On Loving Beauty, Warts and All
For a long time, I’ve anxiously denied that what I feel for beauty is love. I’ve been calling it an obsession or a passionate interest. A fascination. How clinical it sounds written black on white! Of course, what I’ve truly felt is ambiguous, because there’s really no way you can swallow beauty culture whole without a few qualms. But I think I do love beauty. I think love needs to be obsessive and passionate and ambiguous in order to be real.
Ambiguity has been a guiding star for me. You might say it’s my nature as a pathologically indecisive libra. You might say that’s healthy or not or strange or normal. I actually can’t decide, as with most things, as with beauty, I am eternally on the fence. But it is a loving ambiguity, I’ve come to see.
Beauty as in cosmetics and beauty culture has not been my area of interest since childhood, unlike many others in this community. My mother was careful not to expose me to hyperfemininity, which I think is perfectly valid and healthy, though of course there were moments of envy as my friends were allowed things like lip gloss at younger ages than I. As many of us did, I struggled with teenage acne and a sense of my own ugliness, convinced by friends and bullies. And as many of us did, I took terrible skincare advice from my clueless parents, which added a distinctly flaky quality to my already problematic face.
In retrospect, it’s funny to think of letting a notoriously cruel girl pluck my eyebrows in 6th grade, or using the mysterious concoction of crushed walnut shells and herbs my dad bought online to help with my acne, or believing my friends when they said mascara made me look like a “hooker” so that it took me years until I even dared put more on. A little sad to a reader, perhaps, but I laugh at it now because it was all completely bonkers.
I started using proper skincare in high school, after discovering Paula’s Choice through the now-returned youtube esthetician Veronica Gorgeois. Makeup came far later, when a classmate wore a beautiful dark purple lipstick and I had to buy one just like it. Sharp black eyeliner followed. Then, a rather long romance with red eye pencil. This was before the red eye look was cool, mind you, so the only place selling red eyeliner was a costume shop stocking Kryolan stage makeup. I lined my eyes and filled in my brows with it. But in truth, I didn’t really think about beauty in the way I do now until I started studying fashion theory at university.
I think I could only truly love beauty if, first, I had the theoretical glasses through which to view it. We could call them x-ray glasses, actually, because I think what makes beauty so interesting to me is the hidden dimensions that are there if you choose to look for them. The only trouble is that you see too much, every skeleton in every closet. I know beauty can hurt. I know it’s hurt me, and probably you. It’s a cruel mistress in that way. But on some level, acknowledging the dark corners of beauty culture is what makes loving it possible. I think it’s made me invested in a different way.
Because the truth is, a lot of things about this industry fill me with hatred. I hate predatory plastic surgery clinics. I hate “instagram face”. I hate influencers that exploit their followers. I hate that we’re marketing beauty products to children. I hate that a skincare routine is considered a necessity. I hate that we shame people for their skin problems. I hate the way models are treated. I hate faux feminist advertising. I hate capitalism. I hate dishonourable marketing tactics. I hate that beauty has killed. I hate beauty standards. But I love beauty. Despite it all.
I don’t know what that says about me.