December, 03 2014
The Impossible Double Standard of "Effortless" Beauty

For some of us women looking attractive must somehow look effortless. But sometimes this leads to increased pressure and creates another double standard in female beauty.

by Syarafina Vidyadhana
Lifestyle // Health and Beauty
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“Primp whenever possible. It is always possible,” perhaps Dalai Lama would say in an alternate universe. Nobody wants to look ugly. Not you, not me, not anyone – at least not in this universe. That is why I, presumably along with many, many people in the world, women especially, are eternally grateful for the invention of make-up and Forever21. (And of course, feminism.)
 
Like any other skills in life, primping too requires practice – and I have practiced pretty much all my life. I’ve learned to walk on heels since I was eight and managed – kind of ­– to put on lipstick, Claire Standish style, before I even had my first kiss. But when it comes to wisdom, there isn’t a better guru than the media. They have taught me everything I know about appearance:
  1. How to pick the right shade of concealer (and how it could transform your look from Bella Swan to Snow White);
  2. Which brushes are the most essential (I’m an undergrad student, so I can’t afford them all at once);
  3. That dressing tackily is somewhat the new cute (I know, right?);
Anyway.
 
I have a little confession. Recently I caught myself doing what our society would consider as lying. Listed bellows are some of them, from the most tolerable to the least:
  1. Prior to a first date, I usually buy a new outfit to save myself from long indecisive hours in the closet. Particularly that week, I’ve bought a very sweet blue dress (with tiny unicorns here and there) for the occasion. But my friend, whom I invited over for second opinion, disagreed. “It would show that you’re trying,” she said. Terrified with the thought, I changed into a boring blouse and jeans right away. I didn’t want my date to find out that I spent so much time working on appearance. No, I didn’t want him to notice my efforts. I wanted him to think of me as a simple, laid-back girl whom he could go eat street foods with at his most proletarian days.
  1. The other day I wore a floral dress to campus. The comments people made were anticipated, varying from “you look nice today” to “mau kemana sih? Rapi bener.” (“where are you going looking so dolled up?”). It was rather my own reaction that put me in surprise. Here’s what I told every each and one of them: I haven’t done the laundry; this is the only thing left in my closet. Truth is I had dozens of other clean clothes in my closet. I just didn’t want to seem shallow in front of my smart friends.
     
  2. If you look inside my make-up pouch, you’ll see that my favorite shade of lipstick has been what YouTube tutorials say as MLBB (My Lips But Better), and I’ve been using my “No Make-up Make-up” palette for as long as I can remember. To be honest, there’s really nothing wrong with the color, I genuinely like how those products look on me and I don’t plan to stop using them, but I find the brandings very irksome. Of all taglines, why on earth does it have to be ‘No Make-up Make-up’?
In my defense, those weren’t necessarily lies (no?). Just like the disguise of chameleon on a tree or a bluestripped fangblenny in the deep water, they were rather the manifestation of my survival instinct in the world of idealized beauty. In fact, they were my coping mechanism to a bigger fear than the fear of looking ugly. That is the fear of looking like a try-hard. (Even bigger fear: the fear of getting caught trying)
 
Without realizing, once again the media, being the resourceful, persuasive guru that they are, had just taught me yet another lesson about appearance: that “naturally beautiful” and effortlessly pretty” are the best compliments these days, and that women would kill ­– or in my case, lie – to earn these adjectives.
 
I find it ridiculous because the definition of “beautiful” and “pretty” that the media had set is impossible to be achieved “naturally” and “effortlessly”. Never in my life have I heard such painful, oxymoronic adjectives. And never in my life have I been so appalled with myself, of how much of a façade I am.


 
That is why I felt betrayed when my favorite singer Beyoncé sang “…I wake up like this: flawless…” on VMA. I felt like my role model, just like the media, was encouraging women to aim for the impossible. How can a person wake up like “this”? I don’t know about you, but the only way I can possibly wake up like “this” is by:
1st        Wake up very early at, say, five in the morning,
2nd       Shower,
3rd       Dress up,
4th       Straighten my hair,
5th       Put on make-up,
6th       Go back to sleep,
7th       Wake up again at eight
Or:
1st        Not wash my face and sleep with my make-up still on from the earlier night, which would be gross.
 
Until I realized that I was looking at it the wrong way. Beyoncé didn’t say anything about waking up “beautiful” or “pretty”. She said she “wake up like this: f-l-a-w-l-e-s-s”, and flawlessness is a state of mind. It has little to do with beauty products or fancy clothes, and everything to do with self-acceptance and self-ownership. (Though it would’ve been a more empowering performance if she sang it in her pajamas with no make-up on.)
 
I may not be “naturally beautiful” or “effortlessly pretty”, but at least now, thanks to Beyoncé, I realize that I don’t need to be. Now that I’m flawless – at least according to Mom, Beyoncé and myself – from the second I wake up in the morning, I can feel those fears disappearing little by little.
 
I have now accepted that there’s no shame in trying to be a better (looking) person, and that my appearance isn’t given – it doesn’t come naturally and it is not without efforts. It is earned with years of practice and some degree of knowledge. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
 
Syarafina Vidyadhana is an undergrad English student in Universitas Indonesia. She loves Chinese food and Mike Leigh's movies. She wishes to be a teacher one day. Say hi to her @poisonavi_