my inner Shrek

For the first time in eleven months, my friends, who kindly read my blog, I got tired of believing that Everyone is Beautiful the way they are, with all their perfect imperfections etc. No I haven’t met anybody who’s making me think that, not anyone new anyway. Just myself, my good old self. And my feet’s love for tennis shoes. Let me tell you.

Last week I had my first business meeting. There was a fair bit of walking to get there so I wore my tennis shoes and carried my heels in my purse. After the meeting on my hike back to my office I realized: I was still in my tennis shoes.

I told it as a joke later but at that moment I realized just how far away I am from the woman I tried to be. The Professional Woman who not only does good work, but who looks Pretty and Polished and ideally Charming, Friendly and Memorable. 

The other joke is that out of that list of Professional Woman qualities I can ever only meet the first one. With the looks thing I can keep trying but as my feet tell you, it’s not in my biology. And the personality thing, well, my inner voice is saying “Oh honey, you know you’re not that person…”

With my big wide sweaty feet in my tennis shoes, I called myself a rather harsh name I would never call anyone. Unless you’re Shrek. You’d think I was being a bully to myself but actually it was liberating. Compared to the part of me who tries to convince me that I’m Beautiful, who pretends not to notice my aesthetic shortcomings, the name-caller is at least looking and acknowledging every part of me.

And my inner Shrek, whose Shrek-ness is only relative to the Professional Woman ideal, says “You may pretend not to see me, but it’s not like you can get rid of me. Might as well come up with a new plan that includes me so I don’t show up as a surprise to you!”

see the beauty of who we truly are

It’s a great power to see the beauty of who we truly are.

We can be outspoken, soft-spoken, passionate, calm, spontaneous, reserved, calculated, flexible, principled, talkative, cerebral, fun-loving, challenge-loving, ambitious, go-with-the-flow, musical, mathematical, creative, dependable, practical, abstract… There are as many people as there are types of people. But people really advocate for only some of these traits, leaving those who are opposites feeling a bit disadvantaged, or worse, defective.

The truth is, the person with ideas, strategies, a voice and a will to lead people can make no progress if there are no people willing to cooperate, collaborate and accommodate, and make things happen. People who don’t just think of themselves, people who trust and do the hard work.

It’s a great power to see the beauty of who we truly are, because then we unshackle ourselves from the generic voice in the media or in society. The beauty of being quiet. The beauty of being the calm one. The beauty in using your voice. The beauty in silent actions. The beauty of being more rational than emotional. The beauty of being more emotional than rational. The beauty of the strength to bite the bullet. The beauty of the strength in being honest and expressing feelings.

 

gentleness and attention = love

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“Beautiful” looks different to everyone. Let’s not be in denial: some of us really do appear more beautiful than a lot of us. But is that important? It might feel like it is because we can get so jealous about it. Actually it is not. Because more than being “beautiful”, deep down all we want is to be worthy, worthy of love, success, happiness, a good life. The moment we buy into the belief that we have to look a certain way before we can get love, success, happiness and a good life, we’ve distanced ourselves from those things.

Some days I still hear a frustrated voice: I can’t be happy while my skin isn’t clear. I’ll have to do something about it so I can be happy again.

The energy is criticizing and angry to start with but it can shift when I give myself more attention. Like when I look at myself, spend time to figure out what might cause flare-ups by paying attention to my body, or like when I’m physically gentler with myself. Even if I don’t find an answer, the simple act of giving myself this care and attention makes a lot of difference. It’s like, finally there’s someone who can help, someone to rely on who won’t give up or leave. This person says, I’m gonna be here with you on this, I got your back. And you completely trust and believe her because you feel that she’s telling the truth, because you and her are one.

It is a moment of bliss. I feel safe, rescued, redeemed, loved, loving, strong and powerful at the same time. My skin isn’t clear yet, but that moment is happiness.

We all look different but we’re the same.

We are perfect, not because we’re free of flaws, but because we are enough and do not require improvement to be worthy.

We are beautiful, not because anybody thinks so but simply because everyone is, by default of being a life on earth.

We are all equally worthy already.

re-defining “lazy” and “ugly”

“There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.”
That’s a saying in Chinese that, when I was younger, I found to be encouraging. It was encouraging to know you don’t have to be born pretty, because you can work towards becoming it!

Now I find it to be one of the most useless and toxic things for a woman to hear. Sorry to bring it on you if you’ve never heard of such a thing, but there are a lot of fake-truths out there, or at least some are so dated that they should no longer have a place. By questioning one, I hope we can question more.

We are so prone to feeling not enough already. If by thinking we’re not pretty enough, which we do often because we’re comparing ourselves to those constructed magazine pictures of what pretty “should be”, we get the bad name of being lazy, that’s just unnecessary. We have enough suffering as it is, let’s not take up another one.

I also don’t believe in lazy. I think lazy is relative. I think it’s often an attack from those who think they work hard towards something they believe to be important, on those who make different choices or value different things.

 Recently there’s a new interpretation:

‘“There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.” What this means is not that you must work hard on your skincare, but that you must do all that you can to protect what you believe to be important. To fight for Hong Kong’s core values, the true core values shared by all humanity. When you keep shrinking back and being silent, that’s when you’re really making your city ugly.’

This was on a news clip produced by an independent online TV channel, TVMost, on June 8th 2016, about the French cosmetic designer brand, Lancôme, one-sidedly cancelling a music event in Hong Kong with Denise Ho (HOCC), a singer who is seen by Mainland China as a dissident. Lancôme’s action is allegedly for fear of offending their market in Mainland China.

The news clip for Cantonese/Chinese readers:
http://www.tvmost.com.hk/201606081035_video_mostnews_hocccmonlancome

 

about shopping cosmetics…

The truth is, companies make the most money off of us when we feel we’re not pretty enough. There must have been a time when people who made those companies genuinely thought they were providing a service to women. Now I find it hard to believe. But what I believe and the intentions of the companies don’t matter. What matters is that, the more products there are to supposedly improve the way we look, the more it makes us feel the way we currently look is not enough. With their commercials and super models, they keep raising the bar towards an unattainable standard, the standard itself being an illusion of a possibility, because the commercials and pictures in magazines are not realistic portraits but artistic creations.

The cosmetic stores and make up counters are not selling an everyday necessity, or a social norm, or a solution to all your problems, or tickets to more popularity and love, though it can feel as if they are. With all the primers, brushes, pencils, and the most wonderful of all – a million shades and colors! What they are really selling is art supplies. And instead of papers and canvases, they also sell products that prep, prime and allegedly enhance our canvas which is our face.

To look pretty is a skill that each of us may or may not need at various degrees of competence. For some of us, it’s a hobby or a profession. To decorate, enhance and embellish is a human impulse; it’s wonderful to make anything look pretty! However, it is not every woman’s job or lifelong goal or anything like that.Sketch260171210

beauty from within

I read this story in a manga when I was little: a blind young man lives in a mansion with his family. His parents and older sisters are always fighting over his wellbeing as if he is incapable of doing anything on his own. With them, he feels not like a living person but just a liability and object for concern. He has a carer, a young woman, whom his family treats like a maid. From what they say, she is a very ugly woman and his sisters especially despise her.

The carer is the opposite to his family. She talks gently, moves gently and she is the only person who shows him any respect and kindness. As the young man becomes increasingly fond of her, something strange happened: One day he woke up and he was no longer blind. The first and only thing he wanted to do was run away, and he would take his carer, the only person who loves him in this house, with him. He found her, she was looking away, her long hair down her back. She insisted she could not look at him because she would frighten him: she was truly the ugliest person he would ever see! His family has heard the racket and is closing in around him. He grabbed her wrist and ran through the rooms. His sisters came running, and what a shock! They were hardly humans! They had these zombie eyes and when they called his name, sharp pointed fangs stuck out from their mouths! He kept running and running, still clutching his carer’s slender wrist. She was resisting all this time, asking for him to stop, still with the back of her head towards him. Finally he pulled her in and turned her around.

What did he see?

The most beautiful woman he has ever seen. She was crying, but even then, she was just as beautiful as he had imagined her to be.

(The end)

As evil fanged women don’t exist, we don’t know for sure if the carer’s face was beautiful or not. She might well be ugly, but the young man knew her as gentle, kind and loving. That was the young man’s strange new ability: to see people literally according to what they’re like on the inside.

To aspire to a made up face

About four months into being a new mom, I decided I had to do something to look pretty again. Smiling is one sure and genuine way, but I can do more than that! I spent two days browsing the website of a brand. Each product is said to be good for one or two aspects of skin health. Choose one or two to narrow down to which product you need: Radiance, blemish-free, anti-acne, anti-aging, moisturization, shine control, etc. And it took me forever to choose because: I need them all!

I really sat with the discomfort of picking at my own flaws and figuring out what I wish my skin could be. I want it to be smooth, radiant, blemish free, poreless, moisturized. I can picture it, skin that looks like the women in the magazines. I want my skin to look like theirs so I don’t need to wear makeup.

But wait, women in magazines wear makeup.
Yup. I want my skin to look like theirs, but without the makeup.

But wait. Women in magazines look that way BECAUSE they have makeup on! Some of them may naturally, or by hard work, have really good skin, yes, but they were also photographed by professionals, and possibly airbrushed too!

This is it: I was aspiring to have my bare skin, my face, look like a madeup face. What is a madeup face? It’s not a real face.

To want to make something natural to look like something artificially enhanced, without using enhancements – I can’t even wrap my head around how absurd it is. Dear Mother Nature, I’m sorry for the disrespect in that aspiration of mine.

The commercials did their job very well but I’m all the wiser now. It’s a good thing I’m a bit stingy with my money. Prudent, I think, is the correct word 🙂

So what did I do about my skin? I bought one new cleanser, was more diligent at using my acne topical cream, and changed one habit. I cut back on coffee. It’s working. And I’m no longer comparing myself to the made up faces in the magazines.

Do you qualify yourself as beautiful?

The Taiwanese Queen of Copywriting XinPing Li once said something very clever that goes like: No tree is on a diet and no animal is depressed because they think they’re ugly. The obsession with weight and looks is a purely human absurdity.

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I once saw a picture of a duck similar to this, but sort of ugly. It cracked me up because she (let’s call it a she) was so weird looking, so shocking and so unique. She doesn’t care what I think of her though. She just holds her head up high and serenade the waters with as much dignity, ease and grace as any other common-looking duck. And in that moment, I felt ridiculous for ridiculing her.

Because Nature made her. God made her. Who am I to mock the creation of Nature and God, and one of their most unique and playful creations that I know of?

I seem to not realize the range of beauty that’s available in this world. Would you agree that on any day, the majority of beautiful beings we most frequently get to see are models and movie stars? Unless you have children or you are very in love, have you seen someone in person today, someone whom you know, whom you registered as “beautiful”? Think of the people you love, do you see them as beautiful?

This image is a template of what the women who become models and famous on the internet look like. It is very specific: light airy bangs, colored hair, flawless skin, straight and thick eyebrows, contact lenses, pointed chin, small straight nose with small nostrils, m-shaped top lip, full bottom lip, etc. It is a popular look and one to aspire to if you wish to get attention on social media. 

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Image: Leumas To / theinitium.com

I checked in the mirror and confirm that I don’t have a single one of the traits in this template. If that face means beautiful, well, then I’m never gonna be beautiful. But I can be a bit pretty sometimes, on a good day. The subtext of this self-talk: I’m second-class.

But wait, why adopt a definition of beautiful so narrow that you can’t even qualify yourself for it?

I think we all inherently know that we are each special. I know that I know, in theory, but not always in practice. When you look at images of models and movie stars, or when you look at yourself in the mirror, do you sometimes feel a tinge of disappointment? That moment you silently sigh to yourself, “Well, this is all I got” and put yourself into a “not beautiful” category?

Not all of us hate the way we look but we may have discounted ourselves and we didn’t even know it. There is power in recognizing that we are different, and OK, from what society mostly defines as beautiful. That’s a good place to start. Let’s see if instead of lowering ourselves into second-class, we use that moment to pivot ourselves towards a more generous and true definition of beautiful.

when you look bad in a photo…

I confess: because everyone is on social media and sharing photos of their lives, I get frustrated when I cannot get a picture with myself in it where I look good enough.

It’s true, I cannot get a picture where I look good enough, because I’m looking for what I want to look like, which is a mix of my imagination and what I did look like ten years ago. In the past I’ve achieved that face by taking a hundred selfies, where one of them happen to be in an angle and lighting that makes my eyes look bigger, my face narrower and my skin smoother than they usually appear. In other words – a selfie where I looked different, prettier than I actually do.

Don’t compare with other people’s good selfies! They are often times one shot in a hundred. Don’t think they just happen! They are practiced and constructed. Remember also that some people make a profession of being photographed well, and some people make a profession of making people look amazing in photographs.

However, it is true that the more you have your picture taken, the more photogenic you might become. It’s because you’ve been exercising the smile muscles and you’ve practised your photo-ready face.

Get to know what you really look like and embrace it. There are photos of me which I think I look bad, but others think are a great picture of me. And whether photogenic or not, the “bad pictures of you” are actually a reminder of how much more you are than how you appeared in a photo. The “look pretty” curse loosens its hold.

the cost-free, non-surgical way to change the way we look

A smile doesn’t just light up our face, it changes it.

We have facial muscles that we activate and lift when we smile. Think of how body workouts transform people’s figures (not mine, because I don’t work out), a “facial workout” must transform the way our face looks. The Japanese does “face slimming” exercises by opening their mouths as wide as possible to say the vowels, in front of the mirror.

Smile 🙂 – the cost-free, non-surgical way to change the way we look over time.