A few months ago, I started writing a version of this article. Then it started getting really intense (started using way too many expletives) and I left it be for awhile to sort out my thoughts. But then this Renee Zellweger thing blew up the internet in the past few days and it made me jump back on the keyboard- because this is a representation of everything I was trying to say earlier.
Before we jump into what I hope will be an enlightening, empowering or at least thought-provoking post, here's the honest truth: when I first saw that red carpet photo of Renee, I was a little stunned. At first glance, she looked like a totally different person than the actress I remember from her hit movies. Then as I scrolled down on my Facebook feed, people I personally know well were posting this photo up with some of the saddest and cruelest comments, and I started to feel furious.
Here's an issue we all know but we still seem to not be willing enough to reverse it:
Society has some really messed up beauty ideals that can make both women and men feel inferior and constantly NOT ENOUGH just being in their own skin.
First, let's briefly touch upon the Renee Zellweger case. To start, here were the two most popular reactions the photos elicited:
- She looks different: It was my first thought about her looking different than her hit movies... No sh*t she looks like a different person now than her Jerry Maguire days. That was almost 20 years ago! I think people were so taken aback also because she hasn't made a lot of red carpet appearances in the past few years, so it seems drastic- BUT, if you look at this slideshow, it seems to be a pretty natural evolution in the past four years.
- She's had plastic surgery! No wait, She's aging gracefully! Whether or not she's had plastic surgery doesn't really matter. Women in Hollywood can never win- it's either "yikes, she looks old" if they're trying to age gracefully in a world that praises youthfulness and also take some hits at their casting chances [a whole other issue there], or "oh poor actress, trying to cling onto her youth" if she does have surgery. Brava to her for her lovely response to this crazy reaction.
- Also, side note- these recent photos of her were taken at the Elle's Women of Hollywood event- an event that is supposed to celebrate the powerful, successful of tinseltown. Does anyone else find it horribly ironic that she was being attacked for her photos from this event?
Guys. She's an Oscar-winning actress who has done some serious transformations for her craft. She has gone up and down in weight a lot over the years (hello, we all loved and applauded her in Bridget Jones, didn't we?)- and the reality is, is that that kind of yo-yoing takes a major toll on the body, which then will inevitably affect her face. But at the end of the day, so what?!
Now, onto the other current beauty battles we are facing:
I love me some Beyoncé, lord knows she actually does wake up like that. But for the rest of the world, it actually describes the strive to look effortlessly perfect. That's the trend now- to look natural. But to look natural, girls are spending hundreds of dollars in makeup and hours in front of a mirror to make themselves look just effortless enough, but looking like they put it an appropriate amount of effort and "that they care."
Women are shamed for not putting effort into their appearance, because that's not caring enough. The amount of times I've heard people look at someone dressed in sweats and no makeup in public, and say, "doesn't she respect herself and how she looks?" Sigh.
Women are shamed for spending too much time pampering themselves with manicures, haircuts, putting makeup on to get ready, because that's caring too much and it's narcissistic and vain. A few months ago, I was sitting at a restaurant nearby a group of college girls and this impeccably dressed and primped woman came in with her baby, who was crying. Apparently, this crying baby irritated these college girls enough to prompt them to say, "if that woman put a little more time into caring for her baby than putting her makeup on and blowing out her hair, the baby wouldn't be crying." Seriously?!?!
Hiding Natural Faults
Colbie Caillat, one of my favorite singers, made a beautiful music video for her song, "Try." I was so impressed with her interview with Elle, during which she discusses her motivations behind creating this song. I highly suggest you give the entire interview a read, but a few of my favorite quotes of hers are:
"Before coming to the studio I wanted to look pretty so I had my nails done, I made sure I had the best outfit on, I had my hair and makeup artist come over and make me look all polished. And the thing is that I like myself when I’m not that way, but I feel like other people might not like me that way. And I know that most women go through that. When you have blemishes on your skin, gain weight, or my friend has crooked teeth, or my mom’s roots are going gray. And everyone is trying to hide their faults from each other when we all have it."
(In response to the question, "What's the hardest thing about being a female in today's society?")
Trying to live up to other people’s expectations. When we do get dolled up, we get more compliments. It’s just what happens. When you have a cute outfit on and your makeup looks amazing, the first thing people comment on is your image. When you don’t wear makeup, you hear things like, “Oh wow, you look tired or you’re so brave for not wearing makeup!"
*On a personal note:
In the past year I've had to contend with lot of changes to my body and my physical health, having gone through surgery and a lot of health implications afterward. Right now, there are some messed up things going on with my thyroid and hormones that doctors are trying to figure out, and one of the results has been my breaking out on my face like a teenage kid.
I've never had to deal with this before. I am still getting used to the change of my athletic body, and I definitely have been feeling much more self-conscious because of all of these changes in my appearance. But I have nice hair. Not me tooting my own horn here, it's just a fact. I've had nice, long, healthy hair that I can thank my mom and dad for.
So I decided to chop it all off last week. It may seem asinine, but for me it was symbolic. My hair has been my shield, and I wanted to take that away to not have anything to hide behind. I feel like I had been scurrying around with my head down, slightly embarrassed- but I have nothing to be ashamed of. So away the shield went! It has definitely been liberating and I think I'll stick to this short new 'do for a while.
What about what men go through in this battle too?
In this post, I mostly spoke about women because as a woman, because that's the experience I know best. But men go through this too.
Both women and men are also continuing to perpetuate these societal norms for each other. Women saying they don't like seeing men cry because it's "not manly" is just as harmful as men saying they don't like women who don't get gussied up because "women should put some effort into their looks."
This 25-year old comic artist from Japan, Rasenth, drew this beautiful series reminding us all how sexism is harmful to both men and women, and how the only way to overcome this is to work together. While these don't all pertain to beauty, it is all related. Here are a sampling of the images: