappeared for treatment while I was in high school, and improved markedly once I moved out of the house).
She was so desperate to avoid me growing up that she never showed me how to use makeup, do my hair, shave, moisturize -- nothing. I have a lot of sympathy for her, and I think in her own fucked-up way, she was trying to protect me from my initiation into womanhood, which she saw as a distinctly negative life transition.
Because of this, I don't associate beauty routines with comfort or control. My goal is to be invisible, but I mostly do that with modest clothes and staying pretty quiet, even at work. But I DO watch beauty videos, because I'm fascinated by the skill and self-confidence it takes to apply makeup, or style an outfit. I think it's cool to see people who inhabit such a different self-concept.
Ohhh, where to even start?? I started shaving my legs in 7th grade because a "cool" girl made a comment about how my barely visible blond strands made me look baby-ish (which is interesting, because hair removal is all about youth, isn't it??). I was pretty anti-makeup for most of high school (1) because my mom impressed upon me that it was performative, sexualizing, and that I didn't "need" it (in retrospect, there's probably something to unpack there with the word "need"), and (2) because if I had wanted to wear it, I would have had to spend my own money.
That changed when I graduated from college and entered the workforce. Struggling with imposter syndrome, I wore makeup like armor--to manifest the "girl boss" I felt like I had to be in the office, to align with the women I looked up to, and to also just...hide. While I might have put on makeup in college for an event (and it always felt like play), it became something I felt vulnerable without. This escalated when I got a cute pixie cut and suddenly I had my sexuality and identity questioned all the time. Which is so culturally fascinating and also so intresting to me that it's something I felt motivated to compensate for. As a straight/cis woman, I felt like there was pressure to wear even more makeup to be immediately recognizable as a straight/cis woman--to appear as what others would expect and avoid their confusion. There is probably a small library's worth of things to say about that!
I eventually grew that haircut out, and settled into "minimalist" makeup and using "beauty" in more of a playtime capacity again as stress levels were relatively stable, and face masks, foot soaks, and mani/pedis became something "fun" to do with friends, or when my then-fiance was out of town. "Me time." Whatever that means.
Fast-forward to working in a management role in healthcare during the past 2+ years, and makeup went right back to being my armor again. Youthifying serums, creams, and cleansers started to stack up in my bathroom cabinets as lack of sleep and high stress levels also elevated my blood pressure and re-triggered an old back injury. Not only was I starting to "look old," I was starting to feel it as well. Sometime during the omicron surge at our hospital, my skin decided it had HAD IT with stress and over-treatment, and perioral dermatitis erupted on my face, spreading from around my lips and up into my nose. My eyes were watering all the time due to what I would later find out was stress-induced swelling of my eyelids that closed up the oil ducts that keep my eyes moist and healthy. I had just made a big makeup purchase, including my first ever liquid concealer (I made it to 35 without doing this, so that's a win??), when I found your blog. Needless to say, I'm on a minimalist/skin-rest routine now and am on alert for compensatory behaviors so I can seek to correct the source of my stress instead.
I have since given notice at my job (for multiple reasons, not just stress), am working on spending more time with friends and family, and am seeking "compensation" that's imbued with more meaning than eye-liner and covering the bumps around my mouth/nose (like actually f***ing resting!). When my face heals, I'll probably keep using makeup as a form of self-expression and play, but I'd like to think I have a better understanding of how easy it is to pursue youth, beauty, or capitalism participation masquerading as "self-care" instead of making sure my sleep is sound and my heart happy. I definitely won't be reaching for the concealer the next time my body gives me feedback that I've taken on too much...
I have always struggled to accept my nose, and sort of toyed with the idea of getting a nose job. Thinking back, I had a couple formative shaming experiences which probably contributed to that. I remember as a twelve year old sitting on the bathroom sink, using a little mirror to look at my profile and putting my finger along the bridge of my nose to imagine what it would look like if I had a cuter nose. My mom had told me I had an "aquiline nose", and once I realized what that meant I was so self-conscious about it. I have two sisters and between them, myself and my mom, I am naturally pretty thin where they are not. I think this led to them saying hurtful things towards me about my face/appearance, as a way to deal with their own insecurities about their weight. At a similar age, a girl at school blurted out to me in a hallway interaction that my nose was too big. She came out years later and I am fairly certain she was trying to cope with/reject her own feelings for me (I know that sounds obnoxious but I genuinely believe it based on other ways she acted towards me as well). But it really messed with my head.
I have a very round face, with wide cheeks/jaw, where my forehead is thinner than my cheeks at least when I'm smiling. When I was 14, this boy I had a total unrequited crush on thought it would be hilarious to point out the way my face was shaped and he drew on the board a shape like a short butternut squash and laughed about it. To this day I can't stand in front of a mirror or see a photo of myself without thinking about how much I hate it, and how I hate my hairline and hair texture because I feel like wearing my hair down (which I perceive as more feminine) accentuates it.
In middle school I was the only girl in my friend group of the "nerdy" kids. The same boy from the example above would talk at length and in explicit detail about the body of another girl in our class (she had big boobs, I definitely do not). Flash forward to years and years of me spending tons of money on pushup bras, padding inserts, and daydreaming about boob jobs (of course I don't exclusively blame this one boy making stupid comments, but it really reinforced that I wasn't measuring up versus all the Victoria's Secret angel BS we had to deal with in the 2000s). Interestingly, motherhood made me feel more comfortable with my boobs as they are, I think because their functionality outweighed their appearance, haha. I still don't have the confidence to go bra-less, but I don't wear pushup bras anymore (mom life! comfort first!). Part of me longs to have another baby so I can have big boobs again at least while I'm breastfeeding (I mean, I am fully aware of how ridiculous that sounds. A whole ass baby, just for an extra cup size for a year or two??). I felt so feminine and confident in that time, and then when I was done, boom back to unfeminine old me. It's so true that there IS a degree of comfort/confidence/satisfaction that comes from conforming to beauty norms, and it's SO HARD to live with the discomfort of making a conscious choice not to do so.
When I was 16, I wanted to get on birth control and had to persuade my mom in a way that didn't look like I wanted it because I wanted to have sex, so I based it on the fact that I had irregular periods. I was on the cross country team and had some eating disorder type behaviors, so looking back I'm like, surely it was amenorrhea? But at any rate, she took me to the doctor, who diagnosed me with PCOS because I had irregular periods and "hirsutism" - folks I swear to you, I do not have hirsutism, I am just Latina. The diagnosis got me the prescription I wanted but I went most of my life believing there was something wrong with my body which (again) made me unfeminine and gross. My mom would buy me Jolen cream bleach which I would use on basically my entire freaking body - my face, my arms, my lower back. Later in my twenties, I spent thousands of dollars on full body laser hair removal treatments. Nowadays I can barely be bothered to shave, haha (although that probably has more to do with being an exhausted working mom than anything).
Looking back at all of these examples, EVERY SINGLE ONE can be traced to some misogynistic/patriarchal/white supremacist bullshit in the culture.
I've been lucky to have had pretty good skin growing up. What I find hard in my 30s is the fear/rise of agism and beauty products. What are the things I should do to help my skin? What is fear of aging being marketed at me?
The other polarizing issue for me is body hair. haven't shaved my legs/armpits for about a decade (and part of it is privilege of having light body hair). My mom judges me pretty heavily about it and will push that I look a certain way for important events like weddings.
I had an ex that literally broke up with me over my body hair a year into our relationship (reader, I hadn't shaved for years before he met me). Sexual desirability and being seen as wanted gets wrapped up in it. But at the same time... bending for someone else when it comes to my hair makes me feel even worse. It's like: I get afraid of being sexually intimate at the same time as the thought of trimming/changing body hair brings up too much about pleasing someone else.
Tl;Dr I'm not sure I use beauty. I feel like my inability or desire to use it makes me feel strange and unwanted by potential sexual partners. Like I 'see' the game but don't know how to fully opt out of it.
Botox is my coping mechanism. I've always been the "baby," society dictates that as an Asian woman I am to be ageless until I hit menopause, and my industry (beauty) values youth (but not too young). Looking 29 seems to be the right mark--you're experienced enough to have some authority, but not so old that you're "out of touch." Thus I Botox. Two times a year for the past 2 years. It makes me feel in control of something, especially when it feels like there are so much out of my control. But I can "relax" my lines into submission with bacteria toxin. The same toxin I learned about in my college course on bacterial pathogenesis.
I'm working on it. I'm in therapy. I'm trying to break free. But for now, I'm not ready.
Random long-winded thoughts in reaction to this:
1. Thank you for raising this. I have never even thought about it before, much less talked about it, and didn’t realize how much I needed to!
2. If I read this when I was in college I would have gotten SO defensive! I remember so many people commenting on my thick winged eyeliner (one guy even said he didn’t recognize me when I didn’t have all that “black shit” on my eyes, lol) and I was so insistent that it was “FOR MYSELF, NOT FOR OTHER PEOPLE!” as if that even meant anything. Ultimately it was the only way I liked how I looked. If I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror without makeup, I felt horrible. I took it as an insult when people referred to me “hiding” behind my makeup, and in some cases those comments really were just an excuse to shame me for “wasting” time on something they thought looked weird, but in some cases I think people who actually cared about me were seeing that I was using it to cope with all the internalized misogyny and the rigid beauty standards I had set for myself.
3. This very much ties in with fatphobia for me. The more negatively I feel about my body, the more I focus on “beauty” when it comes to makeup. I walk that very unsustainable and uncomfortable line between awareness that these standards and expectations (both beauty and thinness) are tools of oppression and they’re ultimately bad for me, and still feeling like if I don’t comply, my life will only be harder, and I have to find a way to survive in the environment and culture that I’m a part of whether I like it or not. So I’m here mentally and emotionally saying “YES! We should not “have to” do any of this!,” and in the same breath, won’t go into an office setting without mascara and concealer, and always try to wear the most “flattering” clothes around my mother because it’s easier than broaching the topic of weight every time I see her.
I'm trying to kick some of my beauty habits but it's hard. It's hard to tell what I actually want and what I've been programmed to want / feel ashamed about (should I stop shaving my legs? Do I really like smooth legs or do I just feel embarrassed when I have hairy ones? why do hairy armpits feel OK to me but hairy legs don't? am I sending a bad message to my nephews when I wear makeup, am I contributing to how they view women?). I feel like I've been grappling this for so long but haven't made any real progress at eliminating those ideas from my head.
I recently quit smoking after smoking for 8+ years, and the main reason why WAS NOT concerns for my health (although that definitely factored in) - you can probably guess what it was, though: I felt like it was starting to age my skin and make me uglier. Yikes.
I'm just exhausted. It's hard to reconcile the intellectual and spiritual understanding of my innate femininity and worthiness outside of the western beauty paradigm with my severe body dysmorphia. I've recently had to face this head on after I was prescribed tretinoin for mild acne, which ended up thinning and damaging my skin and somehow causing a bunch of little veins to show up on my face. It's been literal hell trying to fast-track my emotional and spiritual healing process in order to cope with the daily anxiety of a changed face. My derm gaslighted the shit out of me and told me it was merely a coincidence (HOW???), and now I'm off all skincare products in an effort to at least calm my skin moving forward.
Just like you, I've worn makeup all my life as a mask. And now I feel as though I will always have the urge to wear makeup in order to cover up the damage tret caused. Breaking free from beauty culture feels so much harder with a mental illness that is entirely appearance-based, obsessive/compulsive, and debilitating. Sometimes it feels impossible. But I'm going to continue to try because I know that a soulful, peaceful life will never be attainable for me if I continue to base my entire mood, sense of self, and locus of control upon futile and unattainable appearance ideals.
first off, super generative to read this whole thread. I’m a hairstylist but I really don’t do grey coverage for people very often (I think that service is the most environmentally toxic to our bodies and the planet). I have thought long and hard about what is a necessary service that people can be creative about (I think haircuts are totally cool and would exist outside of capitalism) and what is feeding into our insecurities and beauty culture (and capitalism). I don’t think I have all the answers but it really helps to hear from all of you.
"Almost all of my beauty behaviors can be traced back to some sort of formative shame" - yes, absolutely, me too. There's a scene in "Legally Blonde" (one of my problematic faves) where Elle gets bad news (her ex is engaged to someone else quickly after their breakup) and to cope, she runs to a nail salon. Elle performs beauty instead of dealing with her feelings of rejection, betrayal and rage. This scene encapsulates how I've operated for most of my life. I have a bad day at work, I feel unappreciated and incompetent? I do a face mask instead of advocating for myself. I feel too fatigued and depressed to go after the thing I really want? I buy a new bold lipstick instead of facing the root of the depression. A dude friend points out my hairy Italian arms to me at age 14? I shave my arm hair AND leg hair AND buy a new mini skirt that will make him think again, rather than say to him "that's not cool, friend."
I deeply value all of Jessica's writing, and I get so much out of it. Something I've rubbed up against when discussing beauty performance pressure is gender performance, and I was wondering if anyone (Jessica?) has any thoughts on how to navigate these conversations. I was discussing how my BDD, my eating disorder, etc can be traced to the pressure to perform beauty with a group of friends recently. A queer friend noted that she deeply values beauty behaviors as they allow her to perform femininity when she wants to, like putting on a glamour or a costume. This same "costume" that helps her feel free and affirmed, has for me, a cis het woman, been an unrelenting pressure, exhausting, expensive, and harmful to me physically and mentally. Obviously different individuals have different experiences, but does anyone have any thoughts on discussing the systemic harms of how harmful the beauty industrial complex is to women while being mindful and respectful of gender performance?
Shaving, waxing, makeup, so much money on hair dying, anxiety about the right clothes, anxiety about not having enough money to buy the right clothes, irresponsible debt to buy clothes and shoes. I should’ve bought a condo when I was in my 20s but wasn’t really in the right head space for it. I’m not against beauty and believe you feel better when you look good, but we need to check the standards bc they are not realistic or attainable
Allllll of my investment into my appearance (makeup, highlights, skincare, injectables) is in reaction to fear that others will see me as incompetent and worth less than my peers. My earliest memory of coping with the shame of being perceived as “less than” began with straightening my very curly hair and begging my mom for the “Rachel” haircut that all of the popular/athletic/straight A girls were getting. At its most difficult, my beauty as coping manifested as an eating disorder that spanned decades. I cultivated the belief that if I look like I “have my shit together” I can convince myself and others that I actually have my shit together. Looking “perfect” protected me from the shame of being less than perfect. I still struggle under these beliefs, but it’s getting easier as I near 40. I’m so grateful for this resource as I continue to divest from the systems that diminish our spirits. Thank you for this work Jessica!
So I quit skincare and makeup two and a half years ago. It was a combo of reasons (mostly because I was a new mother and had zero time, energy, or inclination for it all), but somehow I went from being someone who spent thousands a year on beauty, hadn't felt comfortable leaving the house without makeup since she was pubescent, and had chronic skin problems, to being someone who wears makeup maaaaybe once every couple of weeks and considers running a warm washcloth over her face at night "a routine". I've learnt so much about myself and beauty over the last few years, but this post has got me reflecting on what little things I'm still hung up on.
1. Facial hair. I used to shave my entire face every week. I have pretty heavy peach fuzz on my cheeks and forehead, and grow a blonde moustache that glints golden in sunlight. I don't do the full shave anymore (and my skin is so much healthier for it), but still get rid of the moustache. I have a strong memory of a male friend of mine in high school pointing it out to all his other friends and laughing at it. I even told him about it when we caught up a couple of years ago, and he was horrified, but that shame runs deep. So the golden moustache still gets the chop every week.
2. Leg hair. I recently experimented with letting my leg hair grow out AND baring my legs in public. Kept them at full growth for about two months. Gotta say, that's still a tricky one for me-- I'm back to shaving semi-regularly. I just can't wear a dress, look down at my hairy legs, and feel okay about it. The only thing time I felt good, interestingly enough, was in a bikini at the beach. The closer I was to being nude (and the tanner my skin), the more I felt comfortable in my natural state. When I finally shaved them again, it did take me about a week to not look at my legs and think, "Weird, I'm bald," so I think my perspective is shifting on this one. I'm going longer stretches between shaves.
3. Eyebrows. I went through a bout of trichotillomania postpartum with my first child. I had experienced it as a side effect of anxiety in the past, but fortunately my brows had always grown back with time. This time, not so much. Due to the depleted state my body was in after giving birth, plus the hormonal changes that occured with motherhood, my eyebrows barely grew back in, and what did grow back was a barely visible shade of wiry white. I've been waiting for them to change back, but two years in and it seems like this is just their new colour. It ages me so much, and makes me look sickly. I struggle to look at my odd, bi-coloured brows (I only pulled out the outer half, so the inner half of my brows are still more-or-less the same as ever) and not feel some shame. I generally enjoy the ageing process, I like getting older, and I like how my emerging wrinkles make me look, but when I see my eyebrows I can't help but think, "Yep, I hit The Wall and there's no going back." So, yeah, brow product is the only thing I put on when I'm trying to make myself look casually "presentable'.
4. Wearing a bra. Not sure if this is what you're talking about, but I definitely only wear a bra these days for beauty standard-related reasons. I much prefer being braless, but am way too self-conscious about my lopsided, saggy milkers (lol, yay motherhood) to forgo a bra. It's not even my boobs that bother me, as I don't mind them when I'm naked, it's just under clothing I still expect them to appear a certain way. The word 'presentable' pops up in my head again. I don't feel presentable without a bra. (Presentable to whom? Am I a present?)
I'm sure there are other things. In general, I'm proud of how far I've come with my self-image and how I view beauty these days. I am so glad to have mostly quit skincare and makeup. I'm now at a place where beauty for me is the same as health and happiness. When I feel healthy and happy, I feel beautiful. This is how I see beauty in others too. But there are still a couple of niggling things that I haven't been able to let go of yet. A lot of it comes down to how I look in clothing. I can accept and love my naked body, but as soon as I get dressed, I start expecting myself to look a certain way. It will be interesting to see where I'm at in another two and half years.
So all these answers are going to go real deep real fast. Here's something wild that happened to me. Last year my Mom was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and pretty quickly lost her hair during chemo. As a Filipino woman, it was a huge shift for her not to have her glossy thick black hair - grappling with cancer and impending death also included the mortality of her self image. In my agony of anticipatory grief and not wanting her to go through this alone, I shaved off my long black hair too. Didn't think twice. But after the fact YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE the shit I got. All of a sudden I encountered strange ass unsolicited comments and questions about my appearance - and about my sexuality! The utter hostility and microaggression from men!! Mom and I got wigs and other fun cranium accessories. When I was at work or out and about, I put on much more makeup and jewelry and felt some internalized pressure to look more stylish or feminine. With her, the only beauty that mattered was our love and her comfort. During hospice, my Mom had the sweetest soft baby hair growing back, and in her last days, she showed me true beauty and strength. <3
Wow. So I am def aware that nearly all of my beauty routines are coping mechanisms. And, honestly I’m ok being called out on it too. But these days the big one is foundation/redness reducing on my face. I went through a very gnarly separation and divorce (lying, gaslighting, cheating with a woman who worked for him and was in our lives for 10 years.) Anyway…during that state of constant stress for 2 years I developed rosacea that has never gone away. I can’t bring myself to NOT cover it up. It’s like a reminder, a sign of my unworthiness, a glaring red light (pun) to any other suitors that screams, “stay away, she’s too much (according to my ex), she’s unlovable.” Anyway, I cover it…for all kinds of oppressive patriarchal reasons. Sigh. Oh…and also…FUCK HIM. 😏
I had been working on trying to deconstruct my attachment to alll the beauty things, and then my husband of 11 years suddenly left me. My mind is spinning out with all the things I need to do so I can find love again; lose 15 pounds, straighten my teeth, do something prettier with my hair etc. I know intellectually that's not how you find love, but it's wild how ingrained in my mind these mechanisms are for seeking validation. I know it won't help me through the grief of being rejected by the one person who knew my whole heart and still left, but it kind of feels like at least trying will help me convince myself that I'm working on moving past this. Waiting for time to heal me, and therapy, and reading, and walking really don't feel like enough; like I'll only win if I come out of this with a divorce glow up! It's so stupid.
Starting somewhere around middle school I started to notice and care and feel bad about my appearance. "ew your legs are hairy" etc.
My neighbors joked around a lot with me, and one day they jokingly said I have a 'white mans nose'. (I am Russian Jewish). I laughed it off, but I was mortified. I looked and noticed it was "true." I did not look like Brittany Spears or J.Lo or any of the girls I saw put on pedestals for their conventional beauty. decades long insecurities. I started to notice my curly hair and its frizz. I thought I looked horrendous. Social anxiety was starting to build inside me, and looking 'hot' can help you in a lot of awkward situations. Or playing dumb.
I wore lots of coverup to help blend my nose into my face with dark eyeliner. I avoided rain, all water, beaches (I live in Florida), and sweating from jogging and heavy exercise so that my straighten hair wouldn't be ruined. Part of my hair was burned off from a poorly done relaxing job. Worst of all, I spent hours on hours obsessing about my looks in negative ways, which, even at all, should be a minimal thought! Later, going to therapy to deal with real issues, made a lot of the fabricated ones smaller.
I learned how to cope with my anxiety, face and reframe my thoughts, be mindful. Also that I had actual beliefs that "my worth was vastly lower because of my looks."
In my 30s I have started to embrace curls and my nose and my natural state. Almost wearing no makeup (but... still a little something), & almost fully convincing myself ... IT DOESN'T MATTER THAT MUCH. Still trying to fully grasp that. This blog is so helpful for maintaining those loving positive beliefs
I'm naturally a redhead, but for part of my teens and early 20s, I dyed my hair black because I just wanted to be left alone. It's wild the number of strangers who think it is appropriate to just grab/touch you when you have an unusual natural hair color. Also, in stereotypical beauty as a coping mechanism fashion, I used to give myself what might be best described as "at-home depression haircuts."
I've realized a LOT, if not most, of my beauty routines came from coping mechanisms to alleviate my feelings of ugliness, awkwardness, not-fitting-in-ness. I started shaving in the fifth grade, after a mean girl made fun of my leg hair (and my hair is blonde and barely noticeable!). I wore mascara because my eyelashes are lighter in color and I felt they were "too short" and "not visible enough." I wore concealer because of dark circles (what dark circles? I was 20!) and acne. I never felt like my bare face or my natural body was pretty enough or good enough. I've spent a lot of time in the past few years reflecting and trying to root that stuff out. I think I'm somewhat lucky in the sense that I never *really* enjoyed a lot of it or got good at it--especially makeup--and so it was easier to see it as a bad coping mechanism instead of something "I totally do for me!!" So I've stopped wearing makeup and winnowed down my skincare routine to the very basics. That said, I still use my prescriptions for my adult cystic acne, because it's hormonal, it won't go away, and on top of my cultural conditioning to view it as unsightly, it's also really freaking painful. I'm not really sure how to "be okay" with cysts on my face that are agonizing when I touch them, or if I'll ever get there, or if I even need to? This is also my first spring/summer going out with all my body hair, and so far I still feel nervous about how other people will perceive/judge me--oddly, a lot more so than when I started going without makeup.
I was just commenting about this to Val Monroe yesterday. She linked to an essay she'd written last March about looking at one's self with loving awareness as a salve for the impulse to "have work done." I have to say, I am amazed by the way I've considered procedures (Botox & a boob job) as a means of side-stepping the GRIEF that would come from looking at myself with deep truth and vulnerability and saying I LOVE YOU, YOU ARE GOOD AND YOU ARE DETERIORATING. (Because... you're alive.)
What the beauty industry sells us is a side-step around the existential pangs of our own humanity. It's so truly American. Just go DO something rather than passively let something be done TO you (like, say, gravity). It's manifest destiny on the body. But truly a shocking realization for me yesterday to see that I--a deep-thinking, sane person--might rather be cut open than have to look hard at my vulnerability and the grief that comes with it.
Thanks for your work, it is NECESSARY.
This is me and hair dye - I created a whole persona of 'the redhead' for years...
Ah yes, I remember my younger self thinking "once I can get my skin perfectly smooth, poreless and blemish-free, THEN I'll stop anxiously picking at it, obviously"
cos, that was the problem, lollolol
This is probably not the answer you are looking for, but the other day, when I was feeling frustrated about something outside of my control, I took a pair of scissors to my head and sheared off three inches and gave myself what might very generously be described as a "shag." I thought it would make me feel all better, somehow. It did not! And now I need to go get it cleaned up by my hairdresser.