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Lisa Hickey

Lisa Hickey
Birthday
November 06
Title
Publisher, CEO
Company
The Good Men Project
Bio
Part of The Good Men Project. CEO of Good Men Media. I like to create things that capture the imagination of the general public & become a part of the culture.

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SEPTEMBER 22, 2011 10:28PM

Chasing Beauty: An Addict's Memoir

Rate: 14 Flag

Photo by amyrod 

Here we go again, I think, as I impatiently wait for the hair straighter to warm up. I’ve washed my hair, deep conditioned it, shaved my legs, tweezed my eyebrows. I’ve blown dry my hair, but it’s still a wreck. It’s always a wreck. It’s thin, so thin that when I put it into a ponytail, a pencil is thicker. I plaster down the worst of the flyaways with a hair product that promises something it can’t deliver.

What I really want to be doing – instead of going through that same-same ritual – is learning to write code. Studying analytics. Taking with someone halfway ‘round the world about real oppression. Not the kind of oppression that I feel because of my addiction to beauty.

♦◊♦

Sometimes I’ll look in the mirror, and I’ll catch the light just right. The sun will be setting, the image in the mirror gets dim, the wrinkles and age spots and flyaway hairs meld into the twilight. The angle of my chin clicks into place. And at those times I’ll look in the mirror and say to myself: Oh, I’m not as hideous as I thought.

There is nothing about that statement that is good, or healthy, or intelligent, or perhaps even logical. But it is 100% honest. And every day, that’s as good as it gets.

♦◊♦

It’s weird, this thing called beauty. I used to be beautiful twice in my life. You just know. There’s simply a different look in people’s eyes. They actually look at you. They actually see you.

I was 22, and out on a date and I overheard a stranger talking to the guy I was dating. “Man, you don’t see that she’s the most beautiful girl in this place?”  My boyfriend shook his head. “If you don’t, you’re crazy…here…” said the guy, giving my boyfriend his number. “Call me if you break up with her.”

 ♦◊♦

Anti-aging skin care products are reported to be a $3.5 billion dollar industry. Products are designed to “remove 33% of fine lines and wrinkles.” But do you know what I look like with 33% less fine lines and wrinkles? I look like plain old ordinary almost-hideous me, just with 33% less fine lines and wrinkles. Except I’m standing there holding a $70 container of face cream that could have been a night out, or a textbook, or partial payment on a new laptop. It’s pretty laughable. And yet, I still walk into CVS and longingly stalk the skincare aisle, picking up containers. “Maybe this will be the one.”

 ♦◊♦

I remember reading a book called The Condition. One of the main characters has Turners Syndrome, which causes her not to develop into puberty; to remain as small as a middle-schooler. And this woman feels marginalized most of her life, keeps to herself, doesn’t have relationships. Until she travels to a Caribbean island and a man there falls in love with her. And I remember this next sentence perfectly:  He kept saying to her, over and over, “I love that you’re so small,” until gradually she learned to love that about herself, too. But who says, “I love that you’re so ugly?” Or, “I love that you’re so old?” Of course I believe that love exists for the old and the ugly—as long as they were young and beautiful when you first met them.

 ♦◊♦

A commenter on my last my post “Beauty, Obsession, Men, Women” said, “At 80 years old, everyone is marginalized,” in response to what I’ve found, in talking to other women and hearing them say that they don’t want to grow old because they are afraid they will lose their beauty and become marginalized. But…if people are marginalized at 80, isn’t that because of their LOOKS? Are you telling me that if an 80-year-old looked like a really hot 40-year-old that people wouldn’t pay attention to her?

 ♦◊♦

At 42 years old, after four kids and a train-wreck of a self-image, I became obsessed with beauty again. It started like it always does; I went running. And running – I have to run a lot, 5 to 10 miles a day – but running does it for me. Eventually my body started to look great. And then, even better, I added to my workout pilates, yoga, strength-training, and ballet. And more running. I got leaner and longer and stretched. My posture was perfect. My shoulders thrown back; emerging shoulder blades. I could feel my hipbones again. And then the facials, chemical peels, microdermabrasion’s, Botox. I was in some salon or another every week. Manicures. Pedicures. Hair colored on Boston’s ritzy Newbury Street, “chocolate and caramel swirl for your hair so you look delicious,” the stylist would laugh. New clothing. The perfect bra. A funky pair of shoes. Just the right earrings. A silk dress.

You don’t set out to spend money that should be going to your kids schooling, but instead is going to your beauty regime—at least I certainly didn’t. But a treatment of Botox is a tuition payment. A months worth of yoga classes is a textbook. A mani-pedi is an hour of tutoring. Not to mention the time not being with my kids. I’d get nervous if I couldn’t fit the three hours of exercise in. If a yoga class was at suppertime, yoga it was.

It was totally and completely and utterly selfish, of course. Addictions are always selfish. You justify them any way you can—“It’s important to have ‘me’ time”, “I work so hard, I deserve to relax,” “I need to look good to get ahead in work. I’ll earn more for my family.” “I’m healthier when I’m in shape. More relaxed. More confident. I’m a better person.” But an addiction is an addiction is an addiction, and you start feeding that addiction at the expense of connecting with the people you love.

 ♦◊♦

One day a few months after my new regime, I dashed straight from work to pick up my daughter from a birthday party. Parents that I had known for years didn’t recognize me. One eight-year old eating ice cream said solemnly “Mrs. Hickey, did they turn you into a movie star?”

 ♦◊♦

Intelligence doesn’t walk in the door the same way beauty does.

 

 

Most of my life I’ve been afraid of men. Part of that fear was—and still is, quite frankly—I’m afraid I’m not beautiful enough. I like to think I’m intelligent, and funny, and kind, and that those qualities will be enough for any interaction.

But intelligence doesn’t walk in the door the same way beauty does.

 ♦◊♦

A few months later, I’m at a Boston Advertising Awards Show. The Hatch Awards, packed to the gills with people dressed to the nines and I know almost everyone. And 5 minutes after I walk in I hear a loud booming voice from across the room. “OMG, who’s the babe?

I instinctively turn around to see who he was talking about. Then I realized I was “the babe.”

It happened all night. The variation on the theme was, “Who’s the baaaaaaaaaaabe?” Men who usually took care to conduct themselves with the utmost of professionalism seemed delirious. An old boss said, “I always wished you had looked this way back when we worked together. You know, for the clients.” One guy I had worked with for months years earlier turned around and dropped his drink on his shoe when he saw me. He didn’t lose a beat as he hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You look fucking gorgeous.”

You know what I hated most? I hated that I loved it. I hated that I couldn’t wait to see the look in guys’ eyes as they actually looked at me, as if they saw me for the first time. I couldn’t stand the way that for each of the previous 10 years, I had gone to that same awards show—and in all the other years I remembered the joy of hearing my name announced and getting an award, or being asked to interview for the perfect job, or making a hushed deal in the marble hallways of the Opera House. And I hated myself because this time, I didn’t want to hear any of those things. All I wanted to hear was “who’s the babe?” I hated that every accomplishment I had ever earned was replaced by the desire to hear guys tell me that I was once again beautiful.

 ♦◊♦

Gradually, of course, as what happens with all addictions, my life became unmanageable. My kids started begging me to go for cheaper haircuts, so I could afford clothes for them. They’d want to spend time with me when I wanted to go for longer and longer runs. A pre-teen daughter stormed out of Staples when a guy started flirting with me—while we were buying her school supplies. (The only thing worse than a not-hot mom is a hot one.) I’d sneak off from work to go to a “client meeting”, but I’d really be going to a yoga class. Walking back in the office two hours later and trying to hide the yoga mat didn’t exactly inspire confidence in my managerial capabilities. I’d get caught with thousands of dollars worth of bills for beauty services the way some people get caught with bills for phone sex.

 ♦◊♦

And so, reluctantly, I gave up my addiction. But there are still some signs I’m not fully cured. There’s my daily battle with the mirror and the hair straightener. And I’ve joined the ranks of Jezebel readers, who are horrified of the constant photoshopping of pictures of women in the media, like this “Photoshop Shop of Horrors.”

I hope Jezebel makes a dent in things. But until then, what to I do in response to my horror? I Photoshop pictures of myself before they go out in public.

♦◊♦

On The Good Men Project Facebook page, one of our fans once wrote: “What is wrong with men liking women who are beautiful? Why can’t we just like what we like? Why must you make us feel guilty?”

The truth is, nothing is wrong with it. You can absolutely like whom you like. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty. You own your own feelings, not me. And I am certainly not blaming you for my own screwed-up insecurities.

A pretty much un-Photoshopped photo of me.

I am telling you my side of the story so you understand this—I am not a good a person when I am beautiful. I don’t want it to be so important — but I think it’s important to you, as guys, so it’s important to me. And this is my story, not every woman’s and I’m sure there are plenty of beautiful women who are not like me either. But when I’m beautiful—or close to beautiful—it’s all I think about. When I’m beautiful and I’m with you, I’m wondering if the guy across the room thinks I’m beautiful. I think beauty is going to connect us; but I’m not connecting with you, I’m connecting with a beautiful image of myself that I think you might like. It sucks. It sucks for both of us.

And my addiction to beauty hurts men because I don’t give you credit for being the guys you are—someone who likes the incredible complexity of women for who they are.

♦◊♦

Giving up my addiction meant giving up being beautiful. Some people here will tell me I am “fishing for compliments” by writing this. That’s what I am usually told when I talk about beauty.

♦◊♦

Even as I was writing this—even as I was remembering “the guy who dropped the glass on his foot”—I had a physical reaction. It was similar to a fight or flight response—I could either put these fighting words about beauty on a page, or I could go for a run. I was typing as I slid my feet into my sneakers. I was still thinking through sentences, and found I couldn’t get my headphones into my iPhone quick enough. It took an excruciatingly long time to untangle them. I had to run. I had to run through a beautiful day, and then later, at one in the morning, run again, run at a cost to a leg that doesn’t work anymore, run as hard and as fast as I could—chasing a beauty I know I can never catch up to.

♦◊♦

I want beauty not to matter.

 

♦◊♦

This post first appeared on The Good Men Project. 

 

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Comments

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oh why fight it?
u are beautiful in your mind and morality and
ways and means and
in today's messed up world, this is not a minor thing to achieve,
due to soul-power.

but: as blake said, "body is outward reflection of soul".

beauty is NOT a genetic lottery as some say.
except for the preordained vapid few with "symmetry" in
their physicality.

a guy looks at the eyes first. always.
even more than a chick does.
\

glory in yr babehood, girl.

oprah commands thee!!!:)
Yah baby! Thanks for the comment James. Despite my apparent angst, I love life with a passion I never had before when I obsessed over my looks. Still appreciate a compliment though. [blush]
Beauty is important to me still at the age of 57 but I would not say it is an obsession. I think I look better than my sister who tans and botoxes regularly. I just stay out of the sun, cream my face, and smile. It's almost free.
Beauty is important to me still at the age of 57 but I would not say it is an obsession. I think I look better than my sister who tans and botoxes regularly. I just stay out of the sun, cream my face, and smile. It's almost free.
If you are spending too much on beauty products, try the $100 wrinkle cream on one side of your face and the 10$ run-of-the-mill Body shop moisturizer on the other side. (Note, not the $70 Body shop anti-wrinkle intensive whatever product) After a month compare.

My bet is no one will be able to guess which side got the magic. powerful wrinkle reducer and which didn't.
This is like a ping-pong match that most women are familiar!! We want to be beautiful, but we want beauty not to matter. We do see ourselves strangely. I love your line " But who says, “I love that you’re so ugly?” Or, “I love that you’re so old?” Classic.
Many years ago, my grandmother told me, "Pretty is as pretty does." Sharing your story, baring your soul to the world this way, well, this reveals more beauty than any potion or exercise regime could ever.
When you said, "Intelligence doesn’t walk in the door the same way beauty does," that connected with me. I'm a guy and I'll be the first to admit that guys don't watch women walk into ANY doorway and think, "WOW, I bet she's smart, funny, complicated and loves sports." I think, "Who's the hottie," or, "Who's the babe," is pretty much it.

That said, being less than stunning is not a deal breaker. Personally, I have always wondered why a guy will trip over his own tongue (or the appendage with the smaller, more demanding 'brain') to be the first to meet and greet a pretty woman. It always made me think of coyotes or vultures surrounding a fresh kill. Less appealing than you might think, even for someone who is fascniated by the animal underlayer of socialized behavior.

Ladies, there are ugly men out there and there are ugly women out there from the skin's surface alone. The old saying, "Beauty is only skin deep," couldn't be more true, because physical beauty often fades in ways you'd never expect. Sadly, the rest of the phrase is never really admitted or spoken, "But ugly goes all the way down to the bone."

I've met some really beautiful "ugly" people in my life. Men and women. You get past that initial meeting and discover through a casual or offhand remark, how bitingly ugly their internal persona is and then, that beautiful face suddenly reveals the hawklike pinched expression of anger, seething just below the surface. The arrogant crease to the smile that, instead of gleaming and shining, now only reflects venality and the smile of a wolf before it brings down a caribou. Those eyes, once sparkling and luminescent now show the hunger and unblinking gaze of a venemous snake about to strike.

By the same token, the less than perfect people, who care about their looks enough to coif, comb, wash, shave, add makeup (if necessary) to be presentable, are oftentimes truly beautiful people well past that initial moment when they let their guard down. They say things that indicate a care and concern for others. They show themselves to be intelligent and feeling people, self deprecating (sometimes to a fault) and truly marvelous folks to talk to.

I won't fail to look at a pretty face, a nicely sculpted body, or sometimes stare gape-mouthed at a true, drop dead gorgeous woman. Surely my male urges are stimulated by such things. But I often wonder, post initial shock, "How much fun are they likely to be when the makeup, special form fitting dress, or hairdo comes off and they're just being themselves?"

I honestly ask that, because my personal experiences have been that, the most beautiful people, who focus on that physical shell to the exclusion of most all else, turn out to be some of the worst folks to be around if you don't fit their mold.

Thanks for your perspective. Hopefully, you'll come to actually see that when guys are staring at you, wondering, "Who's the babe," they're not really seeing You. They're seeing what you look like right now and imagining what you'd be like in bed. It's no more worthy of desire or your personal nature than having sexual urges and giving in completely to the animal in us all to mate with a nicely rendered physical specimen of the opposite sex.

Beyond that, there's a much larger scope and backdrop to life and living in a relationship. I'm sure we all know that and mentally say, "Of course, Captain Obvious," to this observation. Yet, how many of us say that as Lip Service to wisdom we don't really, internally believe?

Thank you for this thought provoking article. And if you secretly didn't mind a few compliments, if I weren't married, I'd date that "mostly" non-photoshopped woman in the picture as long as she wasn't a jerk. I guess I'd have to get to know her to find that out. The point is, I'd be willing to find out.

So. Chin up, not all guys are dogs who bark and whistle at just a select group of "beautiful" women and not all guys are so fixated on nailing a beauty at the expense of finding out who they truly are, deep down to the bone.

-r-
An interesting, and important subject. I was surprised that James said men always look at the eyes first. I know that to be true for me, and now for him, but seriously doubt that is true of most men I know.

For many years I felt that the whole 'beauty' thing women did was essentially a degradation ceremony. A kind of clown like painting of the face, saying "I don't like myself". I know that is true for some women. I live in a small town, and have watched 3 generations of one family practice this hideous charade, with the obvious consequences. I first became aware of this when I saw the 7 year old wearing makeup at the local market regularly. Now an adult mother, her daughter follows the same pattern.

As an adult male, what I look for in my woman friends is intelligence, humor, compassion, caring. Everything else is totally secondary. This is proven by the fact that my friend Liz frequently greets me with her teeth not yet in place.

Bottom line for me, if you like yourself, I will like you, regardless of appearance. Total acceptance is greeting me without any makeup. I know, I'm weird.
You may want to explore why beauty is so important to you. My guess is that someone who mattered, when you were a child, seemed to love you for the way you looked, not who you are. I know because I've been there. I think it is natural to want to look attractive, but in our society today people are going to extremes that makes them look like alien creatures (like on the Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills). Often a really nice smile, like the one in your photo, is worth more than all the botox and fake lip injections in the world. Older women, in their seventies and up, look ridiculous (at least to me) when they try to look like movie stars. Some, only a few, stars remain natural and lovely. Remember Katherine Hepburn as she aged, and Diane Keaton now. All you have to do is look around and you'll see many happy couples, in which neither the man, nor the woman, is telegenic. But they are laughing and enjoying each other's comany. That's the way to go, if you can. Remember, the kind of man who is attracted to arm candy, isn't worth having and won't stick around long.
I love the un-photoshopped pic of you! I live in L.A. and it's easy to become addicted to beauty products, exercise and all the other stuff because it's all around this city. You look amazing. Loved this piece!
This is sad, there is so much joy in life that has nothing to do with being a "babe", yuck.
I think the commenter who suggested deeper reasons is correct, you will only find unhappiness following this road. People have real illness, and deformity, are born with terrible physical ailments but still enjoy life, that you are choosing to deny the way you look, or streamline a healthy body into a cultural expectation, well, it's just really sad to me. I hope you find peace in wherever your journey takes you, hopefully somewhere beyond your physical appearance.
this is perfect and honest. I'm so glad you got an EP for it. I could go on but you know? you said it all here. And today with all this focus, this intense scrutiny that everyone suffers, and that we DO to one another and ourselves, when I stop judging myself for a minute and I just think about it, I'm so damned glad I'm old now and not a kid, that what I'm evaluating as old IS old and all that encompasses, and that I'm not a child judging myself and others through the prism of our culture.

Well done!
Wow! So honest and you beautifully written! I'm struck by the fact that a few days ago, I wrote about my addiction to debt and this afternoon I wrote a post called "Beauty is Not in the Mirror." I can so relate to what you have gone through and written though the addictions are different.
I'm glad you were able to just "give up" your addiction. As for running, running is pretty much free, so go for it. I do have to say that when I read that you were in advertising, I said to myself "Aha! That explains it!" Have you ever thought about getting into a different line of work, where looks are not as all-important as they are in advertising? Otherwise I predict that your addiction will continue to recur.
I've just read another excellent piece called "Beauty is Not in the Mirror" by Heidibeth, here.

I understand what you're saying, however, I disagree with this:
"I want beauty not to matter."
Beauty matters; what we need to change is where we seek it. You've been looking for it in the wrong places while it's all around and within us.
♥R
Great post! For one thing, my mirror lies to me...as I deem it so.
I be about 20 years your senior and I stopped Botox about 5 years ago! Bad stuff and way too much $$$ so after a few years...buh bye...I still look the same. Pretty much. More mirror delusion.
It's pretty much our genetic code, no matter how much we exercise or eat right...but...very important to keep the body moving, the mind thinking, the brain and tummy fed in moderation, all things considered..."Use it or loose it!"
I've been in a "less is more" phase for about a decade and much more so since I became a gramma. Perspective sharpens. They think you are the coolest, most beautiful, "funnist", super hero, action figure you could ever imagine! New lease on life, that! No facials fillers or size 3 jeans will do that for you!
So, word to the wise: It does get better with age...all sorts of things...if you're looking in the right places...and not too much in the mirror! What you see is just an image of our own making anyway!
Cheers!