• Ruth Dewar

Beauty, Trans Women, and IPL

What does beauty mean?

Being transgender can mean having a slightly different definition of the word “beautiful.” Zoë writes about what it means to her, and how IPL has helped her achieve it.

I was 30 years old before I realised I was transgender. All my life I had repressed the idea that I might be a woman, cramming those feelings deep down, and suddenly they’d come rushing out in a flood of realisation.

Although it was scary at first, the feeling was amazing. However, it raised questions I’d never really had to think about before, and one of the most interesting ones was “how can I be beautiful?”

For cisgender people, beauty is already a difficult thing to grapple with. Everything from the fashion industry to Instagram tells us there’s a specific way you should look, and while the body-positive movement has done a lot to fight against that, the reality is that most of us feel like we are never as beautiful as we could be.

However, for trans people there’s an additional wrinkle: beauty is linked to gender in a way that makes it harder for us to achieve.

A square jaw, broad shoulders and a thick beard are seen as beauty ideals for men, but for women the exact opposite is true. For me – and many trans people like me – matching those beauty standards means undoing all the aspects of my body that I’d grown into while thinking I was male.

What's gender dysphoria versus gender euphoria?

This is part of what is commonly called “gender dysphoria”: the distress caused by the mismatch between the gender I know I am and the body in which I was born. I look at my broad shoulders and my visible stubble and I don’t just see myself as less beautiful; I see myself as less of a woman. And that latter fact hurts.

So for me, the question of “how can I be beautiful?” isn’t just about trying to match a set of beauty standards, it’s about forging myself into the woman I feel like. Getting there is complicated, and it’s been a long and difficult journey.

A few months ago, my best friend came over to my house armed with an arsenal of makeup, wigs and assorted beauty tools, and we took a proper crack at my appearance. After an hour or so of experimentation, we reached a point we were happy with and I was finally allowed to look in the mirror. I immediately ruined all of my best friend’s hard work by bursting into tears and leaking eyeliner down my face. For the first time in over 30 years, I’d seen myself.

The other side of gender dysphoria is gender euphoria, the incredible feeling of finally seeing your identity match up with your body. That, to me, is what being beautiful is. Looking at myself in that mirror, I definitely didn’t match any kind of traditional beauty standards. I still had broad shoulders, no curves, and a face that is not particularly feminine. But none of that matters in the end, because I looked in that mirror and saw the woman I was always meant to be.

Beauty means...

This is all a long, rambling way of saying that beauty means a wide range of different things to trans people. I don’t think I will ever “pass” as a cisgender woman, and to be honest, I don’t think I want to. I want to display my transness as something to be proud of (although I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with trans people who feel the opposite).

However, there are certain things about myself that give me that horrible feeling of gender dysphoria. The big one for me has always been stubble.

Many women – both cis and trans – have facial hair, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but to me, it stands there as a (literal) black mark reminding me of the years I spent living as a man. Some trans women

will feel differently about their stubble, but I have always wanted to eliminate it.

IPL has been the best way I’ve found of achieving that. Being able to permanently remove my facial hair has been amazing, and has given me a much bigger sense of control over my body and my transition. Every single session brings me closer to the moment where I can wake up in the morning, look in a mirror and see my own face looking back.

Beauty means different things to different people, and among trans women, there are plenty who don’t see facial hair as something that triggers their gender dysphoria. To be honest, I’m more than a little jealous of them! But for me, being beautiful will always be linked to that first incredible moment of finally seeing myself in my reflection. IPL is something that is allowing me to get there.

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