Mesmerizing Indeed. Or Just Plain Fucked Up

Do you like the way you look? If the answer is yes I envy and admire you. I’ll tell you what, I really don’t. Like the way I look. I mean, I like the way YOU look. I love looking at people, think a wide range of them are attractive and interesting and fascinating. But I think I look like ass. Now, that is due in no small part to my anxiety disorder. Obsessive self loathing was a major manifestation of my breakdown a decade ago, the kind that is so encompassing it is its own form of narcissism. But if I put all that aside for a moment I still don’t care for my looks, I don’t come anywhere near meeting the ridiculous benchmark set for feminine beauty in our society.

In the most cowardly way possible I was relieved not to have daughters. To those of you raising them, I salute you. I do. I think it is infinitely easier to raise men to respect women than it is to raise women to respect themselves. Because no matter what you do at home those girls will see what our society values in a woman every time they look at a magazine or go to the movies or see a bilbord or go shopping. The message is unrelenting and pervasive. Unless you lock your daughter in her room forever she will see that beauty means light and flawless skin, a size zero yet still toned figure, tasteful makeup, blown out hair.

A lot of my favorite women in the world are raising girls. And those girls are in terrific hands. My friends are thoughtful and deliberate with how they discuss physical appearance. Several of them have told me they no longer criticize their own appearance out loud. Not because they are suddenly at peace with how they look, rather they refuse to let their daughters hear it. But even with positive body image modeled at home my mom friends tell me stories about their girls that horrify me, make me want to weep and pound my fists.

A four year old I know told her mom she wanted a flat stomach like one of the Princesses. She worries out loud that she is fat. Four. She is four. She is lovely and caring and kind. And already she thinks she isn’t enough. T will probably never worry about his weight out loud to me. He doesn’t have to. His childhood heros will not have a whiff of sexuality about them. He won’t have to worry about having the right hair, or makeup, or high heals to be like Luke Skywalker.

This morning a gal that I went to college with posted a link on her FB page to a story in Buzzfeed-17 Mesmerizing Before & After Photoshop GIFs, all stars, all women. I keep going back to look at it again and again. It really is mesmerizing, the flesh being cut away-from the thighs, the upper arms, the midsections, the asses. The skin resurfaced into plastic. The take away is that even Beyonce isn’t as beautiful as Beyonce. How do you have any chance at being perceived as attractive? How does your daughter?

As Z and I stared at the computer screen I murmured to him, “Every girl in America should have to look at this.” “No,” he corrected me, “Every person in America. Then all fashion magazines should be burned.” It would seem he’s even more riled up about it than I am.

Time for a little uncomfortable honestly. I’m a total hypocrite. An instagraming fool. Almost every photo I post of myself on the internet has gone through a filter in the hopes of magically making me look better. It’s just a filter, I think. At least I’m not reshaping my body. But if that option existed in the app I bet I’d capitulate and do it. I’m that insecure.

I decide to take my picture once and use whatever the camera saw for this post. I’m not perfect (duh). I’m not conventionally beautiful. But I need to be enough for myself. Enough to model some confidence for my boys and my nieces and the girls of my dear friends. I’m not there yet, but I vow to try.

k bathroom


So here I am without the safety of a filter. Forehead wrinkles and all. Sitting on the can. Because it felt appropriate and it cracked me up. You should take and post a picture of yourself as well. The toilet part is totally optional. I’d love to look at you as you really are.



31 thoughts on “Mesmerizing Indeed. Or Just Plain Fucked Up

  1. Karen, I do focus groups to make extra money and I did one recently on make-up, moisturizer and they needed someone who didn’t wear make-up. When I called in, the incredulity in the woman’s voice was palpable. “No make-up?” she asked. “None at all?” The, “Why in the world would you not wear make-up” in her voice didn’t need to be said, I could hear it all the same. I’ve said out loud before, and on FB, everything is special effects. And people think it’s real. I’ve sat down and shown my kids monster make-up, to show them how the Mad Hatter is really just Johnny Depp and weeping angels are really skinny teenage girls, not statues who could kill you. Sadly, everything else is special effects too. I let her buy Barbie books, but only with the preface that “no one could really look like this.” And I repeat it to her frequently.

    Check out the “Smart Girls Are Fun” by Amy Poehler if you have a minute. Pretty fun. And if I could attatch a picture on here, I would, but

    • Perhaps I was a bit too fatalistic, I know so many Moms do great work surrounding this issue. It is frustrating that outside the home there is a very loud message that is the complete opposite of what they learn at home.

  2. Oh hell no. I am not posting a picture that hasn’t been done in the correct lighting and/or filtered through instagram. I am way to vain for that.

  3. I often start off reading the titles and 10 line snippets of the posts with a…can I be honest? – somehow I feel you will hear my statement – “Oh man, really??? For real?? K has amazing ‘everything’ in her life, including being beautiful, and what is all this about!” And then I inevitably read on
    because I love how you create. It always turns me on my ear…and systematically turns out to be an exercise in humility and perspective.
    I love you K. There will never be a time when I am not left with a new perspective and something to generate out into the world.

    Thanks. xo

    • You know what, L? I do hear you. Wanna hear something funny? I think you have amazing “everything” as well. You ran a marathon for christ’s sake. You decided you wanted to be a masseuse so you enrolled in school. You desire something and you do it! That is rare and amazing. I envy you for your courage. Grass is always greener, you know?

      And thank you. Your comment really made my day. Because of the self image issues every time my the cursor hovers over the “publish” button I wonder if I am making a fool out of myself for doing this. So thank you. You made me feel good today.

      I love you right back.

  4. I agree with you 100%. In fact., I don’t like it when women wear make up. I think its fake and I prefer natural beauty.

    The standards that society sets for every one today are just superficial and often unattainable for most people.

    As for your insecurities, they are totally unfounded.

    • The hope is there are enough men being raised that have views similar to your own. The unattainable bit is the problem–how does any girl form positive self esteem when she is constantly told by society that she won’t be enough? I know that is part of the reason I think so little of myself. And thank you, you are very generous. I’m battling more than two decades of mental illness. I’m sure it looks like I am desperately fishing for compliments. I’m really very sorry about that. But I don’t know how to express my struggles with self image without that happening.

      • I’ve battled depression since I was 13, so I’m somewhat aware of what you are going through. Kind of. Maybe.

        As for the unattainable standards, somehow you’ve got to make yourself recognize that they are unattainable and that you don’t really need to attain them. What’s the purpose? What good does it do? What are you doing to your insides, your personality, who you are, by sacrificing so much for your outsides?

        Just be you. Go with the style YOU like. Do what makes you happy, not what society says will make you happy. That’s what matters.

        And remember, every photo you see in a magazine while you’re waiting for that pokey cashier to ring up your groceries is touched up by photoshop and isn’t even real.

      • So sorry to hear about your battles with depression. I get it, man. Seriously.

        And I hear what you are saying, I do. I wish it was a mind over matter issue. I think that after a lifetime of receiving the message from media, at school, even from the government (hello no ERA or letting the Violence Against Women Act expire!) that the message is absorbed into our bones. It is part of who we are as American Women. We can’t just turn it off, although we can do the hard work to struggle against it.

        Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know what you think. I truly appreciate it.

      • Well, if there’s anything I can do, such as helping spread that message or whatever, let me know. I’d be more than happy as this is something that needs to be corrected.

      • Oh, it sound to me like you already are just by participating in the discussion. Not that my little blog is part of a grand revolution by any stretch of the imagination, but as long as people are talking about this stuff I think it makes a difference.

  5. I could probably count on one hand (maybe two) the total number of times I have worn lipstick. I have one eye shadow a tiny bit more often, but I really almost never wear anything but the occasional mascara. I never learned how to put makeup on without looking or feeling fake. We have a firm no Barbie policy at our house and always have. Self esteem for girls is remarkably hard, but when it works, those girls are amazing.

    • M-I have no doubt that your two wonderful girls will have self esteem. For that matter, the boys will as well. They have some of the best parents I know.

      And I’m with you about the makeup. I never learned how to put it on properly either.

  6. I may not have had my mom for very long, but I’m forever grateful for one thing I clearly remember her telling me as I sat watching her put on eyeliner for a Saturday night date with my dad: “Honey, if you’re ever afraid to go out of the house without makeup, you’re doing it wrong.”

    This is also a woman who truly thought makeup and hair and clothes and such were fun. I wish more people had her attitude — enjoy it for the costuming it is, but don’t rely on it. She ran out of the house all the time with nothing more than a quick hair fluff and Chapstick. But she could also do it up like whoa whenever she wanted. And she was beautiful both ways.

    If she gave me one gift, it was that holistic perspective. I wish I had a daughter to pass it on to, but hey. I’ll take what I’ve got.

    • Stacey Red, you would rock as the parent of a gal. But your sweet boy is lucky to have you.

      You know what? I agree with you about the reveling in the fun of dressing up. It can be healthy when one’s attitude is right. I wish it was for me, but my crippling lack of self confidence always made me fee like a fraud. I’m so glad you learned that lesson from your Mom. I know she would be incredibly proud of the woman you have become. xoxo

  7. Hi,
    What a beautiful and honest post. It hurts me a lot when and read about or see young girls worrying over their physical appearance. It’s very sad. I read somewhere that girls as young as 7 are being treated in clinics for eating disorders in the UK. The age has never been so young before. And you talk about a 4-year-old worrying about being to fat. It’s outrageous when you think about it. There are so many damaging ideals in society, particularly for girls.

    When you grow up, you internalise all these ideals, and they are very difficult to get rid off. As women, we have grown up learning to hate ourselves for how we look. If we’re not too fat, we’re too skinny. It our tits are not too small, they’re too big. If we don’t wear enough make-up and look unfeminine, we wear too much make-up and look slutty. There is just no way to be OK if you’re a women. You will never be enough in the eyes of the beauty industry, because they make money on your insecurities.

    twindaddy said that women’s insecurities are unfounded. They are really not. They are constantly fuelled by the beauty industry, the popular media, Hollywood, the entertainment industry and social norms. So what I just want to say to you, Uncomfortably Honest (I don’t know you name), and all other women who may feel like this:
    It is OK to be insecure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your feelings. They are perfectly natural, given the circumstances. Growing up under the pressure put on young women in our society is enough to drive anyone mad, and foster lifelong struggles with insecurities and self-loathing. We can learn how to love ourselves and appreciate ourselves, but we must never blame ourselves for feeling insecure. I’m a strongly self-identified feminist and I know theoretically that my body is my own and not anyone else’s to judge, but I struggle too. Every damned day. And that is a feeling that must be OK. That’s how we’re brought up.

    I think what we can do to help ourselves and young girls are really to present alternative narratives. We have to tell ourselves and others another story than: “You must be thin and beautiful, you must alter you body, you must look good in other people’s eyes, otherwise you’re no one.” There is another truth and we must help to bring it into light.

    • Thank you so much for a such a thoughtful comment. I agree with you. There isn’t a way to “do it right”. We are too much or too little no matter what choice we make as women.

      I wish it was as easy as realizing our insecurities were unfounded. But you are right, there a lifetime of baggage can’t be dismissed because our brains know societies expectations are impossible.

      Hopefully we will be successful in teaching the next generation the alternative narrative.

      Thank you again for giving me a lot to think about.

      Oh, and my name is Karen. Pleased to meet you.

  8. Hmmm. I’d intended to finish some grad school homework tonight. But then I stumbled upon your blog… and, well, homework will just have to wait ’til tomorrow now. 🙂

    I love your blog, and I love the subject you chose for this post. You are absolutely correct – it is a twisted society we live in when faux-beauty and superficiality are rewarded over “realness”. For the record, YOU are cute as a button… and talented as hell to boot!

    Keep up the good work… I look forward to reading more of your observations.

    • Sorry that I took you away from homework! If it makes you feel better I have my own that I’ve managed to avoid all weekend!

      Thanks for reading. I really do appreciate it. Will try and keep posting things worth your time! Not sure I’ll be able-I do talk about poop an awful lot….

  9. Meanwhile, I have thought you were lovely since first, ever, I saw your picture. Whatever conventionally beautiful is (Truly? Does it exist? Even “certified beautiful” celebrities endure volumes of criticism from trolls who deem them repulsive) – it seems to be a migrating target.

    My husband is fond of saying, “Either you keep moving to new houses, or you learn how to lock your doors.” If boundaries, standards, come from outside – where any wind of opinion can shove us here, there, or anywhere…

    The most beautiful people I know, or ever have known, care very little for the Rules Of Attractiveness. They remain Themselves.

    Photoshop the whole world and my head will not turn. But write as you write, and I will follow your thoughts for years

    even though I have never
    had the pleasure
    of meeting

    Hail the Unhonest!

    As Ever,

    I very much like

    its Writer.

    xo CiM

    • Cathy in Missouri! You know, I worried about you finding the new blog, which is silly. The move was very clear. But as the first person who I don’t know in real life who started commenting I was worried that I didn’t know how to reach out to you personally. Glad you are here.

      And thanks. Your compliments are very kind. Hope you are doing well!

  10. Loved this post so much. My daughter is only 10 months old so when she looks at pictures of herself and her reflection in the mirror, she is delighted. She loves what she sees and giggles and smiles. The aim is for her to always feel this way. Never suck her stomach in. Never feel the need to condemn herself for things that don’t matter. It’s a lofty goal, but like you said, the first thing I can do is never condemn my own appearance in her presence. It’s just not worth it.

    • Oh man, I just love that your daughter is delighted by her reflection. I wish you luck in teaching her that she rocks. And I especially hope she never sucks in her stomach. I cringe when I think about how much time I’ve wasted doing that!

  11. Thanks for your, once again, wonderful and thoughtful post, and having the courage to post your picture as you are.

    I don’t think it’s cowardly to be relieved not to have daughters. I had a very strong sense that my first would be a boy. If someone would have told me I would have had a girl, I might have waited several years until I had the emotional maturity to raise one well or at the very least the process would have been much more (even more) anxiety-ridden. I also have a feeling my second will be a girl. I’m still not emotionally mature enough to raise a girl so I’m waiting. It is incredibly difficult to raise girls well considering the social context we live in, which is as much created and upheld by men as it is by women.

    Then—you are really gorgeous! There is something about your face that is real, natural, beautiful, fresh and pure. You don’t need make-up or filters. I might not be able to convince you on this, but if I may be so cocky, I really believe I have good taste! Ha!

    Last thing—I’m reading this book that I’m totally and absolutely, head-over-heels loving and I think you might too. I recommended it to Sarah T. who is also blown away by it. It’s called “Tiny, Beautiful Things” by Cheryl Strayed.

    It speaks to the better part in all of us, the stronger part, the more brave part, while acknowledging the struggle to reach it. I think you’ll like it.

    Thanks again for your post!

    • Well if the lovely Sarah T likes it I’ll totally check it out! Thank you for the recommendation. And for your encouraging words.

      Yes, for me not wanting a girl has to do with the fact that I don’t think I’m good enough to raise one correctly. I think I’d botch it up and damage her terribly.

      It’s so interesting that you had such a strong feeling about your son being a son. When you decide the time is right I look forward to seeing pictures of your daughter to be on FB. And after spending so much time examining how you want to parent a girl I bet you knock it out of the park.

  12. Pingback: Dinner Party | Uncomfortably Honest and Honestly Uncomfortable

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