Pretty is as pretty does.
I’ve faked being pretty since the day I discovered a rogue lipstick; rolling about unattended on my mother’s dresser.
I’ve nipped, tucked and sucked every inch of flesh ever since, demanding excess fat fall into line, and droopy, bumpy skin follow suit.
I’ve sketched on my eyebrows with daily devotion; the follicles no longer sprouting where I once plucked them – convinced ultra-fine arches would be a forever-trend when I began my tweezing obsession in the 90s.
I’ve shaded my skin an olive glow with lashings of potently scented faux tan, and slept in a space-like suit so as not to stain the sheets as it penetrated my pores, blotting out my cool-toned complexion.
My frizzy, curly hair is in perpetual cognito, forced into submission via daily singe sessions with my hot iron and an array of smoothing, shine-giving spritzes that reek of propylene glycol and Clorox.
My slim frame is the result of hours of grueling hill sprints, squats, and a love/hate relationship with my gym membership.
My ample bosom is nothing more than push-up wires and padding.
Even my lashes are an illusion; false mink extensions carefully adhered onto the rim of my eyelids once every month in exchange for a small fortune that probably would have amassed a deposit for a house by now.
I’ve pinched, pricked and splurged everything necessary to achieve my lofty goal of appearing to have struck genetic gold; my credit card debt fuelled by my addiction to the confidence-boosting high of Botox.
My empty savings account the aftermath of frequent filler injections that buoyed my face with rosy youthfulness, in spite of a decade of all-nighters studded with booze and Pop Tarts.
The car I could have owned but don’t, the result of a necessary sinus surgery providing the perfect opportunity to surreptitiously sculpt my dream silhouette.
The newly dainty nose I kept hidden as it healed, a daily reminder of my dedication to symmetrical perfection.
But my dedication has come with a price tag bigger than the cost of a nip-tuck or an injection of Botulinum toxin.
It’s come with a life spent comparing myself to pretty girls – the ones who seemingly rolled out of bed with messy hair, threw on a T-shirt and jeans, and looked as though they’d emerged from a Calvin Klein photoshoot.
It’s come with hundreds of thousands of hours spent applying layers of makeup, glue, and padding; drenching my flesh in whiffy lotions and potions from packages claiming to achieve the impossible.
And it’s come with way too much time spent standing in front of the mirror, tears streaming down my face, hating the image looking back at me; praying to wake up and discover my refection had been a nightmarish dream.
So, sometimes I’ve had to stop and remember; who I am behind the false lashes, the faux tan and the Juvaderm lips.
I’ve had to remind myself I’m so much more than my carefully constructed cookie-cutter appearance.
I remind myself of the way my boyfriend smiled and told me I was beautiful when I was in hospital – sweaty hair glued to my forehead, makeup-less and push-up bra-free; the shapeless hospital gown doing nothing for my figure.
Of the time my best friend’s eyes turned glassy as she launched at me with a hug after I gave a speech at her wedding, and held me just a second longer than usual, whispering in my ear “You are really one of a kind.”
And of the night I opened an email from a stranger, and felt a prickling at my heart, as I read how a piece of my writing had reminded her she wasn’t alone.
And then I remember – when the day ends and I sponge the concealer and lip liner onto cotton wool pads, remove the long, silk fans of lashes from my lids, and shrug on my boyfriend’s faded T-shirt – I’ll never be one of those effortlessly pretty girls.
But that’s okay.
Because when I look back at my reflection nowadays, I don’t hate what I see.
After 33 years, I’m finally okay with the person I am, underneath the primping and preening; sweaty bed-hair and all.
Don’t get me wrong. I love dressing up and playing pretty, and the rush of confidence that comes with it. But I don’t need it to feel worthy or beautiful anymore.
And that’s the kind of pretty that can’t be faked or bought. No matter how many tubes of lipstick you own.
Images via shutterstock.com.
Comment: How have unrealistic beauty standards affected your own self-image?