I cannot remember a time when being considered beautiful was not on my top list of things I wanted. I think it went hand in hand with wanting to be special. Obviously this is something that every human yearns for - to be special, to be accepted, to be loved. And somewhere along the way I picked up that being beautiful was the surest way to be loved.
It's been weird to tease this out because I'm not a plastic surgery person. It's just not for me. I just read If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (highly recommend!!) and I truly cannot imagine having my jaw broken in order to have the perfect face. When I was in high school, my boyfriend's mother told me that I had a crooked nose and I very briefly considered a nose job, whenever I found myself with a casual extra few thousand dollars sitting around. My nose bothers me sometimes but it's not something I obsess about. And while I love a well-rounded skincare routine, I have no interest in injecting my face with toxins that may or may not permeate our very porous skulls into my brain. No judgement if you love Botox and fillers. Good for you, not for me.
All that is to say, I hadn't considered myself beauty-obsessed until last week. My beloved nutrition coach, Hanna, called me out on the way I speak to myself. "I just look gross this week", "I'm puffy", "I'm ashamed of my stomach right now", etc. She asked when I feel beautiful, if I ever feel beautiful, who makes me feel beautiful, etc, and it prompted this rabbit-hole of thought. The truth is I rarely feel beautiful and I've sought external validation about my looks for most of my life. Yet in a twisted way I don't believe most people who give me that validation. And I'm not sure if it all started when I started shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch as a teenager, but it sure didn't help.
In a practice that would never fly in 2021, A&F employees were instructed to approach conventionally attractive shoppers and ask if they wanted to model and/or work at the store. I don't know when this started but it was definitely going strong in 2003 when I was thirteen and pretty much shopped exclusively at A&F. While I do not take drugs, I'm pretty sure that being a thirteen year old girl and being told by an eighteen year old boy who looks like a model that she's pretty enough to work at A&F and would she like an application is akin to a hit of cocaine. I could not legally apply for a job at thirteen and yet that job application was the only thing I wanted when I walked into those stores. If I was asked, success. I got my hit of affirmation and felt good for a short time. If I wasn't, well clearly I was now horribly ugly and my life was over. Looking back, I feel such compassion for my younger self. I want to give her a hug and tell her nothing in her life will change based on the opinion of a boy making minimum wage in a cloud of perfume so strong it almost knocks you out when you walk in the doors while the base of the music shakes the walls. But she probably wouldn't have listened to me anyway.
There are a lot of factors - growing up in the era of the pop princesses, the era when tabloids basically only covered who had gained or lost weight and People's 50 Most Beautiful list was the word of God, and having a father who I knew from a very young age that I couldn't count on - but the weight of the words of others has always meant more to me than I care to admit. Even writing it today is scary. But I'm attempting to challenge my deeply rooted belief that life is easier for pretty people. In my logical brain, I know this isn't true and have likely known it ever since Jude Law cheated on the gorgeous Sienna Miller with their average-looking nanny. But in my emotional brain, being beautiful and having the perfect body is the only way to protect myself from life's problems.
I know it isn't true. But I feel that it is. What a mind fuck. I have no idea how to combat this other than writing it down and challenging the thoughts day by day. Forcing myself to change the channel in my brain when I recognize that I'm telling myself I was happier when I was skinnier (I wasn't), that my husband wouldn't have cheated on me if I was prettier (he still would've. The problem was with him - it wasn't with me. And all of our problems have nothing to do with how pretty I am), that it matters whether or not people think I'm prettier than the girl he cheated with (it doesn't matter and yet it takes up wayyyyy more of my brain space than it should), that the key to success and happiness in life is a better body and face (it's not). Changing the channel, looking back at why these thoughts are comfortable and familiar, and trying to find a new way.
And because I'm looking back to 2003, I have to close with lyrics of a song from 2002 that provided a soundtrack to that era for me and is on theme.
"Tap on my window, knock on my door/ I want to make you feel beautiful/ I don't mind spendin' everyday/ Out on your corner in the pourin' rain, oh/ Look for the girl with the broken smile/ Ask her if she wants to stay awhile/ And she will be loved" -- Maroon 5