Have You Ever Been Beauty Shamed?

Let's talk about being judged... by the person paid to make you pretty.
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Michelle Villett
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Let's talk about being judged... by the person paid to make you pretty.
Beauty shaming

Everyone talks about body shaming—the phenomenon where otherwise nice people take it upon themselves to pass judgement on who they deem in need of a gym membership (too fat) or a greasy cheeseburger (too skinny).

But what about beauty shaming? It's a thing, too, and it's probably already happened to you. It has nothing to do with your weight—although the offhand remark by your esthetician about the condition of your cellulite might give you pause. But no, it's more to do with aesthetics, and ironically, it comes from the very person that you're paying to make you look (and feel) better. Your skin is too wrinkled! Your shins are so hairy! Your cuticles are defective! WHY CAN'T YOU BE MORE PERFECT?

They may not outright say that, of course, but it's the underlying message that you go home with, $30, $60, $90 poorer. What the...? I don't know why people aren't talking about this. Maybe the shaming is THAT bad that people remain silently embarrassed and guilty for possessing such horrors as bushy eyebrows, calluses and acne. (All things that, last time I checked, were perfectly normal for adult women.)

The only writer who talks about this ish is The Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman. She wrote this book, which is a GREAT read:

The Meaning of Sunglasses

The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a Guide to Almost All Things Fashionable by Hadley Freeman, at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com

It's not all about beauty, but there are a few highly satisfying passages, like this one:

“The beauty therapist is a species of mankind more cruel than a gynecologist’s assistant ("I promise this won’t hurt. You may, though, feel some discomfort…”), and we all have our own horror story. One friend settled herself down to a harmless massage only to hear the giggling observation, “Oh! Very pimply!” Another went for a facial, and as the facialist peered closely at her skin she asked my friend, “So, how old are you? Forty-three? Forty-five?” overestimating by almost a decade.”

Right? Some kind of diplomacy/interpersonal skills course should be mandatory for these people before they're unleashed on the public. That, I think, is almost more important than whatever they know about steaming and exfoliating.

I also found this in a recent Hadley Guardian column from earlier this year.

"I was one of those babies born with cellulite, one with dimples everywhere but on my chubby cheeks. Yet for years, I honestly didn't care. Maybe it was because I was so neurotic about every other aspect of my body in my teens and 20s that I simply didn't have space in my soul to think about something that I'd lived with since I was born. But then, about a year ago, I treated myself to a massage and the masseuse took it upon herself to pass an especially harsh comment on the state of my cellulite, which was, indeed, growing at a rate around my body reminiscent of the demonic plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. Now, of course, the phenomenon of beauty therapists making cruel comments about their clients' bodies is well-known. Perhaps it is because the therapists are so accustomed to gazing upon people's bodies that they forget others aren't quite so hardened to such beady-eyed scrutiny and plain-speaking judgment. Or maybe it's because they know that if their clients are made more insecure, they'll spend more money on more treatments. Who really can say?"

I don't know if I'm cynical enough to believe they actually want to make us insecure as a sales ploy. I do, however, think a lot of people in this business just don't realize how hyper-sensitive many (most?) women are to any hint of beauty judgement. Do some of them get off on the shaming? I don't know. Maybe.

One of the worst shamings I've ever had was from an eyebrow lady who made me feel like this:

Bushy eyebrows

It had been a while since I'd been able to make an appointment and I mentioned I'd had to go to a special event with my slightly fuller-than-desired eyebrows. She pulled away from me as an expression of horror clouded over her face, and said, "You actually went there with those brows?!?!?"

Um, yes. I guess I should have sequestered myself at home with my unsightly eyebrows. I mean, honestly! Brows are important, but let's get some perspective here.

Facial

I also get a lot of unsolicited advice about how I could be better when I get facials. I've written an entire rant on why I don't think they're worth it in the first place, but that doesn't even include all the shaming that goes on (and being a beauty editor for years, I've experienced tons of it). Unless I'm going to an esthetician I already know and feel comfortable with (like my regular at Dermalogica), I'm always filled with dread at having to explain myself to someone new. They always ask you what you're using on your skin—and no matter what, it's not good enough.

And God help you if you have any blocked pores, pimples, fine lines or pigmentation. I remember one facial I got a few years ago when I was doing a cleanse through my naturopath. The detox stuff she had me on made me break out a bit, and the facialist basically implied I should be calling up my doctor for Accutane. (She was delusional and importantly, not a doctor. I'm especially touchy when people recommend things that destroy your liver.)

I've even gone in for services where they judge you before you even get in the treatment room. This happened when I was getting an oxygen facial last year. I was sitting in the lobby, waiting until it was time for my appointment to start, and someone came out and offered me an orange juice. I accepted, and was sipping it quietly when my esthetician finally emerged and under her breath goes, "Sugar, sugar, sugar..." Implying that anything wrong with my face was surely due to this horrible sugar I was drinking that they offered me in the first place. HELLO? (She was ignorant, anyway. Ain't nothin' wrong with fructose.)

And that brings me to dermatologists. Now that they prefer to jack you up with Botox and filler$ instead of treating moles and such, the judgement abounds. You start to feel like they see you like this:

Beauty shaming - dermatologist

One of the very first beauty events I attended as a newbie beauty editor was at a dermatologist's office where they were giving the press complimentary consultations. And by consultation, I mean planting seeds of doubt about the condition of your skin. She looked at me and motioned to my nasolabial folds (see helpful chart above), and said, "Do these bother you?"

They didn't, BUT THEY SURE DO NOW. Thanks a lot, lady!

Interestingly, I find it's the ones like that, who make you feel old and wrinkled, who overdo it on the injectables. (In this town, you start to find out who goes where to get their "work" done.) The best and most natural-looking results are from the ones who never tell you what you need, and under-treat instead of making you into a plumped-up freeze face.

Spray tanning

Spray tanners, surprisingly, are some of the most judgement-free individuals I've ever encountered. Which is weird, because you'd think that standing there naked would invoke the worst shaming of all. I guess it's because the service doesn't imply you need help in any way, whereas a facial, hair removal service or dermatologist visit invites "helpful" suggestions that can come across as judgey.

Woman getting blow dry

The very best and judgement-free peeps, however, are hairstylists. Especially male hairstylists. You tell them you have grey hair? They say, "What grey hair? You're crazy!" You go in for a root touch-up and they tell you how beautiful you are. Instead of getting judged—for anything—you get compliments galore and walk outta there feeling like a million bucks. It's the best.

(This is, of course, if you've found the right one—one who can give you your Life Cut and Life Colour.)

Seriously, thank God for my male hairstyling duo, as otherwise my self-esteem would be seriously compromised from all of these beauty treatments! The others, well, I either never go back or—if they're really good at what they do—I just quietly suffer.

Now, a few caveats. As always, I'm not talking about ALL estheticians/dermatologists/hairstylists, etc. That would be ridiculous. Of course there are good ones, who don't make you feel uncomfortable or ashamed. And sometimes, the shaming is deserved! My nail lady always loves to tell me about the people who go to her for Brazilian waxes and shall we say, don't take the necessary hygienic steps to prepare. (That's just rude!) And I've heard horror stories from pedicure people about women who show up with pounds of dirt under their long toenails. Ew, ew, ew.

But I do think beauty shaming is a real thing, and a real problem. There's a difference between giving someone your opinion/advice when asked, versus offering up unsolicited comments about things that the person can't (or doesn't want to) change. “The constant nagging sense that there is something wrong with the way you look… can chip away at self-esteem in profound, long-lasting ways,’’ says writer Kate Fridkis in this article, which is more about weight, but I think applies to general appearance, too.

I hate to say it, but I feel like the judgement is so much worse coming from a woman than a man. Does it have to do with this phenomenon? Do women consciously or subconsciously want to bring each other down?

Let's talk about this:

Have you ever been beauty shamed?
Is it more of a female thing or does it depend on their area of expertise?
How do you deal with someone who shames you—do you speak up or just never go back?