Beauty Is Not Pain

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“Beauty is pain” was my mother’s favorite saying.

I heard it constantly growing up.

I can’t count the number of times she repeated it as she yanked on my wild, curly, brown hair with a brush. “Beauty is pain!”

Eyebrows a bit thick? Time to wax!

Arm hair a bit dark? Nothing good old bleach can’t fix!

Toes a bit crooked? “You’ll never catch a husband with feet like that,” she’d say. “Let’s straighten them out surgically!” Beauty, after all, is pain.

Still hungry? Ignore your growling stomach and chew on a piece of sugar free gum!

Want a perkier butt? Slimmer legs? Better learn to walk in those heels because you guessed it: beauty is pain

But is beauty really synonymous with pain? If you ask, society will answer yes, beauty is pain. That if you want to be loved then you better grin and bear it.

But pain isn’t always a physical feeling. We feel emotional pain too. We feel the effects of lost time, depleted resources and a fragile, murky sense of self at best.

In America over 85% of women apply an average of 16 skincare and cosmetic products every day. American women will spend approximately $225,360 on beauty products in their lifetime. American men will only spend one fourth of that. In 2016 Americans spent over $16 billion on cosmetic plastic surgeries. An estimated 92% of those cosmetic surgeries were performed on women.

Was my mother trying to warn me? Trying to tell me that no matter what I may think or feel it doesn’t matter because the way I look will always come first? That my relationships, my career, even my own happiness can all be dependent upon whether or not society deems me attractive? Was she trying to drill the lie into my head because the sooner I accepted these “truths” the easier my life would be?

I don’t believe she meant to be cruel. I actually think she was trying to be honest. 

Still. Nothing about this feels right, because it isn’t right. Beauty is NOT pain. When I woke up from toe surgery with a dry mouth and chapped lips, an IV dangling from my arm, and two shiny metal rods sticking out of my foot no-one was calling me pretty but I sure as hell was in a lot of pain.

If beauty and pain are not the same then why do we pretend otherwise?

For years I accepted the lie that beauty equates to pain. I conformed and did my best to “make myself beautiful”, the same way my mother did. I accepted the lie every time I wore something trendy, even if it didn’t fit right or feel good. I accepted it with each Brazilian wax and body piercing. I put on my Spanx one leg at a time and sucked my gut in for every photo.

In my quest to find beauty I made the problem worse for myself and everyone else. I perpetuated the lie. My acceptance reinforced it and my actions validated it.

Well, I’m done pretending. I will no longer breathe life into this lie. I don’t have to hurt myself to feel beautiful. I just have to know myself to feel beautiful.

I vow to truly know myself.

I vow to start listening to myself.

I vow to learn about myself.

I vow to pay attention to all of the little things my body tells me.

I vow to trust myself. 

I vow to nurture myself.

I vow to give myself time.

I vow to love myself.

Ask me if beauty is pain and I’ll answer with a resounding “Hell, no!” 

Beauty is feeling beautiful. Beauty is feeling good. Beauty is feeling like you.


This post is part of The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VII! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST on Friday, March 9th.

29 thoughts on “Beauty Is Not Pain

  1. Erica, oh the echoes! That is how I ended up anorexic and sick at age 15. Now that my mother is gone, I can see that it was her insecurity that made her want to perfect me, but your wonderful post made me remember how wrong it was. I love your vows, and I’m going to put them on my bedroom mirror.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Yes, coming to the realization that others internal struggles and insecurities can lead them to project that negativity onto others has been a huge help to me. Somedays I have to remind myself of this more often then others, but it’s important for me to remember so that I can stop myself from continuing the chain of negativity and destructive behavior. I’m so happy you like my vows! Thank you, Elizabeth 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Right on, Erica! Beauty is a natural state of being, and it comes from within when someone feels energized and healthy, it does not come from a bottle or (goodness knows) from a surgery. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Beauty is feeling beautiful” – wonderfully said. It’s true that we all want to get into that perfect mould of beauty in our younger years. As life grows, a realization dawns on us – we come with one. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ack, this brings back memories of my mother combing out my hair for church (the rest of the week, she let me comb it msyelf, thank God!) Only her line was, “Stay still. You’ll look so good when I’m done.” At six, I didn’t give a hoot about looking good; I just wanted her to stop yanking on my head.

    I love your “vows,” because I wholeheartedly agree. Beauty is NOT pain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erica, out of curiosity, because I have curly toes too, I looked them up. I was horrified to discover that the pediatric medical community calls them a disorder or even “deformities.” To me, they’ve always just been a variation, like being left-handed vs. right-handed. The only nuisance they’ve ever caused was to make it a bit harder to find comfortable shoes.

      And I’ve never had anyone say anything negative about how they looked. Maybe some people thought they looked funny but they kept that to themselves. Good thing or I would have “unfriended” them in real life real fast.

      I’m so, so sorry that your mom made you have surgery. Hugs from another curly-toed person!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Heck yes!!

    That money statistic is startling. And then you add on top of that the cost discrepancies in products that are made for both men and women, but the women’s cost more. I buy a lot of men’s products because I’m not willing to pay a gender tax just to have something in pink. I don’t even like pink that much.

    Excellent post for the BOAW blog fest! Happy festing!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Me too! Razors, deodorant, face wash, all of it! Hopefully we can tell our grandchildren about the silly times when men bought “manly” products in blue packages and women bought “feminine” products in pink packages and they’ll laugh at the strange, archaic idea 🙂
      Happy festing!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow. Erica. This post, especially as a first, is soooo Brave. It’s hard to come to those truths after all you’ve sacrificed to the altar of superficial beauty (which doesn’t even last, btw). But you… You did it! You stared those preconceived notions that had been drummed into you early and often any you threw your middle finger up and chose a healthier, happier, longer lasting path. Not easy, but so worth it!

    As I read your story, a song kept playing in the back of my head. I hope you like.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Kitt, thank you so much for sharing. I’d never heard this song before but I LOVE IT! Writing this post was definitely outside of my comfort zone but damn, it feels good! You’re right, it’s so worth it 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I tried many of those wovs – and still I’m insecure. My mother is alive and constantly complaining about me since I was about thirteen years old. I’ll never be good enough for her, I understood that much by now. But this shouldn’t keep me from being me.
    Just sometimes…
    I should stick to who I am and cover my own back more. Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know exactly what you mean. The insecurities can eat you alive. Coming to the realization that the pressure my mother put on me was coming from the pressure she put on herself and feeling like she had “failed” or wasn’t “good enough” helped me a lot. I realized that in a lot of ways she never grew up and therefore never had the chance to come to many of the realizations I was having about self-love, forgiveness and the patriarchy. She’s the type of person that thinks feminist is a dirty word. Reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz planted a lot of positive seeds in my mind and jumpstarted a lot of these realizations about my mother. If you haven’t heard of it, I highly recommend this book! The same author also wrote The Mastery Love and it’s absolutely beautiful. I hope you do stick to who you are because from what I can tell you’re one beautiful, bad ass woman!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. This is an awesome post, Erica. My heart goes out to you having your mom sending those negative messages to you all your life. That’s likely the way your mom was brought up, too, and it’s pretty sad. My mom used to say, “You have to suffer to be beautiful” if we wore curlers to bed but it was said in a light-hearted way. She did let me know my ears are too big and I don’t look too good wearing a ponytail, but that didn’t stop me from wearing them when I was too tired to style my hair when I was a working mom raising four kids. Not a single mom, either. Just a tired mom. When we’re tired, beauty takes a back seat and sleep and rest and getting through each day, getting the kids to school on time take precedence! Funny how our priorities change through the various stages of life.

    Your vows are powerful. You’re claiming your own life and living the way you want to live it and that’s that. Powerful and empowering and so you will bloom from here on out and your beauty will glow from within. You go, girl! Congratulations on publishing your first blog!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much Lynn! Writing my first post felt so good!!! All the support and feedback has been phenomenal. I think it’s important to learn from our parents mistakes so that we don’t pass them on to our own children. Rock that ponytail girl!!! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your line about no longer breathing life into the lie is stunning because it is so honest, refreshing, and at the heart of all pain, I think. And as your post so beautifully demonstrates, if beauty is anything it is not pain but just the opposite, and there is so much more beauty than pain. With each of your vows, your resolve grows stronger. Such a beauty in your words. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you!!! ❤️ I agree, there is much more beauty than pain. As I get older I’m taking more time to stop and appreciate beauty everywhere. It’s a simple but powerful trick, appreciating the presence of beauty wherever it may be instead of obsessing over its perceived absence.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Erica, what an amazing post! My heart goes out to you for all you’ve been through. I’m trying to teach my daughters that they are enough–strong enough, smart enough, beautiful enough–no matter what anyone else thinks. I get so angry when people tell my girls that they should wear makeup or do their hair differently or carry a purse or whatever… I love your vows–so powerful!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for this powerful post. It’s sobering to acknowledge how much power we have to shape the internalized beliefs of the next generation. I don’t have girls, but I hope I haven’t unintentionally communicated any destructive beliefs about beauty to my boys. I hope they will never hold their future mates to impossible standards of beauty or require them to suffer for the sake of appearances.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Amazing amazing post! It’s so true that beauty should be more about who we are and how we move in the world rather than what we do to our face and body. It’s a tough lesson to unlearn, especially for people assigned female at birth. Ultimately, everyone would benefit from busting these myths and becoming more attuned to the small feelings in our bodies.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. If only there was a LOVE button for this!

    My daughter was born with a toe that curled under its neighbor. When she was a baby, I tried to straighten it, but it always popped right back into its home. Now, at 13, she loves that toe. I’m glad I learned to let it – and her – be as they are!

    Thank you for this. I’m sharing.


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