The Truth About Beauty

This was written in 2016.  It may resonate for some of you.

At 2 am this morning I gave up the battle with insomnia after lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, my thoughts racing.

It was time to acknowledge that sleep was again elusive, a fickle lover for at least the next few hours.

My thoughts kept getting ensnared in a topic that I have known for weeks that I really need to write about.

Not going to be easy.

Not going to be pretty.

It is time to get real about beauty.

I should preface this with the disclaimer:

I can only speak for myself.

But something tells me that I am not alone in this deeply ambivalent battle with my own self-esteem.  The woman in me lives in lifelong tension with the feminist in me and is locked in a battle with who society tells me to be.

No one ever seems to win here.

There is no lesson that an American girl learns so deeply, so thoroughly, at such a young age, than the lesson that to be beautiful as it is defined in magazines, television shows, movies, books is to have value, is to be lovable, is to be worthy.

If we do not live up to this image—and almost none of us are thin enough, white enough, blond enough, blue-eyed enough, curvy enough (but not too curvy)—we enter a lifetime struggle with cultural norms, insecurity and battles with our self-esteem.

I have never fit the cultural norm for beauty at any point in my life. As a child I was never the thin, blue-eyed, blond angel with gorgeous ringlets who knew when to talk politely and when to keep her mouth demurely shut.

By the time I was a pre-teen, I had accepted that I would never be more than “pretty on my good days.”  I never blossomed into a swan. In my head, I was already ugly, fat, “too” smart, not one of the cool kids, destined to be “other.” We plant low self-esteem and body dysmorphia early in our young, oblivious to the consequences.

Even as a child, and certainly as a teenager, I asked hard questions, cared deeply about social justice (which baffled the people around me), asked “why” a few too many times. I was called “hard-headed,” “opinionated,” a “bitch” more times than I could count. The implication was always that had I been beautiful, I might be forgiven these offenses; but that because I wasn’t, I was fair game as an object of ridicule, able to be dismissed or more often, put firmly in my place. The more that society, that the people around me, tried to take me down a peg or two, the angrier, the louder, the more oppositional I became.  By the time I was 15 or 16, I was so heartily sick of being told that I would be “prettier if I smiled more,” if I was more “polite,” if I was more “nice,” I thought I would explode in a ball of fire and burn the world to ashes.

In college, I spent four glorious years saying “Fuck you” to society’s norms– kept my hair short, stopped shaving, wore black and gray every day and enjoyed the fact that other women didn’t seem to care if I wasn’t a 5’11”, size 0 supermodel with perfect breasts, perfect skin, naturally straight white teeth and a body that a sack of potatoes would look good on. They seemed to like that I was smart, that I was passionate, opinionated. I was finally able to tune out societal standards of beauty. I could rock me in college and never sleep alone if I didn’t want to. Intellectually at least, I learned that I was still lovable, still fuckable, at least by other women, just as I was.

I still mostly- at least intellectually- believe that.  Hell, I’m a good feminist, I practice what I preach here!  I dress for my comfort, I could care less about make-up and I am apparently missing whatever part of the X chromosome carries the gene where some woman instinctively knows how to use a blow dryer, a lash curler and accessorize like Coco Channel.

I turned 50 this year and have been learning  the hard way that being a middle-age woman is as big a societal offense as being an angry, opinionated teenage girl. I have apparently committed the crime of aging as a woman in America. And the societal sentence for this heinous crime is invisibility, to become unseen, to become de-sexualized, to be seen only as a mother, a crone, not as a vibrant woman or even a full, complex human being. This has been a harder pill to swallow than I anticipated. I have been fighting this invisibility tooth and nail and refuse to be relegated to a bit player in my own life.

If I am completely and totally honest with myself, I must admit that there is still a deep hidden part of me that still desperately longs to be beautiful.  Some days even I can’t define what I mean by the word.  I know I don’t need or want to look like a runway model; but I would be lying if I didn’t admit, at least to myself, that I want to be seen by others, by the world, as worthy, lovable, alluring, sexy, interesting, intriguing, smart, compassionate, funny– all at same time.  Beauty doesn’t mean to me at 50 what it did at 7 or 16 or 25 but it is still just as evasive, still just as much out of my reach as it always has been.  And I hate that it still matters to me.  I hate that it still impacts my feelings of self-worth, my self-image.

That is my hard truth about beauty.

© 2016 Christine Elizabeth Ray – All rights Reserved



  1. “The woman in me lives in lifelong tension with the feminist in me and is locked in a battle with who society tells me to be.” What an apt description, Christine!
    Thank you for writing this. I hope women the world over can come across this and take a deep breath.
    PS: I’m half your age and I still remember the first time I saw a lash curler. I wondered what kind of a mediaeval contraption that was and why would anyone in their right minds let it come anywhere near their eyes!


    1. Varnika– I am so glad I not the only one who views a lash curler as a medieval torture device. I don’t know if you noticed that Sudden Denouement is putting out a call for new writers. I strongly encourage you to consider submitting.


  2. Christina, this is such a brilliant piece of writing – so smart, so eloquent, so vulnerable – and so, so insightful, you’ve spoken for a generation. And probably more than one! The human connectedness you’ve achieved here, as is usual with your writing, takes my breath away. C x


  3. My dear friend,
    Your sharing touched me deeply. I have always been attracted to ultra feminine, classically beautiful women, you probably remember the Fair Caroline, who was my first true love and wife. Truth is attraction is not a choice, and our individual wiring and programming responds to certain triggers. Even though i don’t regret a thing, I find myself alone again, from dissatisfaction and lack of true partnership. I met a very smart, Stanford graduate, professional, wicked smart, very average ( by the GQ girlfriend standard) but truly she is the most real love, I probably experienced. At first I resisted, I asked her to wear more lipstick, shave the few hair on her naval. She assertively stood up for herself…and guess what…it turned me on more than ever.

    Beauty is moving, and can inspire, and drive our members crazy, and make us build towers in days…however…the whole package, energy, intelligence, kindness, sexual intelligence, a warm and loving soul…becomes the ultimate sex object we lust for and crave in our souls.

    Being feminist by the way, does not mean not to indulge in naughty fantasies, or not wear lipstick, or not shave hair. It means to have the RIGHT to be YOU. All of you. It means to be able to be in bed receptive, naughty, domineering, slutty, or girly…while knowing that your partner loves YOU and respects you as a partner. It means to remain powerful even if you choose to completely let go in the bedroom.
    As for the wish to be classically beautiful. I get it, but as a lover, connoisseur of women, as a woman named me…no onee feels beautiful , not even the 10’s. Women suffer from this never beautiful enough, thin enough, smart enough complex due to trauma, society, insecurity…and so on.

    Truth is attraction can shift as you know the person…and truth is…a confident woman, who knows how to take care of self…is sexy as heck!
    We all would like to be something else physically. I would like to be 6″ feet tall, male, with an 8 inch member, and still possess my intuition, emotional intelligence, depth, and sensitivity…


    Well…there are reasons we are born in the vessel we are born;) Bigger reasons.

    All I know is that the freedom to be whole, out of the feminist or patriarchal box is the way to true feminism.

    Sorry for mistakes, and sloppy writing. I just write without corrections, and I did not get much sleep.
    But was compelled to respond.




  4. This is truly fabulous. There is so much that I could write in reply but this is your piece. It’s great and I’m just glad that you wrote it.

    I’ve had the “prettier if I smiled more” comments, or my personal favourite “smile, forfucksake” (a recent comment on Facebook).

    And by the way, we get the same shit in the UK!


    1. I am learning to live with the fact that having a chronic illness vastly impacts my ability to take care of myself. We judge people so harshly on weight and clothing and grooming. I am so fatigued some days I can’t comb my hair. My solution? A buzz cut. I like it but it certainly doesn’t fit the mold of Western beauty.


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