Let’s just clear this up.

Putting on a crap ton of makeup does not mean I magically feel incredible. It means I put on a crap ton of makeup. In fact it could mean a variety of things. It could mean I’m feeling great, celebrating an event, doing a photo shoot, playing with techniques to pop my eyes because ‘why not’, or getting ready for date night. Of course it could also mean I’m in excruciating pain, don’t want my kids to see me looking ill again, I’m trying to get into a ‘look good feel better’ headspace, feeling terribly depressed, out of control, or in need of some cosmetic armour because sometimes, it’s hard to be seen through the lens of chronic illness 24/7.

The other side of the coin is true too. Not wearing makeup doesn’t mean I’m relapsing, that I’ve given up, that I’m exhausted, or need to work on my esteem.

If you deal with an invisible or chronic illness, it’s likely that you’re no stranger to the ‘but you don’t look sick’ phenomenon. Half my Spoonie community was traced through that hashtag. In fact this post was inspired by a lovely conversation I had through my DMs because this is an issue we face- a lot.

It’s not the compliment that is the enemy. It’s not the sentiment of concern, or hope that recovery is taking place. It’s never that. Instead, it’s the cross-wiring of if-then reasoning into one deductive statement: Beauty = Health.

The Semiotic Lie: Beauty = Health

Now, I love that we live in a world where we are slowly uncoupling the concepts of beauty and aesthetic; from weight and self-worth; the thrill of expansive reality from the binding constructs of perfection.

So how about this?

Can we also please divorce aesthetic and cosmetic expression from our health? Whether mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual?

Can we stop assuming that energy spent on cosmetic expression is superfluous; or implicative of miraculous recovery? Can we stop glossing over mental or physical state because someone is wearing a great shade of lipgloss? Can we stop believing that the face or body of illness only looks one way, or that the face and body of health looks only another?

When we speak to each other about health, can we brazenly speak to the heart of the matter? Can we simply say “how has your health been?” If we are happy to see someone, can we not just say “I’m so happy to see you”? Or if we want to complement appearance can we not say directly “that colour is wonderful on you”, “your eyeliner is amazing”, or “you have to teach me how to do that hair style”?

Can we extend the poignant ripple of Body Positivity and aesthetic inclusion to embrace well-being? Can we all just be, and be beautiful no matter what?

 

Let’s understand this together.

It’s not the compliment that is the enemy. It’s not the sentiment of concern, or hope that recovery is taking place. It’s never that. Instead, it’s the cross-wiring of if-then reasoning into one deductive statement: Beauty = Health.

Similarly, whether you are a Spoonie or not, it’s not our expression of individual beauty that is to blame. Don’t ever second guess a sweep of rouge, or the bareness of freshly-washed skin. But spending time in defensive preparation for those interactions which sadly, become drained of their pleasantries as we question or are questioned as to why we don’t look a certain way- that needs to change.

And in case you are wondering, it happens. It happens a lot.

Ask the woman who shamed me and slammed her palm down on my car with my kids in the back because she would have rather believed that I’d stolen my mom or grandma’s accessibility pass. “You don’t look like there’s a thing wrong with you! This spot is for people who need it!” I can still hear her sneering at me. This happened in 2016 and it still haunts me every time I find a parking spot.

Ask the specialist who in 2009 delayed my blood-work when I told her repeatedly that my hair was falling out and my joints were unrelenting with their aches. “I would have suggested a rheumatologist earlier, but you style your hair so nicely and you are always smiling, who would have guessed?.” To this day I scrutinize my appearance before I go to the doctor, like a smear too much concealer will change everything.

Ask the people in my life who have ghosted me, because they would rather believe that I was lying about my symptoms because “you don’t look sick” than understand how horrendous it is to constantly be faking a degree of wellness you don’t have. Because you don’t want to miss out on work opportunities. On invitations. On life.

 

No one should ever need to wonder if they have passed as ‘acceptable’.

No one should have to feel that they have jeopardized their right to accessibility, healthcare, or dignity because ‘you look good’.

No one should be denied the right to self care, or self love- to appreciate our own special individual beauty whether we are lying in hospital, or walking down a runway.


Want more? Read about how my relationship with the bathroom mirror made me take a second look at how I was moulding my daughter’s body image.

Follow my health journey on IGTV with Tales of the Autoimmutant.

Be good to yourself, and remember – use those superpowers for good.

XO Kat