COMMENT: I've had an obsession with being pretty since I first raided my mum's makeup drawer.
There was something about the way her lipstick felt, gliding over my lips, that evoked a sense of feminine magic.
I saw the way men looked at women who painted their faces and hoisted up their cleavage in form-fitting dresses.
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I envied how effortlessly they appeared to command attention with the flutter of a long lash or flash of a perfect smile.
I wanted to be one of them — the beautiful women. But my genetics had bestowed me with a flat chest and hormonal acne.
Then I hit my twenties and exchanged my disposable income for cosmetic surgery and a gym membership. A nose job here, a gruelling personal training session there (and several thousand dollars of credit card debt later) and I too, could be one of the pretty girls.
There was just one catch: It would be a bottomless pit.
Regardless of how much weight I lost, make-up I slathered on, or Botox I forked out for, the feeling of being "pretty enough" remained evasive to me.
Being attractive precipitously moved from an aspiration to an addiction overshadowing all else in my life.
It's a phenomenon that author and professor, Renee Engeln refers to as "Beauty Sick".
In her book, Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession With Appearance Hurts Girls and Women, Engeln defines "beauty sickness" as what happens when, "women's emotional energy gets so bound up with what they see in the mirror, it becomes harder for them to see other aspects of their lives".
Indeed, it irks me to consider the sizeable chunk of my existence spent standing before my reflection, camouflaging perceived flaws with products that could have amassed a house deposit by now.
Research suggests the average woman will spend roughly 3276 hours of her life getting ready. To put that in perspective, for the blokes, it's just over a thousand hours. And only a third of women say they actually enjoy the process (anyone who's ever attempted to put on a pair of Spanx knows these women are surely masochists).
A few weeks ago, someone left a comment on one of my Instagram posts. It read: "This woman was rocking a way better body back in 2017. It's like she's given up."
It wasn't particularly shocking to me. As a woman in the public eye, I've had my appearance dissected and critiqued on a near-daily basis since moving into the online space almost a decade ago. My size, skin and clothing choices have all been brutally scrutinised by strangers.
While there's no denying the fact men face pressure to look a certain way too, women bear an unduly large burden when it comes to societal beauty ideals.
Research suggests almost half of all employers factor a woman's makeup into their hiring decision, and are less likely to employ her if she doesn't wear some foundation to the job interview. Though, just to add insult to injury, a 2019 study also found looking too pretty can work against women in the workplace. It indicated attractive women were generally perceived as "less truthful" and trustworthy.
In other words, if you want to be taken seriously as a woman, you should pay a lot of attention to how you look. But not, like, too much attention. Or perhaps just try winning the Powerball jackpot. The odds are looking better …
Being attractive is an impossible dance. I'm often called a "bimbo" in articles featuring my image because it's assumed I'm just a pretty airhead seeking shallow validation.
Conversely, if the images of me don't conform closely enough to a beauty ideal, I'm told I need to lose weight and change my hair or makeup. The substance of my words, and my work, is entirely undermined by the vast array of judgments based on how I look.
This is all not to mention that, while I'm supposed to continuously strive to be aesthetically appealing, I must never, ever, actually think I'm pretty. That would be arrogant, off-putting and unfeminine. It's an exhausting, unwinnable race.
And so I'm checking out. I quit.
I'm spending far less time thinking about my appearance these days — about whether or not I look attractive enough to be taken seriously, or if the comments are right and I really need to lose some weight.
And I'm ditching making appearance-based comments about other women while I'm at it. (Try it yourself at home: Next time you have the urge to tell a woman how pretty she looks, try instead complimenting one of her many other beautiful non-physical qualities).
I accept there will be people who'll look at me — barefaced and embracing my tummy rolls — and feel the need to leave comments announcing I've "given up".
And I'm fine with that, because honestly. I have given up — on giving a damn about being attractive.