Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.
~ Baz Luhrmann
I bought my first beauty magazine — an issue of Teen — in 1989, the summer before ninth grade. It was time, I understood, to graduate from Teen Beat and Bop and learn how to be a proper and desirable woman of society. And thank goodness, because there was a lot I didn’t know. It was the ’80s, and I was 13, so bright colors, layered pink, yellow, and peacock-blue eyeshadow, and frosted lips all just made a lot of sense, and I naively assumed that’s how things would stay.
But apparently, a new era was coming, and my look was all wrong. I had exactly two months to transform myself into a jewel-toned person who wore rich plums and browns. It was also very important for me to acquire gold floral vests that looked like my godmother’s curtains. In addition, I would be needing long skirts and boots.
It was time, also, to take down the bangs. No longer could they stand at attention inches above my forehead; the Fall look was to have thick straight bangs and long hair. I was pretty much screwed, because not only do I not have thick hair, but this was also the Summer of The Touch of Sun + Ogilvie Debacle. My hair resembled the tufts of straw coming out of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. It was just sort of awkwardly holding on for dear life, and really did not seem to appreciate the straightening iron on top of all the other indignities it had suffered that year.
I’m not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed that I do not have my ninth grade yearbook photo available for your viewing pleasure at this exact moment. So I will describe: In my determination to follow Teen’s instructions, I wore the shiny gold curtain vest that accented the Crayola loveliness of my hair, not to mention a high-necked blouse with pearl buttons and puffed sleeves. And I think I was going for soft and demure, style-wise, but my hair more resembled a pissed-off canary. And to top it all off, my smile is really stupid and weird, and I was at this awkward in-between place where my body responded to the transition to womanhood by piling on a bunch of awkward new baby fat.
All in all, it was not a pretty picture, literally or figuratively.
I read beauty magazines on and off until about 2006. Once I got too old for Teen, I moved on to Cosmopolitan and Glamour. And it was just terrible. Teen focused a lot on looks, but it was also fun and upbeat, and featured short stories by its writers, and had a lot of articles on helping girls with various teen issues, some very serious. And the models, though of course beautiful and slim, looked healthy and like they were having a lot of fun.
I didn’t like the older magazines. They made me nervous. Part of that could definitely be that I was pretty straight edge and virginal in my college years, and was not prepared for all the talk of sex and “orgasms.”
But it wasn’t just that. The models seemed substantially skinnier, more uniform, and a little too glowery for my personal taste. Everything just felt so serious. The fashion seemed faded in spirit, compared to the fun clothes in Teen. But Glamour, et al. were telling me that this was the next step — what I was supposed to do now that I was An Adult: Find a smart looking beige skirt and pay a lot of money for a plain looking bag big enough to fit exactly one lipstick.
Somewhere along the line, I just stopped bothering with magazines that weren’t Entertainment Weekly. But in 2006, I got back into the habit of reading the beauty magazines. I was feeling pretty insecure about my body and in a weird, friend-of-Taffy-Sinclair-whose-name-I-forget way, I think I thought having pictures of lovely women in my bathroom would make me seem glamorous by association. Like, I’d buy the mags and get re-invigorated with yay, fashion ambition! But after awhile, I’d start to get anxious, because not only didn’t I measure up, I kind of really didn’t want to try anymore. I was in my 30s, and felt like if I tried throughout my 20s to be a “right kind of woman” and still didn’t care, it probably was never going to happen.
Don’t get me wrong. Looking cute and fashionable is really fun for some women, who totally rock it out! My friend Shannon is put together in all the ways I’m not and then some, and always looks fantastic. Though I agree with Baz Luhrmann’s advice for a lot of people, I know there are plenty who can read women’s magazines and not be affected negatively.
But I’m not one of those people. I didn’t mean to, but I started steadily losing weight after I stopped reading those magazines. There are a lot of other factors that go into the weight loss, but the timeline is still there. And now, 25 pounds lighter with ostensible miles to go, I’m realizing why beauty magazines were bad for me, personally. By reading them, I was training myself to smother my intuition, in an effort to be accepted by others, by society at large. I was 14 years old, yet reverting back to having others dress me. I was letting magazines dictate my shopping lists. I was changing my appearance for the worse, in an effort to look better.
As I got older and rebelled against the designer bags that I had to admit just didn’t interest me at all, I still held onto the belief that the Wizard of Cosmo had something in its black bag for me. I took diet pills that made my personality horrible in the hopes of getting skinny. Anything I thought could help, I bought, consumed, then felt defeated when it didn’t change my life.
Finally I realized it was high time I click my heels together and get back to Kansas, because I was letting myself become a ridiculous cliché of defeat. That I really needed to stop perpetuating dumb stereotypes and get my ass in gear. I went to work full time at Boulder Creek. Waitressing really gets you over yourself. It is physically painful, and you sweat, and you run around and carry heavy things. Doing it reinvigorated my whole spirit and my body. I was able to order small meals based on what my body needed that day and not keep tempting junk in the house. I wore a uniform every day, so I didn’t need to worry about buying ladylike clothes. And ironically, not obsessing over losing weight was helping me lose weight.
I mainly ate salads and protein, but if I wanted a piece of chocolate cake for dinner, that is what I did. I listened to my body, and started owning myself, for what felt like the first time in my life.
It was nice to be wearing a uniform again. It was great being forced to put my hair back and wear minimal makeup and not worry about what I looked like. I was working hard, and felt alive.
Beauty magazines made me feel ugly. Obsessing over the superficial makes me feel ugly, both inside and out. So I stopped. I’ll always want to look nice, and probably will always have insecurities, but life is definitely a lot easier without the additional whispering voices in my head telling me to go buy lip plumper.