The first time I thought about what it means to be beautiful

First Timers

Gender is a social construct, and makeup norms are bullshit.

I have a buzz cut and small boobs. I want to rock red lipstick every single day for the rest of my life. I wrote this wearing ruby lipstick and pajamas while crosslegged on a borrowed couch.

I wear very loud lipstick all the time because I like it. I would wear lip liner in my sleep if it wouldn’t rub off on my pillow. The louder my lipstick, the larger I feel.

My lipstick is so ingrained in my mental conception of my body that in my mind’s eye, I am always wearing a vampy wine stain.

Over the weekend, I sat bare lipped and braless in a red Adirondack chair outside Berkeley Espresso. I draped my book over the arm of my chair and got up to stretch.

From behind me, I heard the call of a middle-aged man: “Excuse me, sir?”

I thought that this guy couldn’t be talking to me. Then the voice grew closer and repeated its message with increased volume: “Excuse me, sir? How do I get to BART?”

Surprised, I turned around and saw a pink polo shirt tucked into dad pants. This guy wore a Cal baseball cap and clearly thought I was a man. I gave him BART directions and sat back down with ease.

I have small boobs and a buzz cut. It happens. Image is powerful, and beauty is superficial. Beauty norms are underscored with gender conception, driven by an industry that is racist, ableist, heteronormative and a hundred other kinds of problematic.

For a long time, I was hung up on being beautiful because I thought it made me a womxn. I was also hung up on pretending to be straight: That phase, obviously, I grew out of.

At 12, I was gangly — all arms and no boobs. I had large hands and was taller than all the boys in Mrs. Brasil’s sixth-grade class. I wore only pastel-colored turtleneck sweaters, which, you know, exude sex appeal.

I had a short, greasy blonde bob that ended at my dimples. I remember that in April 2006, I decided to grow it out after the boys began to giggle — in hushed tones and over salami sandwiches — that I was a lesbian.

The sixth-grade male population — white boys with frosted tips and “The Crocodile Hunter” T-shirts — called it before I did. (Oh, the irony: Prepubescent kids are shockingly astute.)

I didn’t cut my hair short for the next five years. I wanted to be beautiful for the Heelys-and-skinny-jean-wearing hipsters.

The images of disability you see are never beautiful; in coffee-table-sized books, you see glossy pictures of children who are either sad or sensational. With disability, you do not see red lipstick. The ugly laws existed in this country well into the 1970s, making it illegal for more than a century to be disabled in public. Underrepresented minority identities historically were never thought of as beautiful.

And I was young, trying to figure how to be beautiful and look like what I thought a womxn should look like.

Somewhere in the middle of January 2007, I started caking on makeup. My first piece of cosmetics was a thick glitter eyeliner pencil that was free at Macy’s. I smeared that sucker on my lids like nobody’s business. I thought I was Madonna, but younger, shorter and glam as fuck.

I dyed my hair a variety of colors using a home highlighting kit from Target. I went from bleach blonde to mauve red to angsty purple. I was 15 when I got hair dye on the ceiling of the bathroom, and I’m not sure if it’s still there.

Teen Vogue was my manual, and its models my muses. Like the models, I wanted to be beautiful with a capital B. I didn’t realize that beauty was a construction, created by an industry. Like most basic white girls, I ended up rocking an orange foundation line for about six years.

Now I am older, and I am trying to figure out what I should look like.

Yesterday, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and adjusted my buzz cut with a pair of kitchen scissors.

I applied red lipstick and walked away.

My physical presentation is not about social norms or sex appeal. I will keep buzzing my hair and not wearing a bra, because beauty is about feeling like myself, independent of binary norms.

Most of all, my beauty is for me.

Jasmine Leiser writes the Thursday column on lessons learned from first-time experiences. You can contact her at [email protected].

Tags No tags yet