When are we going to stop romanticising our obsession with appearance?
Updated: Mar 3
Taneshia Atkinson explores self-love and unlearning unhealthy beauty standards.
I wish I could start this piece off a little wittier and probably less self-absorbed—but the truth is, I want to talk about shaving my head and learning how to love myself.
For full transparency, I have spent a lot of time hating many of my individual aspects. And whilst I have spent a lot of time unpacking and criticising beauty standards, I am nowhere near where I would like to be in completely and unconditionally adorning myself, and I, unfortunately, do not have the answers. What I do know, however, is that we need to change.
Reflecting back on my twenty-something years, I am saddened about the times I consistently despised what I saw when I looked at myself. I hated my smile. My calf muscles were huge. My chin was too big. I gained too much weight. My hair wasn’t blonde, and I could never achieve the cute carefree throw-up bun look. I had painful and raised acne that of course needed makeup and my moom didn’t look like the mooms we see in the tights in every second TikTok video. The list truly goes on.
What’s more challenging is the normalisation of this behaviour. My experience is not isolated. Excuse the generalisation, but almost everyone I know wants to change themselves. Like me, many people don’t like their body. Or their hair. Or their freckles. Or their ankles. Or their forehead. Or their nose. You know—the stuff we were literally genetically destined to have. We live in a society where it is more acceptable to publicly defame ourselves than it is to highlight our own strengths and individual beauty.
It is important to recognise that this amount of self-hate and depreciation has been conditioned. It was taught to us and continues to be upheld across many institutions. Just recently, a school in Sydney has banned the mullet hairstyle and just a few years ago, Sudanese girls at a school in Melbourne were asked to remove their braids with the claim they did not meet the school’s uniform policy. Why are institutions allowed agency over our bodies?
I want to make note that for black and brown bodies, trans bodies and disabled bodies, the politicisation of beauty is much more prominent. It is further dissected, judged, underrepresented and weaponised.
People are not born picking apart our appearance and existence, yet we have been programmed to think otherwise—this obsession with controlling and nit-picking our appearance has manifested in many other harmful ways. We postpone our enjoyment until our appearance has met a certain standard. We postpone wearing divine and carefully selected clothing until we are considered to be at a ‘socially acceptable weight’. And we at times accept that we are deserving of mistreatment because of the way we look.
Frustratingly, this isn’t where the self-image warfare ends—people are literally profiting off our own insecurities. After introducing us to a beauty standard that nobody asked for, companies take our time and money by helping us get the eyelashes we have always apparently dreamed of, to remove ‘stubborn fat’ and to have brighter skin and a wider smile.
"How did we allow beauty to become an oppressive tool?"
Considering these experiences, the thought of shaving my head was like forbidden fruit. An act of rebellion against the introduced ideologies that bind our self-worth and value. But this wasn’t easy.
My deal was to wait until I was thinner. To wait until I was happy with my smile, and until I felt pretty and acceptable enough to expose my face and the shape of my head. I mulled with this rhetoric until I found the courage to challenge my conditioned existence.
The moment I shaved my head was the exact moment I severed ties with the toxic beauty standards I was not only harbouring but projecting onto others. As brown clumps began piling on the ground, I made space for a deeper appreciation of myself and separated my shell from the worthy, whole and lubly person I am. I now sit powerfully between a paradox of vulnerability and self-sovereignty.
In an over-policed society founded on values of oppression, this was the beginning of my reclamation to freedom, and in severing ties with toxic beauty standards, this is what I have learnt—
However, you exist in any space is enough.
You don’t owe anyone anything, and that means you don’t owe anyone pretty, or thin, or sleek.
Your existence is a miracle and is far greater than your shell or body.
No validation or love from anyone will ever compare to the power of the love and validation that comes from within.
You don’t have to work on accepting your flaws. Because - plot twist - you don’t really have any.
You exist for you. It’s time to unlearn what does not serve us. 🔥
Taneshia Atkinson is a Yorta Yorta and Bangerang writer living on Bundjalung country in Northern NSW.
Taneshia is a writer and poet, and works full time as a communications coordinator. She has written for Buzzfeed, Clothing the Gap, Peppermint Magazine, Fashion Journal and Broadsheet and is currently studying a degree in psychology.