Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the train window the other day, I realized how much I used to dislike my face: the boring, brown eyes that weren't big enough [or some exotic shade of blue or green], my Asian nose, cheekbones that didn't seem to exist, and a face that lacked angles and looked too much like a spotty, brown egg. I never had expectations to be truly beautiful, but there's always some adjustment required when you're told to live with something you had no part in acquiring. My adolescent-into-young-adult wish to look more...whatever obviously never materialized, but for a while there, I really wanted it to. It wasn't for a lack of trying, because I did try. Like, really hard. In the way that is unique to that lethal mix of vanity and insecurity. I was skinnier back then, too, but predictably unhappy. [Yeah, that's me, circa 2005.]
Then sometime after I turned 25, I stopped caring so much.
In hindsight, the change was fairly abrupt. The exhaustion from wanting so much, from feeling that if I just had this shirt/beauty product/pair of jeans/handbag/shoes, my life would be better, wore me down. It helped that I was barely employed, and thus unable to afford anything I wanted. It also helped that I was in Japan, where appearances seemed to rule everything. The impossibility of keeping up, the unhappiness implicit in any obsession with appearances, the superficiality of what I was buying into simply became too much.
I think of those years when I tried on vanity, then discarded it as a bad fit, as kind of like a 12 minute interval. There's discomfort felt at your own perceived physical inadequacies, and even a sense of rejection at first, while you feel sorry for yourself, before you settle into the pain. It lasts longer than you'd really like, and quite honestly, you're not very attractive while you're in the midst of it, but you arguably come out a better person. You could dope via plastic surgery, but to me, it's never seemed worth it.
I'm tempted to say that it's not ideal, that you deal with the face and features you're given, and you make the most of it. That that's the best you can really do when you're not gifted with the right balance of genetics. I think that can be true, but these days, I'm fortunate enough to forget what I look like. I only manage to remember when I catch startled, horrified stares from strangers. What are they looking at? I sometimes wonder, before tugging down the sleeves of my t-shirt ["oh, yeah, that"]. If they're staring a little higher, at my face, I don't even bother. I mean it's not like someone drew a penis on my face while I was asleep last night, right? .......Um....Right...?
Because, really, I'm okay with it. My physical appearance - the freckles I'm secretly proud of, the tan lines that limit my wardrobe - is the cost I pay for doing business in the life enrichment industry. Like the millions of "I'm sorry"s and "thank you"s that are due to loved ones, they're signs of kilometers imperfectly traveled. Admissions of guilt or gratitude never kept me from wearing a strappy dress, but the frustration of living in a t-shirt filled fashion hell is easy to forget. I know every time I slip into my [Lotto-Belisol <3] jersey, that I'm printing my skin with another declaration, tattooing lines that will take multiple winters to fade away. I look at my chipped nailpolish, stubborn chain grease hiding under one fingernail, a cut on a finger from working on my bike. None of that ugliness ever matters enough to trade it away for appearances' sake. And once the legs are turning over the pedals, my face, my imperfections, my insecurities about my facial imperfections, all slip away.
All that extra shit just gets in the way, anyway. They are excuses to cling to something that signifies acquiescing to obligations to appear a certain way, to live life as someone else has described it for you. A perpetual Plan B, an escape route for when your efforts don't pan out, that foot out the door just in case you fail. It may give you a multitude of empty "could"s ["well, I could be better at cycling, but sweating makes my eyeliner run..."], but ultimately, you get short-changed of your full potential.
Since letting go of the silly, sometimes extreme, self-consciousness, I've found that there's much more to life than sleeveless tops, strappy dresses, evenly tanned legs and wearing shorts without shame. For me, there are pro jerseys, Assos bibs, and a bike that has yet to fail me. There are places to discover, foreign countries to visit and pro races to see, with eyeliner or without. The latter would never fit into a life as it should be lived for a single Japanese woman. Obsessions with beauty products and fulfilling empty social duties to look pretty seem like a shitty way to live, though.
Looking back on my vain era, I think I've figured something else out, too. That when you can live life in a way that you end up forgetting what you look like, when you can get out of your own fucking way and stop tripping on your ego, then, well, you're finally doing it right. And that's something worth hanging on to, because that's what makes you a stunning kind of beautiful.