I hope I’m not alone in this, but the physical appearance of a person is something I don’t think I could ever really give up looking at. It’s wonderful thing! (Is this anthropological at all? I don’t know)

You could just take a really Sherlockian approach to it, by valuing a person’s appearance for all the things it could tell you, and all that you could deduce from it. Obviously, appearance isn’t limited to a snapshot, static image of them – it’s also their demeanour, the way they carry themselves, the way they speak to different people and their little habits and tics. It all tells you something if their past – both ancient and recent.

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You could take a fashion approach to it, where you look at people’s outfits for inspiration – what combinations work and don’t work. You could take a behavioural approach and see how people perform the daily rites of etiquette, who does the spitting on the floor and who does the face-pulling.

In a sudden moment this afternoon, I found myself taking on a rose-tinted aesthetic approach. It was like a pair of lenses had been lowered onto the flat bridge of my nose all without warning: suddenly I found myself to appreciate everybody’s looks, of all shapes and sizes.

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There was a young lady smoking outside my academic building earlier, who I would have previously seen as conventionally slightly on the big side, and her outfit was plain, leaning into sport casual – but then I saw how her slender legs came together with her backpack (the straps as short as they can go, so her back isn’t sacrificed for the sake of some arbitrary style trend). How her jacket, ending at her stocky waistline, really complemented her short, curly bob.

Then there was the girl I saw running across the road right as a car was about to proceed through the crossing. She had a long face, and everything about her was a bit too long – her jacket, the hem of her skirt, her arms, her hair (too long for a bob), her boots. But then the magical lenses fell from the skies yet again, and I saw how there was a certain beauty in that cohesion, and that her clear skin, bright red lips and dazzling smile (and sort of Trelawney-like earrings waving in the wind) was like the statement piece out of a pret-a-porter outfit.

What is deemed sexy, or beautiful? But more importantly, what are the rules that define this? How do these rules come into being? My little epiphany today made me aware that so much aesthetic meaning can be taken from the most ordinary and everyday of people, and experiences.

I may be alone in this viewpoint – but if I’m not, please let me know.

(Note on June 27th 2014: Just been reading through 1984 for the first time – yes, a bit of a late literature bloomer – but there’s a part where Julia and Winston are staring at the singing buff woman who hangs up the laundry, and he has the exact same thoughts as me in this post! One of his lines really stuck with me, something like “She has her own style of beautiful”. I’m not aloneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!)

My boyfriend was looking over my shoulder just as I was about to publish my previous post about makeup. He then asked me, ‘do you actually want me to compliment you when you’re wearing makeup?’ Some context – he usually does, but he compliments me plenty even when I’m not wearing any.

It raised a really good question, though – what exactly do I want to achieve with a bunch of pseudo-feminist blog posts? Do I want boys to say that there is no use for makeup? Do I want them to appreciate how much skill is involved in the art of a make-up artist?

I can’t speak for all women, obviously, but personally I don’t like the idea of a fake me (and that’s kind of what a made-up girl is, really) being more attractive or like/loveable than the true me. It just tells me that I’m naturally ugly. According to this logic, then, I dislike it when my boyfriend tells me he thinks I look good with my makeup on. At the same time, though – if he doesn’t compliment me when I’m wearing makeup, I’ll feel a little sore. I put all this effort into making myself look ‘good’, even if that good is a little far removed from what I really look like. Yet, I don’t seem to be pretty enough – even with artificial help! – for you to comment on. Does this mean I’m so ugly even makeup can’t help? That’s a terrifying thought.

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Obviously, both of the cases outlined above apply to any social situation, not just between lovers – although it is certainly more personal between lovers. But friends’ feedback can cause the same kind of insecurity.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? Are girls just finicky creatures who don’t know what they want? What conduct is deemed appropriate regarding how good someone looks?

Girls are finicky creatures who don’t know what they want – but so is everyone else, so it would be hypocritical to accuse girls of that. Conduct-wise, I think it’s a good idea to tell the made-up object that they look good both with and without makeup. Truth to be told, when it comes down to the technicalities, people just look different with and without makeup on. It’s up to societies’ standards, and the prevalent fashions of the time, to decide what looks better or worse – but it’s all arbitrary.

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Perhaps the easiest way to think about all of this is to think of makeup as more like an outfit of clothing – each makeup look is as different as the other, and expresses a different part of your multi-faceted being. And if you choose to go nude – well, that’s just another look (although it’s far more taboo if we’re talking about the nude body, and a discussion for another time) that is arguably the most beautiful of all.

When I first came to the UK almost two years ago, a certain line of thought in the discourse I found myself surrounded by was the really alienating, detached way the British spoke about ‘Americans’. Even the word ‘American’, when uttered by a British person, sounds awkward and incongruous, although maybe that’s just in my head. (Or maybe it’s the word itself spoken in an RP British accent).

There’s also something about the way Brits use the word ‘America’ rather than ‘the US’ – obviously I’m no expert on native American discourse (lol punz), I’ve never even been there – but I can’t shake the sense that Americans refer to their country as ‘the US’ a lot more often than Brits do.

Part of the reason why this phenomenon has struck such a chord with me is probably because I come from Hong Kong, where it doesn’t matter so much where you come from as it does what race you are. Despite its supposed position as a hub of cosmopolitanism, Hong Kong is actually quite racist in that anybody with white skin is automatically given an elevated social status. Even that supposed cosmopolitanism only applies to those rich enough to be trendy, well-educated and intellectual.

diversity in Hong Kong_white people

Based on that logic, all white people in Hong Kong are just that – white. Their nationality doesn’t matter so much, and we have the English next to Americans next to South Africans next to Australians next to Kiwis and so on. There are Scots next to the Irish, with a few Welsh(wo)men. Imagine my surprise, then, when I come to a country actually predominantly inhabited by white people, to find that these unions and boundary-less realities didn’t hold up.

For all that I get lectured at university about the limitations of nationalism and imperialism, a large part of the British population, and so many of the people I’ve met here, just blindly follow the belief that Americans are dumb, Americans are rude, Americans are vapid and get up to all sorts of strange things. They forget that America is a nation made up of 50 states, and that the sheer number of people that fill those up will indicate a massive range and diversity of personalities. You can’t just say that Americans are [insert deprecating adjective].

The moment somebody attributes something about Americans to their Americanism, especially regarding dislikeable characteristics, that person is no better than a racist.

As a girl growing up in the post-millenium period, I am very much a part of that demographic that is subject to unequal standards in almost all areas of social life; it’s become naturalised to everyone, and how do you pick out something that’s been naturalised and say, ‘oh, this is wrong’?

Makeup is a large package of those strange standards, but I don’t think it’s contentious enough in our everyday discourse. It’s one of the only things that still hasn’t quite crossed the male-female line the way pants have.

A lady is expected to put some makeup on in a professional working environment because it’s seen as an etiquette. A young woman is expected to make herself look ravishingly sex-worthy under the dark and dim lighting of a club – there are bouncers that turn girls away for not looking enough like bait. Even in a casual social situation (in the West anyway), a girl is expected to look pretty via covering up what she really looks like. What kind of message is that sending out?

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There’s a really poignant quotation from a young lady who went through a really emotionally unjust experience, and wrote a most riveting post about it, though I don’t necessarily like everything she says (not because it’s wrong, but because it’s a very cynical view of the world): “How can I look beautiful? I’m wearing makeup.”

If you read the rest of her post, that quotation has a very different meaning from what it sounds like on the surface. I like what it sounds like on the surface. I like the idea that the “I” who people say looks beautiful is not truly “I”, because “I’m wearing makeup.”

My mother is as tentative about makeup as I used to be, so I never learnt that set of ‘womanly skills’ from her; I got it off the internet, and practised it in dressing rooms and during GCSE revision breaks. Maybe this is why I seem to be the only one I know who feels as vehemently about this; the fact that I wasn’t brought up on it the way many girls here in the UK are, or that I don’t feel the need to wear it just to show my face to other people. Or maybe I just haven’t been hitting up the right communities; maybe somebody else on the internet who feels the same way, or has opinions on the matter, will read this and tell me what they think. Maybe it’s just one of those things people find it hard to discuss face-to-face because it seems so petty and picky to get into a tizzy over something that’s such a big part of the everyday routine of most girls.

I intend to blog a lot more about this; like I said before, maybe I’ve just never met the right people or read the right blogs, but I feel like not enough people talk about makeup as a social phenomenon, and only talk about how to use it. I’m just a confused, self-pitying little girl who just cries about the injustices of the world all day, and I don’t claim to be an expert opinion. I’m just someone who thinks about these things.

Kevin Lau – an ex-editor and renowned journalist of the Ming Pao newspaper in Hong Kong (basically our version of The Guardian) – was recently stabbed in broad daylight. An uproar has exploded in the city since, and Hong Kong citizens from all around the world have joined in the fray.

Before you start to think, Oh god, what a load of boring ball hocks, here’s some context. China and Hong Kong have always had a very tense relationship regarding how much control the former should have over the latter. Nobody wants a reputation as a willing ally of China when you’re as dependent on the Western world as Hong Kong is.

But wait, I hear you say. Isn’t Hong Kong just another city in China? Trust me, if you want to earn brownie points with somebody from Hong Kong, don’t ask that question. Before 1997, Hong Kong was under the control of the British, which explains why the city is so, so, so much more westernised than China and other Asian countries. In 1997, in a treaty called ‘one country, two systems’, Britain handed Hong Kong back over to China, but stated that Hong Kong would be allowed to keep running the way it had been before, rather than changing to fit China’s economic and political system.

That’s why Hong Kong is technically classed as a Special Autonomous Region; that’s what the S.A.R. stands for when Hong Kong is listed in official documents, and not a reference to the 2003 SARS outbreak (which is what I believed up until a few years ago). This means we’re largely self-governing, but China is responsible for our military defences and foreign policy. It means Hong Kong runs a capitalist economy, alongside China’s socialist one. When you think about it, isn’t it amazing that we’ve managed to work out such a strange co-operation?

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But the system doesn’t really hold out forever – the agreement between the UK and China only lasts 50 years, and what lies beyond that 50-year threshold is a dark and murky mystery. I often wonder why people aren’t planning ahead for it, but the obvious answer is that a lot can happen over a decade, never mind multiple decades. Still, as of 2014, we only have 33 years of what could be relative heaven left.

Obviously the media have a big part in this; a free-flowing media and information system is one of Hong Kong’s most distinctively anti-China features, and if that gets contaminated, what do we have left with which to identify ourselves as ‘progressive’? Hong Kong media is almost a microcosm of the region itself, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of the city when the media is increasingly being taken over, inch by inch, by mainland Chinese interests. People are scared that this is an evil long-term scheme by China to take over Hong Kong in advance of when the 50-year ‘one country, two systems’ agreement stops.

Examples include the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s newspaper of record, where the encroachment of mainland Chinese politics can be felt when you look at the reshuffling of all the executive staff; the SCMP was owned by News Corp (Rupert Murdoch!!!) up until just before Hong Kong’s handover to China, where it has since been owned by the pro-Beijing Malaysian Kuok family.

ming pao daily news hong kong Sum Sze Tam

Ming Pao, on the other hand, has been relatively independent until recently, when Kevin Lau was dismissed under mysterious circumstances, and another pro-Beijing Malaysian tycoon has stepped into the Ming Pao scene. What is with all these Malaysians, srsly. Ming Pao is the newspaper my parents read from, like most most middle-class families in Hong Kong, and it’s our baby in the sense that it has a reputation for being reliable, and upholding professional journalistic standards. It’s the newspaper I’d read if I could read a word of Chinese.

Needless to say, people are hurt and angry over the whole Ming Pao debacle. For one, stabbings like these occur so very rarely, because the crime rate in Hong Kong is so low, it really comes as a shock when somebody as prestigious and in the spotlight as Kevin Lau gets targeted. It’s clearly a public message, which is being interpreted in many ways. And who is the message from? Who is the message to? There are so many questions waiting to be answered, and how (if?) they’re answered will have a profound implication on Hong Kong-China tensions.

One of my own friends from the London School of Economics has started a campaign (there’s a description in English if you click ‘See more’) with her fellow society members in protest of these recent developments. Great girl. There’s an ongoing social media campaign she’s doing too, and both have been quite successful. I’ve signed it, but to tell the truth I’ve always had mixed feelings about activism (this is the bit where you point at me and go HYPOCRITE, because of the Cardiff University Living Wage campaign I helped out in, amongst others), but that’s a post for another time.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Hong Kong politics – this is all pretty entry-level really – and if I got some things wrong above, then please do correct me. But it’s been a long time coming that I’d consolidate somewhere my own knowledge of the current situation, specifically for people who don’t know it.

Also, stabbings/choppings/cleaver attacks are terrible. Just imagining a stabbing makes me shudder.

A friend told me a very interesting thing yesterday; she said that every time she got into the kind of conversation where a heavy subject matter was being discussed, she’d get this mysterious urge to smoke. The kinds of conversations she meant was the kind where it was late at night and you and another person – perhaps a close friend, perhaps someone with whom you share a sexual tension – ponder about the things in life.

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When I see other people smoke, it’s to blow off steam, or when they can’t be dealing with the tension. It’s a temporary break, and I can understand the appeal of that. But my own position on smoking is pretty hostile; sometimes I feel like my immediate rejection, the almost disgusted face I automatically pull when I smell smoke or if someone mentions their addiction to/dependence on it ostracises people. It’s not a pretty face, that’s for sure.

Stress has recently really been a thing – and I’m sure that’s something many people have in common. It’s a hot topic, one that all ostensibly caring welfare agencies/ads/workers express concern about. It’s an ‘issue’.

There is such strength in some people, in the way they deal with hardship. As sad as it sounds, I think every single person who doesn’t turn to some chemical form of rest or respite (e.g. drugs, including tobacco and alchohol) should be celebrated.

Some social theorists think that in modern (capitalist) life, lots of people can’t really see any way to express themselves other than by buying things. Maybe it’s the capitalist system that causes this consumerist desire, or maybe it’s the fact that this desire existed already that the system came to be; chicken or egg? I don’t remember whether it was the Frankfurt School theorists or Kant who thought this, but according to one of them (or someone else entirely, my memory’s terrible), art is an alternative way in which human beings can express themselves.

People who choose not to see the world beyond their little blinkered bubbles, the ones who – whether due to their upbringing, social position, social history or otherwise – do not allow their considerations to transcend beyond their own very limited conception of the world, unfortunately don’t possess the capacity to see that art is the perfect way to express yourselves.

As naively optimistic as it sounds, I staunchly believe that everyone has the capacity to be creative, and to transcend in the way I described above. I believe everyone has taste, but this differs, and people sometimes have trouble reaching their true potential and truly realise their taste. I believe that everyone has the ability to express themselves in the ‘purer’ way that Kant or the Frankfurt School outlined, one that didn’t depend on the perpetually unattainable, consumerist promise that money represents.

The point I’m trying to get at, is that I think engaging with art, and the beauty of the aesthetic form, whether that’s in the form of music, theatre, literature, film, dance, fine art, photography, whatever! is the best way to deal with stress, or the weary loads that life sometimes lays on you.

I feel like engaging with that sort of brain activity is almost the abstract solution to everything; it’s a stress reliever, and it works by building up your enjoyment of something without necessarily comparing your performance to others (that’s only if you’re doing this for enjoyment, and not for a living, obviously). It helps you to gain a better sense of self, a better of self-confidence, and anchor you to your present situation. It’s at the same time a kind of distraction, but a distraction that allows you to directly address the root of your problems, it’s running away from something by heading straight for the culprit.

This is something I’ve come to realise lately. I’m at a period where I feel like my permanent self-confidence and self-security has been lower than it ever has been, because I have stakes in somebody now, and I’ve started to compare myself to every single person I see; I never used to do that.

So put some time aside for an artistic activity that you enjoy, or be brave and try to get into something new – something good, something you can connect with on a deeper level. If you manage to get over any mental blocks you might have, you won’t regret it.