I grew up looking different. From an extremely young age, I was aware that something about me made me different from other children - and that it put me in a position of being judged, noticed, stared at and commented on.
Looking different taught me about compassion for others. It taught me about boundaries. It taught me what it feels like to not fit in. It taught me to see through what society deemed as acceptable, and what it felt like to be on the fringes of that.
Media, cultural norms and social expectations, teach us that there is only one version of beauty. Cookie-cutter beauty. That we, as womxn are only beautiful if we are a certain color, size, weight, age and shape. That if we vary from this, we don’t need to be alone necessarily, but we will need to find our own sense of belonging.
The problem with this kind of one size fits all beauty, is that it excludes so many and creates a sense of unworthiness for those left outside the loop. It fuels industries that profit from those feeling less than, unattractive, unpopular or ugly. It creates competition in place of collaboration, and comparison instead of compassion.
When womxn lose their hair, there is so much tied up with it. We are told repeatedly how much beauty has to do with hair, we are bombarded with luscious locks and ‘it’s your crown’ marketing.
Not having hair opens us up to all sorts of judgments from those around us; I mean we are all judged, all day whenever we are around others, especially strangers - that’s how our brains work. We put people in boxes to figure out how we can relate to them. That’s not the problem.
The problem is when these boxes are used to reinforce a stereotype that is harmful or wrong about a certain group of people. Or in some cases, used to imply a personality trait or attribute that is falsely leveraged to make a villain seem more evil, different and separate from the heroes of a story.
A Recent Example - Roald Dahl’s The Witches
Recently advocacy groups for people with disabilities and people with alopecia have been speaking out against the remake of Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
I was originally horrified and embarrassed by this movie and story as a young child with alopecia. As a little girl with no hair, I remember when I first heard the description of the witches with their wigs and bald heads, and how hurt I was. I may have resembled them, but I wasn’t evil.
As I got older, I started to really understand how short hair, baldness and hair loss was leveraged by storytellers in popular culture to depict female characters with particular personality traits.
I saw story after story where we were divided from our beautiful, sexually desirable, loveable counterparts by short hair, baldness and hair loss. We could be evil, angry and/or vengeful but not remorseful.
We could be bold, courageous and rebellious - but not vulnerable or desired. We could be sexy or lustful, but only if they were fetishized, or an actual alien.
TV show after TV show told me how gross and disgusting baldness is.
However I had hope that in these current times, especially in 2020 when I feel like the world cannot continue to operate as it always has, that compassion for those around us needs to start taking precedence. That writers, producers and actors on a movie would understand the detriments of leaning on tropes to demonstrate characters traits
Instead they went a step further. In an odd twist and change from the original book, the high witch (played by Anne Hathaway) appears to have ectrodactyly.
What the actual *****!
This is not the compassion I am looking for in this world. This is not the empowering shift in beauty standards we have been fighting for for decades. This is the misuse of physical differences to further perpetuate that those who look different have no place in our world.
The fact that not one person in the process of making this film took a single moment to consider the potential disservice they were doing to people with limb differences, or who are bald - is ridiculous.
Alopecia is not a disability and I support the requirement and fight for a more accessible world where people with disabilities can move through it with ease and confidence. Our frustrations with this representation are a little different, but both are important.
I have heard others say that at least the baldness is in the book and that makes it better - because sticking to the original story of a beloved author is important. I disagree.
Just because the baldness is in the book does not mean it is more acceptable to include it in the movie. I know intimately the challenges of being bald not by choice - and that this world can be so unforgiving to those with any uniqueness outside of the cookie-cutter beauty norm. Regardless of how “easily” we can hide it, or how not life threatening it is.
Because it’s not really about who is more disadvantaged by this representation, or what the original book said or didn’t - it’s about the simple act of considering the world from the perspective of someone different from ourselves. It’s about being able to step out of our own shoes and into the shoes of someone else for even a split second.
The Power of Empathy & Compassion
I strongly believe that empathy and compassion in our society comes from being able to take one of our own experiences, understand how it made us feel, and use this to consider how others might feel in their unique circumstance.
Taking a small piece of who we are and seeing it reflected in someone else is a super power. It manifests as seeing someone else who looks a little different and not approaching them with questions because we know what it’s like to be questioned ourselves.
It can manifest as an instagram influencer taking the time to make their post accessible, a white ally attending a BLM rally and following Black leadership, or a company installing gender neutral bathrooms to ensure inclusion of all their employees.
You can see it in the refusal of people to touch a pregnant woman’s belly without an invitation, and when airport security pulls the white man aside instead of the woman wearing a hijab.
These are not all equivalent experiences, each with their own source of trauma, frustration, discrmination and ignorance. They cannot be compared. However if we acknowledge them, maybe it will make us more compassionate.
I see it as being able to say, I had this obstacle in my life which in no way necessarily had the same challenges, characteristics, solutions or coping mechanisms as yours did, but I know what it was like to overcome that obstacle myself and because of that I can see you, and your obstacles and I will not ignore this.
We cannot continue to live in a world where the unique bodies, appearances, emotions and neurological processing of those around us can be put in second place against people who fit the mould of the right color, size, weight, age and shape
These tropes do harm. Measurable harm to anyone in the world who does fit in with this idealistic version of beauty. We’ve seen it for decades in the form of eating disorders, a rise in mental health treatment, the incredible wealth of the makeup and hair industries and the rising number of instagram accounts posting with the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards.
This ideal of beauty is diminishing the value of uniqueness and diversity in the world. It’s telling those who don’t fit inside the lines that their voice, their skills, their love and their needs are not required in this world. It’s not wanted, or welcomed. It’s not important.
It has to change.
Diversity, and acknowledging it is key to generating productive conversations. To ensure ongoing connection, innovation and development within our world and working towards a world that is safe for everyone.
I choose to speak out against and personally challenge and represent the alternative to the cookie-cutter beauty ideal.
We are all unique, that’s what makes us beautiful
Cookie-cutter beauty is boring
Difference is power to change the world
Pleasure, desire and love is for everyone
Confidence is a feeling for all
I acknowledge I am not perfect, and that I will make mistakes (we all will) in trying to embody these beliefs. The only way through is to apologize when we make them, learn our lesson and apply it next time.
Compassion is at the root of our ability to change this world for the better and ensure that we do not buy into the illusion of sameness, and the idea that only certain individuals have value. This needs to change.
I’ve opened up comments on this post, so let me know - have you been challenged by the beauty ideals you’ve seen in the world? Do you agree compassion is part of the solution?
You can also hit me up on social @dominiqueclaire.coaching.
I’ve got more coming in the following weeks about how I challenge and work to oppose these ideals, so let me know if there’s any specific questions you have for me!