We Need to Change the Way That We Think About ‘Pretty’

When I was ten years old, I started wearing make-up.

It wasn’t good make-up, but it was make-up. It was a heavy smudge of black eyeliner, as though two big, bad raccoons walked up and punched me in both eyes. I liked it. It didn’t make me feel pretty, but it made me feel badass, like a punk rock rebel chick, and that was the look I was going for. I wanted to be Joan Jett before I was even old enough to know who Joan Jett was. I wanted to stand out of the crowd, to look unique. And as I got older, I discovered that there was more to make-up than just looking ‘unique’, and I learned about it as an art form. I started modelling myself after the beautiful girls I knew, who stood apart from the crowd, who looked like ethereal goddesses sent down from heaven to brighten our days with their presence. I asked them to teach me their tricks, and I learned them adequately.

People would say to me, “you know, you’d look prettier if you wore a bit less make-up. Boys don’t like girls with a whole lot of make-up”, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t spending my money and time on make-up for anyone but myself.

When I was nineteen years old, I started my collection of tattoos.

It was something that I had always wanted to do, ever since I was little, when I saw my mother get her first tattoo. She came home with a fairy on her lower back, and I thought it was the most exquisite thing I had ever seen. A form of art that could be carried with you forever. I saw people with tattoos and I loved them, because it was a piece of their story that you could read by sight. One look, and you knew that butterflies or bible passages or the infinity symbol meant something to them. Maybe it meant that they got drunk with their friends one night and accidentally agreed to regret something later, but still – it was a part of them. A piece of their personality that couldn’t be erased.

People would say to me, “you know, girls don’t need to get tattoos. It isn’t a very pretty or feminine thing to do”, but I didn’t care. It was a part of me, and the way I saw it, anyone who truly loved me would accept that part as well.

When I was twenty-three, I shaved my head bald.

And, okay, maybe I came to regret that decision. What can I say, I like my hair, and I like all the funky colours that I can dye it: pink, red, orange, puce, chartreuse, whatever. But end of day, I wanted to try it. I was curious to see what it was like. I was curious to see what would change if I stopped depending on my hair to be there, if I would feel more or less beautiful because of it. And the truth was, no, I didn’t feel less beautiful, I just felt less personally comfortable, and that’s okay. There are a lot of women who are jaw-dropping with a shaved head, and I wanted to see if I could be among them for a moment. And now that that moment has passed, I will join the women who are jaw-dropping with hair.

People would say to me, “you know, men prefer women with long hair”, but that really had no bearing on my decision either way. I don’t design my life and my style choices around what men want, because that would be a thankless way to live.

I never wanted to be pretty. I wanted to be me. I wanted to express myself and the way that I felt, and maybe that wasn’t always pretty, but it was always beautiful. In it’s own way. I believe that, whenever a person is truly being themselves, regardless of what that means, it is beautiful.

Because ‘pretty’ is accepted, but ‘beautiful’ is something more. Beautiful is an artist caught up in their work. Beautiful is smile lines and stretch marks and the scars that built who you are. Beautiful is unique to every person, because what makes them beautiful is what makes them them.

Beauty lives in tears and in blatant shows of affection. Beauty is honest and raw and real, and you just can’t capture it by trying to be what people want you to be. That is, unless you just happen to be one of those very rare individuals who happen to be everything that people want you to be – but I haven’t met many of those people.

We so frequently tell people what they can and can’t do to be considered ‘pretty’. We tell women what to do so that “men will like them”. We police their actions, their clothes, their make-up, their grooming habits, their food, their exercise. We give them no chance for unique choice, because we stuff their heads with what they ‘should be’. And we internalize these ideas so often; even if you know that there’s nothing wrong with being a little on the heavy side, how often do you look in the mirror and criticize yourself for being fat?

We all want to fit in. We all want to be pretty, but we strive for that at the sacrifice of our individual beauty.

So change the way that you think about pretty. Ask yourself what your individual beauty looks like, and indulge in it. Stop denying yourself. Stop shaming yourself. Stop worrying about whether or not you’ll fit in, because you will. It’s impossible to live up to mainstream expectations, but if you’re fully and completely yourself, then you will attract others who share and respect your beauty. You will give others permission to find their own beauty, to become their authentic selves. People will see you, being who you are, and they will know that they are alright, just as they are. They will know that there is nothing wrong with being true to themselves.

You can set the world free, in your own small way, by being yourself.

 

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Why I Wear Make-Up Every Day

We as a society have a lot of different ideas when it comes to women and make-up.

“Men don’t like a lot of make-up, you know.”

Cool. If that’s the case, I recommend that they stick to a bit of light foundation, maybe some mascara.

Oh, wait, you mean, they don’t like a lot of make-up on me. Well, who cares? I’m not wearing make-up to impress men. I haven’t done anything with the express intention of impressing men en masse for as long as I can remember.

I first started wearing make-up when I was about ten years old, and I started to find an interest in the more alternative, punk, goth, or “emo” scene. I cut all my hair off, dyed what was left dark, and started wearing some serious Pete Wentz-style eyeliner. It… wasn’t a good look. For anyone.

But my mom, who was a casual make-up artist, was delighted to see me take an interest in make-up, even if it was a rudimentary interest. She encouraged me to try out different looks, different styles, and at first I found it frustrating. Just like any art form is frustrating before you get the hang of it. Because that’s what make-up is, I soon learned: an art. You have to know your canvas. You have to understand where the light hits your face, what will open your eyes up, what will make them appear smaller, what will make you glow in the right way and what will make you glow in the wrong way.

I learned a lot. In fact, I’m still learning.

But, I have to admit, my favourite thing to do with make-up, to this day, is to go a little bit alternative with it. I like to explore the styles of Amy Winehouse or Joan Jett. I like to play. I like to explore.

It has nothing at all to do with men.

“But aren’t you a feminist? How can you rationalize being a feminist and wearing make-up?”

Simple: I just do.

I wear make-up of my own choice. Nobody is forcing me to do it. In fact, I enjoy it; applying make-up is the way that I relax before the start of the day. Without it, I feel rushed and clumsy. And wearing make-up is part of what makes me feel put-together, powerful, a warrior woman with winged eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man.

And I understand: there is a feminist argument that states that women are encouraged to wear make-up by the patriarchy, and as a result, the simple act of a woman putting make-up on is playing into patriarchal expectations. But to that, I say two things: 1) my body (or, well, face in this instance), my choice, and 2) I don’t think that I’m necessarily playing into patriarchal expectations of how a woman should look. If I were doing that, I’d have to grow out my mohawk and get rid of my tattoos.

“But when you stop wearing make-up, you feel so much freer!”

Well, I’m glad that you found that when you stopped wearing make-up. I hope that you continue to feel free. But that just wasn’t my experience.

Because, despite popular opinion, I can actually leave the house without make-up on. In fact, I’ve done it before, and I always felt… half-dressed. Underwhelming. Less… me, for lack of a better way to word it. The make-up isn’t me, of course, but it’s part of how I choose to present myself. It’s fun, it’s a symbol of my artistic side, my rebellious nature come out to play. I don’t feel free without it, I feel naked and awkward. I feel the way that anyone would feel if they were forced to dress like someone else for a day.

And I’m not trying to put down women who don’t want to choose make-up. I’m not trying to tell you that you’re wrong if you don’t. All that I’m trying to say is that there are multiple perspectives, and mine is equally valid.

“Why don’t you try not wearing make-up for a day? It’s like you’re hiding behind a mask.”

Only if you choose to see it that way. Make-up is not a mask; it does not change who I am, fundamentally, as a person. It does not hide me. It does not keep me any more or less safe than I would be without it. I am not trying to make you think that I’m something I’m not when I wear it; I know that you know my eyelids are not actually gold (or, at least, I hope you do).

We never make statements like this about any other style-oriented choice. We never ask someone to “try not wearing a shirt for a day” because “I don’t really know what your torso looks like, do I?” And if we did tell someone to do this, then we’d all see this statement for what it is: an odd and slightly invasive request.

Because, personally, I choose to wear make-up. And some women choose not to wear make-up. And both of these types of women are perfectly valid, with their own reasons for doing as they do (trust me; I focused on why I wear make-up here, but I can understand why someone wouldn’t too. I wouldn’t if I didn’t enjoy it, because it costs money and it takes time).

But we get so caught up in what women should be doing with make-up that we end up trying to force a constant stream of messages down women’s throats.

“You’d look better without make-up, you know.”

“You’d look better with a little make-up.”

“Who are you trying to impress with that make-up?”

“Oh my god, what’s wrong with you, are you sick? Oh. That’s just your face.”

No, no, no, you know what: who cares? Make-up is not a universal rule that can be applied to all women; it is an individual choice. Some women like it. Some women don’t. And both are fine. The only thing that isn’t fine is trying to tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies, or making unfair assumptions about them because of their choices.