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The effort of effortlessness

The year: 2012. The scene: eleven-year-old Ames dancing around their childhood bedroom to the radio. 

“What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction is the next song to come on, and little Ames — who had never heard of One Direction before this point — absolutely boogies to it. 

What? It’s a catchy song, and I was in fifth grade.

Little Ames goes on to attend a One Direction concert that summer and is a pretty big Directioner for about a year and a half. Then it dies off.

The year: 2021. The scene: twenty-year-old me chopping vegetables in the kitchen of my off-campus Oxford house, listening to music from my extensive Amazon Music playlist of over 250 songs.

A song came on shuffle that I hadn’t heard in a while: “Summer Days” by Martin Garrix, feat. Macklemore and Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy fame. The opening line in particular struck me: “She looks good in the morning / and she don’t even know it.”

Flashback moment to 2012, and “You don’t know you’re beautiful, oh-oh / That’s what makes you beautiful.”

What is it with us, as a society, being obsessed with effortless beauty — specifically, beauty that is just so effortless, the beautiful person doesn’t even know they’re beautiful?

Stereotypically, cisgender men are the most guilty of growing this phenomenon. 

Anyone who wears makeup knows the “no makeup” joke that took the Internet by storm a few years ago — when men say they want a woman who doesn’t wear makeup, they actually want someone who wears foundation, primer, concealer, mascara… someone who wears makeup, but doesn’t look like they’re wearing makeup. 

Then there’s the classic “I woke up like this” look, which, as almost any makeup-wearing person can tell you, is usually a big fat lie.

But women and gender-neutral persons can be guilty of this, too. It’s not just a guy thing.

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Specifically, anyone can put effort into making themselves look good — but not so good that it’s obvious that you put effort in – if that makes sense. 

I have learned how to perfect a crisp eyeliner wing for my everyday face. Some of my friends put on concealer every day to hide eye bags and acne, and I do as well. My roommate straightens her hair every day.

One of my male friends experimented a lot with hair gel our freshman year to figure out that perfect “messy tousled, but not quite bedhead” look. There’s also the stereotype of the “gym bro,” who bulks up on their muscles for nothing but the look of it. 

It’s time to stop pretending, as a whole society, that we don’t put effort into our appearance.

Effortlessness can make you beautiful, sure, but it’s not fair to say that the only reason someone can be beautiful is if they are naturally model-pretty and picture-perfect all the time.

Effort makes us beautiful too.

As an extremely vain person myself, whenever any part of my appearance is complimented, it just absolutely makes my day. Very few times has any of those compliments been about something I couldn’t control. Usually, it’s something that I did on purpose.

I feel a rush of joy whenever someone compliments my eyeliner. I’ve worked hard to perfect that skill; I’ve put the effort in. Why wouldn’t I want people to appreciate that?

So I have a little advice for 2012 Ames, and for anyone who has ever bought into the bull that only effortlessness is beautiful. 

Do what you want. Enjoy what you want. Put on that eye-catching bright lipstick, buy that new hair product, go bulk up at the gym. If it makes you feel beautiful, then it makes you look beautiful too. 

Because — at risk of sounding like a 2016 self-help guru — beauty comes from not just the outside, but also the inside. It doesn’t matter what other people think of your beauty. If you feel beautiful, it will show. 

No matter how many people try to tear you down (I’m looking at you, high school teachers who always gave me weird looks when I wore my neon blue lipstick to class), there will always be people who smile at you and say, “Oh my god, I love your lipstick! Where did you get it?”

You can put in as little or as much effort as you want, and no 2012 song is ever going to stop me from feeling beautiful for myself and for myself alone.