an addict's memoir
Hickey is the publisher and CEO of Good Men Media, Inc. This
article first appeared in The
Good Men Project.
we go again, I think, as I impatiently wait for the hair straightener
to warm up. I’ve washed my hair, deep conditioned it,
shaved my legs, tweezed my eyebrows. I’ve blown dry my
hair, but it’s still a wreck. It’s always a wreck.
It’s thin, so thin that when I put it into a ponytail,
a pencil is thicker. I plaster down the worst of the flyaways
with a hair product that promises something it can’t deliver.
I really want to be doing – instead of going through that
same-same ritual – is learning to write code. Studying
analytics. Taking with someone halfway ‘round the world
about real oppression. Not the kind of oppression that I feel
because of my addiction to beauty.
I’ll look in the mirror, and I’ll catch the light
just right. The sun will be setting, the image in the mirror
gets dim, the wrinkles and age spots and flyaway hairs meld
into the twilight. The angle of my chin clicks into place. And
at those times I’ll look in the mirror and say to myself:
Oh, I’m not as hideous as I thought.
is nothing about that statement that is good, or healthy, or
intelligent or perhaps even logical. But it is 100% honest.
And every day, that’s as good as it gets.
weird, this thing called beauty. I used to be beautiful twice
in my life. You just know. There’s simply a different
look in people’s eyes. They actually look at you. They
actually see you.
22, and out on a date and I overheard a stranger talking to
the guy I was dating. “Man, you don’t see that she’s
the most beautiful girl in this place?” My boyfriend shook
his head. “If you don’t, you’re crazy . .
. here . . . ” said the guy, giving my boyfriend his number.
“Call me if you break up with her.”
skin care products are reported to be a $3.5 billion dollar
industry. Products are designed to “remove 33% of fine
lines and wrinkles.” But do you know what I look like
with 33% less fine lines and wrinkles? I look like plain old
ordinary almost-hideous me, just with 33% less fine lines and
wrinkles. Except I’m standing there holding a $70 container
of face cream that could have been a night out, or a textbook
or partial payment on a new laptop. It’s pretty laughable.
And yet, I still walk into CVS and longingly stalk the skincare
aisle, picking up containers. “Maybe this will be the
reading a book called The Condition. One of the main
characters has Turners Syndrome, which causes her not to develop
into puberty; to remain as small as a middle-schooler. And this
woman feels marginalized most of her life, keeps to herself,
doesn’t have relationships. Until she travels to a Caribbean
island and a man there falls in love with her. And I remember
this next sentence perfectly: He kept saying to her, over and
over, “I love that you’re so small,” until
gradually she learned to love that about herself, too. But who
says, “I love that you’re so ugly?” Or, “I
love that you’re so old?” Of course I believe that
love exists for the old and the ugly -- as long as they were
young and beautiful when you first met them.
on my last my post “Beauty, Obsession, Men, Women”
said, “At 80 years old, everyone is marginalized,”
in response to what I’ve found, in talking to other women
and hearing them say that they don’t want to grow old
because they are afraid they will lose their beauty and become
marginalized. But . . . if people are marginalized at 80, isn’t
that because of their ‘looks?’ Are you telling me
that if an 80-year-old looked like a really hot 40-year-old
that people wouldn’t pay attention to her?
42 years old, after four kids and a train wreck of a self-image,
I became obsessed with beauty again. It started like it always
does; I went running. And running – I have to run a lot,
five to ten miles a day – but running does it for me.
Eventually my body started to look great. And then, even better,
I added to my workout pilates, yoga, strength-training, and
ballet. And more running. I got leaner and longer and stretched.
My posture was perfect. My shoulders thrown back; emerging shoulder
blades. I could feel my hipbones again. And then the facials,
chemical peels, microdermabrasions, Botox. I was in some salon
or another every week. Manicures. Pedicures. Hair coloured on
Boston’s ritzy Newbury Street, “chocolate and caramel
swirl for your hair so you look delicious,” the stylist
would laugh. New clothing. The perfect bra. A funky pair of
shoes. Just the right earrings. A silk dress.
don’t set out to spend money that should be going to your
kids schooling, but instead is going to your beauty regime --
at least I certainly didn’t. But a treatment of Botox
is a tuition payment. A months worth of yoga classes is a textbook.
A mani-pedi is an hour of tutoring. Not to mention the time
not being with my kids. I’d get nervous if I couldn’t
fit the three hours of exercise in. If a yoga class was at suppertime,
yoga it was.
was totally and completely and utterly selfish, of course. Addictions
are always selfish. You justify them any way you can -- “It’s
important to have ‘me’ time,” “I work
so hard, I deserve to relax,” “I need to look good
to get ahead in work. I’ll earn more for my family.”
“I’m healthier when I’m in shape. More relaxed.
More confident. I’m a better person.” But an addiction
is an addiction is an addiction, and you start feeding that
addiction at the expense of connecting with the people you love.
day a few months after my new regime, I dashed straight from
work to pick up my daughter from a birthday party. Parents that
I had known for years didn’t recognize me. One 8-year-old
eating ice cream said solemnly “Mrs. Hickey, did they
turn you into a movie star?”
of my life I’ve been afraid of men. Part of that fear
was -- and still is, quite frankly -- I’m afraid I’m
not beautiful enough. I like to think I’m intelligent,
and funny, and kind, and that those qualities will be enough
for any interaction.
intelligence doesn’t walk in the door the same way beauty
months later, I’m at a Boston Advertising Awards Show.
The Hatch Awards, packed to the gills with people dressed to
the nines and I know almost everyone. And five minutes after
I walk in I hear a loud booming voice from across the room:
“OMG, who’s the babe?”
turn around to see who he was talking about. Then I realized
I was “the babe.”
happened all night. The variation on the theme was, “Who’s
the baaaaaaaaaaabe?” Men who usually took care to conduct
themselves with the utmost of professionalism seemed delirious.
An old boss said, “I always wished you had looked this
way back when we worked together. You know, for the clients.”
One guy I had worked with for months years earlier turned around
and dropped his drink on his shoe when he saw me. He didn’t
lose a beat as he hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You
look fucking gorgeous.”
know what I hated most? I hated that I loved it. I hated that
I couldn’t wait to see the look in guys’ eyes as
they actually looked at me, as if they saw me for the first
time. I couldn’t stand the way that for each of the previous
ten years, I had gone to that same awards show -- and in all
the other years I remembered the joy of hearing my name announced
and getting an award, or being asked to interview for the perfect
job or making a hushed deal in the marble hallways of the Opera
House. And I hated myself because this time, I didn’t
want to hear any of those things. All I wanted to hear was “who’s
the babe?” I hated that every accomplishment I had ever
earned was replaced by the desire to hear guys tell me that
I was once again beautiful.
of course, as what happens with all addictions, my life became
unmanageable. My kids started begging me to go for cheaper haircuts
so I could afford clothes for them. They’d want to spend
time with me when I wanted to go for longer and longer runs.
A pre-teen daughter stormed out of Staples when a guy started
flirting with me -- while we were buying her school supplies.
(The only thing worse than a not-hot mom is a hot one). I’d
sneak off from work to go to a ‘client meeting,’
but I’d really be going to a yoga class. Walking back
in the office two hours later and trying to hide the yoga mat
didn’t exactly inspire confidence in my managerial capabilities.
I’d get caught with thousands of dollars worth of bills
for beauty services the way some people get caught with bills
for phone sex.
so, reluctantly, I gave up my addiction. But there are still
some signs I’m not fully cured. There’s my daily
battle with the mirror and the hair straightener. And I’ve
joined the ranks of Jezebel readers, who are horrified of the
constant photoshopping of pictures of women in the media, like
this “Photoshop Shop of Horrors.”
Jezebel makes a dent in things. But until then, what to I do
in response to my horror? I Photoshop pictures of myself before
they go out in public.
The Good Men Project Facebook page, one of our fans
once wrote: “What is wrong with men liking women who are
beautiful? Why can’t we just like what we like? Why must
you make us feel guilty?”
truth is, nothing is wrong with it. You can absolutely like
whom you like. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty. You
own your own feelings, not me. And I am certainly not blaming
you for my own screwed-up insecurities.
telling you my side of the story so you understand this -- I
am not a good a person when I am beautiful. I don’t want
it to be so important -- but I think it’s important to
you, as guys, so it’s important to me. And this is my
story, not every woman’s and I’m sure there are
plenty of beautiful women who are not like me either. But when
I’m beautiful—or close to beautiful—it’s
all I think about. When I’m beautiful and I’m with
you, I’m wondering if the guy across the room thinks I’m
beautiful. I think beauty is going to connect us; but I’m
not connecting with you, I’m connecting with a beautiful
image of myself that I think you might like. It sucks. It sucks
for both of us.
my addiction to beauty hurts men because I don’t give
you credit for being the guys you are -- someone who likes the
incredible complexity of women for who they are.
up my addiction meant giving up being beautiful. Some people
here will tell me I am “fishing for compliments”
by writing this. That’s what I am usually told when I
talk about beauty.
as I was writing this -- even as I was remembering “the
guy who dropped the glass on his foot” -- I had a physical
reaction. It was similar to a fight or flight response -- I
could either put these fighting words about beauty on a page,
or I could go for a run. I was typing as I slid my feet into
my sneakers. I was still thinking through sentences and found
I couldn’t get my headphones into my iPhone quick enough.
It took an excruciatingly long time to untangle them. I had
to run. I had to run through a beautiful day, and then later,
at one in the morning, run again, run at a cost to a leg that
doesn’t work anymore, run as hard and as fast as I could
-- chasing a beauty I know I can never catch up to.
beauty not to matter.