Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other Thursday on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.
I have this giant list of beauty rules stuck in my head. It was implanted there when I was just a little girl, and although a lot of the work was done by this really popular girl in my 6th grade Hebrew School class, American Culture also contributed plenty.
Don’t wear short skirts unless you have long legs. Don’t wear horizontal stripes, you’ll look wider. Wear black, it’s slimming. Don’t wear long dresses unless you have long legs. Moisturize or you’ll get wrinkles. Don’t wear red lipstick if you’re too pale. Stay out of the sun. Get a tan. Don’t wear something low cut unless you have cleavage (you’ll look like a boy in a dress)/ don’t wear something low cut if you have cleavage (you’ll look trashy). Don’t wear anything anyone might consider sexy to work. Don’t wear heels if you’re too tall. Don’t wear flats if you’re too short. Don’t eat too much cake. If your nose is too big, you’re screwed. If you have short legs, your life will be sadder than it might have been.
On and on and on and on forever.
I want to write some new rules. I want to write a whole book of new rules. Maybe an encyclopedia set. But I have to start somewhere, so:
1. Wear your favorite colors. Why? Because they’re pretty and say something cool about you. If you love yellow, you should wear it. Even if your mom once said that no one could look good in yellow. Maybe yellow is your trademark color. Maybe it’s your thing. Maybe when you’re famous your album will be “The Yellow Album.” Would you want to miss out on that?
2. Try out different haircuts and styles, regardless of what a magazine told you about the shape of your face. Because you never know. I cut all my hair off and my grandma keeps telling me, “Only someone with a face like yours could pull this off” and I keep saying, “Grandma, if I can pull this off, anyone can.” And she keeps saying, “No, you’re lucky you have such a nice face, my wonderful, talented granddaughter.” But this isn’t about my grandma. I learned long ago that my face was totally wrong for short hair. It was the kind of face that required lots of hair, to hide it. And it turns out, that was wrong. Or it wasn’t wrong, but I just don’t care anymore. Which is even better.
3. Rock a bikini at any weight. It is not up to you to impress everyone on the beach or at the pool. In fact, it’s not your civic duty to impress anyone with your appearance, period. And one-pieces are so weird and stretchy. Or maybe I just have an extra long torso. In any case, the takeaway is: wear whatever you want to go swimming. Don’t ever let your body prevent you from being in some delicious, refreshing turquoise water/the muddy Atlantic at the Jersey shore. It’s still the ocean. It still feels great.
4. Don’t buy it just because it’s really nice or it looks awesome on other people. I have been trying to wear skinny jeans for like two years now. Ever since they became a thing, and every girl in the world started wearing them. Especially since they started coming in candy red and electric blue and everyone’s legs looked like poisonous, exotic jungle creatures. But guess what? Skinny jeans still don’t work for me. I mean, I physically cannot get them past my thighs, for one thing. For another thing, even if I could, they make me look like I’m in a circus. And not like the circus where Britney Spears as the ringleader. Definitely more of a sideshow involving juggling. This seems fairly obvious, but never actually is when you’re standing in the store. Even if it’s fabulous and trendy, it might not be your thing. Your thing might still be bellbottoms. So wear them! You’ll stand out.
5. You can’t be too matchy or too clashy. You can only be brave enough to rock it or not. It’s true. Seriously.
6. Only use beauty products that actually give you some sort of good result. There are so many facial creams and cleansers and bases and potions and slimes and scrubs and magical spells, and they all claim to do something really important. Chances are, they don’t, actually. I know, because I don’t use ANYTHING on my face, and I’m still alive, and my skin is just, you know, skin. It seems to be staying on and looking alright. Which is not to say that some of those potions don’t work. But it’s really easy to start thinking that you HAVE to keep spending money on gunk to put on your face and legs and hands and hair, or else you will not be presentable or baby-butt soft or something. Instead of spending the $50,000 a year—or whatever horrifyingly high amount it is—that women spend on cosmetics, maybe just spend a solid week deciphering what actually does something you like, and then use that. Or try not wearing any of it, and see what happens.
7. Go dancing. Alternatively, dance in your apartment alone. This can lead to some of the best moves. Don’t look at yourself in the mirror while you dance, just do it. It feels pretty sexy. You can tell you’re hot, without seeing, because dancing is hot. I think it’s important to learn to feel beautiful separately from trying to look beautiful. Your body isn’t just a surface, it’s a complicated, working, surprisingly graceful, strong machine. And even though my dancing might look a little like a monkey trying to catch a pesky fly, that still takes quite a bit of fantastically automatic coordination. It’s awesome.
8. Look in the mirror and tell yourself what you like. There is something you like there, seriously. There is probably more than just one thing that you like. Maybe there are ten or even twenty things you like. You might look like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, but if you don’t think you’re pretty enough, you’re still missing out. Beauty isn’t just what Maxim thinks of you, it’s what you think of yourself. You have to go through life in this body, and it would be a whole lot better if you could have fun doing that. So get to know the stuff that makes you lovely, not just the stuff that is totally destroying any chance you might have otherwise had to be the lead backup dancer in a music video about strippers in a club who make their booties do mythical things.
9. Eat the damn cake. Dessert is an incredible gift, I think probably from God, but possibly from some sort of unseen but ubiquitous bakers’ union. When you turn down dessert in the hopes that one day you will lose the weight that you think is preventing you from finally feeling good about your appearance, you’re only accomplishing one thing: no delicious dessert. Food has been transformed from pure joy to guilt. It’s so tragic, I can’t even begin. So I’ll just say this: that piece of cake has nothing to do with the way you look. It’s just a piece of cake. Enjoy it.
10. Exercise to feel good, not to look good. Exercise is important because it enables you to do things like walk up stairs and lift boxes full of random stuff and catch your train without feeling like you’re going to die. But exercise has become, for so many people I know, all about beauty. Which makes it seem really stressful. People who think this way seem to think that if you’re not exercising, it’s basically like you’re letting yourself devolve into an enormous blob, congealed on a stained sofa, with a TV remote embedded in its blob hand. It’s basically like signing a contract that says no one is ever allowed to love or find you sexy again. It’s basically like getting a forehead tattoo that says “FAILURE.” But none of this is true, it just really sucks to think it is. So don’t be like that. Exercise in a way that you actually like, because it feels good to be stronger than you were. I suggest some sort of game that involves running around looking hopelessly dorky. Maybe join one of those quidditch leagues where everyone dresses in Harry Potter costumes and pretends to ride broomsticks. And tons of walking, because it’s practical and easy. And maybe occasional yoga (check the crotch of your pants for holes first, though, please, and avoid a very awkward situation I recently found myself in).
11. Laugh. Even ridiculous laughs are kind of adorable. Or at least hilarious. And then there’s more laughter. And laughter is a beautiful thing.