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Laura Steven on the epiphanies she had while writing Every Exquisite Thing

Laura Steven on the epiphanies she had while writing Every Exquisite Thing

It feels incredibly embarrassing to admit this, but Ive spent at least twenty years of my life obsessing over the way I look. Its a profound source of angst, not least because I know I should know better. Im a staunch feminist, after all. Ive literally written books on feminism.

So why do patriarchal beauty standards have me in such a chokehold? Why, when I see an unflattering photo of myself, do I feel that tightness in my chest, that pervasive sense of shame?

Every Exquisite Thing, my sapphic dark academia retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray, explores this very why. I had several epiphanies while writing it – as well as several full-scale breakdowns over how much of my existence Id wasted – and I want to share them with you too. 

Girls dont want beauty. Girls want power. And sometimes beauty is the closest substitute.”

Hear me out. We believe we want beauty for beautys own sake, but we dont; we want the things beauty can buy us. We believe its a kind of currency we can exchange for love, or admiration, or wealth, or privilege, or social status, or identity.

And what all of those things are, at the heart of them, are a kind of power. 

Look at your innermost wounds, and youll usually find the source of this relentless obsession. 

Maybe you went through a bad break-up, and they left you, and your warped brain managed to convince you that if only you were more beautiful, they would have stayed. 

Maybe you were bullied in school, and your warped brain insisted that if you were beautiful and popular, that wouldnt have happened, and you wouldnt have gotten so hurt. 

Maybe youve been without a single penny to your name, and watched from the sidelines as your cousin became a highly successful and wealthy model for major fashion brands, and your warped brain told you that if only you tried a bit harder with your looks, you couldve done the same.

(Yes, all of these things happened to me.)

Then theres that last one: identity. The messiest, the least tangible, but actually something entirely in our control.

When we dont know who we are, we want to be able to point to beauty as a placeholder. Its easier than doing the real work; getting back to the things we loved as a child, digging deep into our emotions and personality traits, being weird and authentic and flawed and free.

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Picture who you were as a young kid. Would you tell that version of you to abandon everything that lit them up inside and insist they devote all of their time to their appearance? Or would you get down on the floor beside them and ask them what game they were playing, what art they were making, what they were most passionate about in the world?

Once I started doing this, everything else fell into place. I met my soulmate while arguing about Star Wars, and we got married a couple of years later (read: found love). I wrote and published nine very weird books, and used the money to buy a house and a dog and far too many book shelves (read: wealth). I rediscovered old hobbies like chess and tennis and Pokemon, and connected with like-minded people (read: not really admiration or social status, but friendship, which is far superior). None of this had anything to do with my looks.

I give you permission not to be beautiful. Not to be perfect.

Who are you, really?

Every Exquisite Thing is published by Electric Monkey on 14 September 2023

Laura Steven is an award-winning author from the northernmost town in England. She has published several books for young adults – her recent dark academia titles include sapphic TikTok hit The Society For Soulless Girls, a feminist horror retelling of Jekyll & Hyde, and Every Exquisite Thing, which explores beauty standards and body image. Her debut novel The Exact Opposite Of Okay won the inaugural Comedy Women In Print Prize in 2019, while The Love Hypothesis was optioned for TV by an Emmy-winning team. Her books have been widely translated, and her work has appeared in The i Paper, The Guardian and Buzzfeed. You can find her on Instagram at @laurasteven and TikTok at @authorlaurasteven.

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