Back in the '90s I worked hard on my feral hippie/Courtney Love-wannabe image. Not that you would know it. My one-length, waist-length hair was a Ronald McDonald orange thanks to the foul-smelling henna I subjected it to on a regular basis. I wore long Indian skirts with bells on the drawstring and on special occasions I'd get about without shoes. Once a little girl saw me at the bus stop and asked her mum if I was playing dress-ups.
Not only did I spend hours searching op-shops for perfectly ill-fitting vintage numbers that possessed the gaudy and unflattering colour combinations I so desired, I even splurged on herbal deodorants that cost twice as much as the regular kind and didn't even work. So yes. I stunk and I looked like I smoked way too much pot. I was the kind of girl Hare Krishnas tried to convert.
In other words, I had absolutely no clue about what I was doing, sartorially speaking at least. But I tried.
Behind the scenes, in bedrooms, bathrooms and salons across the globe, women and men work tirelessly to look as though they just happened to be born this way.
Uber-hip US-based make-up company Urban Decay knows this all too well. Last week they launched their third version of Naked, an eyeshadow palette full of neutrals to make you look, well, unmade up. With a palette selling every second, the product sold out within hours. If you want one right now, you'll have to check out Etsy or eBay and pay double.
It's not just women who undertake an array of fashion and beauty rituals in order to look like they, well, haven't. When actor Sam Claflin scored the role of Hun-ger Games' sexiest-man-in-the-entire-universe-character Finnick Odair, there were certain pressures. So how did the English actor achieve ruggedly handsome, effortlessly dishevelled perfection? He worked out five hours a day, of course. And went on a three-week juice fast. Followed by a restrictive protein-fuelled extravaganza featuring "protein shakes, egg white omelettes, chicken and asparagus". Yummo.
The fact is, there is no such thing as effortless beauty. Even people who choose to get about in a tracksuit and Uggs are making a conscious effort not to bother. Ever tried to achieve Alex Chung's artfully tousled bob? Not as easy as it looks. Or that natural no-make-up look that men always say they prefer in glossy magazine polls? Some may tell you it's harder to perfect than red carpet glamour.
Back in my hippie days, I was awkward and insecure. I wanted to be cool, but lacked confidence. I would never have admitted, not in a million years, that I cared about my appearance as much as I did.
In a culture that celebrates beauty, too often above more meaningful qualities like kindness, humour and intelligence, why is there such reluctance to admit how much we are willing to do to try and achieve it? With your corner pharmacy offering Botox and cheap nail bars in every shopping centre, it's clear that the beauty industry is big business. Nobody wants to be considered vain, yet it's very difficult not to be when we all feel judged about our appearance at some point in our life.
Besides, while there is a dark side to the restricted ideas of Western beauty that purport youth and thinness as benchmarks of the "ideal", there is so much to celebrate if we look beyond these limitations and think of fashion, make-up, hair, nails as an expression of creativity and fun rather than a meaningless activity that only the vain and insecure will admit to caring about.
When I look back at the few photos I have of my teenage self, I admit I cringe. But I also think it's kind of sweet. There I was, experimenting with fashion and doing my best to work out who I wanted to be, both inside and out. No one wants to look like they try too hard, but there's nothing wrong with admitting you've made a bit of an effort. Even if you do look kind of atrocious.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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