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As I met my friend for lunch, I noticed her lovely pink nails and complimented her choice of colour. “Sorry they’re a mess, I haven’t had time to get them done recently,” she said. That’s when it struck me: women apologising for their appearance is an all too common occurrence. And there’s undeniably no reason it should be like this. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her nails that day. And even if there was, she doesn’t owe me anything?
I pondered upon this idea for a while, and it elicited a plethora of emotions. Guilt, sadness, and anger to name a few. Unfortunately, this is something that I have often fallen victim to myself. I realised that this is a reflection of the society we live in, and its treatment of women. Something is making us think that we have to apologise. We live in a society where women are largely treated as objects to be looked at, rather than whole and complex beings. Thus, overcoming this problem would require systematic changes.
However, conscious awareness and attention to unlearn this at an individual level is also crucial. We need to overcome the internalization of society’s view of women that places sole importance on looks. I’m not saying it’s easy or simple, but it is important.
The idea of choice in terms of complying to beauty standards is quite interesting. For example, hair removal or makeup. How much of a choice is there if you feel ashamed, anxious, ugly, or generally terrible when you have failed to comply? This is something much deeper than simply choosing yes or no.
But before you consider apologising for your appearance, think about this:
Are you really sorry?
And if you are, do you actually need to be?
You are more than how you look. And you were not made for society’s consumption. You do not owe them anything. You do not owe them ‘pretty’.
These ‘appearance apologies’ come in many forms. It may be about your outfit or your hair or your lack of makeup on a particular day. No more of “Sorry, I'm in my sweats” or “Sorry, I’m exhausted and didn’t conceal my undereye bags.” Often, apologising for such things is most probably bringing attention to something that the other person would not have noticed in the first place. You deserve to unapologetically exist in your natural state. Dare I say thrive in it.
If we don’t base our worth on our looks, and are flexible with our expectations of appearances, then we would be a lot more comfortable and content. For instance, on most days I do not wear makeup. This is mainly because I do not enjoy wearing makeup often, and I’ve dealt with acne for years. Rather than cover up my skin and probably aggravate it even more, I've learnt to prefer to let it be. And thus on those days that I do choose to wear makeup, I end up enjoying it more as it does not feel like an obligation or necessity. For those with similar problems, it’s essential to remember that you are not obligated to cover your acne if you do not want to. And there’s certainly no need to apologise for not doing so. Being happy and comfortable in your own skin is worth much more than what anyone else might think about your looks.
Another thing that I noticed is that these apologies are often a reply to a compliment. For example, the incident with the nails. Instead of deflecting from a compliment, we should learn to gracefully accept it. So next time you get a compliment, don’t undermine it with an apology. Try and take it with confidence—and don’t forget to enjoy it. This will benefit you, as well as the person giving the compliment.
We need to remember that we are more than our looks. There are a number of things that matter much more than a person’s appearance. Additionally, these statements are essentially apologies for our natural state. We’re apologising for simply existing as we are. And that is not fair.
So let’s stop apologising for our appearance, and save those apologies for the necessary moments.