Writing by Eve Dangerfield // Photograph by Ira Limon
“You’re no supermodel,” a man once wrote to me. “But there is something sexy about you.”
He followed that message with a rapid fire: “No offence.”
I can tell you right now that I took some offence.
This potential suitor, in the most white-man way possible, was telling me that I was attractive but nowhere near the summit of conventional feminine beauty. Perhaps he didn’t want me to get a big head. Perhaps he was negging me. Maybe he was just telling the truth.
I am no supermodel. I’m short, I get pimples on my neck and my bra size is 8F (thanks mum; or the hormones in chicken). All Miranda Kerr and I have in common is … Well … I guess we both had crushes on Orlando Bloom at some point in our lives?
So if I know I’m no supermodel, why did a statement that is little more than fact strike me across the face like a white-hot whip? Why did it leave me aching and shivering like a flu victim for days?
If you asked me at age six, what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have chirped ‘a writer!’ but in my heart of hearts there was another, truer answer. More than anything, six-year-old me wanted to be the most beautiful girl in the world. I wanted to be so beautiful men cried tears of longing and women were struck dumb with envy and everywhere I walked people said in varying degrees of reverie ‘isn’t Eve beautiful?’
“An odd goal for the child of loving, non-stage parents,” you might think, but you’d be wrong. Beauty was my only aspiration because I wasn’t completely and utterly oblivious to the world around me. I watched Disney movies and sitcoms and read fairy tales and my little brain drew the dots rather rapidly. When you were a girl, intelligence, kindness, and skill didn’t mean jack if you weren’t first and foremost beautiful. So I made beauty my primary concern. I wasn’t stupid; I knew my aspirations were as vain as Cinderella’s sisters, so I nursed my goal in my childish heart like a poisonous little seed. And there it began to grow.
I trimmed my eyebrows when I was ten, put on make-up when I was eleven (my mum’s ancient mascara which gave me conjunctivitis), started dieting when I was thirteen, bullied my friends into calling me pretty when I was fourteen (in my defence, everyone was doing it). At fifteen I stole money to buy zinc tablets to combat my pimples; at sixteen I went on the birth control pill for the same reason. At seventeen I began hiding from cameras, at eighteen I almost got a nose job, at nineteen I had laser hair removal on everything from the eyebrows down and when I was twenty, I gave myself shin splints, an eating disorder, and a mental breakdown.
It’s a charming list isn’t it? Just writing it down was excruciatingly embarrassing, but despite how insane my actions must seem they’re the ugly, depressing reality of my debut into adulthood.
Whatever beauty I had wasn’t enough. When I saw a girl I deemed prettier than myself, my heart ached. The seed of my fruitless childhood ambition became a strangling vine and I didn’t have a set of nail clippers–let alone secateurs– with which to free myself.
All my life I’ve been a feminist, a believer that women are more than just their looks, but flip the coin and you’ll see I don’t believe it for myself. Since girlhood I’ve been twisting, painfully, eternally towards the impossibly narcissistic dream of being the hottest lady in the universe. It didn’t help that I grew up in a society only too eager to sell me pills and potions, facials and fad diets. A culture that constantly enforced the idea that perfection was possible if you tried hard enough. But I did try. I tried so hard it could have killed me and all I ever got was pain and dissatisfaction in return. Not to mention a hole in my wallet around the size of Tasmania.
Sometimes I wish someone had knelt down beside me at the age of six and said, “Eve, you’ll always have the face you have now and no amount of coconut oil or sit ups will change that. You’ll never look like Odette the Swan Princess because she’s not real. She’s a cartoon lady. All that these expectations will do is break your heart.”
Because they did break my heart. A million times, in a million different ways.
I know what I’m supposed to say now; that I wised up. That I love and accept myself as I am.
I’m afraid I can’t do that. When Mr. Man told me I was no supermodel, I cried. It’s always a fresh cut knowing that I’m failing my childhood goal. I can see the foolishness of it. But I could always see the foolishness. I just couldn’t stop.
Do you wear make-up and wax your eyebrows and drink green smoothies because you accept yourself? Do you moisturise and shave your legs and spend money performing a hundred other acts men never comprehend because you’re an empowered, liberated woman? Or are you doing what I do: aspiring and maintaining? Telling your equally aspirational, equally burdened girlfriends that looks don’t matter when you can’t go outside without foundation and mascara and you’re terrified of wrinkles and grey hair and weight gain.
Don’t get me wrong, putting on a nice dress and painting my eyelids gold can be fun, but if I’m honest I don’t dress up because it’s a laugh. I do it because want to look pretty. I want people to see my pretty face and my pretty body and consider me worthy. Worthy of time, of space, of a job, of sex and love and a voice. That is what it means to be a woman in this culture. That is the message I have absorbed and it is one I cannot for the life of me stop chanting. And for what? So I can live in fear of ugliness and aging? So comments like ‘you’re no supermodel’ can tear me apart like crepe paper? What a shitty, pointless, empty way to live.
I would rather be happy than beautiful. I would like to change. The problem is, it’s hard to know how. Can you undo fourteen years of worship at the altar of conventional western beauty? Can you live peacefully in a world that constantly reaffirms your greatest fears? I am no supermodel, but I continue to strive towards that unmanageable goal, even when it hurts, even when it doesn’t work. Do you?[share]