The beauty myth and me…
January 24, 2012 § 13 Comments
…or “The terror of eschewing Photoshop”.
I often feel like I’ve failed, somewhat, at being convincingly male because of just how hard I’ve found it to throw off expectations of idealised “feminine” beauty. Luscious hair. Pouting lips. Perfect skin. All the time – no exceptions, no flaws, no excuses. Despite knowing it for the bigoted bullshit it is. Despite not wanting to look typically female. It goes very deep. And it’s something I’ve been wrestling with since the photoshoot for Ashes and the gradual publication of the pictures (and very beautiful pictures they are too – all thanks to Robin Conway). Because we didn’t use Photoshop. I couldn’t, in good conscience, have asked Robin to use Photoshop. But seeing a real, lived-in face, rather than some smoothed-over approximation of humanity – and realising that other people are going to see it too – it’s frightened me more than I’d care to admit.
After several months of getting used to it, I would probably say that this is one of the best photos I have of myself. It’s just – right. And the first time I saw it the only thing I could think was: “Dear god! The acne scars! Dark circles! Incipient wrinkles! I can’t put this on an album – no one will listen if they see this face!” The sheer ludicrous sense that, on an album where I pretty much vomited up my guts for the world to see, the packaging on the outside should still be polished to the uniform blandness of what passes for attractive in the parlance of mainstream marketing.
I don’t have a particularly deep point to make with this post. Just to say that, well – it brought home to me just how much work we have to do to fight against a beauty myth that makes us feel so ugly. That I never want my future children to look at a picture of themselves and judge it, harshly, in comparison to a computer generated image of what a human being “should” look like. That people you might not expect to see themselves as ugly might well do, at least some of the time. And that I’m trying.
Ah, and a continuation. Thank you to everyone who emailed/commented/messaged – that and some sleep has helped to clarify what I wanted to say. Which is this – ahem:
It makes me angry beyond belief the ways in which kyriarchal “beauty” standards are pounded into our heads so hard that they begin to form barriers between ourselves and what we actually find beautiful. I think I had assumed that I’d left them behind a long time ago – because of what I find beautiful in other people, because of the art that I adore, because of the way I experience the world. And then I look at a picture of myself and all the things I thought I’d unlearnt come crashing back. That I can’t extend the same courtesy to myself as I would to a stranger – that of looking at them as a whole and unique person, not as a (failed) embodiment of some form of fixed and “ideal” beauty.
If this were a picture of someone else I wouldn’t have hesitated to call it beautiful, for precisely the reasons commentators have flagged up – because it’s honest, and vulnerable, and strong, and real. But (and maybe I’m stretching a point here) – I often feel that, in so many areas of what we might call progressive politics or ideologies, we leave ourselves last. We retain that distorting lens of what we’ve been taught, not what we actually think. So – we celebrate a diverse range of body shapes, but tell ourselves we’re too fat to be attractive. We think gender fabulousness is a great thing – and then worry we’re too different to be accepted. We know that kyriarchal lies are, well, lies…and then listen to them, echoing around us, making us feel ashamed/unworthy/less than.
I’m so very, very fucking sick of it. So, as a step in the right direction – here is a list of things that, apparently, aren’t beautiful – which I think are. Not as abstract objects divorced from the humanity of the actual human bodies they’re part of – but because they embody our humanity. Some of these things are part of me, and some of them aren’t – but an enormous “bugger off” to anyone who thinks they need “fixing”:
- rolls of fat
- ribs that you can count
- body hair
- wonky teeth
- acne scars
- scars in general
- broken noses
- nipples that are “too big” or “too small” or asymmetrical
- genitals that don’t look like the ones you’re taught to think of as “normal”
So, obviously, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Please add your own in the comments. And now I’m going to have a cup of coffee, look in the mirror and tell myself that I’m fine the way I am. If I say it often enough I might just start to believe it.