I just had a realisation. An epiphany? No, just a realisation. That will suffice as the noun of the moment.
Do you remember the first time you said to yourself, “I don’t actually like the [insert popular thing that everyone is supposed to like here]”?
For me, I remember the moment when I realised, “I don’t even like Jason Priestley. Or Matt Perry. His face is too thin.” I was thirteen. I made sure to only realise this in my head – too many of my friends had posters of Jason or Matt in their bedrooms for it to be politically safe for me to declare it outright. Still, it was a liberating moment: I could admit, at least to myself, in the privacy of my Beverley Hills 90210 free bedroom, that I just didn’t agree with what I was supposed to.
From then, it was a liberating series of moments: “I don’t like Coca Cola, or anything else fizzy, except maybe Sars. And Bundy ginger beer.” “Hey, I know I’m still a kid, but I don’t actually like lollies, so I’m not even going to pretend for your sake that that bribery is going to work.” “I don’t want to eat Hungry Jack’s hamburgers for dinner every Friday. I’d much prefer a home-cooked meal.” (I’m still ashamed of this last one, which I actually said to my mum, who, after seven kids, should have been allowed to have Fridays off cooking. But I was just starting to learn how to take her very own disapproving frown and, by God, turn it on her; and not just on her, but the rest of the required to-be-liked list.)
It turned into a right avalanche by the time I was eighteen, and not liking popular things became cool. Other things that joined the “I just don’t like it” list: anything pink, Christian Slater, and Klimt postcards; anything in the Top 40 list, dresses that might actually be flattering, and red meat.
But it was not until tonight that I realised there is a whole other world of things not to like that I didn’t know was allowed: beauty.
I like beauty, don’t get me wrong. But I guess, like anybody, there are certain people I think are hot with three t’s, and others I don’t find that much of a turn on. But, like many women, I always went along with the deal. Thin, tall, big boobs if possible but not essential, blonde if possible (but also not essential), pouty. That’s beautiful. Short, curvy, freckles, glasses – that’s just not.
Which is weird, right? For years, I have been training as a practised adept at not liking things, or fiercely adoring others. I have made major life choices not to work a regular job, but to pursue writing, because I like it. I am happy to go against the grain when it comes to capsicum (no), bacon (definitely no), soy milk (yes!) and Norah Jones (yes, OK? Yes!).
But for just as many years, I have blindly “ceded my power” (yes, that’s really what I have been doing, I have to say it) to the mainstream, taking it for granted that my opinion of what constitutes beautiful must, simply, be wrong.
Tonight, my husband and I were talking about people we know, and he mentioned a girl in a law office he once worked in, whom everyone (bar him) had voted the most “sexy” because she was blonde. My husband tends not to have mainstream tastes – hence the noun and possessive pronoun, “my husband”.
That reminded me of a story of my own. A couple of years ago, I was working with a tall, thin, blonde colleague whom I had to accompany to interviews with various high-flying CEOs around Australia. She was a great girl and we had heaps of fun. But I had never thought about her in terms of beauty. She was just top company.
Until we started meeting the CEOs. They were men in their forties and fifties, who did things like invite her for trips on their private yachts (with their families, so it was not totally sleazy), whilst totally ignoring me standing next to her. She seemed to take it all in her stride, and we had a very frank conversation after a few days over a few beers, when she said, without a trace of arrogance, but simply because it was true, “Basically, I have the body that most women in America want right now” (she was from the US). I looked at her, and it took me a while to understand what she was saying. She was right, of course, but she just wasn’t what I aspired to look like (luckily, because it would have taken a gene transplant) – of course she was attractive, but not to me. Just, it seemed, to everyone else on the planet.
I dismissed my own opinion though, because when it comes to female beauty, I always assumed, without even thinking about it, that I was wrong. The female beauty myths were that hard wired into my brain.
Until tonight, when I realised, recounting this story to my husband, that maybe I was not, immediately, wrong. If he could have his own tastes in women, then why couldn’t I? Maybe, just like lollies, soft drink, and Jason Priestley, I could make a valid preference call and it was OK. I was not wrong, and others were not right. I was merely saying, and sticking to, what I genuinely liked.
It’s embarrassing to say so, but I have made it into my thirties without embracing this fundamental truism of feminism – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, I always knew that, right? And I always said it. And of course, I know what I like, and what I think is attractive in men and women. But until now, I never really thought my view could be just as equal to anyone else’s (like the magazine editor of Cosmo. How could I be as right as her?) I just always assumed that my tastes (and my own personal look) did not come into the same room as the definition of beautiful.
Humbly, I have to admit that hanging out with my fella has started to make me see otherwise. If he thinks his tastes are valid, then why not mine? I’ve seen men behave irrationally towards women I have had no zing for at all. And I have been attracted to men and women who, in the usual way, would not be considered three t’s hot.
From now on, I guess I’m trying to say…I’m right too. Beauty is just like every other decision I have made in my life: I have a right to it.