Being Brave, Being Vain, Being Fiona

I have a complicated relationship with beautiful. I’ve always been more likely to be called “striking” or “interesting” than “beautiful”, and always more likely to be called “funny” or “smart” than either of those. In my heart, I know that is an absolute strength. If I had to choose between funny and beautiful, I’d pick funny every single time, no questions asked. I know that I’m so much more than beautiful, that a beautiful face pales in comparison with a kind heart, a strong mind, a creative soul. And yet. And yet.

Like many girls, my “interesting” beauty became a battleground when I was a teenager. The frizzy hair, the generous nose, the chest so flat you could build an airport on it, they all became markers for how different I was. And I spent an unholy amount of my teenagedom wishing that I could just be the same.

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It’s exhausting being at war with your own face, you guys. Eventually, there came a point where I was too tired to keep hating myself, so I decided I was going have to love myself instead. I spent time getting to know my body, because it’s impossible to love something that’s a stranger to you. I started to notice my details. The smattering of chocolate drop freckles. The cupid’s bow you could cut yourself on. The stretch marks curving around my hips like silver lightning strikes. I dyed my hair red. I started to wear the brightest lipstick I could get my hands on. I started to upload selfies with gay abandon. When I felt ugly, I wanted to make myself smaller. After so many years of that, feeling beautiful feels like a brave, tiny rebellion.

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It’s also terrifying. See, women are supposed to be pretty but we’re absolutely not supposed to notice that we’re pretty. And we’re certainly not supposed to take any pleasure from it. We’re not to know we’re beautiful. That’s what makes us beautiful.

*One Direction dance break, because even though the message of that song is trash, it’s still an absolute tune*

There’s a photographer called Alex Cameron, who takes the most wonderful photographs. The first time I saw her photos, I thought “I want pictures of me that are that beautiful”. I was immediately ashamed that I wanted that. How trivial. How frivolous. How vain. For two years, I watched her photos pop up on my Twitter timeline and every time I saw them, I turned the idea over in my head. I’d justify and argue with myself and agonise because I was still embarrassed to admit that I wanted to look at myself and love how I looked.

F5Last week, I got on a train with a backpack full of my most favourite dresses and I asked Alex to make me gorgeous. I twirled and giggled and wrapped myself in leaves and flowers. I gleefully agreed when Alex complimented my bright hair, my green eyes. I loudly exclaimed “I FEEL LIKE A FAIRY PRINCESS” about seventeen times.

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When she started to send me the photographs, my mouth fell open. She hadn’t changed me or airbrushed me. She hadn’t smoothed my personality over. My flyaway hair, my crooked nose, my goofy smile spilled from every single picture. All of my details, my gorgeous imperfections laid bare. I looked undoubtedly, unabashedly like me. Like no one else. I looked striking. I looked interesting. And I looked so, so beautiful.

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On Being “Just” A Beauty Blogger

I hate backhanded compliments. You know the ones.

“You’re so pretty when you make an effort.”
“I wish I could just let it all hang out like you.”
“You’re definitely not as cocky as I thought you were at first.”

Compliments like that suck, because they’re actually insults dressed up to make it seem like the person cares about you. There’s one particular backhanded compliment that I’ve gotten quite a lot since I started blogging. It takes a few different forms but the gist is always basically the same. That someone with a little bit of talent and influence like me should be talking about something with more gravitas than beauty.

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The temptation to just toss my hair and yell “MY CORNER OF THE INTERNET, MY RULES” is pretty strong, but I think there are a couple of important points to be made about this opinion that beauty blogging is somehow “less than”.

First, the smart girl/pretty girl thing is a false dichotomy.

That’s right, I’m dropping the false dichotomy bomb, biatches. This is what happens when you annoy a political philosophy geek.

Basically, writing about beauty doesn’t mean that I’m stooping to the stupid girl level, and being smart doesn’t mean that I don’t care about how I look. I can recommend you an awesome cleanser. I can also give you a potted history of the Middle East. When pushed for time, I can probably do both at once. I can’t believe I’m actually having to type this, but girls can be both smart and beautiful. In fact, most of us are.

I think a lot of the scorn that gets heaped on the beauty blogging community is just pure sexism. A lot of beauty blogs are sweet and fluffy and not particularly deep, but so what? When did it become a crime to do something just for fun because it makes you feel good? I never see the same smirks directed at video game bloggers, music bloggers or food bloggers as I do at beauty bloggers. Beauty is seen as trivial, even shallow in a way that other realms of blogging just aren’t. And I think a lot of it has to do with it being a community created primarily for, and primarily populated by people who present as female.

Sorry, boy bbloggers, I love you all lots, but you are very much the minority group here.

Things that women do are constantly scrutinised and patronised. We’re either saying too much or saying too little. We’re brash and opinionated or we’re boring and weak. We’re ugly or we’re vain. That’s the way it goes. And with this undercurrent running through our culture, maybe it’s not so surprising that women banding together to share pretty-making tips is viewed as a self-obsessed, unimportant trend. But I’m calling shenanigans on that right now. Think lipstick is boring? Cool! Go read about something else! I think cricket is totally boring…you know what I do? I don’t read about cricket. I don’t get in touch with people who are really passionate about cricket to remind them that THERE ARE CHILDREN STARVING IN AFRICA AND SOME PEOPLE HAVE CANCER AND INEQUALITY SUCKS. Because I figure they already know that. Because it’s totally possible to write about cricket and still care about the other stuff that’s happening in the world. Same with beauty.

But the reason that these particular comments really get under my skin is because I think that the things I write about are important. I think that the vast majority of my posts go way beyond what foundation to buy or how best to shape your eyebrows.

Again, I don’t mean this in any way to be disrespectful to people who publish beauty reviews and makeup looks and stuff, I love to read your stuff and think it’s really fun and awesome.

But my idea of beauty is mainly about learning to love yourself and feel fabulous in your own skin. I write about the stuff that goes on inside as much as I do about the stuff that goes on outside. And in a world where being female and having a body, occupying space or generally existing is a political and often offensive act, I think that the stuff I write about is pretty damn important. Women are taught to hate their bodies, to focus on their imperfections, to mask their differences, to look perfect, but without making any effort, to suck in, to shrink down. And if you don’t think that fighting back against that is important, I think we are living in very different worlds. And that you probably weren’t bullied as a kid for looking different.

What I wouldn’t have given when I was fourteen to have someone be like “Hey! Why don’t you wear some purple lipstick? You won’t look like everyone else, but that’s okay, it can be really fun to be different!” To have someone tell me that there was more than one way to be beautiful, and that about 80% of gorgeous is that glow that surrounds you when you feel amazing. To be able to turn away from the cookie cutter women on TV and in the adverts and see a massive range of ladies being sexy and wonderful in their own unique, amazing ways. Because the biggest difference between beauty blogging and beauty features in the mainstream media is that beauty blogging doesn’t try to mould everyone to the same ideal. We control the narrative. We control the ideal.

It’s about being able to go “Hey! I’ve never thought about wearing bright green eyeliner!” and not giving a damn whether boys would find it attractive.
“Does anyone know how I can control my mad curls?”
“I would never have put those colours together but it looks awesome.”
“You are gorgeous.”
“I am gorgeous.”
“We are gorgeous.”

Women supporting other women and helping them to feel like they can take on the world is basically my favourite thing. I’m lucky that I’ve been through a whole lot of appearance-related nonsense and have come out the other side with skin that might look like buttermilk, but that is as thick as a rhino’s ass. I love who I am, and part of who I am is the body that I occupy. I am dedicated to decorating and pampering that body however I see fit. I think I can take on the world, I just feel more prepared for it with a swipe of red lipstick.

And I refuse to apologise for that.