DOES ‘BEAUTY’ MATTER?

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I’m never knowingly overdressed, or underdressed, or really give that sort of thing much thought. I just get up and get mostly dressed, for perching at my kitchen table to write, dash out to nursery or for a pint of milk, and pop my one suit jacket on if I’m going to a meeting. If it’s not screwed up in a ball at the top of the stairs, covered in flour, as it is at the moment. I’ve worn the same pair of battered, filthy Magnum boots every day for a good few years now, and they’re starting to fall apart a bit. One of the zips is bust – but I wear them rakishly undone anyway – the laces are frayed, there’s huge scuff marks around the sides of them from falling down the stairs at Fenchurch Street station but they’re my day boots, my walking boots, my running boots, my work boots, my kitchen boots; I’ve been from the food bank to the Fortnum and Mason awards in them, and I’ll wear them until they fall to pieces. I have a pair of high heels for ‘occasions’, that I have to be helped into, and a pair of very nice loafers left behind from a photo shoot a few months ago, and that’s about all the footwear choices I could possibly need.

Last week, standing in a t-shirt in the pouring rain outside my son’s nursery, rather than bemoaning my lack of coat in my dash out of the front door with two toddlers, lunch boxes, scooters, school bags and a precarious cup of ‘car coffee’ in my hand, I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d had the foresight to clamber the stairs and slip what my German friend refers to as a ‘bustenholden’ under the t-shirt I had slept in the night before. I might have been soaked to the skin, but at least I narrowly avoided a nipple drama at the school gates. Had it been a day or so earlier, I might not have been so lucky.

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One of the things I was asked to write about for this article, was my ‘beauty regime’. I laughed. I do as my father did before me, and wash my face with warm water and a flannel. I have lots of gorgeous face products stashed under the sink, bought for me by well-meaning friends and relatives, so every now and again I go all out and cleanse, tone, moisturise, marvel at how bright and well I look, and forget to do it again for another month. I have my hair cut when it gets a bit unkempt, or maybe the week after, or the week after that. If I’m going ‘out out’, I poke at my eyelashes with a bit of mascara and some incompetence. I’ve sat in enough makeup chairs by now to be able to carefully imitate the eyeliner along my top lashes that the professionals do to make me look awake and alive at silly hours in the morning, and that’s about it.

When I first bobbed into the public eye, as a single mother struggling to feed my son, it was for an article in the Daily Mirror, Christmas 2012. I ironed my nicest blouse and cardigan from days gone by, brushed my hair, and tried to look clean and tidy and respectable, because a lady was coming to take my photo for the newspaper. The backlash was surprising – according to some online commenters, my nicest blouse didn’t look ‘poor enough’. One commenter claimed my shirt was from Whistles (when in fact it was a Primark special).

So, I gave up trying to look nice for the photographers, and decided to just look like myself. Slightly unkempt, baggy holey jumpers, ripped jeans, men’s shirts, hair on end, and not an iron or mascara wand in sight. I felt better, but still the comments came. I got ‘clearly not starving’ jibes about my weight, offset against ‘she looks anorexic, her meals can’t be that healthy’. I was told I was ‘only in the papers for being gorgeous’, again backhanded by ‘she’s such a f***ing dog…’ I’ve been called a ‘tranny’ and ‘damaging to feminism’ for having ‘a boys name’, and most memorably, a Norwegian journalist advised me outside Parliament to ‘court the tabloid press because you have a good body, their readers will love you’. I gave a wry smile and a no thank you, not quite sure that painting anti-Government slogans on my bare breasts would get me taken any more seriously than presenting a petition fully dressed would – and moved away.

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Over the past year, despite the best efforts of a small percentage of the commenting public, I’ve learned to love my body resolutely. It’s soft and curvy around the edges, because it’s full of good food and enjoyment. It’s a bit stretched and battered, because it bore me my son. It’s covered in tattoos, because I chose to have them there, and every one tells a story, even the half-finished cover-up job that whispers of regret and teenage foolishness. I love its strength, its femininity, its angles. I love my legs – legs that I sobbed over during teenage years of ballet and karate for being ‘rugby player legs’.

I love my birthmark, 11 port wine stains from my ankle to my knee on my right leg that rarely see the light of day. I love my knobbly knees, the butt of jokes in PE classes and ballet lessons as a teen, but now just one of those things. I love my hands, that I used to refer to as ‘old lady hands’ for their gnarliness and protruding veins, and now when I look at them I see hands that have cooked a thousand dishes, written two books, signed many petitions, they are hands that do things. I buy food magazines, not fashion ones, wear what fits and is comfortable, and I’m happy. With my baggy jumpers, with my androgynous streak, with my slightly boyish mannerisms, with my hair styled with a hand run through it, with my gappy teeth and my wild eyebrows and my tired eyes. I’m not a beautiful woman, but I’m a very happy one.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/agirlcalledjack

Article for Never Underdressed, originally published here: How I Get Ready, by Jack Monroe.

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94 thoughts on “DOES ‘BEAUTY’ MATTER?

  1. Jack, how refreshing it is to read that you love yourself as you are and your body as it is; and that how you look and dress is no one else’s business but yours. If only more people could think and behave this way, then there would be far more happier people in the world (myself included).
    You are an inspiration.
    All the best,
    Joanne

  2. Who said you were not a beautiful woman! I think you are beautiful! Your beauty comes from within and shines out into the world. Your type of beauty doesn’t fade you lucky thing you!

  3. Dear Jack,

    Beauty matters!! But beauty comes from inside, not from makeup, cloths and perfect curly hair:)))

    We should all be happy, regardless of our looks, regardless of what others think about us. You are a beautiful women because you have a good soul.

    Keep the good work,

  4. Congratulations, seriously. Most of us don’t come to these sorts of realisations until our fifties or thereabouts. You’re lucky.

    • Agreed and life is just wonderful when you get to that decision. Good for you Jack you are ahead of the bunch

  5. I think you are beautiful, you can see that from your pictures. I am a 53 year old mother of three 21, 17 and 14 year old kids, I have wrinkles etc. I think you are both beautiful inside and out and are a voice of the people. Why are there so many young people on the street in Ipswich where I have just started to work as a temp having been made redundant last august. Some of these no older than my kids! Hold all political parties responsible!

  6. Your last sentence sums it all up for me. Who cares that you are not conforming to society’s benchmarks. You do no harm, in fact, you do a lot of good and inspire others. You are happy, content. It is obvious that you love and are loved, so it’s a good thing to be yourself, if everyone did the same the world would be a much better place.

  7. Proper woman in fact! Well done you, liking yourself is one of the hardest things to achieve. An one of the most important messages we can pass on to the next generation who are under so much pressure to conform to other people’s ideas about how we should look. Even when better when it is one of that next generation passing on the message!

    Regards

    Rosie

  8. Only one argument–you are, in fact, a beautiful woman. There is one photo of you in your cookbook that I cannot stop coming back to, it’s so damn striking.

  9. If that picture is you, you are beautiful! And Yeah be yourself, If someone else has a problem with it they it’s their problem. You will never please everyone so do live the way you like the people you please will be the right people, the rest don’t matter.

  10. I can relate to the shoes. I have my cleaning clogs, my everything dms, converse for summery days and knee length dms for party days. That’s it. And yet my girls still ask for my opinion about shoes.

  11. You keep going girl from another southender to another give them some stick and keep it real because you are what you are no matter what others say about you your one in a billion girl keep going because there are 33 million in this country who can’t afford to feed themselves and heat their homes and keep strong and good luck

  12. Pingback: My Year In Fitness – Day 132 #MYIF2014 | Revitalize Fitness

    • Great writing but these kind of articles always make me feel bad for wearing make up or making an ‘effort’. Best thing is that we’re all able to be who we want.

      • Try hard not to let ANY opinion piece make you feel bad about yourself. Not easy, but the effort should be made to consider others’ opinions, decide for yourself then move on. Nobody is saying you shouldn’t wear makeup etc, only that it’s perfectly ok not to. All the best.

  13. That’s what beauty is Jack, if it ever needed a universal definition rather than the subjective one (which is closer to the truth)…character. And you have it! ‘Beauty’ is bland and boring without it.

    Little tip that’s always helped me: I don’t read those stupid magazines! (I know you don’t either) You know what they are, and they know what they are!

  14. You are beautiful, inside and outside, Jack. Rightly, or wrongly, I assume that beautiful people know that they are so. Some might say that beauty doesn’t matter; that inside is what really counts, though. But, rather unfortunately, it seems, attractiveness on a physical level does seem to matter. I wish that wasn’t the case. Attractive people seem to get more attention and those less so, like myself, are noticed less in some ways. Certain doors open more, due to ones’ physical appearance. But, ultimately, I suppose, we need more than a “positive” outward appearance. You, Jack, have more than that, as well as physical beauty.

    Anyway, I guess that I wanted to get that off my little chest.

  15. Of course you’re beautiful! A proper gal with character and style that’s you own. I love that! Beauty is NOT what it’s portrayed as by society today, all plastic and preened and self conscious and quite frankly UP itself! No, reall people lie (and quite fancy!) real people and YOU
    got it goin awwnnn!! x

  16. You ARE a beautiful woman, Jack! You are the best of us, because you don’t give up. You had a valley of doubt a year and a half ago, but you climbed out of that hole, better than ever. I haven’t stopped talking about you since I first read your blog at the beginning of 2013. You are beautiful inside and out and I’d love to meet you someday. Instead of an English Rose, you are a Flowering Herb of England. Ann from across the pond.

  17. People haven’t been slow to point out that you are beautiful, Jack, and thereby hangs a lesson. You’re one of the lucky ones who can look beautiful without effort – which means it’s all very well for you to talk! For many of us – probably most of us – the comfort that confidence in our appearance brings takes not a little effort. And the cost is exploitation at the hands of the aspiration-generators.

    I’m lucky too, by the way, inasmuch as I’m plain as a bucket and don’t mind that.

    M

    • kvennarad/M, I agree with you. I think we’d probably be happier if we recognised who is naturally beautiful and who is not – and that would have to mean beautiful people learned to ignore their flaws and recognise that they have some natural advantages.

      I think many more people are naturally beautiful than they realise – but let’s not pretend that everyone is gorgeous and that no-one has to work hard to present an attractive face to the world. Wouldn’t it be nice if beauty was just something we could appreciate, rather than something we feel we must emulate to be acceptable?

      • Absolutely “no-one has to work hard to present an attractive face to the world”. A genuine, welcoming smile does the job every time, on the plainest of faces.

        And forgive me, but when you say “no-one”, don’t you actually mean “no woman”? How many men do you know who do anything to their face beyond a wash and maybe shave?

        Beauty is way over-rated and it’s time we turned our backs on this particular waste of our time and energy.

      • More than you imagine, CJ. The idea of confidence in how you look spans the genders; it’s a well-known psychological factor*. Also it generates and is regenerated by hard sell advertising – check out the TV ads for men’s grooming products.

        *That’s Max’s crazy cousin, by the way.

        M

  18. Too many people suffer at the hands of other peoples comments. What makes people think they can sit as judge and jury on everyone else?

    In Winter I wear wellies (dog walker) and walking boots in the Summer and I do have a pair of flip flops if the weather gets really hot as it tend to three days a year!

    PiC x

  19. Love this! I think the most beautiful people are the ones who focus more on their actions, words, & relationships than on appearance. Living a beautiful life is surely the most important beauty.
    Nicely said Jack!

    From an enthusiastic cook for four small children (& a husband, though he eats anything!)

  20. Oh Jack this could not have come at a better time. I just had a “conversation” with a loved on about mshape. How they love me fro what I am but… and fail to see the impact it has on me. So I will print this and file it in my kepsake box to look at when I need to,as a reminder that beauty is in the eye of the self not nessisarily the beholder.

  21. Hhere is the mark of a truly beautiful person. Someone who has truly lived, laughed, cried, loved, suffered and survived and isn’t afraid to do so for as long as she lives. No amount of designer clothing, pristine make up or blingtastic jewellery will ever compensate for truth and real beauty that shines through even if you try to hide it away or others don’t see it at first. They’re not ready to face that truth, but you are. Your blog has been quite an inspiration to me in my recent dark days (and not just for the awesome food!). It’s always a real pleasure for me to know that there are such honest, real and beautiful people in the world. And whenever I have a stumble, that’a a wonderful though to keep me going.

  22. Well said Jack. Better to be a beautiful person that can love yourself than a pre-packaged illusion. I’m with K T Tunstall when asked about her ‘that’ll do appearance’. She said “‘Can’t really do hour-long conversations about moisturisers”. Life really is too exciting and time-consuming for excessive preening. Keep those recipes coming :)

  23. Reblogged this on Shannon Robalino is a(n)… and commented:
    I love this post about being yourself. So many times I’ve been coerced into wearing things or looking a certain way to fit in. I’ve always felt more uncomfortable in those situations than if I’d turned up wearing something not quite right for the situation. One time I tried to be fashionable and wear a pair of high-heeled sandals with some jeans. I felt so awkward and uncomfortable that I actually broke down in tears in the middle of the street. Never again.

  24. This is so great. A message everyone should think about – beauty is in being just who you are not what anybody else wants you to be or thinks you should be. It shines from within and that part can’t be changed, whatever you’re wearing, or however much you spend on beauty products and hair dos. An inspiring start to the day.

  25. This is the epitome of achievement, and so eloquently put to boot.
    The success that you have achieved is what I, and I imagine so many others strive to, namely success for being yourself, doing something your passionate about through bloody hard work and slog. You have proven that adversity need not be an exuse to sit on twitter and bemoan life.

  26. A wonderful post, if only every girl (and boy) could learn to feel this way about their bodies and faces by your age, instead of getting to 50 and only then realising how truly wonderful they were in their younger days and how much confidence in themselves they SHOULD have had.

    You are a TRUE beauty, a person with a lovely face that has beautiful thoughts, ideals and actions. We might not all be beautiful all the time but it is within each and every one of us to be beautiful some of the time.

  27. Just find your articles so well written and thought out Jack …the recipes are inspiring and your words lift, challenge and energise me , especially when feeling a little low. We (your fans) are so proud and pleased for you, as you battle through your own personal challenges of Life, giving hope to many.

  28. Loving yourself really is a happy end :-) and an admirable one … but none of us are going to ever live in a world without nasty comments (maybe your grand-grand … grandchildren will). It’s a big, wide world outside and small, narrow people fear it. So they have to verbally clutter it to make it as small and narrow as needed for their survival.

    That and the fact that many of them probably resent the fact that you’re beautiful.

  29. Thanks for this, girls are committing suicide, suffering depression and bullying (or having plastic surgery at a ridiculously young age) because they don’t look like the ‘air-brushed Barbie’ mentioned above. I’m a reading-buddy in a school – I’m retired – and NEVER compliment a girl on how pretty she looks today. After all I don’t tell boys that. I only make gender-neutral comments. I’m seriously worried that today’s kids are pressured and bullied so much about looking acceptable on the outside.

  30. You couldn’t be more wrong! When I saw those early pictures of you, I thought, “She’s pretty!”, but these days, all your portraits have showstopping qualities about them. I think your radiance comes from within, from what you think and do, but your physical attributes aren’t doing any harm, either! :)

  31. Beautifully written and well said. I laughed out loud when you mentioned about your dad using a flannel and washing his face. Suddenly I was a kid again watching my dad wash his face and arm pits and get ready for the day ahead. Wonderfully put by someone not craving that fake celebrity status that modernity has assumed we love to be vacuous and pretty. Keep doing what you do, (which you are doing amazingly well), and more importantly carry on enjoying your life to the full. Thanks for all the thought provoking words and wisdom x

  32. You are wise beyond your years Jack and an incredibly gorgeous woman. It has taken me to reach nearly 48 to realize that beauty doesn’t matter and its down to what is in your heart and how much compassion it holds and this then surely shines through. Those boots sound a bit like mine and I am reluctant to part with them, despite my partner wanting to get me new one’s! Doesn’t everyone use a flannel and warm water then lol! Keep up the good work Jack we all love you :) x

  33. Jack – you’re amazing. Truly just amazing. May you always be so. Sent with love and admiration from another warm water and flannel woman!! (With three pairs of shoes) xxxxx

  34. You are gorgeous and ultra cool! Love your hair. I can’t believe all the comments you’ve had about your appearance. That must be hard to listen to, but your response was fantastic. I hate the way we all judge people by their appearance rather than what they have to say. Trying to look well all the time in a pain in the ass. If I’m not wearing makeup people ask if I’m not feeling well.. Grr.. Is it not OK to have a normal, human face? Sorry for ranting! :0)

  35. Beauty is not something a person inherently “is”… beauty is an act, it is the reflection of the choices we make to benefit those around us. Not the one we see in the mirror. Your choices have made you beautiful, and your beauty is the kind that only gets better with time.

  36. Dear Jack, thank you.
    I really loved reading this. In a society more worried with celebrities than feeding their own, it’s good to read your simple and honest approach to beauty. Wish this could be read to all teenage girls so that they learn to love and accept themselves better, because one’s beauty isn’t measured by the number on the scale or by a thigh gap, but by one’s inner beauty.
    These words are wisdom, and I for one am spreading them throughout the web.
    Stay strong :) xoxo

  37. The first time I read your blog and saw your photo, I thought what a beautiful, intelligent, witty, lovable woman this is! She’s got it all. I’m so glad you feel good about yourself. It’s not often we hear that.

  38. Jack you look lovely! You actually remind me of one of my (much younger…than me!) cousins. Don’t ever worry about the unkind comments some people may make, they’re just jealous. You don’t just make an impact on one persons life, you affect many. Be proud of your achievements and the fact that you are a real woman!!! :-)

  39. I don’t usually comment on these things, but having read this article I’d agree with most on here. How refreshing and wonderful… Beauty comes in all ways and confidence and self awareness is just two of them. If only there were more like you to say this out loud! I saw Amy Child’s on TV this morning talking of her regrets of all her surgery at 23. How very sad. You are fab and please keep it up!! An inspiration……x

  40. Lovely. It’s all about how you feel that radiates. For some people they (we!) need to primp and preen to feel good inside and out, for some other lucky ones they can just roll out of bed and feel gorgeous. Lucky you! :)

  41. I am now in my sixties and have always found cosmetics extremely baffling – I recall going shopping with friends who would, very happily, spend hours discussing/trying out lipsticks, mascara, nail varnish, I found my eyes glazing over after five minutes.

    It was lovely to read your article – If people (and it is increasingly men as well) want to do this and it gives them pleasure that’s fine – just count me out.

  42. Well, either you photograph exceedingly well, or you have at the very least “roguish good looks”.

    Of course, all this “need to augment” your looks drives a large, very profitable industry that spends a lot of effort to convince people they look inadequate. Usually not true at all, but suggestion can be very powerful.

  43. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – trite but true -and this (middle aged, straight, as if that’s even relevant) woman, thinks you’re Gawjuss,

  44. This post brought tears to my eyes. I just love your attitude. I feel completely the same, and make no apologies about it, but the barrage of expectation sometimes gets a bit much. Thanks for being deadly :D

  45. My nanna told me that you can’t please all of the people all of the time so just be yourself. It’s only now I’m pushing 40 that I’m beginning to realize how true that statement is, but your post highlights it beautifully.
    I’m relieved that all through all of the positive and negative press you have seemed to hang onto your own self. I’m much older and I doubt I would have been able to do that.

    A strong, beautiful on the inside, and out, woman with a real lust for life – the world needs more of your type, jack monroe.

  46. Saw you on question time – why aren’t you Prime Minister? Agreed with everything you said. Love your recipes too. Be well, from a Welsh Pinko in France!!!

  47. You are physically beautiful, but what is more beautiful than a particular genetic and environmental combination of skin and hair and bone structure is your intelligence and you have that in abundance

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  49. Ronnie 54

    Jack you are beautiful both inside and outside. Don’t listen to the negative comments. People who spend all their time writing negative comments to people have too much time on their hands. Perhaps they could help you campaign!

  50. My husband and I have been together 17 years with neither of us being very luck and often at least one of us out of work. We bought a flat which turned out to be a wreck and as we have no savings we had to get loans to fix the important things (13 years later and a lot of stuff is still waiting to be fixed). 4 years ago we had a daughter – the most expensive thing I’ve ever encountered!

    Last year, my husband and I both found ourselves out of work at the same time. For some reason the dole people thought it was perfectly acceptable to give us £70.04 per week for all three of us.

    Due to our loans plus regular bills, the dole money covered less than a third of our outgoings. The only way we could afford to buy food was to sell stuff. We sold everything. From my shoes to our tv, my daughters toys to our bed. When we sold bigger things we used some of the money to put towards our ever increasing debt.

    I applied for well over 3000 jobs. I only received one “sorry you’re over qualified” email, had one skills test and two interviews and heard nothing at all from any of the others.

    Anyway, the reason I have waffled this much is because I wanted to let all of those people who said you weren’t “skinny enough” to be poor that I actually put weight on from being so poor. Sometimes I had so little money that one loaf of bread and a bag of potatoes is all I could afford – that meant chip butties every day and all those carbs aren’t good for you, in any way.

    About two months after first signing on the dole I found your blog and I’m pretty sure it saved my life and my sanity and I couldn’t be more grateful.

    My husband and I are now both working but we accumulated so much debt that our income still doesn’t cover our outgoings. However, even when (if) we eventually crawl out from under it all, I will remain frugal and will always use your amazing recipes.

    From the very bottom of my heart Jack Monroe, thank you! x

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