Let’s get this out of the way. I think Western beauty standards and beauty standards in general are ridiculous and bring out the worst in our species.
Okay, now I can talk about my religious devotion to them. Call it a way to channel nebulous anxiety into something tangible. Call it a way to siphon obsessive tendencies into something relatively harmless. Call it vain. Call it whatever helps you process it, but over the past few months, I’ve developed a pretty meticulous beauty routine.
Going from a depressive never wearing makeup, never brushing my hair mentality to a hypomanic or mixed MUST BE PRESENTABLE one kind of shocked me at first. Why do I suddenly care how I look? I used to wear my pajamas to class. Now I wear pants with actual buttons and zippers and jewelry. Like wut?
The reasons are different depending on whether my hypomania is euphoric or dysphoric though. It’s a really interesting thing to track from the outside, but when I’m in the midst of it, it’s confusing and annoying. Euphoric me pays attention to beauty standards because I become a raging narcissist. Dysphoric me, on the other hand, is just trying to get a hold on her agitation and obsession.
There’s some odd release that stems from being able to look in the mirror and say, “okay, I look like nothing is wrong with me.” Like, maybe my outer appearance will seep into my insides through osmosis or something. Or maybe if I look normal, people will ignore all the shit I write about on this blog and forget I admitted to having a mental illness in the first place. If I can assert dominance over how I present myself to others, maybe I can assert dominance over my brain. Except I can’t. It just becomes another obsession I can’t appease.
All the energy I expend to appear highly functioning is exactly what makes me anything but. If anything, it probably makes me look more standoffish and uptight. My fear of rejection forces me to keep people at arm’s length because I feel annoying if I’m the first one to express genuine interest even if we’ve been friends for ages.
I tend to use social media as a channel for reminding people I exist without enduring pressures of actual contact with anyone. If I experience rejection (i.e., no likes), I can just delete my post. Interaction without risk, however, isn’t really interaction. Also, though I’m hypercritical of how social media makes us unhealthily image-conscious, it is my ultimate façade. I’m addicted to how I look. It’s gross and awful, but I don’t know how to stop. I know I’m not the only one either.
Sure, there are some societal forces to blame: advertisements that try to exploit women’s insecurities under the guise of being empowering, one-size-fits-all images of what’s beautiful thrown in our faces constantly, and beauty tutorials galore and fitspo being legitimized as worthwhile pursuits. But they surely aren’t the sole culprits of why I now have to meet with a nutritionist.
Leave it to mental illness to make even healthy pursuits unhealthy. That’s why I can’t get involved in yoga, wellness, clean eating, or any other form of self-care. I either judge myself for not doing it correctly or I get addicted to how much better I think I look even though most people really can’t tell a difference.
I am also terrified (italics for emphasis. EMPHASIS.) of being seen as vain or materialistic. Like, that goes against basically every principled bone left in my body. But I know I’m not the only girl who feels forced to walk the boundary of looking immaculate but acting like it was ~ super chill ~ and effortless and #nofilter and #iwokeuplikethis.
It’s frustrating to be a slave to something that contradicts my principles so profoundly. It’s definitely cognitive dissonance to the max. Being aware of everything I put in my mouth, how shiny my face is, and the frizz-level of my hair (usually pretty high) is exhausting, and for what? What is all that energy expenditure really accomplishing? Well, for me, it offers a bullshit distraction from – you guessed it – MORTALITY. FUCK MORTALITY FOR MAKING ME AN UNPRINCIPLED, HYPOCRITICAL, VAIN BITCH. But when the void swallows me, at least I will look camera-ready.
I spend countless hours obsessing over how someone I won’t even see would think I look if he/she saw me because otherwise, I will go down some panic-stricken, nihilistic rabbit hole, and I’m afraid if I do that again, I won’t reemerge. Makeup and hair products help keep my head above futility-infested water. Yes, what I’m doing is still ultimately futile, but at least I don’t have to think about that in the midst of my rituals. And at least I can take a cute selfie afterward to assert my right to take up space in the world – rather, netosphere, which is as good as the real world at this point.
Typing all this out makes me sad. I don’t know why, but I feel like I need to throw that out there. Obsessing over how I look doesn’t turn me into a Stepford Wife. Deep down, I know what I’m doing (distracting myself from apathy), and I possibly even know why I’m doing it (fear of rejection). The mixture of hypomanic energy and social anxiety is the perfect recipe to erase the notion that I have any good qualities to offer outside of how I look and how other people perceive me. Obviously, I objectively know this is untrue, but in front of the mirror, it doesn’t quite compute.
Even the need to reassure everyone that I’m not fishing for compliments stems from all this. Like, why can’t I talk about the unhealthy things I do without feeling like I need to subsequently apologize? By sheer virtue of Internet strangers’ responses to what I write, I know I’m not the only one who experiences these things. Anyway, I don’t think I can offer any advice beyond the unhelpful platitude that people really aren’t paying attention to how other people look. That seems like an odd place to end this, but whatever. It’s exhausting to write about how it’s possible to turn every healthy activity into something soul sucking. Maybe this is about learning to trust ourselves more than anything. Trust that it’s possible to do things in moderation even if we struggle with it now.
Idea bank: “Moderation Is What We Aim For” is a great blog name.
Okay on that note, I’m out.