Sometimes, I get really anxious at night. My mind starts wandering to all the things I’m uncertain and insecure about: by the time I’m ready to enter the housing market will I be priced out? What if I never find a job I actually like? Does the fact that I’m a late bloomer mean that it’s too late for me to find a relationship?
Last night, as I not-so-gracefully gave myself over to the anxiety spiral, I read about a man who had his mugshot held for ransom. It basically ruined his life for a bit. Now, I don’t have a mugshot, but I do have a name twin. She has the same uncommon first and last name as me, and she’s made it her username all over the internet. So I googled my own name, as I sometimes do, just to make sure that nothing shady was going on.
I clicked a Facebook link, curious to see what my name doppelganger looked like, only to find that the Facebook profile was actually mine. It was a page from the hormonal, angst-filled cringefest of my early teens, and I had long ago abandoned it. “Abandoned” meaning that I logged out one day and never signed in again, leaving it up for the whole world to find on Google.
Naturally, I logged in to change my privacy settings, because no future employer or date needs to see how awkward I was at age 13. Curious about this time in my life that I try not to think about, I started clicking through my old photos. Was my hair really that healthy? And was I really that cute?
And then it hit me: I’ve let myself go.
This has been a difficult couple of weeks for me: I’ve been feeling pretty invisible. Trying to meet my incomplete May goals, I went back to online dating. The encouragement I felt when I realized I was getting more likes than before quickly reversed itself when I realized most guys never actually messaged me back.
Was I a casualty of their numbers game? Was I one of the girls they “liked” just to boost their chances of connecting with someone, even though they never really intended to talk to me in the first place?
Was there something wrong with me?
Was I unattractive?
That last question has been plaguing me these past few weeks. Am I not attractive anymore? And if I’m not, then what do I do to be attractive again?
My history with my appearance has been codependent. I learned to be pretty before I learned to be myself, and I’ve used my appearance as a crutch for a long time. The dependency was so strong that I felt it was taking the place of God in my life. That’s ultimately why I chose to give up makeup for a year.
It’s been about a year since I completed that makeup-free year, and it’s been both enlightening and uncomfortable. Not wearing makeup was a literal come-to-Jesus moment that led me down a spiritual path and into a relationship with him. And it helped to make me more comfortable with being vulnerable, myself, open, and imperfect.
And yet, equilibrating back to a space where I value beauty but don’t obsess over it has been a challenge. We live in very appearance-focused culture. I don’t spend a lot of time on Instagram, but when I do, I’m bowled over by the perfect hair, the perfect smiles, and the perfect makeup. When I go about my day-to-day life, I’m not blind to the fact that the most successful people I know are often well-dressed, well-coiffed, and naturally good-looking.
As a single girl, I think it’s hardest to ignore the benefits of being beautiful when it comes to dating. Online dating is heavily looks-based, even though I’ve tried to stay away from apps like Tinder that skew almost entirely in that direction. And in my offline life, beauty is still captivating. It’s eye-catching, it piques people’s interest, and it elicits nice treatment.
I feel like I’ve been hyper-aware of this fact the past few weeks, and with remarkably bad timing, I’ve been struggling with my own sense of beauty at the same time. I’ve always been interested in fashion, but I’ve gained weight and a lot of my clothes either don’t fit the way they used to or just don’t fit. I don’t really know how to dress for this new body. I’ve fallen back on the same hairstyles day after day because I don’t really know how to style my texlaxed hair.
I’ve been wondering whether I’ve slipped outside the realms of conventional beauty standards, and if I have, I’ve been trying to figure out what that means for me. Will things like dating be harder, or just different?
I don’t have the answer to this question, but as I get further away from my mid-twenties, I can’t shake the feeling that this isn’t a great time to not look my best. There are all kinds of major life events that typically pop up at this time–like long-term relationships and career directions–and I want to give myself every advantage. This is not to say that I don’t think critically about beauty standards and the way they disproportionately impact women and exclude women of colour like me, but I’m also a realist: we are social beings living in a social world, and beauty is an advantage in that world.
In realist fashion, I think I should do what I can. I don’t have a ton of disposable income, but I can work towards getting some new pieces here and there. As a student, I’m fairly rich in time, if not money, so I can take a few minutes and paint my nails once a week or watch some videos on how to style my hair. I might not get to the level of beauty I aspire to, but it would definitely be better than what I’m doing now.
Also true to realist fashion is recognizing that certain seasons of life don’t lend themselves to certain things. So while I would love to have Coco Bassey’s fabulous wardrobe, that isn’t very doable right now. My priorities skew towards saving like a maniac, giving to others, and, in true millennial fashion, accumulating experiences instead of things. So while it’s entirely possible to do all these things and still keep up your appearance, it becomes less so when you’ve got a student’s income. I struggle with this because my mind instantly thinks tempering my expectations means being okay with looking like Raggedy Ann. In reality, though, it means buying less, buying on sale, and getting creative with how I style things…until I can do more.
As far as dating goes, I think my obsession with re-acquiring my beauty is me holding onto old insecurities and trying to lean on a crutch I’ve learned to walk without. The thing that’s so enticing about beauty is that it’s so darn easy. Painting up my face and putting on the right clothes reaps rewards that I didn’t have to work that hard to get. This isn’t to say that putting on makeup and styling myself is effortless–it isn’t. But wrapping ourselves up in a pretty package before we put ourselves out in the world sometimes means we don’t have to prove certain things, like how interesting we are, to anybody. And that’s a nice thing, albeit one that’s hard for me to let go.
What I’ve forgotten, though, is that there’s a lot more to me than the way I look (or don’t look).
I don’t think that looks don’t matter, but I have learned that they don’t make things stick.
Beauty can’t sustain a connection between people–that’s simply not its place. Maybe it’s time I let my other qualities, like my love for God, my intelligence, and my interest in other people, take the lead when it comes to dating.
And maybe that means stepping back from approaches like online dating that seem to leave me no choice but to lead with my appearance.
This is an intimidating thought because online dating, like beauty, is easy. Easy in that I don’t have to go out to meet anyone. Easy in that I can come into contact with more potential dates in a few minutes online than a whole day offline. Easy in that I can hide my flaws by leaving them out of a carefully curated profile.
Maybe I need to live a little more openly, or as one of my blogging sisters, Mac, would say, more vulnerably. Maybe letting myself go also means letting go of preconceptions of how I ought to be in order to be valuable. Maybe it means I need to be more attentive to the people around me and get to know them instead of stumbling across them on an app and swiping them away. Maybe it means learning to cherish my own imperfections, and allowing that tolerance to spill over into the way I approach other people. Maybe it means I need to stop chasing perfection.
Have you let yourself go? Have you ever been caught up with chasing beauty?
Image via Laura Marques @ Unsplash
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