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Invested in my oppressor – Beauty laid bare

November 19, 2019

I was having a deep conversation the other day about beauty equality and how, whatever way you look at it, it doesn’t really exist.

You have the whitewash version of beauty that pushes people to bleach their skin straighten and/or dye their hair and turn into a more western version of themselves.

Then there’s the body positive movement which is all ‘woo-hoo’ for curvy, curly, short, thick and jiggly’ beauty but at the end of the day it’s still all revolving around looks.

After that is the ‘I don’t give a shit darling’ movement which is all hippies and mung beans, earth mothers and minimalism which is all very anti-capitalist (which you may find exciting) on the outside but is still actually selling you something when you look closely, only these things have to be fair trade, woke, organic, native, raw, balanced etc.  Very, very privileged really.

I’ve never really liked any of the above if I’m honest.

I can’t stand colonialism, have much more to worry about than my looks these days and think far too deeply to truly believe that by just purchasing a few goods that tick some boxes I will change the world.

Ok, so that’s a bit harsh and I know that there’s a thing about ‘little steps making a big effect’ and I do believe that but I yearn for something more and that something more may just be this…

Our investment in oppression. 

I am not going to research this deeply, I’m going to lay it down how I feel it,  as a person walking through this world with their eyes as open as blue eyes in a sun-bleached landscape can be so here goes…

This is a story about the beginning  of a journey to beauty freedom, a freedom would be made possible by gaining some power over how this person presents to the world. This journey would open doors and make things possible that hadn’t been possible before but, unbeknown to us, it also meant this person would lose something. Nobody really talks about what you might lose when what you will lose has been widely thought of as a problem. I mean nobody says ‘wow man, it sucks that your cancer got better’ or ‘Gosh, how on earth are you going to spend your time now that you don’t have to limp around with that stick?’. It just doesn’t happen, it’s all gain and no more pain.

However, humans don’t seem to work like that, or at least that’s how it appears after knowing a few of them and being one.

What if there was a little part of us that came to see ourselves a certain way, to live with the hurt and disappointment or anger (or other self-damaging emotion) as part of us, that we find a way to ‘make the most of it’ or ‘battle on regardless’ or ‘overcome the obstacles’.  That battle becomes us and we become that battle.

It was in thinking of this that I wondered about oppression and in particular the oppression that many of us confront and make peace with in order to interact with the beauty industry.   I’m wondering if this is the reason that even when we do get on top of our skin, hair or body ‘problems’ instead of rejoicing we either find ourselves somewhat lost or we jump straight into another battle.

I’m wondering if we need to talk about this a bit more, especially when the oppression you have just overcome is just one layer of the onion of your beauty life. Especially when even by un-peeling the final layer of that onion you may never really present the way you feel is enough?

I’ll give you a personal example of how this thinking has impacted me over my life just to help you work out what I’m saying if it is not yet obvious.  I wrote a piece on me being ‘itchy girl’ a while back. I had assumed this identity subconsciously after several decades of skin issues caused by my eczema.  I had internalised the eczema narrative so strongly that it had become me and I had become it.  So when it was pointed out to me (in therapy)  that I’d pigeon holed myself as itchy girl I felt like a bit of a dick head to be honest.  Self fulfilling prophecy maybe,  wrote the scabby ending to my own beauty story…  Something like that.

Now just before you think ‘well hang on, just not calling yourself itchy girl doesn’t make eczema go away’ that’s not what I’m going to say. I still have the condition, I still scratch and itch at times but what I don’t have now, after battling through my own narrative, is an attachment to my oppressor, that being the deficit narrative around me just being that inevitable itching thing that can never be comfortable in her skin.

Never be comfortable in her own skin…

I want to let that sink in for a minute.

So why would I adopt that narrative in the first place?

What benefit did that bring me?

Step into my shoes for a minute and I’ll tell you.  By the time I had got to this awakened state I’d lived in my skin for just short of 40 years.  That’s a long time and during that time I had come to accept that this was me and that was that in terms of my beauty persona and that’s the bit I’m interested in here.

As a child I was told by well-meaning friends that I could not be a fairy because a) I was too big and heavy (I was a bit then) and b) I had scabby skin.  As a child I felt confident enough that my body would changed as I grew up into adulthood but I had no confidence that my skin would change even though I was told that I would, to a large degree, grow out of the eczema I had.  Why did I think that?  Because at primary school I wanted to be a fairy and fairies weren’t scabby.  As a teenager I wanted to be famous and on TV but nobody on TV had scabby skin (and yes, I still did although it was a bit better than it had been).  As an adolescent I still wanted to be famous, important and now rich too but I didn’t see any of the people I aspired to be like walking around scratching themselves, they all had their skin shit together.  As an adult in the boardroom I did actually come across other itchy people but by that time I was already programmed and so it didn’t really matter any more.  I was never going to reach the beauty potential I could in life because my skin was itchy and looked bad on camera (still does, I still cringe when I see my hands in the clips I’m creating).

It is tiring and disappointing to always refer back to how good things could be for you if only you weren’t like you are.  I’m guessing that at some point one decides whether to just live with it and get on with it (resilience),  fight it (militancy) or succumb to it (surrender).  I chose resilience back then but resilience is only marginally less tiring than militancy and only slightly more empowering than surrender.

In choosing to be resilient I also had to adopt some coping strategies as resilient attitudes don’t stop the situation.  For example I may decide to be resilient and still join the swimming team and train twice a week and suffer the deep cracks to my skin but the deep cracks still hurt and stick to my clothing.  So, my coping mechanisms involved growing tougher, turning down my pain receptors and switching focus to other things like developing other parts of my personality and skill set that don’t involve my looks (which, I had decided, were always going to let me down).

By now I think you get the picture, also by this stage in my life telling you this feels a bit odd as I really don’t attach to this narrative any more but it is useful to share nonetheless.

I’d invested heavily in and given much power to my oppressor. My first step in life as a child wasn’t to challenge my own narrative about the way I saw myself and the limits I created because of it but rather to invest time and energy in managing my oppressor, my relationship with it,  and thus getting on with my ‘new’ life.

So when, later in life, I was challenged to think of myself differently I had more than a moment or two of trepidation to be honest.  Who would I be now? What would my beauty narrative be?  Could I actually re-visit my hopes and dreams of childhood (if I still wanted to) and become that girl?   How much mourning was there to do around the many ways I’ve limited myself by thinking and being this way? What about all that energy and pain I’ve sucked up? Am I going to crack under the strain of all that emotion when it gushes out?  Maybe, I guess maybe…

For me, holding those views stopped me from fully engaging with my feelings and finding myself a solution both mentally and physically.  I actually preferred not to think much about my eczema and instead, just got on with life, using the hydrocortisone cream when it got so bad I couldn’t sleep and occasionally using whatever other cream I could find to help me keep some kind of comfort at other times. It was only when I was invited to look deeper than what could be seen, felt and judged by others that I really was able to get to grips with myself, my skin and my own identity and believe me, there was a lot tied up in that itchy girl narrative, a lot of self-protective resilience moves that left me battered and tired.

So, back to the beginning and this person who was just given some beauty freedom. 

The story the beauty industry wants is that the person comes with a problem and goes out with a problem solved. However, in this case something else happened, something different, something deeper and more interesting.

Taking away the oppressor leaves a vacuum and I’m sure you’ve heard that saying ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ even if you don’t know what it means.

What happens when your new-found freedom feels like you won it by trading your soul (or your identity which in this case is close to the same thing).

Now, instead of a problem being solved, a new problem was made the ‘who am I now’ problem.

After a bit of time, this person was able to embrace their new found beauty freedom and take another step towards true self-empowerment, an empowerment that didn’t mean getting stuck in a corner, fighting off or negotiating with an oppressor, an empowerment that lay well beyond the physical, an empowerment that would actually last.

To be clear, this isn’t a post-purchase regret like the type we get when we ask the hairdresser to give us a buzz cut because we are sick to death already of the summer heat only to regret it the moment the blades make their first chop or the regret we feel when we allow our best friend to stick-and-poke tattoo us as it felt like the right thing to do at 3am on a Sunday morning after partying hard all night.  No, this is not a regret at all, this is a re-frame.

I am telling you this because whatever role you play in this, the beauty industry if you do it right, if you really do try to make a connection that goes beyond the physical, you will see and feel this sometimes. Sometimes the fears of the individual are just individual fears, sometimes they carry the weight of centuries of oppression or privilege that they or even their whole in-group may not fully realise yet. Whatever it is, however it transpires  it is worth diving into rather than shying away from as I’m convinced that the only way to feel comfortable within our own skins is to finally get to the mother itch and scratch the hell out of it, in the most gentle and kind way possible of course.

Pictures by me:  Thinking it over with tea, reflections by the lake and navel-gazing in the park.








3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2019 6:22 pm

    Yes indeed.
    A lesson I learned when I was a young hippie and living in a Thai Buddhist Temple. What they taught me is that others don’t view me as I see myself, with all my negativities. Powerful lesson!! And then reinforced during a Psychology unit I was doing as part of my Undergrad BSc.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      November 19, 2019 6:23 pm

      Thats a really good thing to learn.

  2. November 20, 2019 4:42 am

    Brilliant and beautifully said. Thank you for sharing this personal part of your story and the honest grappling with difficult identity issues. I’ve been finding Tara Brach’s RAIN process helpful for working through challenging feelings/issues. Here’s a link for anyone interested:

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