“Your legs are are getting astronomically long!” my Dad exclaimed one day, surveying my body. “In fact, your thighs are about 4 inches longer than what they should be.” I laughed, taking this as a compliment. This was the usual – if it was a joke, then I couldn’t rightfully be hurt or offended.
But over the past few years, I have often absentmindedly observed my legs – usually when I’m sitting down – and felt as if maybe they are too long.
And that’s the thing with intense scrutiny and the mean throwaway comments its sometimes accompanied with – it creates a silent wound that pangs every now and then when you least expect it.
Becoming good at makeup and dressing myself, I use the term “good” here loosely, only became possible through observing my flaws. Sure, you could say the same about the pursuit of any kind of skill; but when it’s intrinsically linked to your appearance, it’s uniquely cruel.
When I was 17, I was in foster care briefly. There was a girl who lived with me that, to me, was the epitome of femininity and beauty. She was great at makeup – she always wore false eyelashes, winged eyeliner, pink lipstick and foundation. I found her exhilarating to look at. And I also felt unspeakably ugly and tomboyish in comparison.
All her toiletries that were scattered across the bathroom were pink – even her toothbrush was pink and had pink lipstick stains on it. There were Victoria’s Secret body sprays, rogue lipsticks — honestly the bathroom was a spectacle. It fascinated me.
The spellbinding yet torturous ordeal of living with her – I say torturous only because my supposed flaws became amplified to me to an unbearable degree – was really the catalyst for a metamorphosis in my life. I started being quite harsh with myself – throwing out clothes that weren’t flattering, watching YouTube makeup tutorials and wearing makeup more often and in a better way than I used to.
We shine the light on whatever’s worst.
Perfection is a disease of a nation.” – Beyoncé
On a more positive note, it also connected me to my feminine side more – which I think is partly why I was so dazzled by her; she represented something in me that I’d suppressed for a long time. My love affair with the colour pink was reignited when I lived with her – and it’s still ongoing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about scrutiny in terms of sex lately, too. And listen, I enjoy the whole physical preparation for sex – the shaving and moisturising and perfuming and all the rest of it – it’s soothing, it’s tactile, it’s satisfying. But the insidious shame I feel if I for whatever reason haven’t done all these pleasant but fundamentally unnecessary things is ridiculous. And I believe it’s because women are under more visual scrutiny (note, not performance scrutiny) in the bedroom than their male counterparts (I’m speaking from my own heterosexual experience FYI).
The way I’ve had to think about what I might look like from different angles and consequently removing hair from parts of my body that men would likely never think twice about on their own body — it’s a bit mental to think about honestly. And I truly don’t expect the same from my sexual partners – the more natural the better, in my opinion.
A few years ago (God, maybe 10 years ago!) my Dad, my brother and I were watching MTV and Lady Gaga’s music video for Lovegame came on. I had Lady Gaga’s first album which I loved – she really had a fantastic brand of Electro/Dance Pop. It was a fairly suggestive video, if not overtly sexual, and my Dad and my brother were joking about how “ugly” she apparently was. It was nasty and vindictive the way they were talking about her.
I had just started writing songs around this time and dreamed of performing live and making music my life; and I had to hear the two males (hate using that word!) closest to me abhor a female popstar that I looked up to for committing the crime of daring to be sexual whilst not being attractive enough for them.
“But why does she need to be attractive?” I challenged my Dad. He looked genuinely pensive and admitted: “Ach, I guess you’re right. It’s about the music.” Or it was something else along those lines.
My Dad is a self-confessed feminist, by the way, and growing up he regularly complained about the objectification of women in TV advertisements and always enthused about female-fronted bands. But that blind hypocrisy about the music video had to be pointed out to him by his 13-year-old daughter.
I’ve only brought this up to mull over how this kind of sexism could have contributed to the level of insecurity I had growing up. And also partly to what I feel now. As much as I love performing, there’s nothing more conducive to insecurity than watching back live footage of yourself. It’s truly agonising, or at least it is for me. It makes me so self-conscious. And I have to consciously remind myself that although striving to be a better performer can be a healthy exploit, I don’t need to look perfect. I think something that’s also a bit more difficult for me is that I do it all myself. I don’t have an instrumentalist or a DJ up there with me – all eyes are literally on me. It’s a lot of pressure.
But I do believe I need to look perfect – that’s a fundamental belief I have around performing arts. But only for myself – not for others. I don’t scrutinise other performers to the extent I do myself – or if I do, I’m usually very gracious and complimentary towards them. I’m able to afford others a much higher tolerance for “imperfection”.
So that’s something I need to work on, I guess. I feel this friction or conflict around the kind of performer I want to be and it’s partly because of the type of performance I like watching. One part of me loves expertly choreographed r&b and pop music, another part of me likes overtly sexual hip hop – and I also like performance which is more raw and guided by pure emotion and atmosphere; so like metal or punk.
I saw a video of a KoRn concert from the 90’s a few years ago but I’ve been unable to track it down specifically. I remember feeling so relieved watching Jonathan Davis jerking and writhing around the stage, head-banging intermittently and being the best representation of himself as a strange and beautiful individual. His lyrics are so excruciatingly personal, you can feel it viscerally when he performs It reminded me that visual perfection doesn’t need to be a prerequisite of a “good” performance – the ability to put genuine feeling into what you’re doing is equally as valuable, if not more.
So although I do like to incorporate bits of choreography into my performances and I’ll always aim to look as good as possible – I’ll also remember Jonathan Davis the next time I perform, and remember how much KoRn’s music meant to me when I was a teen. And how it had nothing to do with them striving to look desirable or palatable.
Thanks for reading. What’s your relationship to scrutiny?
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx
Art by Elmer Bischoff