THIS IS HOW I FEEL / Beauty; a measure of worth
My name is Ainsley. I am a photographer, a director, an art curator, the founder and creative director of this website, a producer, a writer, a boss, a mum… But really, who cares? What do I look like? How old am I? Do I look “good” for my age? This is how it feels for most women – like nothing in their growing repertoire matters to anyone as much as the way that they look. As women, this is where our value lies. To quickly answer those questions for anyone curious I have accompanied this text with some photos of me captured by my BFF Troy Freyee a couple of weeks ago, I’m turning 37 in May (Taurus), and damn right I do 🙂
From the day we are born we unwittingly absorb unhealthy messaging via advertising, media, pop-culture and the toys we play with, that a woman’s most important attribute, her currency, her cultural value, the part of her that people are the most interested in, is her looks. This is then reiterated by an endless stream of unsolicited comments, whistling, groping, body shaming and derogatory behaviour experienced IRL. For a mum of a teenage girl and someone on the brink of 40 with botox preventing me from frowning right now, this notion, that my value is measured by my beauty, is fucking terrifying. While I know it is a privilege to get old (my dad was taken way too early by cancer), I am constantly reminded that I am depreciating each day, as new wrinkles manage to etch themselves into my skin, despite all that hard-earned money I spent on beauty products that promised me immortality, the same products that used advertising to give me an ageing complex in the first place! Marketing 101 – create a problem & offer the solution. No matter how much I achieve, how much good I do in the world, how dope my 14-year-old daughter turned out, still, my beauty will dictate my value.
We are told that beauty is only skin-deep, but the reality is the perceived absence of beauty in women often compromises how they are received in social & professional environments. Western beauty standards pressure women and girls around the globe to conform to a light-skinned, youthful, thin, toned, able-bodied & physically “good looking” woman (thick long luscious hair, leg, pit and pubic hair removed, perfectly shaped brows, etc, you know what it looks like). Here is where I need to acknowledge my own privilege; I’m white, fully-abled & naturally thin. If living up to these western beauty standards feels impossible & unjust for someone like me, I can’t even begin to fathom the daily struggles, discrimination & internal suffering felt by women with a disability, trans women, women who are considered overweight, or women of colour. All this pressure on us to live up to the Western beauty “ideal” is replacing the great diversity of human bodies and beauty and creating an epidemic of mental health issues.
In a world that is obsessed with the subjugation of women’s bodies, we also need to consider what we wear. God forbid we attract the wrong attention with our short hemlines. The rape culture has become a woman’s burden to carry & carefully consider each time she steps outside of her house. Now can we please put to rest the age-old question “why do women take so long to get ready?” We have a lot of pressure on us to get this shit “right” and it takes time. A balancing act of cute & sexy, but not “too sexy”, just to gain a basic level of respect. The fact that women are forced to put so much thought into the way they look because of how they are perceived is so incredibly unfair! Recently I posted photos on Instagram of a little pool sesh with a reality star friend of mine & the Daily Mail kicked off a media frenzy about her body, bleached hair and her “tattooed friend” (me). We went for a swim and made the news, are you fucking kidding me!?! I have never really felt like my body truly belonged to me. I often feel as though I exist for the male gaze or for the pleasure or ridicule of others. When I go to the beach I wonder if the other women standing around in their bikinis are feeling the same way I do. Like I can never truly relax and just be comfortable to move & play in my own skin. I just want to feel free like my male counterparts seem to! Who built this invisible prison that continues to oppress me? All of this magic I have going on inside of me is so much more interesting than my tattoos and bleached hair.
The good news is that being aware of this lifelong brainwashing is the first step to taking back ownership of your body and deciding for yourself what feels and looks hot for you. Its time that we start seeing this “beauty standard” for what it really is – a myth. We need to find its roots & pull them the fuck out of us. But baby they are deep! This is going to take some serious, uncomfortable work; a trip to Bunnings on a Sunday to get all the right tools, hot sausage sizzle smoke permeating into our clothes & hair while lining up in a massive queue, & filling up with road rage in Bunning’s traffic on the way home. Then countless hours of weeding under the relentless Australian summer sun, digging out roots from seeds that were planted the day we were born & assigned a gender.
For the next few weeks, I’m going to use this space to explore western beauty standards. Where do they stem from & who dictates & maintains them? How do they shape our lives? I want to continue this conversation in hopes that one day soon we will all have the opportunity to live by our own standard, whatever that looks like, without jeopardising the opportunities we currently earn by living up to “the norm”. I dream of a world where my daughter can grow her pit hair out if she chooses to without releasing a fucking press statement. One where my black friends can wear their natural hair within the rigid walls of corporate America & it not be deemed unprofessional or met with uncomfortable stares & in some cases the loss of a job. A world where I can evolve and grow and age and maintain my cultural value. In the meantime, let’s do whatever we can to take our power back and challenge these rigid outdated beauty standards and celebrate realness and uniqueness. Let’s remind each other that we were gifted with the exact attributes we need to be the adults we are meant to be. Let’s be more than seen, let’s be heard.
Big love to you my gorgeous friends,