Am I Beautiful? A review

20130828-083734This isn’t a review of whether or not I am beautiful, although it’s a question I’ve asked myself more this week than ever before. I’ve found myself looking in the mirror, taking in my appearance, thinking about how I choose what to wear.

I’ve wondered what people think about my appearance, what assumptions they make based on what I am wearing, whether I have brushed my hair (in all likelihood probably not). On my weight and my height, on the shape of my face and the colour of my skin.

I was bouldering on Tuesday evening and at one point as I was watching one guy tackle a particularly feisty route I found myself remarking on his muscled form. It’s not the sort of thing I usually do. I would certainly hesitate from making comments like that about a girl, I’d phrase it differently, I’d focus on her abilities and not her attributes, I’d say she was a great climber.

Because beauty and appearance has become commodified and traded, it has been weakened and abused. Beauty has become the thing we cannot ever fully achieve and certainly not retain. Yet it is something, which in the US alone $5billion is spent trying to enhance, recreate, and manufacture. Beauty is not just assisted by products it has become a product.

I’ve always thought of myself as rather plain. Not ugly, but not attractive, and certainly not beautiful. I’ve never bothered too much about my appearance because I’ve never thought anyone else does either. I throw on what ever clothes I find next on the hanger, and every year or so I replace items worn out with pieces remarkably similar. I’m not quite sure when I decided to own quite so many checked shirts.

By ignoring my appearance I have thought I am putting more important things first. I have wanted people to judge me, because judge me they will, by my abilities and my aptitude rather than my appearance because I consider these more valid measurements. Or maybe they are where I feel I am more likely to excel and therefore meet positive affirmation, and not risk the rejection that may come if my appearance was the key criterion. Perhaps it’s the opposite of why I have no problem with people judging my singing. I know it is bad. I don’t feel any rejection when someone agrees with that, I don’t feel undermined, undervalued, my self-esteem is intact, because it was never dependent on my singing. By not linking my worth to my appearance I avoid ever having to have it challenged.

This week I’ve read Chine Mbubaegbu’s brand new, and very pink, book ‘Am I Beautiful?’ And it’s this that has got me thinking a lot about beauty, and appearance, and self worth and how these things work together. It has also got me wondering just how different these issues are for women than for guys.

The book is brilliant. It is brave and Chine demonstrates remarkable vulnerability in addressing issues not in the abstract but in their real life and personal context. And you should all read it. There are parts that make you laugh and parts that (almost) make you cry. There’s food for thought, and ideas for action. It addresses head on whether we’ve got the wrong idea in our head and mouth when with think and talk about beauty. I think we have, and I think we need to give it a rethink.

There is one problem with the book. I think guys should read it as well as women. The book is explicitly written to women, it addresses them, it is marketed to them – I couldn’t quite bring myself to read it on the tube – but it doesn’t only apply to them.

Because there are guys that manicure, there are guys who cannot decide what outfit to wear, hit the gym to hit the right physique, but there are plenty who do not. And plenty to whom the picture painted in the book will be completely foreign, and for whom it is a much needed insight, not only into how women often think about their bodies and beauty, but how guys might not be quite as exempt from scrutiny as they may appear at first sight.

Guys are not immune to the issues this book raises. About 10 per cent of anorexia sufferers are male, for many their identity is tied to both their appearance and their anxiety over whether they look good enough. It is a battle they constantly face. This book matters to them: beauty is not a women’s issue.

I highly recommend ‘Am I beautiful?’ for guys, for girls, those convinced of their beauty, those doubting it and those who don’t care. Buy it now.

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