Noelle McCarthy: Feeling beautiful

By Noelle McCarthy

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Audrey Hepburn, pictured here in the film Funny Face, once said that the happiest girls are the prettiest girls - advice to live by. Picture / Supplied
Audrey Hepburn, pictured here in the film Funny Face, once said that the happiest girls are the prettiest girls - advice to live by. Picture / Supplied

When did you last feel beautiful?

It's such a naff question. There's a creepy lady from a moisturiser ad crooning it in my ear right now. It's a bad question because it's been used to sell you s*** you don't need for decades. It's a bad question because it's been used to keep women down. We've been party to the subjugation though, of course we have. We've been buying into The Beauty Myth long before Naomi Wolf explained it to us. From Cleopatra's smoky eyes to Rihanna with her chest tattoo and bondage clothes, ideals of beauty have shifted through history, but have never lost their power. Beauty has never not been precious. That's why you can't ask a woman "when did you last feel beautiful" without it being a loaded question. What you're really asking her is "when did you last feel valued?"

It shouldn't be that hard to take back beauty, to decide what it is for yourself, and not let someone else define it first, and then sell it to you. Certainly, it's not a new idea; the second-wave feminists argued a need for this with more urgency, passion and fluency than I ever could. Naomi Wolf reckons she's a third wave feminist, of course, but I think I'm more of a Mexican wave variety; I'll stand up and cheer for any woman trying her best to work out what she needs to feel beautiful, powerful and happy, especially in the face of contemporary, beguiling distractions like $70 lipsticks that look and feel divine.

Gloria Steinem may not have been swayed by YSL packaging, but she is obviously made of sterner stuff than I. Not that I necessarily need expensive makeup to feel beautiful, although I love how Rouge Volupte smells like geraniums and slicks on your lips so nice.

Lipstick per se is not a pre-requisite for feeling beautiful though. What is? A 20-second brainstorm later, and here's what comes to mind: I need to be in my body to feel beautiful; to get out running, or walking, especially in this lovely autumn light. I feel beautiful, or at least more attractive when I have a purpose, when I'm doing something useful; cooking, or doing laundry or thinking about what to write. I need eight hours' sleep and a lot of water and proper laughs to feel beautiful, and I had a definite flash of it while I was dancing to a Violent Femmes song in my kitchen three weeks ago on a Wednesday night.

This is a completely random list of causes and conditions of feeling beautiful; and that's exactly as it should be, this is about as subjective an experience as exists. But taking the time to consider it is worthwhile, if only because it reduces the chances of somebody being able to sell you more rubbish you're not in need of.

If you're stuck for a pointer on feeling beautiful, by the way, Audrey Hepburn has some that work every time. She said: "I believe that happiest girls are the prettiest girls." And: "I believe in kissing, kissing a lot."


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