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?