I Woke Up Like This: On Flawlessness, And Admitting The Effort Required

What does it mean when we pretend everything comes easy? It’s a good question. I was completely enthralled by a recent article on The Cut, Why Not Admit We Didn’t Wake Up Like This? In fact, I was so enthralled that I thought about it all the way through my shower, and then throughout my long and involved hair, skin and make-up routine!

The sentiment of the article — which essentially states that the Gwyneth Paltrows and Blake Livelys of the world are disliked because they act like everything in their life is effortless — ties in to the quiet backlash to Instagram perfection.

One commenter on The Cut piece said,

Have you all not watched your friends, especially with the insane popularity of Instagram (which I love), seemingly dive into a white-washed, light-soaked BEAUTIFUL life where EVERYTHING is perfectly decorated, meticulously placed, delicious, fresh, all of the wood is reclaimed and they have cocktails and vacation all the time?! This article is about the fake lifestyle that we all are guilty of putting out on the Internet. It’s about the editing out of the grit so that we can appear to have not dealt with it at all. I don’t think it’s stupid to point this out, and I think it’s maybe just a discussion that many people aren’t ready to have yet. … Me, I want to see some anti-lifestyle. I want to know more about the grit. I’m sick of having the perfect Instagram life shoved in my face.

Right on. Every time we mention Instagram at The Blogcademy, we see people smile in wry acknowledgment when we mention being exhausted by “perfectly-curated lives”. We’re all guilty of it: in a world where the more beautiful and picture-perfect your life appears, the more validation you receive, it’s hard to step away. Given the choice between posting something real and something pretty, we almost always err on the side of pretty. After all, that’s what will result in more approval, and isn’t that what Instagram is all about?

It’s not just Instagram. Really, it’s about how we present ourselves to the world. Instagram is a symptom, not a cause. In Why Not Admit We Didn’t Wake Up Like This?, author Ann Friedman presents Kim Kardashian as a counterpoint to Paltrow and Lively.

“Kim K skills,” as Kanye calls them, are all about being ruthlessly strategic and working hard to achieve the life you want. And not being afraid to admit that’s what you’re doing. Kardashian is peddling a path to happiness and success that is no less materialistic than the one promoted by Paltrow or Lively; she’s just up-front about it. Even if you don’t have any desire to take your infant for a walk while sporting glittery eyeliner and a tuxedo jacket taped to your bare, spray-tanned breasts, her embrace of artifice is kind of a relief. Her look screams “effort.” She’s wealthy and beautiful like Lively and Paltrow — but at least she’s not acting like everything came easy.

I’m not a fan of Kim Kardashian, but one thing you can say about her (and the whole Kardashian clan) is that they never make things look easy. They’re straight-up about the effort that goes into looking and living the way they do. Remember when Kim had a “vampire facial”? Do you recall the time she got Botox on camera? Not to mention the shots of Kim’s unblended make-up, wigs, and even her Photoshopped buttstagram? As grotesque a spectacle as I personally find it to be, I appreciate the honesty of it all. Kim Kardashian offers us a front-row seat to see exactly what it takes to make her. (And for those of us who don’t want to know, we can always change the channel.)

Blake Lively and Kim Kardashian spend the same amount of time in the make-up artist’s chair, but only Blake Lively acts as if she doesn’t. The natural look is fine, but no one wakes up like that. It seems to me that women spend an inordinate amount of time trying to look “effortless”: effortless appearance, effortless career, effortless relationship.

Let’s be straight-up: “effortless” is bullshit. Every woman I know is working herself to the bone. Even those of us on the lighter side of life — green juice-drinking, yoga pant-wearing, gratitude list-making — are toiling away to make our life look and feel a certain way. No matter how unconventional your lifestyle, there is still an element of keeping up appearances. It’s insincere — and phony — to admit otherwise.

As Ann Friedman said,

Women have internalized the feminist message that we’re beautiful just the way we are, and we accept that everyone’s life is imperfect, but still can’t stop judging each other — and ourselves. We don’t want to acknowledge what a big role material concerns play in that judgment. So we end up doing much of the same work our foremothers did to appear pretty and stylish and well-rounded, but we pretend it isn’t work. We pretend we aren’t even doing it.

It’s important to be honest about the amount of work that goes into making us look the way we do, the effort we put into our careers, or anything else upon which we place emphasis. And why is it important? It’s important because being upfront about the degree of effort or money you put into something is part of being ethical. Otherwise, anyone who wants to — for example — have the career you have, will have unrealistic expectations about how to get there.

People always want the quick answer, a magic bullet. “What did you do to lose the weight? How come your business is booming? You’re looking so great — what are you doing?” The answer is never an instant, just-add-water type of fix. Inevitably, the actual truth is that you’ve been working at it for a long time.

Want great abs? Eat sensibly and go to the gym (a lot). Want a successful business? Work your ass off, and make smart, informed decisions. Want a fantastic relationship? Make it a priority. All of these things take time, tenacity, and patience. They don’t happen by magic, and when you act like they do, or when you pretend everything was just a happy accident, you do a disservice to others who’d like to emulate some of that success in their own lives.

Living your life with intention is awesome. Having the courage to admit that you have ambition, that you work hard, and that you live your life strategically, is fantastic. Pretending otherwise is disempowering, not just for you, but for everyone else, too.

We can make a great step towards embracing this kind of radical honesty starting online. Take #radicalselflovejuly, for example, which officially ended yesterday, and featured over 14,500 contributions. I’m particularly proud of #radicalselflovejuly and the results it garnered: international babes shared their favourite quotes, their make-up-free selfies, and tributes to their most inspiring friends, in addition to so many other things. There was a strong undercurrent of honesty that ran through the whole month, and meaningless aesthetics were eschewed in favour of truth and reality. It was badass, and I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to get to know my readers a little better.

If you missed out on #radicalselflovejuly, a similar project is #realliferules, created by photographer Emma Case. Taking part in a challenge like this might be exactly the nudge you need to extricate yourself from Pretty Nonsense Land and start putting a little more thought into the images and messages you send into the world.

Sometimes, though, it’s just a case of answering more honestly when someone asks you how you landed that gig, had your first six-figure year, or climbed Mt Kilimanjaro. Usually, it boils down to a little bit of inspiration, and a whole lot of perspiration. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.