What makes us beautiful? This may sound faux-profound, but in a world that constantly and increasingly tries to sell us ideas, creams and programmes to make us longer, thicker, slimmer and smoother, it seems a fair question to ask. Does feeling beautiful come when we’ve managed to sweep our greasy hair into a bun before stumbling to the library at 8:34am, when our mother says we look beautiful when we haven’t showered in 37 hours, when our Tinder date says he’d ‘fuck us into next week’, or when we’ve soaked ourselves for an hour in a luminated bath and emerge pink and lavender scented? Perhaps it’s a collective of these feelings, but to be honest, your guess is as good as mine so to answer this, I asked 5 women of varying backgrounds and ages what being beautiful means to them.
“I often find myself feeling guilty when I allow the opinion of men to influence the way in which I deem myself attractive, however it is a finite amount of validation as it seems inauthentic. Instead I find what truly makes me feel beautiful comes from both myself (a cliché I know) but also the opinion of my most blatant friends. I find the most brutally honest friends are the best at making you feel beautiful, for they are the first ones to tell you when you look atrociously haggard.”
“I feel most beautiful when I feel love. There is the excitement and promise of finding new love with a partner, and the comfort of living through that love over many years. There is the deep and inexhaustible love for children. There is the compassionate love I give and receive with colleagues and bereaved families, which is very real to me right now. I have always been grateful that I live in a time, although not perfect, where I am less judged for my physical beauty that I might have been in a previous age. I have always been doubtful that I possess sufficient physical beauty to make any real difference in my life, but with the years I’ve come to realise how little that might matter.”
“For me, feeling beautiful is all about combining inner power with self-care. As a practicing witch, I like to plan bath rituals around the phases of the moon. Depending on the phase, I will draw a bath in a dark room with incense and candles. I then fill the water with peppermint oil and dried herbs such as chamomile and lavender, soaking in this infusion, I like to watch a favourite movie, message friends, or reflect on my practice. When I get out, I play around with my best skincare and, if it is a full moon, light some candles and burn incense at my altar. Rituals such as this never fail to make me feel lovely.”
“I think confidence and beauty go hand in hand together – when I am at my most confident, I feel beautiful. Whether that be surrounded by my closest friends on a warm summer’s evening, or have just got back from the beach with salt and sand in my hair, with rosy cheeks and freckles. I feel most beautiful when I’m in my natural state: reading books, socialising with friends, spending time on my makeup, wearing a boss bitch jumpsuit. Beauty is definitely a feeling that comes from within.”
“I have seen many bemoaning how opportunities to feel beautiful are few and far between at the moment. Without reason to peel ourselves out of pyjamas, it’s far easier, and comfier, to stay put. Consequently, many feel we have traded any aura of grace and sophistication we may have once had, for sleepy and sluggish nightwear. Or activewear, on a good day. But alas, cry these people, slippers simply aren’t sexy. I beg to differ. As someone who suffered from an eating disorder from my early teens, I had seriously low body self-confidence from the get-go. I never felt beautiful. But the last three years have been a continual uphill trajectory, and the pandemic definitely had a part to play in that. It not only gave me the time to strengthen the resolve in the reasons for my recovery, but also, free from a season of constantly having my body on display at endless photographic opportunities, I had the space to float around in entirely unbecoming but exceptionally spacious outfits as I pleased. From the comfort of a baggy t-shirt, 2020 gave me the space I needed to get myself to nourish my mental health. Without it, I doubt I would be able to sincerely say that these days I feel beautiful. If that’s not proof that beauty is truly about what’s going on inside, and that slippers are indeed pretty sexy, I don’t know what is.”