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© 2015 mo'adore | Content and design by Morag Lee | Powered by Blogger.

A personal ramble on make-up, self-expression, hair colour, the beauty industry and body positivity

Friday night I dyed my hair.

Which in itself, is not a big deal. I have been dying my hair auburn using Lush Caca Rouge Henna for seven years now. Yes, there have been gaps where I've tried other vegan hair dyes but overall this is a long time to be committed to a specific hair colour.

Over the past six months, you might have noticed that I have become increasingly brunette again. Because it is henna, it will fade rather than produce a harsh root line. But I was also experimenting with other hair colours, namely burgundy. I never found a purple vegan dye I really liked and because most of them were not permanent I got frustrated with the upkeep. But saying that, I never returned to my auburn roots (ha!) until Friday.

What changed was that in the middle of last week I wasn't feeling at home in my own body. My skin had that crawling feeling, I hated all my clothes, and I wasn't feeling myself. Because I always choose to work through my feelings - instead of ignoring them - I came home and sat with myself. Because I knew my negative feelings were connected to my physical appearance, this also involved staring at myself in the mirror where I began to notice perceived flaws that don't actually exist.


Because the purpose of this blog is not for me to talk about my hair (it's just the opening anecdote, I promise) it's to have a discussion around caring about your appearance (make-up, clothing, plucking etc) while being feminist and shouting about body positivity ten times a day - and how these two things can co-exist within the same person.

And that takes me back to my hair anecdote. I feel more at home in my body with auburn hair. I've been told by other people that I suit my fake auburn hair more than I've ever suited my natural brunette hair. But not everyone is saying that it's more aesthetically pleasing; I've had people comment about it "suiting my personality". I get that. I'm not exactly the most mainstream person ever, so it's understandable that I might not want a mainstream hair colour. The Little Mermaid is my favourite Disney Princess. And clearly, I'm not going to become a fish anytime soon so I'm settling for red hair.

And it's here where I introduce you to the reason why you can be feminist while still caring about your appearance and preach body positivity while wearing lipstick: self-expression.

Heck, Lady Gaga once wrote a song about hair and self-expression:

Make-up and clothing choices play a large part in how we express our self-identity. When we dress a certain way, we tell the world who we are in a non-verbal way. Do we want to proudly show off our favourite sports teams? A favourite band? Make it clear that you belong to a subculture? That you consider yourself to be a girl girly? That you're queer? Maybe you wear a political badge? Your appearance speaks a thousand words before you open your mouth. And some of us like to actively control the words our appearance makes.

When it comes to my romantic and platonic attraction I am drawn to people whose appearance suggests a certain type of personality. In all genders, I am drawn to stylish geeks and indie kids who aren't too hipster. I know many girls (and boys) who love a man in a suit - but what makes me weak at the knees is a pop culture t-shirt and converse! Plus facial hair! And the last three dudes I've dated/fancied wore glasses! You don't need to be a relationship expert here to work out why these kinds of people draw me in: I am a geek/sort-of-hipster and I'm drawn to people who give off the vibe that they are also a geek/sort-of-hipster.

(Even if you don't consciously consider the messages your appearance gives out, I'm sorry to break it to you: but people still subconsciously look for clues about your personality in your appearance).

Dieting and intense exercising, however, aren't connected to self-expression: it's limiting your food intake and wearing yourself out in order to shrink your body to a certain size (which it's probably not meant to be). That's just unhealthy and you could be causing yourself damage. Food is fuel. It's what your body needs to survive. Yes, you probably shouldn't drink 10 cans of fizzy juice a day, but that doesn't change that your body needs sugar. I would argue that in 90% of cases a calorie controlled diet isn't just unnecessary: it is dangerous. In case you (somehow) never got the memo: people do literally die from diets that get out of hand.

(Calories also only measure the fuel in your food and provide no information on how healthy the food is)

Exercise gets a bit of leeway, as it's only dangerous when it gets out of control. I swim. It's my longest running hobby and is really beneficial to my mental and emotional wellbeing. I love swimming. But I don't do it every day and I know when enough is enough. I listen to my body. And while it is difficult to not pay attention to the slimming effect it has on my body, I try to measure my success by the milestones that have nothing to do with my waistline (time improvement, how many lengths of butterfly I can do etc).

Now it's back to self-expression and why it means a lot to some people (including myself).

If you were to dig out photos to document my life you'll notice something: I yo-yoed between tomboy and girly girl for a lot of my pre-adult life. Growing up I had complicated feelings towards make-up. I was an ugly teenager with spotty skin and squint teeth so for a long time make-up was about looking "better". I would copy make-up exactly the way it was in the magazines rather than finding a look that felt right on my own face. But I also hated that I felt like this and I would enter stages where I'd refuse to wear it. I also wanted to rebel and not conform to societal beauty standards. It also didn't help that very few people in my family express their personalities through their clothing choices (at least consciously). So yes, my teenage rebellion did involve wearing clothes that I knew would piss my parents off.

When I reflect on my shift from a childhood raised in a house where clothes were nothing more than protecting yourself from the elements, to an adult who actively expresses themselves through clothes I notice two time periods when my aesthetic began to align more closely with my personality.

And, make no mistake about it, the two time periods I am referring to were when larger emotional shifts were happening in my life. My changes in physical appearance where the outward visualisation of a deeper shift within myself.

The first was when I was 20. I went through both a platonic and romantic break-up (both on very bad terms) within the space of a few months. And while this was a difficult time period for me, it was also the wake-up call I needed that I was letting people walk all over me and I needed to work on why that was (I go into more detail about that in this post). I began to assert myself in small ways: going vegetarian, moving to Glasgow, starting a blog, not doing hobbies I didn't really enjoy, and (dun dun dun) beginning to dress in a way that I felt more at home in. When you look at pictures of me from before the age of 20 I don't look like the same person. But from the age of 20 onwards, I don't look wildly different from modern-day me. You begin to see some consistency.

The other time period I am referring to is the end of my self-love journey, which was two years ago. Over the years I had begun to make choices for myself without letting other people's opinions affect me. But these were small choices where I slowly took back autonomy of my own life. Two years ago I finally had a break-through where I made two big decisions that were scary and I knew I might get backlash:

  • I removed toxic friends from my life who I went back years with
  • I came out of the closet as bisexual, having known I was bisexual since the start of high school
While I had known intellectually for years that these two decisions would make me a happier person long term, it took me until my mid-20s to burst. When I did burst, years of internal confusion were lifted and I felt like I had been re-born. 

And for the first time ever I felt confident that I knew who I was. And that was shown in my physical appearance. When I sorted out the internal shit, the external shit fell into place. I now knew how I wanted to express myself aesthetically. Turns out, the lack of consistency in my aesthetic appearance was the external expression of a confused person. Deep, I know. 

If you've never gone through a period (or lifetime!) of confusion you might not be able to relate to what I'm saying. That's okay. I'm not here to please you. 

But I know I'm not the only one. I know of at least two other queer women (one bisexual, one gay) who also didn't come out until their mid-20s whose physical appearance changed in the months that followed. One has publically said that they "got comfortable dressing more dykey". For them, they express their queerness through their clothing choices and felt more comfortable doing so once they had accepted the most honest version of themselves. 

But both women became more comfortable dressing tomboy. I was the opposite: I became more comfortable dressing feminine and sorting out my relationship with make-up. Melissa A Fabello (who is incredible and will change your life!) has spoken several times on her identity as a femme queer woman. For her, dressing feminine while being queer is making a powerful statement that bucks the myth about how queer women are supposed to look. It also flies in the face of "women wearing make-up to impress men" because some feminine women aren't even attracted to men! For some of us, wearing make-up is about marking us out as femmes in queer spaces. 

When I came out, being femme became a big part of my self-identity. And I like to convey that in my appearance. 

On the male side of things, I read an interesting anecdote in Football's Coming Out by Neil Beasley. While there is a lack of publicly out footballers for gay fans to look up to, the author writes about the comfort he took in David Beckham. I don't remember a time before Beckham, so what I didn't know was that prior to his career launch (along with his well-styled hair) football was very manly in a toxic way. And even though Beckham is heterosexual, Neil looked up to him as a gay fan because he still helped change the world's perception of footballers as rough manly men. 

Finally, society and the patriarchy mocks typically feminine hobbies. Women's football? Boybands? Chick flicks? Gender pay gap? Stereotypically female careers paying less? Make-up and hair get mocked because they are typically female hobbies. And we love to downplay female hobbies as lesser-than (just look at the way women in sport are treated!). And some feminists lap this up and let society mock beauty YouTubers. Not on. 

But that doesn't mean that make-up and fashion aren't problematic. 

I'm never going to pretend that make-up isn't layered with patriarchal and capitalist bullshit. A lot of women wear make-up - including my teenage self - to look better and hide their faces. If you're struggling to leave the house without make-up (or can't even sit at home alone without wearing it) you might want to sit with yourself about why that is. The same goes if you are copying trends blindly rather than developing a look that works for you. And trying to appear more attractive to someone you fancy (teenage me would wear more make-up on days when I had a class with my crush). Sit with that. 

The beauty industry does feed off insecurity. There's no denying that. One thing that a lot of feminine feminists do (which I could be better at) is buying their make-up from make-up companies that encourage self-expression rather than covering flaws. Some examples of beauty companies that encourage expression in their marketing (and are cruelty-free!) are Illamasqua, Urban Decay, and Barry M. 

And we can't talk about beauty and woman without mentioning The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. While the book is written in a pompous and inaccessible tone, I agree with the general sentiment: women are encouraged to spend so much time on their appearance so that they are distracted and not using their time and money to achieve things and overthrow the patriarchy. Ouch.

Even a well-groomed man who spends a lot of time on his appearance will still not spend as much time as a well-groomed woman. Think about the Beckhams, I'd still bet my monthly salary that Victoria's beauty regime is more time-consuming than David's.

And socio-economics plays a part. Beauty costs money and people with more of it can afford more beauty treatments. There are a lot of beauty treatments I'd love to get that my salary won't stretch to. Remember when Kylie Jenner got lip fillers and told everyone she just sucked a cup? Remember young girls did the same? Because they literally believed that a multi-millionaire achieved those lips without surgery. The same goes for Khloe pretending that her make-over was 100% exercise and diet. Hunny, we know there was surgery involved.

And race. Beauty ideals are white-centric. A black girl using skin whitener is not the same as a white girl using fake tan. One is layered with racism, the other is layered with looking sunkissed. Unless you're using it as an appropriation of ghetto culture, then, in that case, I'll direct you to this article. 

White people: don't get dreads, wear Native American headdresses, or wear a kimono. These things are rich in a culture that is not yours. Sit down. 

My overall point is that yes, the beauty industry is problematic as fuck and really needs to take a good, hard look at itself. But beauty is more than skin deep and can be how people express themselves, tell the world how to read them and give out non-verbal clues as to who they are. 

You don't get to tell people that self-expression is wrong (unless is appropriated). 

Because that is still policing people's bodies, and that's not okay. Especially since it's usually women's bodies, and our bodies are already policied enough as it is. Give us a break. 

Now excuse me, I have a new auburn barnet to show off.
morag | mo adore
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