Appropriating Beauty

Foto: sxc.hu

They say that when they’re really young girls tend to fantasize about growing up looking like Barbie dolls – slim body, perfect smile, perfect blond hair (or bleached if nature wasn’t „generous” with the color), amazing wardrobe.

Isn’t beauty the door-opener of happiness and of life’s finest workings? No wonder we are living in a century in which anorexia has become as frequent as a toothache, as girls are subtly maneuvered into thinking that happiness resides in a side zero (My Goodness, I’m a size 8 and people tell me I’m „petite”,but probably to a size zero girl I look as gracious as an elephant), in having bleached-blond hair, in sporting a sickly orange fake-tan, Pam Anderson-wannabe boobs and basically dismissing one’s individuality in order to embrace what is fashionable every season.

I read almost all the women’s magazines on the market, I love to have the update on anything new in fashion, movies, books, social events. Hey, I’m a girlie, what did you expect? Nevertheless, I’m lately experiencing a newfound sense of awkwardness whenever I’m switching from Newsweek, The Economist or Time to Marie Claire or other women’s mags. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love fashion, it’s an intrinsic part of my life and it will always stay this way, but I lately find it so grossly shallow that I cannot help but ask myself : is it really so hard to accept ourselves the way we are and simply accessorize our assets in the most flattering way, while having fun in the process?

Is the quest for beauty even supposed to be a quest at all? Isn’t it supposed to be the pursuit of fun? Shopping for what YOU think is cute and looks good on you, not for what Magazine X or Magazine Y is telling you that you should buy this season. Yes, we all want to look up to date with fashion and it’s only understandable that you would flirt with those cute turcoise earrings that are now on fire on the fashion stage, that you would buy some garments in cute colors of the season or that you would buy gladiator sandals for the beach. But you would normally do that because you feel they could flatter your personal style and add some edge to your image in a way that would complement your personality, not overwhelm it. As a famous designer once said, you should be the one wearing the clothes and not the other way around.

Why am I writing about this? Because these days I’ve realized something that was so deeply rooted into my conscience that most of the times I was taking it as a given and seldom bothered to analyze its real underpinnings. You see, I would know very well where all the 16-year-olds that are starving themselves to death are coming from. Even if in my time I was lucky enough to stop at the borderline between dieting and anorexia, I’ve done a narrow escape from what could have been a lifetime disorder and I can only feel pity for girls who choose to put themselves through such ordeals only to fit a socially-imposed norm of beauty. Who sets that norm anyway? Gay designers who would only care if a woman is a size zero or a size twenty to the extent to which it saves them money with the amount of fabric? Are they the ones who should set out our lives? C’mon!

When I was 12, I used to be a tiny bit chubby (hey, we’ve all experienced the inset of puberty and its „joys”), I had curly brown-hair rather than the fashionable straight blond hair sported by the most popular girls in my class and, the most disastrous thing of them all, I was rather timid and self-withdrawn in my books and in my writing. I had just landed a writing op for a magazine, doing translations from Spanish and we all know how „wonderful” it is to be different when you’re 12. If you’re not one of us, you’re against us, wasn’t that the tune?

So, at 12 years old, upon walking home from the B-day party of one of the popular blond girls that guys were absolutely crazy about and after a night of solitude in a corner of the room while the blonds were „socializing” with the sports-guys on the dance-floor, I took a decision that now strikes me as both sadly mature and amazingly heartfelt at the same time. I remember walking down my street and thinking „You know what? I will never be beautiful, but by God, I’ll be the smartest!”. And, deep inside, I feel like this hasty childish decision has somehow stayed with me for all this time, always drawing me into considering myself intelligent rather than beautiful and always feeling more at ease in front of the computer screen or in front of a sheet of paper than in the limelight or stealing the show in bars or pubs.

It is only recent that I started to realize that I have a problem with considering myself beautiful even now. I could refer to myself in terms of „pretty” or „cute”, but I would somehow have trouble articulating the b-word when it comes to my own person. I, however, find no problem in voicing my intellectual assets or presenting myself as an intelligent person.

Furthermore, I often times find it more difficult facing a compliment from a person regarding my looks than one regarding my professional activity. I would never question someone telling me that he/she likes my writing style nor would I think they’re just saying that to be nice, but I would nonetheless look for a hidden agenda and dishonesty whenever a guy would straightforwardly call me beautiful. Hey, and I’m 24! How in the world do those confused 15 and 16 year olds feel like?

This is what I’m writing this here and now. Because, honestly, I’m sick of what the magazines and the consumers’ society is doing with young women. Looking back now, I wouldn’t even consider those popular blonds of my childhood attractive. They were incredibly fake and the beauty they had resided in a hair color or in the way they acted silly rather than in their attitude or womanly walk. They were exactly what Barbies should be – beautiful, put-on-a-shelf, look-at-but-don’t-listen-to kind of girls. So why, even after so much time, I – just like millions of other women out there – feel myself slightly intimidated by so-called perfection, instead of embracing my own beauty?

Since I live in London, I feel like I’ve discovered myself much more and taken the relationship with my looks at the next level. I even found a new sense of fashion that I never thought I had, not in this quirky and imaginative way. I always used to play it safe because I secretly doubted that I can pull off more attitude-demanding combinations.

Now, I can only say „Bring it on”. And maybe for the very first time in my life, I’ve really gotten to find myself totally beautiful. Every day I go out on the tube and see other beautiful people who are happy to be whom they are and who are not afraid to act accordingly. I think everybody should be like that. It’s the only way to obtain absolute freedom of spirit.

I love designer shoes, bags, evening dresses and of course I stress myself sometimes looking for a perfect outfit. And of course I’m working my way towards a perfect-as-it-can-get body, but this is something that I do for myself. I never managed to follow a work-out routine in my life until I discovered how much I love jogging in the park. I never truly enjoyed sporting an original designer outfit until I realized that it’s truly special by the way I wear it and the way I accessorize it. And more than ever, I’m starting to find it less hard to believe when people tell me I’m beautiful. Maybe because I no longer question their ulterior motives but I am simply aware that they are right. It’s not a question of being vain, but of feeling happy with oneself. And this is where true happiness lies.

I honestly wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to raising a teenage daughter in the social jungle out there. I wouldn’t know how to make her feel valuable for what she is rather than for her dress-size or hair-color. I do know one thing that I would tell her and that would be something for all the teenagers out there to know. Going 3 sizes up on your bra, slimming to a size zero, styling your hair like Katie Holmes or getting Charlize Theron’s hair color won’t make you feel even 1% more beautiful than you think you are from the get-go.

You might achieve some brief moments of satisfaction at having a guy lusty looking over your cleavage or trying to pick you up with a dumb compliment that you will full-heartedly embrace because it gives you the self-esteem you lack, but when alone in front of your mirror, you will feel as insecure and unhappy as you did before.

I see girls building style icons out of tv-stars or other public figures. You all know how I love Sex and the City and how I admire Sarah Jessica Parker. However, I would never try to copy her outfits. Why? Why try to be someone else when I can dress in my own style, yet drawing inspiration from her fashion boldness and constant edginess ? I nonetheless see a lot of girls who merely want to BE Carrie rather than feel inspired by her, because they feel like they’re not good enough being who they are. And it is just an example. We often times lack the ability of seeing beyond what meets the eye, of getting the essential out of a story rather than ceaselessly gazing at its beautiful packaging.

„Only with the heart can one see clearly, for what is essential is invisible to the eye” said the Little Prince in one of the most wonderful stories ever written, of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. And indeed…only looking deep inside our hearts can we truly find what’s missing from our lives. And most of the times we would be surprised to discover that it’s not the new Topshop dress designed by Kate Moss nor the new eyeshadow from Givenchy. It’s less branded and much simpler than that – it’s the capacity of coming to terms with who we are and with how we feel about who we are. This is why I brought SATC up in the first place, along with the Carrie example, because most women merely look at the fashion and overlook the bigger picture. Overlooking those things that we should all know deep inside but we are often forgetting or dismissing because we are bombed with too many „must have”s, „must do”s and „must be”s.

When I watched the last episode of the series, I was a 21 year old girl who hadn’t learned that lesson either. Now I like to think that I’m slightly smarter at such things :). And I remember liking the last line of Carrie, without really grasping it at that point. I totally agree with it now. And maybe it’s what women who felt inspired by the life of the character Carrie Bradshaw should keep in mind more than the Manolo Blahnik shoes or Fendi bags. „The most important relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the <YOU> that <YOU> love…well, that’s just fabulous”

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