Appearance, part 1

This is the first of a series of posts I plan to do on appearance. See the other posts here.

I value convenience and practicality over my appearance. I don’t wear makeup, even though I would look better with it (at the very least it would hide all my acne scars); among other motivations for not wearing it, I don’t want to spend my money or time or effort on it. I rarely buy new clothes, and when I do my focus is on price and comfort and what I like, rather than what I look best in. I’ve never owned a hair straightener or used many hair products, even though the appearance of my hair might have benefited from one or both of them. Taking it even farther, I recently chopped all my hair off and now have a buzz cut. Does it look better? Hell no. But it’s so much easier—my showers are much quicker, I save money by using less shampoo, there’s no wet mass to dry afterward, I don’t have to worry about taming it before I go out, it doesn’t look greasy when I haven’t showered for a day… Basically, it’s awesome, and I value that convenience and ease way more than I value having a better appearance.

I recognize that this is a privileged position—I work from home at the moment, so there are no demands or expectations on me to look professional, as many women (and people in general) face. Even when I did have a full-time job, the expectations/guidelines for employee appearance in that office were very lax, so it was no problem for me to show up every day in a hoodie and jeans with no makeup (although it still wasn’t until I stopped working outside my home that I took the radical step of getting a buzz cut). But again, some employers wouldn’t be okay with that, and in an office setting would want their female employees in makeup and heels; in other settings, there would likewise be rules pertaining to employee appearance, as well as implicit restrictions, and complying with them might be necessary for one to keep the job or be treated decently in that setting.

But in general, even when it isn’t mandated people care about their appearances a lot. At the grocery store, on the street, on college campuses, people are walking around having obviously put effort into how they look. Makeup, styled hair, clothes that look nice but likely aren’t comfortable (heels, supertight jeans)—people are willing to bother with and endure all these things to look good in everyday situations where there aren’t any external requirements for their appearances.

In a way, I’m very insecure about how I look. When I had much more hair than I do now, I would stress about it before going out, needing to make it “look good”, by my own standards, at least, so that I’d feel okay about myself when out in public (which was one reason I chopped it off—now that I have next to no hair, there’s no anxiety about it potentially looking bad). But that insecurity isn’t enough to motivate me to go out and buy makeup, and it wasn’t enough to make me keep my hair long and put more effort into taming it. While I sometimes worry that people will judge me because of my acne scars, and wonder why I don’t cover them with makeup, I don’t let that worry stop me from going out bare-faced.

And that’s because when it comes down to it, I don’t think looks are that important. Why should it matter how you, or anyone else, looks? People judge each other by looks, of course (and even though I don’t think that’s right, I do know it’s not going to change anytime soon), but does it matter if strangers are judging you when you’re at the grocery store? For some people it might; if you’re a non-male, non-white person, looking or not looking a certain way could get you harassed or even assaulted. Even white males will sometimes need to have their looks up to a certain standard to get by, as I mentioned above in the context of jobs, and could also be derided for publicly defying gender norms. But if you know you don’t have to worry about receiving negative attention because of your looks, whether because of your privileged position in society or because the specific environment you’re in is a safe one, why bother trying to make yourself look better than you do naturally? Of course sometimes people are trying to appear attractive to potential (or current) romantic/sexual partners. But besides that reason, personal safety, and external requirements, why is it so important that the people around you look at you and approve of what they see? Why should looks be prioritized above time, money, and convenience?

Maybe it’s just too hard to find yourself in a situation where looks really don’t matter. If you’re hanging out with your friends, you wouldn’t want to receive negative attention or opinions from them based on your appearance. If you’re at school, you don’t want your teachers or professors to think you’re lazy or sloppy. If you’re at the grocery store… well, maybe putting a certain amount of effort into your appearance is just a way of telling the world that you value yourself.

But I value myself in not changing the way I naturally look. I don’t think my acne scars are beautiful, but I don’t think they need to be hidden. I’d rather not have them, but I do. This is me. This is the face I look at in the mirror every day, so this is the face I’m going to show to the world.

The emphasis placed on appearance frustrates me because when placed on women’s appearances in particular it’s sexist, and I’d like to write more about that in the future. It also bothers me because appearance is superficial. It might impact the way some people treat you, but does how your friends and family members and teachers and co-workers and the authors you read and the creators whose inventions you use look matter? No—it’s their personalities, their talents, their ideas, who they are, that’s important. Maybe for some people looks are a core part of their identity, but people are also always changing their looks, and I’d think that in general, people find their identities in areas other than their outward appearance. But if that is the case, then why the obsession?

I’m curious about other people’s thoughts. How highly do you prioritize your looks, and why? Are there certain things (time, money) that do trump looks for you? Are there some situations or circumstances where your looks are more important to you than others? Are there any times when you feel you really don’t care how you look, or does your appearance always matter to you to some extent? Why do you think society in general places such a high importance on looks?

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3 thoughts on “Appearance, part 1

  1. morgaine has won December 10, 2014 / 6:32 pm

    Oh, oh! This is so interesting of a topic ^^

    One way of explaining the differing concern for looks I’ve come up with is that … some people are very visual types, and just naturally notice visual aesthetics, which explains a natural inclination to include it in one’s world view. (I am such a type, for example)

    And also, lots of people are just very emotionally invested in how they look, and it easily becomes a source of insecurity. As in, the socially manufactured ‘worth’ assigned based on looks and how it shapes oneself in growing up, but also the inherent understanding of visually-based beauty and our emotional or spiritual investment in it.

    I think you should definitely take into account all the reasons and view points that might not be ‘logical’ to you. When you try to get behind the reasons for other people’s “obsession”, as you call it, and you cannot come up with a reason that would seem reasonable to you, it’s obvious that you must have missed something.

    Wearing pretty clothes that look uncomfortable to you, might not be so uncomfortable, actually. People sometimes think wearing make-up is a hassle, but when you’re used to it, it’s actually alright. Wearing heels (which I’ll NEVER wear! God, those torture devices!!) becomes comfortable as well, if you’ve trained it.

    In this western social climate, in which women who are invested in their appearance sometimes are villainized, shamed or framed as narcissistic, I’ve often felt uncomfortable with the question of why I wanted to be pretty. (Similarly there exists the shaming for women who don’t invest themselves like that, as you pointed out)

    I sometimes wondered why I had to be a bad person for wearing make-up, and whether I actually had those apparently low and petty intentions to be pretty out of vanity, as countless types of media insisted.

    Well, I never answered that question but discarded it after a while, when my mum told me that people should be comfortable in the way they present themselves and that they get to choose how they want to appear because of that. And in middle grade, when my c-ptsd was bubbling up and I felt like I was made of glass on the inside, I made my appearance as flawless as possible because it made me feel like having at least a little bit of power, a little bit of protection. Beauty can mean being socially beyond reproach, appearing ‘worthier’ than others. It’s one way to social power, and people who are vulnerable can capitalise on that.

    You could say I have a good-looking face, but I have acne, so I would wear foundation to hide it. Back then, I also wore eye-make-up, because I felt like people could read the way I was damaged in my eyes, and I wanted to prevent them from abusing me.

    Nowadays I only wear foundation when I go to school, but sometimes I don’t even do that. I feel much less like a target for violence now, so I’ve relaxed and stepped it down a bit, because the way I would actually feel most comfortable is if I wasn’t pronouncing too much prettiness, whether in my face or my figure. I get sort of dysphoric when I focus too much on my appearance (even though I’m a visual type, go figure). My acne is still something that I hide a bit, though, but it’s medically necessary to treat it a certain way anyway.

    Looks are such a loaded topic for me. So, sorry for this being so long-winded. I thought your portrayal of your own world-view very illuminating, as I’m struggling with that ‘not-caring-about-looks’ attitude. I really really liked your thoughtful reflection, and will be off to your other posts ^^

    Who would have known that I would respond to this topic so well and would write this much … that’s definitely enlightening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cinderace December 10, 2014 / 7:56 pm

      Hey, thanks for the comment; I’m happy to get someone else’s perspective on this. If I came across as somewhat miffed or frustrated, I think it’s both because I’m fed up with the sexist pressure on women to look a certain way/always have their appearances up to a certain standard (although the demonization of women who care about their looks is also good to keep in mind), and because as I mentioned I am insecure about how I look, and I feel like I don’t live up to society’s standards (for women or people in general), and I think to some extent I turn those feelings into “well fine, I just don’t care how I look” and “people care too much about looks, I don’t get it!” So my own baggage is definitely influencing my opinion. I also have the probably somewhat unusual experience of never having worn makeup (except once or twice when a friend was like, “let me do makeup for you!”); I was homeschooled so I wasn’t surrounded by peers getting me interested in it or making me feel like I should be wearing it, so I definitely have an outsider-looking-in perspective on that area in particular.

      Good point about some people being more visual. There are certain kinds of beauty that I do notice and value more, but it doesn’t tend to be human beings (I wonder if that springs from or is at least be influenced by my asexuality, although I know not all aces share this experience). The idea of social power was also one I hadn’t considered before, but does seem to be an important factor (probably for women especially).

      Like you, I’ve also thought about trying to separate one’s personal view on appearance from all the cultural attitudes and pressures about it (which is of course impossible, as you found), and I think that I probably overemphasize the role of culture/society in shaping other people’s attitudes about appearance—like, “society tells women they have to look pretty, so if a woman spends a lot of time on her appearance, it must be because of society’s oppressive influence!”, disregarding the fact that women actually care about their appearance for other, more personal reasons (the reason I think this way is probably—I can’t remember if there’s a name for this phenomenon—but assuming everyone else feels the way you feel).

      “The way I would actually feel most comfortable is if I wasn’t pronouncing too much prettiness.” I was just thinking yesterday about how I feel this way myself, and am definitely going to expand on it in a post.

      Side note: I hate being 24 and still having acne… I saw a dermatologist for it a few years ago and it cleared up after being treated with antibiotics, but I was told that I couldn’t continue them or else my body would develop a resistance, so then it just came back. I’ve been meaning to see another dermatologist, but at this point I’m used to it so it doesn’t seem that urgent.

      Anyway, thanks again for sharing your thoughts! I really appreciate your in-depth response. :)

      Like

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