The ugly truth about real beauty
[Photo: free image iStock_000016803634Large.]
I have an aunt who has battled years of anorexia and been admitted numerous times to hospital for it, my mum and sister have tended towards slight obsession at times regarding their slimming world diets which led them to losing too much weight, I myself, at 17 have battled bulimia out of guilt and shame for indulging, nay binging, on my favourite foods and I became possessed by insecurity that made me stick to a 700-calories-a-day diet to lose weight and be noticed by boys. And I have lived with an athletic male housemate who, himself, struggled with an eating disorder in his 20s.
Side note: Did you know that the majority of dancers with an eating disorder are men? Whilst at a dance competition in Guildford, UK in 2005, a researcher was asking us questions about our eating habits and said she was collecting data. I asked about her findings and she claimed so far they pointed to male dancers having anorexia and bulimia more than women. Surprising? It shouldn’t be. Men bottle things up more than women and the insecurities and control have to break out somewhere. They too have to compete with magazine propaganda and peer pressure.
For years we have been told what “beauty” looks like and made to feel inadequate. Out of our insecurities, many companies have been born, grown, profited and raked in millions. They feed on our fears, anxieties and self-loathing behaviour and create marketing material to make us feel ashamed and unworthy so we buy their products as a solution to fixing all that we hate. Then came social media and companies no longer needed to do this (although they still do). Now we do it to ourselves. To each other. We shame one another for free. We use filters, airbrushing tools and manipulate our images to create perfect photos that we hope others will either approve of or be jealous of. We try to present to the world a picture-perfect life. I am sure though that behind the cover are a whole barrel of issues and anxieties they are avoiding and their lives are far from perfect. It’s a lie they sell to us and to themselves.
When it comes to us girls and our beauty and exercise regimes we can be pretty intense especially for the inexperienced man just moving in with us. Our habits can vary on the beauty scale between au naturel (I do nothing) and obsessed (I’m a walking make up ad). Most guys in their early courting days might think we wake up all gorgeous and hair perfectly tossed like in the movies, that is until they live with us long enough, for us to let down our guards and then they are in for a bit of a shock. Or are they? Men struggle, too with their appearance and these days seem to hog the bathrooms just as long as us women. Products for men have exploded onto the market in recent years suggesting they, too are becoming more concerned about their appearance.
In reality, and what you don’t see behind closed doors, is for hours on end us women are pedantically plucking our eyebrows, sitting in ridiculous uncomfortable positions on the cold bathroom floor to get those damn ingrown hairs out of our bikini lines, waxing the forests growing on our legs and the bushes between our thighs, squeezing those spots, plastering antibiotic creams and mud packs on our face- and butt acne. We are scraping out the crud from under our nails, toenails and chopping back the cuticles stuck to the nail surfaces. I know, we are so gross.
We are highlighting, colouring and extending all manner of things like hair, eyelashes, nails, eyebrows etc. just to look more in line with the magazine trends and celebrities sporting the newest looks. We are even tattooing our eyebrows and lips now and injecting all types of silicone to pump, fluff and bulk us out in desired areas.
We are scrubbing ferociously with salt, sugar, ground coffee beans, Christ—anything!—to tackle the stubborn cellulite taking up camp on our butts and thighs and we are smothering firming gels and creams on every inch of us to keep us toned, firm–pointed north not south– and silky soft.
We spend hours obsessing in front of the mirror hunting down every blemish, imperfection and coming up with a thousand justifications why we look ugly. And don’t even get me started on the scales. Weight is a war unto itself. Hours and hours spent at the gym, diets galore, total meltdowns and tantrums when the dress doesn’t fit so you refuse to leave the house looking like a fat mess.
We do all this grooming for hygiene reasons, to attract a potential partner and to make ourselves feel better. We spend thousands each year on all this crap and you know what? It doesn’t even get us Prince (ess) Charming? Nope.
It doesn’t enrich our lives, it doesn’t give us purpose. It just empties our bank accounts and leaves us looking like crazed narcissists distracting us from real life and hindering us from developing real connections to decent people.
We’re faking it. We’re faking our look and pretending to be someone else.
And men. Men turn around and say, “I prefer you without makeup on. You don’t need all those creams, lotions and potions.” So is it all for nothing? Great. One guy I dated was annoyed at the foundation stains on his shirts when I’d hug him. Another guy hated kissing me with lipstick or worse, lip gloss on and others just moaned when I put on all that “muck” on my face. I’m not sure guys can even tell the difference to be honest whether we wear makeup or not. And they don’t notice our new hairdo. They get sick to death of hearing our insecurities and they could tell us a thousand times we are sexy but we never listen. The voice inside our heads, that coincidentally echoes that one we heard in the media, on Instagram, in the magazines, that voice is louder. And we choose to listen to that voice instead of the people who love us.
And if trying to learn to accept one’s body wasn’t hard enough, we body shame others. Why?! I don’t know. Jealousy? Maybe. Social pressure to conform? Possibly. Competition to be the most attractive? Likely. Sounds like we haven’t progressed much past the stone age trying to secure a mate amongst fellow peers. It’s “Mean Girls” in reality. Sometimes we need a wakeup call and sometimes we need that good friend or doctor to tell us we are overweight otherwise we’ll die. Sometimes we need tough love to steer us in the right direction. But we shouldn’t ever bully someone or belittle them about their appearance. It’s about finding the balance and wanting to see people grow and be the best version of themselves they can be whilst being healthy. And sometimes that might mean stepping back and letting them be a few pounds heavier than their BMI probably advises and still loving them for the person they are.
Fuck the pressure to be a skinny Minnie.
Now I’m in my 30s I really can’t be bothered. I spent all my 20s insecure and trying to be someone I wasn’t. I wanted to have the looks, the brains, the Uni degree and the perfect boyfriend. Well, I didn’t really get any of it and it just stressed me out trying.
Perfectionism is unrealistic, tiring and expensive.
Lately, I’ve been hearing bad reviews from the girls coming out on the other side of all the hair and eyelash extensions and fake nails, spray tans and body wraps and detox diets. They are too much effort, they don’t work and actually, they ruin your real body underneath. Have you seen how gross people’s nails are after they’ve worn coloured plastic spoons on their fingers for 5 years? Nails become so soft they literally die and peel off. No nails. Gone forever. So you have to continue glueing plastic to your skin. Eyelashes and hair are falling out and people who lost weight too quickly now have more cellulite than they did before and are still hungry. The yo-yo diet just did more damage and you ended up heavier and more unhappy and with food intolerances. Well, screw that. And why are we doing it anyway?
It’s to feed our egos.
I’ve got to the point in my life where after a failed marriage, no real job satisfaction, no degree and not getting the perfect body, the only thing that worrying gave me was a red bank balance. So now I’m taking the lazy can’t be arsed attitude and just letting go … a little bit.
I’m not completely going au Naturelle. Lord no. I have a thing about body hair but all the other stuff can take a back seat. I have my hair done once a year at most and I’ve never bothered with all the fake lashes and nails. I use a moisturizer and do the minimum skincare regime so my skin doesn’t dry out but I am vain, I’ll admit that, so I do still want to look youthful but I refuse to buy every product on the market. It took me a long time to narrow down a skincare product that I really like, that doesn’t irritate my skin and is one I can trust that won’t change their product or promise every season.
I can’t erase the vain control freak in me when it comes to blemishes and ingrown hairs but I can choose to relax more about my image and let things pass me by without feeling compelled to buy into the trends and hype and angst of getting older.
I am taking back control and saying no.
For years I was a slave to the scales.
I was being controlled by an obsession to count calories, burn fat and look immaculately groomed 24/7. It stopped me from enjoying my life, from enjoying food and left me feeling guilty, constantly. It robbed me of just enjoying life. I would look in every reflection I passed to criticize my appearance. When my hair and eyelashes started falling out, when my periods stopped and when I was constantly cold, when I started getting food intolerances and my thyroid stopped functioning adequately, I realized it was time to stop starving myself and start eating properly. I ditched the habit of weighing myself three times a day. I threw out the scales and all the magazines and have never bought any since. I was 22. I measure my health by how I feel and the symptoms my body exhibits. I gauge my weight on clothes sizes and I listen to my body. I don’t let someone dictate what I should or shouldn’t do with my body. I am in control, I decide what I do, how I look and where I invest my money. I will decide how I feel and I will not let any company or person tell me I am ugly or that I need a miracle cream to fix me.
The truth, honestly, I don’t have the time. I don’t have the time to waste obsessing about what I look like. I have plans, goals, dreams. There are things I want to achieve and I don’t have time to be worrying about what others think about how I look.
I don’t have time to be having meltdowns and cringing at my appearance. Of course, this sometimes still happens especially around hormonal cycles (I’m human and female) but I’ve stepped back and decided to care about my future and where I am heading, not how I look.
Reality: We are all going to get old. We are all going to die at some point. So don’t waste time on fighting what is natural.
You cannot run against the clock or run down the upwards escalators. You’re going to arrive at the pearly gates at some point. In what state, physically and mentally, you end up there is up to you. Embrace it and enjoy every decade. Your body will constantly change, it gives you the opportunity to be a new you every few years. It allows you to try new things. You shouldn’t compete with your younger self, nor any other person. You should live in the present and cherish the memories you make. Events, celebrations, family and ultimately HEALTH, all these things are far more important than worrying about what clothes size you wear or how many wrinkles you have.
We are all on a journey, the road will have bumps and dips and sometimes craters in it. My wardrobe displays an array of clothes ranging from size 10 to size 14. I have been bigger. And each size has its own story. Generally, my body sits comfortably between 12 and 14 (UK) and will fluctuate depending on what is going on in my life and while I sometimes hate this, I’ve just come to accept this and focus on my health more. My weight yo-yos. It always has, and I know someday I will get back into that slinky sexy black number again but I’m also OK with wearing a bigger size.
Some days my mind is a battle I have to actively engage in and I retaliate with self-love.
When it comes to commenting on the appearance of others we should stop for a moment and firstly ask ourselves whether we are happy with our own appearance. Secondly, we should also get to know the person we are looking at. Because when you learn their story, their past, the journey they have taken to get to where they are now, when you listen to their failures, successes, injuries and hurdles they have survived, you will start to see beyond the external appearance. You will see the energy they are radiating. Is it positive or negative? Actions speak louder than words? What kind of person are they? What have they done? What are their views? When you love the person inside then everything about them is beautiful.
There is so much beauty in every single one of us and it doesn’t come from a bottle, operation or salon. It comes from our hearts, our minds and our energy.
Unless we establish relationships with people we cannot know how they will take our comments, and criticism can be very harsh and soul-destroying especially to someone insecure and struggling. That would have been me in my 20s.
My grandma taught me, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” and I quite like that.
In today’s modern era, we tend to spit out insults over social media shaming and bullying people we have never even met. What gives you the right to talk to a stranger like that hiding cowardly behind your keyboard? We need to re-learn boundaries and women, you of all people should know how hard it is to accept your own body, so don’t hate on others’. Do not dim someone else’s ego to make yours bigger and brighter. Do not judge them. You could be them next year, in 5 years, in 10 years and what if you received the same comments?
I’ve recently fallen in love with and follow most energetically, the lovely Layla Martin. This lady is my shero. She performed an amazing workshop and filmed it. This 10 minute video which I will share is an absolute must for all men and women to watch. I think everyone needs to do this. By themselves in front of the mirror, with their partners in a sexy atmosphere to build love and trust and it could initiate great foreplay or with a close friend they trust but everyone should do this.
It is so powerful and I think we need to stop putting people down and start lifting people up.
Let’s start pointing out what we love about them, not what we dislike and if we dislike something we should keep quiet and reflect in solitude on why we dislike it. Does it hit a nerve, a past buried deep or a future fear? Are we projecting our insecurities onto others?
We should strive for a balance. Strive to be healthy. I love getting massages, pedicures and the odd facial as a treat. It is a time for me to unwind, relax and be pampered. It does the soul good now and then. If I go to a wedding I will get shellac put on my nails because I know they won’t chip and if I’m going on holiday I might get my eyelashes tinted so I can leave the eyeliner and mascara at home. Less stuff to carry and make up doesn’t hold up well with heat, water and sweat.
I like to save where I can and I stepped away from magazines a long time ago. I’m all about books and expanding my mind and knowledge. I try to keep a healthy balance between diet and fitness, too. By surrounding myself with great inspiring coaches they help me to keep on track and have a healthy relationship with my body. Over the years I have sustained many injuries through abusing my body in the gym and dancing. Instead of the word exercise, I like to use the word movement. I try to keep moving in any way that is fun and helps my heart and muscles to work well and keep those organs inside healthy. I choose to put good nutritious food into my body and follow Keris and Matt’s paleo style of living. But I also allow myself to have my dark chocolate and red wine and not feel guilty about it. These things are fruits of nature and man’s creations and should be enjoyed.
Life shouldn’t be a hard slog or punishment; it should be fun. If we loosened up a bit and removed the weight we put on our own shoulders, we’d probably feel freer and more energized and that will radiate and inspire others. Support and love thy neighbour, do not judge them nor cast them aside. Do not hate your own body nor theirs. That is an ugly habit.
Like presents under a Christmas tree, we all come in different shapes, sizes and colours and we should be excited by every single one of them, wanting to unwrap them and see the gifts that are locked inside. Share your gifts and talents with the world, be kind and help others to grow, that is real beauty.