It was Christmastime, my favorite time of the year, and my friends, family and I had rented out the basement of a trendy hotel in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood for the holiday. Glittery ornaments lit up the dim room, their shadows stretching across the wooden floor like real-life people, and stockings hung low over the fireplace.
My belly was safely tucked away in my elastic waistband pants. I was feeling ready to feast on Christmas dinner like a beast when my family friend, a 30-something widow, pulled me aside.
“Sweetie," she said, “What's with your outfit?"
“What do you mean?” I said, puzzled as ever.
“How do you expect to get a man when you’re wearing a cotton hoodie and sneakers? You’re so beautiful. Use that pretty face! You’ll be single forever unless you clean up your act.”
Use my pretty face? What the f*ck did that even mean? I spent the next hour trying to pick my jaw off the floor.
My aunt isn't the only one who's deemed beauty paramount.
A coworker shared with me a story about her formerly pregnant sister. Apparently, when her water broke, she didn’t make a beeline for the nearest hospital; instead, she spent an hour standing in front of the mirror, tirelessly blow-drying her hair and putting on makeup.
“I need to look good for photos!” she said, when asked why she was even a dollop's worth concerned with her appearance.
Looking our “best” on the outside doesn’t always make us happy on the inside, but we strive for an unattainable ideal, regardless.
We’re not at fault here. Our constant desire to look like goddesses, even when we’re tired as f*ck and running on empty, is part of a bigger conversation -- a conversation that begins and ends with other people's demands, projections and expectations.
Women live in a society that tells them they should always look their best -- and if we don’t, in the words of my family friend, we’re apparently doing a disservice to ourselves.
But the thing is, there's no winning. When society is tired of chastising you for not trying hard enough, it'll chastise you for trying too hard. We’re damned if we look good and damned if we don’t.
Time and time again, my makeup-less face has tolerated questions like “Are you sick?” and “Rough night?” As a result, I've been led to believe my fresh face and unostentatiously clothed body aren’t good enough to leave the house.
I’m going to say this loud and clear so your mom, and your mom’s mom, and your mom's mom's mom in faraway lands can hear me: CATERING TO MY BEAUTY ISN’T MY FIRST PRIORITY.
I am a human who lives and breathes, not some sort of object meant to be ogled at. I work, and I work out. I don’t style my hair on a Monday morning because I’d rather it be out of my face so I can concentrate on my computer screen. I don’t wear yoga pants at the gym because I’m preparing to sweat my ass off, not because I’m trying to emulate Scarlett Johansson at the Oscars.
I, just like you, need to relax and repose in order to fully enjoy the scope of living. My main purpose in life is to be comfortable in my own skin.
And if I’m not, well, then there would hardly be any point in living.
I have accepted that I simply won’t look “perfect” (whatever the hell “perfect” means) all the time, and though we’ve been conditioned to feel as if that’s something to be ashamed of, I’m not ashamed of it.
In fact, I’m willing to admit it. Here are all the times when I simply don’t feel beautiful.
When I’m at the gym.
Nestled in my three-sizes-too-big man’s sweatshirt and drawstring pants, I pale in comparison to the flawless figure-eights in their skintight spandex.
When I’m in a dressing room.
Skinny mirror or not, I’m standing there analyzing and overanalyzing every crevasse and every patch of cellulite on my body.
When I’m standing next to a model.
I live in New York City, the land of infinite beauty. On some days, I feel fantastic -- that is, until I turn a corner and run into a Gisele lookalike wearing Dior sunglasses and Prada loafers.
When I’m wearing my glasses.
They make me feel like the turtle dude from “The Master Of Disguise,” but I need them to see, dammit.
When I wake up.
No woman wakes up Beyoncé-flawless -- and if she does, she’s a f*cking unicorn. Or she’s Beyoncé.
When I’m sobbing my ugly Kim Kardashian sob.
Look, I don’t know about you, but after a good ol’ fashioned love-making session with myself, I break out into waterworks.
When I come home from work.
And my day-old makeup is so blotchy that the left side of my face is cappuccino-colored, while the right side is more vanilla mocha (yes, I'm speaking in Starbucks-tongue).
But I guess that’s just the way the cookie -- er, foundation -- crumbles.
After eating a big meal.
Paris Hilton may feel sexy eating a burger, but I don’t.
Oh, and you don’t want to be there for my post-meal spiral of guilt and shame.
When I get rejected.
Whether I’m fresh out of a breakup or getting shut down by a guy mid-flirt on Tinder, I sure as hell am feeling anything but beautiful.
When I’m on my period.
If it’s that time of the month, that means my hair is thrown in a (non-chic) messy bun, and I’m wearing my stretchy fat-pants.
When I’m not doing something for myself.
It's inevitable that I will be bashed and berated for not appealing to my beauty. But I don’t douse my body in perfume or powder my face in consideration of others; I do it when I have time and energy for myself.
There are days I wish I had the kind of peachy-white skin and glossy blonde hair that society tells me is beautiful. But there are also days when I choose to embrace the caramel color and the frizzy dark hair I was born with, and dress it even further down with a baggy shirt and a gross hoodie.
And even though society doesn’t think that’s beautiful, I’m ready to embrace that side of me, too.