I struggle with feeling beautiful. In fact, I struggle with figuring out what beauty actually is.
I've studied aesthetics for as long as I can remember. I started drawing in preschool. My mom likes to remind me that I was the only toddler in my class to draw five fingers on each hand. Even then, I was taking notes on how people are "supposed to" look. As I grew up, first as a painter, then as an actor, and later as a makeup artist, I was constantly reminded of the standards society prescribed for me and how I consistently fell short of the bar.
When I learned to draw in middle school, I was taught about the ratios of the face. For eyes to be perfectly balanced, the temple area should be divided into five sections with the eyes positioned in the second and fourth. The face should be oval, 1.5 times as long as it is wide. Features should be symmetrical and proportionate. I was fed the scientific data and evolutionary studies that support this.
I learned about the Fibonnacci sequence, the golden ratio that breaks down the proportions we, throughout history, have found beautiful. I viewed the grids that divided the faces of movie stars to support this theory. I was taught that balance in beauty is what we search for in this chaotic swirl of life.
During lunch in middle school, I would sit with the same group every single day. I remember sitting at the lunch table across from a girl — "Christina," we'll call her. Christina, one of my closest friends at the time, used to point out all the flaws in my face.
"Your nostrils are crooked," she would say. "Your eyes are two different sizes. Your mouth is lopsided." And she wasn't wrong. All of these facts are completely true. But the way she stated them, plus the data I had learned in art class, taught me that these flaws took me further away from beautiful. In fact, according to science, to studies, and to social law, I was decidedly not aesthetically pleasing.
Because my imperfections were made so apparent to me in my formative years, I still notice and lament them every single time I look into a mirror.
I know middle school is rarely a fantastic time for anyone.
Case in point:
But these sentiments carried over to my high school years. I was never a "pretty" girl. At least by nature.
So I began my torrid love affair with makeup. It didn't make me "prettier" necessarily (especially in my earliest attempts), but it certainly made me more confident. It allowed me to showcase my creativity. I became the artsy girl. I couldn't be beautiful, but I could be unique — even memorable. Everyone was going to prom, and I, instead, was hired to do their makeup.
I got to college and things shifted slightly. I went to New York University as a drama student. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the most classically beautiful people. I was placed in the Playwrights Horizons studio at first — the acting studio filled with students who had a passion for multiple art forms and were a bit more... um... eclectic? It was helpful being in class with people who shared my passions; I suddenly had friends with the same compulsion for creation.
But when it came to auditions, our differences became clear. I was told of my "type" — the roles people saw me being cast in purely based on physical appearance. I was going to be the quirky best friend. Or the bitch. Or the "Janis" of Mean Girls, as one of my fellow actors put it. Apparently, my features were too severe to be the ingenue. My presence too looming. There was nothing soft about me. I was harsh. And although I felt like rainbows and sparkles and unicorns inside, it didn't matter. Because, physically, no one saw me that way.
And that gave others the power to sort me as they chose. To define me by their first impressions.
The critiques weren't just facial. I would stand in my leotard and tights in ballet class and suddenly become aware of my extreme curves. I've never been thin. Ever. But I consider myself healthy. Still, I was the black sheep of my class. The rolls and lumps visible under the tight spandex were mine alone. The teachers never said a word about it, but I was the elephant in the room (at least in my own mind).
I watched my beautiful friends be cast in lead after lead, musical after musical. I was too distinct-looking to be put in the chorus, and too dark for the bubbly damsel in distress. I became frustrated with the industry — an industry that has little to no jobs for someone who isn't a conventional beauty. An industry that has a tendency to encourage extreme dieting and plastic surgery.
In retaliation, and perhaps out of extreme frustration, I started to create my own content and artwork.
As a means of supporting myself while changing the world one song, video, or painting at a time, I turned back to what briefly proved financially viable during my high school years: makeup artistry. Let me begin this by saying I love makeup. Makeup is my therapy. It makes me happy. But being a makeup artist came with its own peculiar set of problems.
Every day, as I work, women ask me to "fix" them. They ask me what they are missing. They search for the elusive aesthetic element. They are Cinderellas, and I am the Fairy Godmother with my Bibbidi Bobbidi Brush.
Suddenly, I realized I wasn't alone in my vain journey to Beauty Town. Everyone has his or her own specific set of struggles that stem from the lofty standards society has set up for us. We're all taught our "weaknesses," and we search for ways to improve them to make ourselves more desirable, more lovable, and more perfect. We try to correct our genetics. And we constantly fall short because there really is no single definition to beautiful. Society may tells us what beauty means, but we do not have to listen.
Every day, I try to compliment as many people as I can. I call out the first feature I see, and I watch smiles grow across strangers' faces. I still don't see myself as beautiful necessarily, but I am the first to recognize it in others. And that alone has given me peace.
I would love to end this by saying I've found a way to find the beauty in myself, but I would be lying. I think my flaws have been so ingrained in me that I will constantly work to undo the tangled web they have woven. But, I've seen the difference I can make. My words, my actions, and my art can help others, for however fleeting or persistent of a moment, to see the beauty in themselves. And for now, that makes me, for however fleetingly, feel beautiful.