- Category: Occidentalogy
- Written by Lisa Hickey
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Compulsive pursuing "beauty" almost ruined Lisa Hickey's life, until she learned to accept herself, as well as her past.
Here we go again, I think, as I impatiently wait for the hair straighter to warm up. I’ve washed my hair, deep conditioned it, shaved my legs, tweezed my eyebrows. I’ve blown dry my hair, but it’s still a wreck. It’s always a wreck. It’s thin, so thin that when I put it into a ponytail, a pencil is thicker. I plaster down the worst of the flyaways with a hair product that promises something it can’t deliver.
What I really want to be doing – instead of going through that same-same ritual – is learning to write code. Studying analytics. Taking with someone halfway ‘round the world about real oppression. Not the kind of oppression that I feel because of my addiction to beauty.
Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror, and I’ll catch the light just right. The sun will be setting, the image in the mirror gets dim, the wrinkles and age spots and flyaway hairs meld into the twilight. The angle of my chin clicks into place. And at those times I’ll look in the mirror and say to myself: Oh, I’m not as hideous as I thought.
There is nothing about that statement that is good, or healthy, or intelligent, or perhaps even logical. But it is 100% honest. And every day, that’s as good as it gets.
It’s weird, this thing called beauty. I used to be beautiful twice in my life. You just know. There’s simply a different look in people’s eyes. They actually look at you. They actually see you.
I was 22, and out on a date and I overheard a stranger talking to the guy I was dating. “Man, you don’t see that she’s the most beautiful girl in this place?” My boyfriend shook his head. “If you don’t, you’re crazy…here…” said the guy, giving my boyfriend his number. “Call me if you break up with her.”
Anti-aging skin care products are reported to be a $3.5 billion dollar industry. Products are designed to “remove 33% of fine lines and wrinkles.” But do you know what I look like with 33% less fine lines and wrinkles? I look like plain old ordinary almost-hideous me, just with 33% less fine lines and wrinkles. Except I’m standing there holding a $70 container of face cream that could have been a night out, or a textbook, or partial payment on a new laptop. It’s pretty laughable. And yet, I still walk into CVS and longingly stalk the skincare aisle, picking up containers. “Maybe this will be the one.”
I remember reading a book called The Condition. One of the main characters has Turners Syndrome, which causes her not to develop into puberty; to remain as small as a middle-schooler. And this woman feels marginalized most of her life, keeps to herself, doesn’t have relationships. Until she travels to a Caribbean island and a man there falls in love with her. And I remember this next sentence perfectly: He kept saying to her, over and over, “I love that you’re so small,” until gradually she learned to love that about herself, too. But who says, “I love that you’re so ugly?” Or, “I love that you’re so old?” Of course I believe that love exists for the old and the ugly—as long as they were young and beautiful when you first met them.
A commenter on my last my post “Beauty, Obsession, Men, Women” said, “At 80 years old, everyone is marginalized,” in response to what I’ve found, in talking to other women and hearing them say that they don’t want to grow old because they are afraid they will lose their beauty and become marginalized. But…if people are marginalized at 80, isn’t that because of their LOOKS? Are you telling me that if an 80-year-old looked like a really hot 40-year-old that people wouldn’t pay attention to her?
At 42 years old, after four kids and a train-wreck of a self-image, I became obsessed with beauty again. It started like it always does; I went running. And running – I have to run a lot, 5 to 10 miles a day – but running does it for me. Eventually my body started to look great. And then, even better, I added to my workout pilates, yoga, strength-training, and ballet. And more running. I got leaner and longer and stretched. My posture was perfect. My shoulders thrown back; emerging shoulder blades. I could feel my hipbones again. And then the facials, chemical peels, microdermabrasion’s, Botox. I was in some salon or another every week. Manicures. Pedicures. Hair colored on Boston’s ritzy Newbury Street, “chocolate and caramel swirl for your hair so you look delicious,” the stylist would laugh. New clothing. The perfect bra. A funky pair of shoes. Just the right earrings. A silk dress.
You don’t set out to spend money that should be going to your kids schooling, but instead is going to your beauty regime—at least I certainly didn’t. But a treatment of Botox is a tuition payment. A months worth of yoga classes is a textbook. A mani-pedi is an hour of tutoring. Not to mention the time not being with my kids. I’d get nervous if I couldn’t fit the three hours of exercise in. If a yoga class was at suppertime, yoga it was.
It was totally and completely and utterly selfish, of course. Addictions are always selfish. You justify them any way you can—“It’s important to have ‘me’ time”, “I work so hard, I deserve to relax,” “I need to look good to get ahead in work. I’ll earn more for my family.” “I’m healthier when I’m in shape. More relaxed. More confident. I’m a better person.” But an addiction is an addiction is an addiction, and you start feeding that addiction at the expense of connecting with the people you love.
One day a few months after my new regime, I dashed straight from work to pick up my daughter from a birthday party. Parents that I had known for years didn’t recognize me. One eight-year old eating ice cream said solemnly “Mrs. Hickey, did they turn you into a movie star?”
Intelligence doesn’t walk in the door the same way beauty does.
Most of my life I’ve been afraid of men. Part of that fear was—and still is, quite frankly—I’m afraid I’m not beautiful enough. I like to think I’m intelligent, and funny, and kind, and that those qualities will be enough for any interaction.
But intelligence doesn’t walk in the door the same way beauty does.
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