lifestyle

It’s time to let go of the idea of post breakup glow-ups


As a young teen and then woman, I had learned the importance of winning the breakup (Picture: Rose Stokes)

I’ve been through two significant breakups in my life; both were incredibly messy and painful affairs that placed a much-needed full stop at the end of protracted periods of uncertainty and upheaval. 

In both cases, I plummeted emotionally soon after the agreement was reached and the words ‘it’s over’ had been said. 

As a result, I lost my appetite and instead filled my veins with alcohol, hoping it would help to numb the overwhelming feelings of failure, loneliness and fear that appeared to have taken up permanent residence in my chest. 

I guess you could say I had a lot on my plate dealing with all of this. But at the same time I soon became consumed with a very specific and at times obsessive goal: I wanted to look hot — or rather hotter. 

Because as a young teen and then woman, I had learned the importance of winning the breakup; that is to say, re-entering single life looking better than my exes had left me. It’s the ultimate revenge, isn’t it?

Not quite. This obsession soon took over my life. I spent loads of money on hair treatments and clothes, and leaned into not eating (rather than trying to address it) hoping I might shrink in size and appear more attractive (my thoughts on this particular aspect have since changed radically). 

Instead of taking the time to look after myself, explore the feelings the breakups had thrown up and work through them to help me heal, I was consumed by my appearance. 

I felt ashamed of my failure and wanted the world to see me as thriving instead of someone whose relationship had recently blown up in their face. Or even worse in my mind, to be seen as a victim.

I wanted to ‘control the narrative’, just as many strong and celebrated women in the public eye had done before me — remember the intense focus on Jennifer Aniston’s appearance after the Brad and Angelina fiasco? This wasn’t a sad time but something to be celebrated, look how much better off I was without my exes! A real winner!

I don’t need to tell you that none of this helped to address the swelling emptiness in my stomach, or to further me along in my journey to make sense of what had happened. I may have looked a bit shinier, but I felt anything but. 

It was naïve. I was naïve, and it’s easy to look back and label my actions as immature. But were they just that, or was something else, something deeper stirring within me that was telling me this was the thing to focus on? 

Was I being driven by my own lack of maturity, or was I simply playing out expectations of the breakup glow-up I’d been exposed to time and time again over the course of my life, plastered on the front pages of magazines or playing out in the storylines of my favourite shows?

I wish I could say these sorts of narratives and the immense pressure they put on people — but let’s be honest, women — who are going through incredibly painful and difficult periods in their life are a thing of the past.

But alas, this is not the case, if the headlines over the weekend about Liberty Poole — this year’s symbolic winner of Love Island — are anything to go by. 

Articles compared before and after shots of her inside and outside of the villa, speculated on her new look and the extent of her ‘makeover’, attributing it to her recent breakup on the show from Jake Cornish.

Why does the fact she looks so beautiful have anything to do with the man she just left? (Picture: ITV/REX/Shutterstock)

Aside from the fact that it’s not fair to compare candid shots to photos she has taken herself, with access to lighting, editing and filters, why can’t the headline just be that she looks great? 

Why does the fact she looks so beautiful have anything to do with the man she just left? Why can’t we just celebrate her for all her loveliness, kindness, charm and mellifluousness, without suggesting that this is a result of her pain and anguish? Or that she has somehow conquered feeling rubbish by looking nice?

In 2021, in the media, we all have to think really carefully about the messaging, whether direct or indirect, these sorts of takes perpetuate. 

Because for most people, breakups aren’t glowy affairs, but rather are painful, challenging and difficult ones. And though there’s a certain degree of self-care in investing in your appearance, I wish we could move away from giving credit for anything — be that career success, renewed self confidence or improved wellbeing — to anyone other than the person who has achieved it. 

This sort of narrative also has the indirect impact of making those who are suffering through relationships ending, struggling to get out of bed or even get dressed, feel bad for not being able to ‘pull themselves together’ or ‘come out on top’. And don’t even get me started on the concept of a ‘revenge bod’, which is a hideous idea that adds fuel to our already extremely disordered relationships with our bodies. 

It’s a dangerous mistruth that the media often spins, which almost always targets women who are already under such scrutiny when it comes to the shape, size and appearance of their bodies. It is also incredibly shallow to assume that the way to heal from a breakup is to look more appealing (according to society’s extremely narrow viewpoint on what constitutes attractiveness). 

If Liberty looks gorgeous — which she absolutely does — and happy, it’s because she has worked on herself to feel that way. It’s not because of a breakup and it’s certainly not anything to do with Jake. We should give her every single inch of credit for this, because she deserves it, while reminding her that she has always been enough on her own.

Maybe it works for some people, in which case, that’s great! But any efforts to modify your appearance should be a matter of personal choice, not the result of external pressure, and that means living in a world where we are able to come to these decisions not because of societal expectations, but because we actually want to.

For me, and I suspect many others, the unhealthy obsession with my glow-up wove a paper-thin veneer over much more complex feelings of inadequacy related to both my appearance and my self worth. Not only was it a distraction from getting the help I needed to feel better about myself sooner, but it reinforced the deeply misguided view I held at the time that the breakdown of these relationships was a direct result of my appearance — when actually this wasn’t even vaguely true. 

Letting go of the internal and external pressure I felt to be, feel — or even appear to feel — anything at all on any sort of fixed timeline was the first step to repairing the relationship with myself that I had lost while coupled up.

It allowed me to listen to myself and my needs, and to understand exactly what was required to feel better about myself more consistently. As it turns out, this was by far the most important ingredient for being able to forge a successful relationship moving forwards.

I can’t help but think that if accepting myself exactly as I was at the time had been my focus after my breakups, rather than looking good for the ‘gram, I’d have acquired the wisdom sooner to enable me to be much happier and to find the sort of supportive relationship I so desperately wanted. 

Because something I’ve learned is that the sensation of being really at peace with yourself, who you are and what you look like is far more valuable (and enjoyable) than the temporary thrill of any new hairdo or change to your body shape or size.

And that the only ‘winner’ in any breakup is the one who learns from the mistakes they made and uses this wisdom to move on in a more contented and sustainable way. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

Share your views in the comments below.


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