This Valentine's day sparked a bit of an existential crisis for me in a super-weird way. Generally, I'm a fan of Love Day. I love celebrating little holidays like that by doing something special. Going for supper, getting a present or flowers, I love that stuff. I go, I eat, I have a nice time. This year, like basically every year, Zach and I decided to go out for supper (we love doing that) to a restaurant we've been to before and really enjoy. It's not a fancy restaurant, but my existential panic was summoned when I realized that perhaps because of Valentine's Day I should try to look "attractive". You know, because I wanted Zach to feel that I was making an effort to look nice for him and hadn't just assumed that he would think I was attractive in my normal clothes that I like to wear (spoiler alert: this was not a great thought I had).
And that was all it took for me to spiral into a panic about my innate inability to be attractive. It blindsided me. Generally, as I get older, I am happier and happier about how I look, how I dress; the opinions of others matter less and less to me. Yet here I was, the night before, wailing because all of my low-cut shirts were in the laundry because I'd worn them under my favourite baggy sweaters all week. I just had this deep, deep feeling that no matter what I wore, I could never look attractive because I, as a person, am just not all that hot.
Perhaps the #1 thing I hate about being a woman is pressure to look "attractive". Mostly because for me, the term attractive brings up ideas of low-cut tops, heels, skirts, fancy matching underwear that is not nearly as comfortable as my cotton granny panties from a 10/$20 bin, and an obsession with the approval of the male gaze. And makeup.
Now, let me stop right now to tell you where this post is not going. It is not going in a very un-feminist slut-shaming direction. Plenty of people out there love to wear those things. And to them I say, do what makes you happy! Your clothing does not have moral value. I approve of anything you wear because you wanted to wear it. But those things I listed before, generally, usually, do not make me happy. For a couple reasons, and not all of them good reasons.
Here are some reasons I don't like to wear things one might traditionally associate with "sexy" attire: I like to be practical in my dress for the things I do on a daily basis. Things I do on a daily basis include: walking in all weathers, running, curling up in chairs, squatting, stretching, light yoga, lifting things, reaching for things, sitting down, and climbing stairs. As a result, I don't like wearing clothes that restrict my movement or expose parts of me that I don't wish to expose when I'm doing things like bending down or sitting. I worry if I'm wearing a short skirt, and I don't like that. I like for my clothes to be warm, comfortable, preferably made of natural fibres (get at me, wool!). I want to feel pretty, but I am 0% willing to sacrifice functionality to achieve beauty. Every now and then I wear heels and it only reminds me how much my flat feet hate heels and how irritating I find the gravity shift in my body. And the clip clop sound. Not a fan. And makeup... makeup deserves its own poem.
Ode to how I loathe taking makeup off at the end of the day
Oh makeup, I love to put thee on,
To experiment with different looks,
Seeing how the colours change my face
The shimmer, the reds, the pinks each so beautiful and
fun to apply.
But, oh! how I hate taking thee off
at the end of the day.
When thou has sunk into every line of my expressive face,
Cheerfully pointing out the wrinkles of anxiety and
The 11 between my eyebrows.
I hate that thou bidst me pay attention to thee
Instead of resting my head on my husband's shoulder
Instead of kissing his lips
Instead of rubbing my itchy nose
Instead of rubbing my tired eyes
Instead of swaying cheek-to-cheek I pull away,
All to keep thee on my face a few hours more.
And mascara, to thee, waterproof af
Each night I spend an eternity of minutes removing thee
From my eyelashes,
Sometimes my eyelashes be fewer in number
Ere the ablution be done.
Leaving me without patience, and with a thinner wallet
For the potions that thou require.
Oh makeup, I just want to go to bed and
Thou preventest me from seeking my beautiful pillow.
Lest I stain it with thee. And break out in painful acne.
You can just send my Nobel Prize for Literature in the mail.
Another reason I don't like wearing "attractive" or "sexy" clothes because they reveal how insecure I am about my body. I feel like a fake when I'm wearing them. I don't belong in these clothes. I'm too clumsy. Too plain. I don't like feeling as though I'm drawing attention to my body or that people are looking at me because part of me has been trained to feel that if people are paying attention to my body, I'm in danger. And at the end of the day, I don't think I'm that pretty. Growing up, I always strongly identified with characters that weren't pretty, but who had great personalities. All those women who succeeded in love because they have great personalities and not because they were the most beautiful, I knew that is what I would expect from my relationships. When people talk about how outer beauty fades and inner beauty is what matters, I've felt that inner beauty is all I have. All I've ever had. I've always felt very medium and therefore unremarkable. The most common looks-based remark I get from people: "You look very familiar/ You look just like my friend X." People who say this are never people who've actually met me before. Turns out I am oddly memorable, but never as myself. I just kinda look like a lot of people. I don't write this because I'm seeking affirmation, I'm writing this so you understand how I think about myself. It's not that no one has ever said anything nice to me about how I look, but it never seems to sink in the way that the criticism or the "You look just like so-and-so's daughter!" do. I'm sorry that happens because I wish all the compliments I've received meant more. But I don't believe them. That unbelief makes me insatiably thirsty for compliments that never satisfy how I feel about myself. Compliments offered with the best intentions can't fix the inner work that I need to do. I believe that I am plain and unlovely. And I'm trying to change that.
Slowly, so slowly, I'm learning to accept myself the way I look. In the last year or so I've been learning a lot about body positivity. Many people say that if you can't think positively about all aspects of your body, perhaps try to get to a point where you can accept your body as it is, in a sort of neutral way. Appreciate it for all you've been through together. If you can't think positively about yourself, maybe just work on not thinking negatively. And it hurts a little to think that's me because I know people should love themselves. It's what I want for everyone else but can't seem to give myself.
Which is what led me to this realization: when I look at someone, I always think they're beautiful. And not just inside beauty (I say it like it's easy to get, but I also feel like I've focused a lot on accepting my inner beauty and not my outer), outer beauty. Something about their body is beautiful. Their beautiful eyes, their beautiful smile, their beautiful hair, the beautiful curves of them. Other people aren't beautiful to me because they match my ideal of size and weight or symmetry of features. They are beautiful because they're themselves. Why can't I extend that to myself?
I was thinking about self love the other day and thinking that I don't love Zach because he is perfect. He is beautiful, but I don't even love him for being, in an objective sense, perfectly beautiful. I love him for being himself. He is so beautiful to me and I can't unsee it, no matter what he is wearing or how he changes through life. Yet I seem to be waiting to love myself until I'm perfectly beautiful in my own eyes. Until I meet all my very exacting standards. Until I'm different and no longer look like myself. Until my scars go away. Until my eyes are more remarkable, or my curves more contained. And in the moment I realized I think Zach is beautiful because he is himself, I realized that I could think I am beautiful because I am myself, and not in spite of it. I don't have to withhold love from myself until I meet my own impossible standards, I can just do it right now. I am already beautiful in my baggy, soft sweaters and big winter boots. Conveniently, I'm also warm and my feet stay dry when I'm walking to school in the snow. It isn't in spite of those things that I can find myself beautiful, or attractive, or even because of them, but kind of beyond them. Beauty isn't something I make or grow or put on, it is already there. My outer beauty can't fade because it is an immutable aspect of being me. Not just the inside me, but the outside me, too.
I went to Valentine's Day dinner in my winter boots #noregrets