When life hurts, I blame my face. And also my body. My skin, hair, nails – it’s all fair game. That’s how women are conditioned
It’s the summer of 2016 and things aren’t going well. Yes, there is Brexitand yes, Donald Trump, but also my heart is aching. It’s an all-consuming ache that gets worse by the hour as my brain keeps raising the stakes from “We’re just not compatible” to “This was the love of my life and I ruined it!” I crave tangible change I can hold on to. Change that will deliver me to a new life where I’m not just living one breakup to another. So I, a Middle Eastern woman with olive skin, dye my hair blond.
I dye my hair blond thinking it will come out white and I’ll look like a real life Storm from X Men. I dye my hair blond because the girls I see in fashion editorials and on the lady-centric clickbait sites I use, like an opiate to numb all brain activity, have white-blond hair that alludes to a wild interior life, exactly like the wild interior life I’d like to allude to. I dye my hair blond because all of my worth is placed in the way I look.
I fail to observe that the women I’m trying to channel are all model types with no bad angles or body fat.I also fail to observe they are all white. I go in with photos of St Vincent and leave eight hours later with a frizzy halo of what looks and feels like a cheap wig. It’s grey, but not like the electric, explosive grey of St Vincent. It’s grey like I’m out of focus. My statement hair makes the statement “… meh”.
When life hurts, I blame my face. And also my body. My skin, hair, nails – it’s all fair game. This is something I’ve been programmed to do and that I recognise in the women I know intimately. We learned young: any kind of praise included a mention of beauty, and when you’re brainwashed to equate beauty with goodness, the reverse becomes true too. At your most powerless, you think if only you could strong-arm your way to beauty it would erase the ugly in your life.
When I was 19, I returned home from my freshman year of college a self-pity zombie, living one nap to the next, marinating in the kind of heartbreak only a teenager could manufacture from a one-month relationship. I had fallen in love with a cotton-candy-haired coke-head from Delhi I’d met in a support group for cutters. As you do. She took my virginity, told me she loved me, then left me waiting on her doorstep for hours. I was closeted, heartbroken and finally allowed my parents to talk me into the nose job they’d been lobbying for since puberty.
The nose job is a problematic Iranian rite of passage I had spent years successfully dodging, but my defences were down. I probably would have undergone a lobotomy if someone told me it would turn me into a muse. Of course, rhinoplasty didn’t improve my face or my confidence. I returned for the next year of school, still lonely and horny, with a slightly smaller profile.
Between March and October last year, I spent all my waking hours in pitch black rooms, in post production on The Bisexual, a series I co-wrote, direct and star in. It was seven months of swimming in my mistakes, trying to cobble together the least shameful product possible with the footage. I couldn’t be more proud of the series now, but at the time I was exhausted, insecure and scared. When you’re sitting in a black 10ft x 10ft editing suite throughout the hottest UK summer on record, watching yourself struggle to remember lines while you simulate sex, you start to look for answers where you can get them – which is how I came to spend hundreds of pounds on a 15-step Korean skincare regime that definitely did not work.
This isn’t really about beauty. I know this because the process of staring at myself on screen all day doesn’t faze me. My ego lies in the work. I could look like Sloth from The Goonies, but if the scene works, I’m happy. It was the lack of control I felt as a director, the remorse over rushed scenes and squandered takes that kept me up at night. When I’m making something, my face and body are just a vehicle, acting in service of a larger goal. Unfortunately, the fact that it felt as though I’d failed to reach that goal made me want to turn right back to obsessing over my face and body.
This is about power. More specifically, how women perceive it and are conditioned to see their place in it. We’re raised to believe that beauty is power, but that is a lie meant to distract you, keep you obedient, lull you into a calm stupor where the source of your problems is that you’re just not hot enough. Or at least it was for me.
The new nose has had no meaningful impact on my life beyond the shock value I get from people who discover I’ve had plastic surgery. The Korean skincare regime is in the bin, and for a little over a year after I bleached my hair, I was left living with a daily reminder of my stupidity every time I ran my hands through my straw-like mane. So the next time I find myself rationalising the purchase of a microneedle roller thingy you’re supposed to drag across your face eight times in 16 different angles until you start to look like Hellraiser, I will ask myself: “What am I chasing and why?”