Saturday, 5 December 2015

Feminism, Beauty Standards and Me

Ten years ago I hated the way I looked. I thought I was fat. I thought I was ugly. I thought that having bad skin and flat hair made me not only unlikeable but scarcely worthy of personhood. Like many young people of a similar age, I obsessed about it. I starved. I binged. I created weird food rituals. I exercised continually. I asked for a treadmill for Christmas. I spent a fortune on lotions and potions for my skin, my hair, my imaginary cellulite. I wrote endless lists of ways to improve myself. One that I wrote, aged thirteen-ish, includes the bullet point, 'get boob job'.

For a teenage girl, this wasn't unusual. An awful lot of my friends were doing the same thing.

In my mid-teens I discovered Goth and alternative fashion. This gave me a new focus, and it took me a few more years to realise that covering your issues with make-up is not the same as confronting them. There was a stage in my life when I wouldn't go outside without make-up on. I was happy to spend an hour just on my hair and make-up in the mornings, because I didn't feel 'acceptable' without it. Oh, the irony, when I was relating to subcultures that were spawned from punk, the original fuck-you to standards of appearance laid out by society and the media.

At the time, I didn't realise that my obsession with my clothes, hair and make-up was, for me, a different symptom of the same problem. I was still spending an enormous chunk of my time - and money - fussing over my appearance. I thought that because I was eating three square meals a day, and had the confidence to wear weird clothes in public, that I was OK. The fact that I still hated the person I was underneath, the face I was born with, somehow didn't even register with me.

At around the time I drifted out of the Goth scene, I discovered body positivity. I had always considered myself a feminist - of course I believed in equal rights for women - but I had never stopped to think what it really meant. Not just to me, personally, but in general. If feminists were fighting for equal rights, what were they fighting against?

One of the issues raised by feminism, I learned, was one that had taken up a large portion of my teen years - beauty standards. The more I read up, the more I became horrified that it had just genuinely never occurred to me that there was more to my life than what I looked like. I was so inwardly-focused that all my interests revolved around how I looked, down to reading, almost exclusively, books with characters who dressed the same way as me.
A wild dork appears
Don't get me wrong. I care about how I look. I like to look good. But I'm trying to accept that my idea of 'good' is not necessarily going to be anyone else's idea of good. Trying to teach myself to be a bit more, well, punk rock about it. I like graphic tees, jeans, army boots, messy hair, yesterday's smudgy eyeliner, tattoos. I'd rather have an extra ten minutes in bed than bother blow-drying my hair. I have precisely zero interest in being 'ladylike'.

It's 2015. I can be a mess if I want to.

With this in mind, I have created some goals for myself, for the coming year.

  • Stop buying clothes that I don't need. My wardrobe is spilling over and I don't wear half of it. Thanks to several years' worth of ruthless clear-outs, most it now is practical, useful stuff that I actually like, so I'd rather start making the most of what I've got than keep trying to 'retail therapy' my way to happiness. If retail therapy actually worked I'd be a lot more well-adjusted by now.
  • Try to occasionally eat a vegetable. (I don't count calories any more but I do predominantly eat crappy beige food out of microwaveable packets.)
  • No body shame. No bad self-talk. 
  • Try to stop comparing myself to other people. I am really bad with this. Other women being amazing can make me feel quite insecure. But we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. 
  • If any of my friends put themselves down, give them a dead arm. (Not literally. Assaulting your buddies is bad. But I do get cross when my fantastic friends keep calling themselves ugly or stupid and I refuse to join in with the self-hate or act like it's OK.) 
  • Stop staring in the mirror looking for new faults. Go and read a comic book instead. Limit mirror time, because I get obsessive and weird about it. (When I do find myself staring into the mirror, I like to break the tension by winking at myself and then start doing pirate impressions. Makes me feel good. Don't know why.)
  • Don't be afraid of goofy selfies. Try to be authentic, not perfect.
  • Moar journalling. Moar art. Moar yoga. Moar DIY.

Please feel free to join me in my quest for epic body positive riot grrrl woman-ness, or share your own advice/thoughts/ideas/experiences.


  1. Yes it is great you are learning to be more body positive! I feel like from childhood we are bombarded with ideals and images, told what we should be like, women do this, women do that... it's good to break away!

  2. I just read a story on Net-a-Porter (think that's what it's called) and they were saying that 'individualism' is the new hot thing right now - wearing what makes you feel comfortable, not buying into trends that change every two months, etc. They had photos of some strange combinations and you could totally see that none of the pieces were from the thrift shop, and then they had a Shop This Look link so you could buy you the exact same look yourself! Cracked me up.

    I should eat more fruit and veggies ... I'm always grateful when the mandarin oranges come out at Christmas so I know I'm getting Vitamin C in my diet for a month or two. I should drink more water, too. But I prefer beverages with some flavour. :)

    1. Oh really? I'll have to do a bit of Google recce and see if I can find the article, that sounds awful/hilarious in equal measure! I suppose I appreciate the spirit in which it was written, but mainstream media must bow to their advertisers I guess?

      I'm not a fan of plain water either. It tastes of meh.

  3. fruits and veggies are unfortunately hard to come by in a college dining hall *sigh. but more body positivity in my life couldn't hurt. it's funny Amy when you were mentioning those lists you made of how to improve your physical appearance, i made a similar list jut a few months. it's nice to be reminded that the things on that list won't make me truly happy.

    1. What a coincidence! I did eventually come to realise that no amount of poking and prodding and this diet and that diet and so on could actually make me feel any better until I felt better about myself (does that make sense?). I'd fix one perceived flaw (when I wasn't picking on things I couldn't actually change, like the thickness of my hair or shape of my nose) and just find a new one to be miserable about. Perhaps I'll make a new list of stuff that would improve my LIFE not just my attractiveness.
      And for what a stranger's opinion is worth, I think you're a babe.

  4. The fifth point is a super good one. A simple compliment or reassuring word can turn around a whole day for some, especially when they're the type that bring themselves down a lot. :)
    I also used to stare in the mirror and pinpoint all the little flaws - that NO-ONE else but us notice, btw! XD Aren't we terrible with ourselves, when we should be the most important person in our lives? :P Awful. I don't know how though, someday I just stopped giving a dick. I was voluntarely making myself unhappy, how silly's that.
    I'm in a stage where I make my own standards instead of following pre-set ones, and it makes me actualy like my "flaws".
    Yeah my hair is unruly and all over the place, but it makes me look like a witch. :)
    Yeah I have incorrigible dark circles under my eyes, but it makes me look like the quest-giver in the dark corner of a tavern. :D
    Do you do your yoga at home, or do you go with classes? :)

    1. Thanks hun :) I get tired hearing the lovely people around me calling themselves ugly and stupid :( they're not.
      Exactly! NOT GIVING A DICK FOREVER. It's the only way to go.
      And I know precisely where you are coming from on the messy hair and under-eye circles. I actually stopped concealing my dark circles cause I was like *shrug* it's my Scandinavian heritage they aren't going anywhere might as well get used to it. So I'm down with the quest-giver aesthetic. :D
      I used to go to yoga classes every week but then my work rota changed so now I can't go. :( been practising at home instead. Pyjama yoga in front of the fireplace is my favourite thing!

  5. 2016 will be the year of art and diy for a lot of bloggers that i follow which i really think is a great trend to join! and well, messy hair is something really beautiful as well and suits the pirate-mirror-thing! <3

    1. Sorry, only just saw this comment! If there's going to be a bandwagon, I'm glad it's an arty one :) <3

  6. I will just leave it here, because come on, it's current date! =)

    1. "The argument is this - we are living in a year." Haha okay you got me, don't think it's the only time I've used "it's 2015" as an argument either... Fair point well made :-p


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