Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so, having always had a complicated relationship with ‘beautiful’, Fiona Longmuir is retraining herself to ‘behold this, motherfucker!’ It’s going pretty well.
I have a complicated relationship with ‘beautiful’. As a fully paid-up member of the angry feminist club, I am sick to death of seeing women reduced to their looks, as though beauty is more important or relevant than brains, kindness or heart. I’ve had men in arguments swallow patronising smiles and respond with, “Oh, you’re very pretty, Fiona.”
When I protested against those heinous beach body adverts, my Twitter timeline was filled with men old enough to be my dad saying, “Bit mouthy, but I’d still fuck her.”
I’ve had backhanded compliments like this presented to me as though I should be falling to my knees, weeping in gratitude and thanking people for affirming that I hold the only female attribute worth anything: beauty. And I bloody hate it.
I’d rather be funny than beautiful. I’d rather be clever than beautiful. I’d rather be loyal than beautiful. But does that mean that I don’t care about being beautiful? Well, that’s where things get a little more complicated.
How I feel is deeply linked to how I look. It just is. Maybe this is something that I’ve learned, after years of being told that if I want to be heard, I should be pretty… but not too pretty.
Maybe it’s something I could unlearn if I really wanted to. But the fact remains: a perfect pink lipstick lifts my spirits like nothing else on earth and if I wake up with good hair, I feel entirely ready to take on the world. And I have far too many actual things to worry about to feel guilty about that or agonise over whether I’m being shallow and betraying the sisterhood.
As a pale, gangly, odd looking teen, I spent untold hours staring at myself in the mirror, willing myself to morph into the tanned, blonde, curvy girls who populated my school. Sure, I still wanted to be funny and smart and kind, but most of all, I probably wanted to be beautiful. And back then, being beautiful meant looking like everyone else.
Being at war with your own face is exhausting. It really, really is. Eventually, I had no choice but to accept that I’d never look like the girls I was idolising. And if I was going to accept it, I figured I might as well start loving it.
I purposefully started to teach myself that there was more than one way to be beautiful. Just because someone was beautiful and I didn’t look like them, didn’t mean I wasn’t beautiful too. I started to look for girls who looked like me. Pale girls. Green-eyed girls. Freckly girls. Girls with verging-on-concave chests and slightly generous noses.
“I post photos of myself with vain, vain captions all the time. I spent years reacting to photographs of me in horror and now I’m retraining those instincts like an Olympic athlete.”
Instead of trying to hide myself away, I started to highlight the pieces that I liked. I dyed my hair red and lined my eyes in purple and wore the brightest lipsticks I could get my hands on. I uploaded selfies with gay abandon, just for the pleasure of admitting that I liked how I looked.
Last month, I splashed out on a fancy pants photoshoot for no other reason than that I wanted to feel fairy-princess level pretty for a day. When I looked at the photographs, I teared up a little. Because the photographer hadn’t airbrushed me or smoothed me over. It was all there: the goofy smile, the frizzy hair, the crinkly eyes. It was me, in all my glorious, gorgeous imperfection – and I looked beautiful.
If ‘ugly’ is the worst thing that you can label a woman, there’s another contender hot on its heels: ‘vain’. See, women are meant to be beautiful but we’re not supposed to try to be beautiful and we’re certainly not supposed to notice that we’re beautiful or heaven forbid, take any pleasure in it. We should be smoothed, buffed, coiffed and painted at all times but without being, like, high maintenance about it.
I post photos of myself with vain, vain captions all the time. I spent years reacting to photographs of me in horror and now I’m retraining those instincts like an Olympic athlete. Besides, I’m hoping that someday, a gangly, ginger, freckly girl will see one of them and go, “Oh, she thinks she’s beautiful and she looks like me. Maybe I’m beautiful too.”
But without fail, every time I post these photos, a man swoops in on his white horse to let me know that he’s picked up on my compliment fishing and will do me the tremendous honour of humouring me. Or they’ll hilariously comment, “If you do say so yourself.” Usually with a flirtatious emoji.
Here’s what these people fail to understand: my photos of myself are not for you. They’re not about looking good in the eyes of others. They’re about how I look at myself. How I feel about myself. They’re about forcing myself to look at my face and my body in a way that I was taught not to. They’re about reclaiming my beauty as something that I can take pleasure in.
So yeah, I do say so myself.
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Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.