“People like you more when you’re attractive,” said a friend of mine who has spent a lot of time losing weight and getting fit. “It’s been proven. There are a lot of studies. You’re more likely to succeed.”
“Okay,” I said. “That stuff about CEOs? Where they’re always tall?”
“Yeah,” she said. “That too. They’re always tall and have all their hair. It’s practically a law.”
I thought immediately of my dad, who is admittedly not the CEO of a fortune 500 company, but who has been successfully running a business for close to forty years. He is short and bald and didn’t go to college. He should probably be a failure. According to some study.
“It matters,” I said, slowly, “But I’m never sure just how much.”
“A lot,” she said, her voice hard.
“Maybe,” I said. “But maybe not.”
(I made a little cake for this post. I am a shitty baker. Shitty is probably exactly the right word, based on how this looks…)
When I started writing this blog about four years ago, I was positive that beauty mattered a lot. That’s why I wanted to write about it. I wanted to do something. I wanted to fight back, even if it was in a small way. How many of my friends were going to confess that they’d struggled with disordered eating back in college? More than I could imagine at that time, and it was already plenty. I had gotten cosmetic surgery to change my face, because I’d become convinced that if I could only get a little prettier, my life would improve exponentially. Oh, it sounds so superficial, doesn’t it, when you’re being quick and dismissive and morally superior. We’re all good at that. Plastic surgery is for weaker, sadder women. Except that I am one of them. And I know so many more. People I never would’ve guessed. People I never could’ve predicted.
I’ve always blamed the whole world for this. Biology, culture, misogyny, TV, advertising, ancient history, patriarchy, agricultural development, school, work, horizontal social groups in childhood that emphasize peers over mentors, the human tendency to instinctively dichotomize, our cocky refusal to admit how many problems remain even after women were finally admitted to Harvard, and so much more. The messages about just how crucial and big beauty is come from absolutely everywhere. They come all the time. They are quiet and loud and insistent and just a subtle suggestion and most of all, they are effective. They get in. They stick. They stay. And they trap us on our surfaces, agonizing over details, fretting, pinching, shaming ourselves. Because we have learned the obvious lesson: beauty matters. It matters a lot. Sometimes it matters so much that people stop eating in order to force their bodies to change. Sometimes it matters just enough to feel occasionally disgusted by your own flesh. It feels normal to dislike our appearances because it is normal. It’s completely ordinary. It’s the way things so often go.
But I find that I am some sort of pathetic, yearning optimist after all. Four years after I started writing about beauty, about a year after I had a daughter, I find myself thinking that beauty also doesn’t have to matter that much. I inch away from it. My face in the mirror is the same one I once hated, but older, of course, and maybe even more complicated. And yet I find myself forgiving it. My body, rearranging itself again after pregnancy, is a celebration. It has transformed so dramatically. Like a movie star who suddenly gets a PhD, it’s hard to keep up, but someone should throw them a party. The things that separate me from models and even from the women who everyone automatically thinks “wow” about are less significant in my own mind right now. I saw myself in the trailer for this film my doula is making, and I think I look TERRIBLE and weird and like I don’t know how to move my own mouth and like I maybe have suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury that I am only just recovering from and like I don’t have a chin and like I am not at all normal, and also, even though I think all of that, I think I sound fine. Maybe even a little smart. And I am also proud of the way I look. Maybe not there. But here, in real life. Sitting here in my wrinkled shirt from Old Navy that has a smear of banana on it from the baby, writing at my laptop. I like myself. I am happy. I am proud of being this person. I am proud of looking like me.
I look around and I see that people find wild, fulfilling love without being stunningly gorgeous. That people are happy or sad in proportions that don’t seem to really correlate with their appearances. That I admire people or find them boring without their beauty having too much meaning. People are successful all the time without being very thin. And then some of the types of success that people like to measure don’t even look that interesting to me.
I’m going to stop writing this blog now.
I argued with myself over this decision for a long time.
And I’m bad at this sort of thing. At graceful exits.
I’m not going to stop writing, ever. I can’t. I’m a writer. But I think I’m done being a blogger.
I have loved connecting with people from around the world. I’ve loved meeting them in person, sometimes, when they visited NYC or I visited somewhere else. I’ve made good friends this way. I’ve heard many hundreds of life stories. I’ve gotten recognized a few times on the sidewalk and felt cool. I’ve knocked professional goals off a stubborn list. I’ve gotten very fast at writing essays. I’ve proven to myself that I could build something out of nothing. I’ve been amazed by how many people were interested in reading my words. I’ve embarrassed myself and distinguished myself and gotten furious and hurt and once someone wrote to me to tell me she hated me and we talked and talked and she changed her mind and apologized and told me her story. People I’ve never met have told me I suck and I’m stupid and I’m shallow and I’m harmful and I’m generally a huge humiliating failure. People I’ve never met have told me that they are grateful for me. Once someone offered to tithe to me. People I’ve never met were happy for me when I was happy and sad for me when I was sad. Thank you so much for that. When I started blogging I’d literally never read a blog. Four years later, I think this experiment has taught me a lot about my own worth.
I’m stopping because I feel done. I feel ready to focus on other things. I thought that this blog might one day lead to a memoir and I worked for a long time on a book proposal, but when I had the chance to finally sell the book, I realized that I didn’t want to put it into the world anymore. I don’t want my legacy to be about my childhood, about my struggles and issues and little triumphs. I don’t really want to expose myself in that way anymore. I don’t want to read the Amazon reviews about how self-centered I am. I don’t want people to notice the story and forget about the writing. I don’t want my daughter to think of me as a woman primarily concerned with her own self-esteem, her own dramas. I don’t want my daughter to grow up watching me analyze beauty. I want her to see me being comfortable with who I am, creating new stories instead of pulling apart old ones.
For the time being, I’m still going to write over at the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life, and I still write a column for Home Education Magazine, and I am working on transitioning this website into something more general, that will include all of my preexisting posts and my e-book and the beautiful cake eating photos that I treasure, and also have room for the new things I want to eventually do. I’m not sure how long they’ll take. I know the internet moves very, very fast, but I want to go slower. I want to watch Eden sit on the kitchen floor and thoroughly delve into her first nectarine. And I want to wait until she’s finished without thinking about what I should be doing instead. I want to keep the promise I made to myself a long time ago, that I would write fantasy novels with strong, awesome girl protagonists.
Anyway. I’m not sure what else to say. Except thank you, again. And if you like my writing, please stay tuned.
I didn’t convince my friend, by the way. At least, I don’t think I did. She is doing her best to tease a successful life out of the tangle of human experience. We all are. Me too. Except for me, right now, there’s a lot less looking in the mirror.
So much love,
Unroast: Today I love my eyes. Just for being mine. They’re interesting.
P.S. To the people who have been emailing me to see if everything’s OK– I’m sorry for not responding to you individually yet. I hope I can soon! I appreciate your messages so much.