This is a public discussion thread for anyone on The Unpublishable mailing list.
We tend to blame beauty culture on, like, celebrities. The media. Big Beauty — brands, marketing, advertising. But really, most of us encountered beauty culture long before we could say “Baywatch-inspired breast implants.” I think my earliest memory is watching my mother apply makeup (or as I called it back then, “muck-a-muck”). I asked her if I could participate in local beauty pageants at five years old. I already knew “beautiful” was the best compliment a girl could get.
I started thinking about this more seriously a few weeks ago, after Allure posted this Instagram, which is supposed to be cute but sort of just made me sad:
We learn to perform beauty so young!
The more I think about it, the more I think I learned my stickiest lessons about beauty — why it’s important, what it takes, the prizes you get for having it, the punishment you get for not having it — from the people around me. Family, friends, classmates, community, encounters on the street.
I was mercilessly teased in middle school for my stick-out ears.
Classmates started wearing full-coverage foundation at 12.
They all made fun of Kimberly L. for not shaving her underarm hair.
I stole my mom’s Slim Fast for lunch.
My high school best friend wouldn’t be seen without a fake tan (she convinced me to go tanning with her twice).
Every woman in Jersey applied mascara behind the wheel, risking their lives for longer lashes.
Every hairstylist wanted to “thin out” my thick curls and blow dry them straight.
A random man in Dunkin’ Donuts noticed my acne and asked if I’d ever heard of Proactiv.
A coworker noticed my dermatitis and asked if I was contagious.
A boss referred to acne scars — which I have in spades — as “unsightly”.
My colleagues at a fashion start-up slowly revealed they’d all had aesthetic procedures: two boob jobs, a nose job, neuromodulators and lip filler for all.
My best friend started getting Botox in her early twenties. (Shit. She’s younger than me. Should I start too?)
My ex-husband asked me to consider taking medication to get rid of my hormonal acne.
My ex-husband asked me to wear more makeup, please.
And so, in the interest of expanding our idea of “beauty culture” beyond the seemingly untouchable and unchangeable — celebrities, media, brand marketing — I want to know:
How have friends, family, and acquaintances informed your idea of beauty over the years?
Let it all out in the thread below! This is a public discussion area where we can all comment and respond to each other. Like a big, virtual vent sesh.
November 8th 2021
I’ve never done this on The Unpublishable before, so I don’t know if any of you are open to sharing — but please don’t be shy! Getting honest with ourselves and each other about beauty culture is how we start changing beauty culture. Aaaand… GO!
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