Phoebe Baker Hyde, the author of The Beauty Experiment: how I skipped lipstick, ditched fashion, faced the world without concealer and learned to love the real me, is a courageous woman.
When TLC Book tours gifted me with the opportunity to take part in “The Beauty Experiment” I instantly chose the option of writing a timeline of my inner voice in regards to my looks throughout my life and how it has impacted my feelings of self-worth.
Having spent many years listening to my ever-so-critical inner-voice, we are well acquainted, and this is one instance where my memory doesn’t fail me.
Phoebe baker Hyde however, had more on her plate than a simple blog post and a trip down memory lane. She decided that she would give up all of the trappings of the modern woman in regards to beauty of over a year.
No makeup, concealer, mascara nor fatigue hiding foundation. No new clothes, no hair products, no salon cuts, (unless you count a trip to a Hong Kong barber to have her long locks cut short like a man) and no jewellery.
She decided to see what life was like without these things while living in a city where it seems this would be considered a monumental act of rebellion. Apparently women in Hong Kong would never dream of going to the grocery store without being more dressed up and made up than I would for an important job interview.
At first I thought to myself. “I did that years ago!” I have long ago become very comfortable with my own reflection sans cosmetics that just tend to run down my face as my eyes tear every time I step outside in my frozen, windy world.
Then I considered a day without hair product and realized that I have little in the way of beauty courage. My fine curly mane, which untreated is equivalent to a head full of flying spider webs doesn’t live naked. And I couldn’t shave my head no matter how often I’ve threatened to do so.
I lack the courage of this author.
That said, I have finally developed a healthy relationship with myself and I have long given up measuring my self-worth by what I see in the mirror. It wasn’t always this way, and looking back I can see the truth plain as day. As Phoebe Baker Hyde writes so eloquently:
Good hair days, bad hair days: maybe less about the hair than the head underneath.
Me at age 3:
I can remember my very first moment in life when I became aware that how I looked mattered to me, and quite frankly I believe it was the first of many times that I felt somehow less than and that I didn’t measure up.
I was just 3 yrs old, when my first hair cut. (I barely had the ability to grow real hair until I was about 10). But after my grandmother, Grace, who had absolutely no talent for hair cutting, decided to help my parents out by saving them a trip to a salon. I ended up in the hair dressers chair much sooner than planned.
Apparently there was little left to work with once Grace had practiced her art, so the only option was a short pixie cut. I can remember the moment I saw myself for the first time. The adults in the room were crooning over how pretty I looked, but when I was held up to the mirror to see what I saw wasn’t me. The picture that I had of myself had changed and I didn’t recognize this short-haired stranger. I burst into tears.
3 yr olds don’t have the longest of attention spans, (quite frankly I don’t have a very long one over 40 years later) and I had yet to learn how to be consumed with my appearance so I learned to live with my new hair. That is until a neighbourhood boy informed me that I was also a boy because I had boy-hair and girls aren’t supposed to look like that. I think this might have been the first time in my life that I resented my parents. Fortunately, that didn’t last.
By this age, fitting in was incredibly important and I had more than proven my lack of talent for it. I was not obsessed with my looks but I believe this was probably the age where I started to consider that maybe if I were prettier things might be better. It was inevitable that I would explore this for some time as I attempted to untangle the unsolvable mystery of why I just didn’t seem to “belong”. My inner voice, (whom I later came to call Dexter) and I had a reasonable relationship at that age. Dexter had yet to learn how to abuse me.
Jr. High/Middle School:
This is often where we first start to build our relationship with that voice. I can remember feeling so small and “less than” my peers as I was tiny and very slow to grow… praying for puberty so that I could be like those around me.
I can remember feeling dwarfed as my female class-mates shot up to the sky, developed hips and breasts while I remained stuck in the body of a child. It was, (thank goodness) the only time that I felt small because I was small, due primarily to Dexter’s incessant need to compare everyone around me and point out the differences.
By this time, I was actually starting to show signs that I might become a grown-up. My first week of Grade 9 we were measured in gym class and I can distinctly remember the feeling of relief when my gym teacher informed me that I was 5’ tall. I had feared (and not unreasonably) that I would never get there.
Later, as I matured, I did add a few inches to become something near average, though I will always have a tiny frame that is shaped more like an average 12 yr old. I have come to see this as a blessing… but that took another 20 years.
My final 3 yrs of school were the years where I really cared about what I presented to the world. I was a vocational student, taking half-day courses in Fashion Design, learning how to create the clothing that I saw in magazines, or my own head and being both talented and driven, I had few limits. It was a fun world of creative exploration while I found out who I was.
Dexter however was always there suggesting that I was still, and would always be, less than in some way. Too skinny, too flat-chested, too acne-prone, too different…
Not being a carbon-copy of everyone around me was a problem for my critical nemesis. Dexter had got it into his brain somehow, that who I was had to change…
This is the part of my life where I was extremely busy postponing my inevitable nervous breakdown. This is such hard work I would recommend skipping the postponement and just going for the breakdown.
This is where Dexter became the ruler of my Universe. My abuser, my jailer, and, my greatest liability. I fed him daily by believing that he was truth, and that if he beat me down enough I would finally straighten up. I had a life-time of “not fitting in” as evidence to prove that everything that Dexter had to say was necessary and true.
Dexter abused me as punishment for my many failures, reminded me constantly of all of my flaws and kept me awake at night with a litany of my sins among which were not being able to get it together enough to look like something in a magazine. Every time I looked in a mirror what I saw was not myself, but my failure as a human being.
Finally, I could postpone no more. I had starved myself down to 92 lbs, not out of fear of getting fat, but because I believed I was so worthless that I didn’t deserve food. Mirrors were avoided… I developed the ability to walk past them without even registering what I was seeing and when I failed at that and saw my mal-nourished, exhausted and over-worked body staring back at me, it looked and felt something like this:
All I can say is thank God for excellent therapists…
My much healthier 30s:
I had finally come to recognize Dexter for who he was. I now knew that he was a master of lies, and just because he spoke, it didn’t mean I had to listen or worse yet, believe.
I had become healthier in all ways, and what I saw in the mirror no longer upset me.
I became rather determined not to let my looks define my self-worth.
It was at this point that I started to fully understand the truth of my physical appearance: I am actually, in my own unique way, beautiful… and I knew that it didn’t matter.
I knew that what I believed about myself held far more weight than the package of a tiny body, dark curly hair and bright-green eyes ever had, as they had gained me nothing when I didn’t believe that they had any value.
Since I have a habit of being more interested in work than in standing in front of a mirror for myself, I learned then to feel confident without makeup worry more about dressing others, (this was my job) and myself if I had the energy. I had finally recognized that the shell that I call my body, is just that and I have learned to be grateful simply to have it and give up any notion of how it measures against anyone or anything.
40 and fabulous, in my own sloppy way.
I’ll be honest. I still find myself wishing that I could organize myself to dress better, wear a little more makeup and have more good hair days, but I realize, that this is just a story that plays quietly in the background that has little consequence. I’m just not that woman who will spend much time prepping to get out of the door and I’m fine with that. In fact, I’m fine with me.
Dexter doesn’t hang around anymore having run out of fuel since I don’t listen to him and I am far more interested in cultivating inner-beauty by adding compassion and value to the world I find myself in.
People have often suggested that this place where I live now is easy for me: After all, “you’re thin and pretty”. Let’s face it, is this not the ideal that women are to strive for?
To this statement I have one response:
Yes, I am thin and some people think I’m fairly pretty. But, I was once young and thin and pretty and hated myself to such levels that I saw a monster in the mirror and believed that was who I was…
It is not the hair, but the head…
Thank you Phoebe Baker-Hyde for your courage, and your fabulous book, and thank you to TLC Book Tours for asking me to take part in this tour!