When I ask myself, “what is your definition of beauty?” the answer seems pretty straightforward. To me, being beautiful is about feeling at home in your own skin and identity. It’s about being confident in yourself as you are at this moment in time and recognising the same in others. It’s about being yourself in every possible way and understanding that there’s nothing wrong with that. Individuality is a great thing! Although human beings are deliciously diverse and the gorgeous array of shapes, sizes, colours, ages and capabilities we come in is visually mesmerising; we are so much more than how we look. Being beautiful is not just about what’s on the outside. Many others don’t share my definition of what beauty is – and that’s ok. We are animals at the end of the day, each of us personally find different things attractive; (hopefully whilst acknowledging that individual traits – both physical and personal – appeal to others and that therefore, everyone is beautiful in their own right.) Just imagine the chaos if everyone chased after the same type of spouse… Unfortunately though, some who hold great power over the masses like to dictate what their notion of what beauty is and should be, creating a culture filled with poisonous comparisons and an obsession with filters. This idea, which, is as claustrophobic as an elephant trying to fit into a bus, has lead to many of us operating under the illusion that the skin (and brain) we were born in isn’t good enough and that we ought to change in order to fit into these stereotypes. Then and only then, can we be deemed beautiful by the almighty. Subsequently making everything that we naturally are, the enemy.
As a woman, the strangulation I encounter (and have done so since I can remember) on an everyday basis from the media and fashion industries to conform to what many have dubbed as the holier-than-thou‘s definition of beauty is paralyzing. I can’t look anywhere without seeing a woman who looks like a stereotypically beautiful woman. In my pre-teens, a “plus-size” model wouldn’t have been taken seriously, let alone actually allowed to grace the glossy pages of magazines. As a young girl who used these publications as a form of escapism from relentless looks based bullying, I had absolutely no one to represent me, no role models. Back then, the only acceptable form of beauty came in the form of tall, slim ladies who were white and generally looked like “women”. Of course, we have come a long way in terms of model diversity since then. Tess Holliday, Ashley Graham and Robyn Lawley (to name but a few) have proved that size, height and race really don’t matter when it comes to being a goddess. I say “long way” but make no mistake – there is still a hell of a lot of work to do. Even in 2015, advertising aimed at women is dominated with physical stereotypes. Big doey eyes, check. Skin completely free from hair, check. Pouting lips, check. Face full of make-up, check. Perfectly styled hair, check. Defined waist, check. It’s the 21st century and we – and the next generation – are still being taught that the most important thing a woman can be is pretty – and – that said prettiness has a very narrow remit.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fairly “girly girl” in terms of appearences. In a lot of ways, I guess you could argue that I look stereotypically feminine. I have what most people would coin as an hourglass figure. I’ve got big boobs, long legs and relatively full lips. (I am absolutely NOT ok with my natural body type and appearance being used to shame other women.) I love make-up, fashion and anything that sparkles. I’m enthralled by vintage fashion in particular and love to find ways to bring modern twists to classics. I love a good high heel given the right occasion (the pain isn’t always worth it) and red lipstick is my soul mate. I see no issue with advocating for self-esteem and the wearing of make-up. I don’t find the two to be contradictory. In my teenage years, I indefinitely used cosmetics as a means of completely changing the way I looked. After years of being taunted, it felt like the only option – the real me wasn’t good enough. I agree that using make-up in this way isn’t great. It’s pretty sad. But I know first hand how it feels to feel trapped inside your own skin. Nowadays though, make-up isn’t a tool to constructing a better me, but an outlet to expressing my creative side and mood. With that in mind, I don’t go about my daily life having spent over an hour putting my slap on, choosing my outfit and co-ordinating my jewellery accordingly. 1. I don’t have the time for that everyday. 2. I could be spending longer in bed. (For me, sleep takes priority over pretty much everything.) 3. I really can’t be bothered and quite simply don’t care enough to be putting in all of this effort every single day. 4. I shouldn’t be pressured to feel like I need to spend hours doing this before going anywhere. 5. I’m the same person who holds the same beliefs whether or not I’m dolled up. What, exactly, is SO offensive about a woman who is casually dressed and bare faced being alive?
I (and many others) am downright bored of this automatic and unquestioned precedent that comes simply with being female that we need to adhere to this positively prehistoric stereotype of how a woman should look. So, not being one to keep my mouth shut about things that annoy me, I decided to take a stand.
When trying to describe a woman’s appearance, one of the first things that many people think of is hair. Long, flowing, silky smooth, “feminine” hair. These days, us ladies are undoubtedly getting braver when it comes to our locks. Movements like effyourbeautystandards and Neon Moon lingerie have empowered us to realise that society’s expectations of women are outdated and that we can style ourselves however we see fit. Many of us choose to rock a side completely shaved and we’re less afraid of a little (or a lot) of colour than we used to be. Whatever the length our locks though, we are expected to have it styled according to the rules and regulations which govern the way a woman ought to appear. And done so in a way that’s not frumpy or dowdy or boring or out of fashion or weird. It apparently comes with the territory of having ovaries to look like you just came from the hairdresser’s 365 days a year. Is there no end to the amount of things a woman has to consider and indeed feel compelled to change before she can be seen to be attractive? Let me ask you something; on how many occasions over the last year have you seen a female model starring in an ad campaign with a bald head? With this idea that “a woman has long hair” and “a man has short hair” comes an exclusion and segregation of those who deal with conditions which cause involuntary hair loss like alopecia, trichotillomania and those going through chemotherapy (to name only a few.) If you were to believe that the mainstream media and fashion industry actually portrayed real life, you would visualise a world where no disabilities exist, men are over 6ft tall with visible muscle definition, women are super slim and very tall and transgender and involuntary hair loss aren’t even things. It makes me physically nauseous when I think about just how many people are under-represented in advertising and fashion. Even more so when I think about a person who has been diagnosed with cancer having a niggling worry at the back of their mind about the loss of their hair – purely because society doesn’t deem it to be attractive.
Let me get this straight; someone who has been diagnosed with a form of cancer not only has to worry whether or not they’re going to make it to next Christmas – but also has to waste their valuable energy fretting about their hair potentially falling out? And why? Because of a complete lack of representation in the media which leads to lack of awareness, juxtaposed to the ever present onslaught of perfect imagery of women with “salon worthy” hair, makes for some bitterly harsh social situations. How is it fair that someone not only has an awful disease like this but can also end up with anxiety or depression due to the stigma which is often associated with baldness on women? Society really needs to take a long hard look at itself and ask how on earth it got to this position, where the critically and potentially terminally ill are STILL reduced to worrying about how they look.
On Tuesday May 19 2015, after around two weeks of fundraising for Cancer Research UK, I shaved my head. My wonderful supporters have (so far) helped me to raise over £550 which I celebrated by giving a big F*CK YOU! to outdated beauty standards for women and buzzing my hair off. I hate to admit it, but when my target of £500 was initially reached, I felt a distinct twinge of fear. A knot in my stomach. Reactions from a few of my friends and family hadn’t been great when I told them that this was something that I wanted to do which put a dampener on my determination and made me question myself. This didn’t last long though, I realised that said fear was stemming from all of the reasons I should and had to do this. Preconceptions of bald women being gay or “weird” for one and all of those unfairly hidden from society who embody conditions which lead to involuntary hair loss for another. It was the most liberating thing I have ever experienced. I felt extremely humbled by the amount of money I had helped to raise for such a worthy cause and empowered to be hopefully showing people that being a woman doesn’t mean conforming to ideals of beauty that none of us asked for. I couldn’t help but feel emotional though. Last year, a member of my immediately family had a cancer scare. Without a doubt, this was the most terrifying time of my life. Although treatments for this scumbag of a disease have advanced markedly, it still has no morals and will take lives regardless of the person’s age, overall health and how much they are loved by others. Fortunately for us, our incident was nothing more than a scare. After what felt like decades of sheer hell, we were given the all clear and the feeling of abyss faded away. Other people are not so lucky. I couldn’t help but think of everyone who has ever been in the awful position of being diagnosed with cancer and feeling compelled to take back control of their own body and shave their head before the chemotherapy made their hair fall out. My heart sank to my feet and I tried with all of my might to hold back the tears.
Since the shave, the response has been amazing. Adjusting to life without hair has been easier than I expected, not that I expected any great difficulties. I love it to be honest. I’m going to save a fortune on conditioner. A few comments I’ve received have made me feel extremely emotional but also very proud of what I’ve done. A lady told me that she had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had been more worried about the loss of her hair but after seeing what I had done, felt less afraid of it. It’s fair to say that my heart didn’t know what was happening to it.
My one and only hope is that I can show at least one person that beauty (and femininity) knows no limits and that being yourself, no matter what that entails is GORGEOUS! You are free to express your feminine side however you see fit, please don’t let anyone try and convince you otherwise!
MASSIVE amounts of love and appreciation to everyone who sponsored me and helped me to sail past my fundraising target for Cancer Research UK. You’re all amazing and I’m so grateful.
Thank you to Carolyn Henry Photography for being there to capture the moment, Lipstick Lashes and Locks for doing the honours, Unique Vintage for sponsoring me my last £200 and for my gorgeous dress, Laura Wells, and Stefania Ferrario for the support and love.