Creative development: Songs for Absent Beauty

During the creative development phase of Songs for Absent Beauty, I gathered stories from friends and from folks I mentioned the show to. Some of the stories below arose spontaneously in response to my explanation of what the show was about, others were emailed or shared with me in conversation in response to a specific question: Are there comments that someone said to you about your body when you were young that have stayed with you throughout your life?

Below are a selection of the stories with photographs I took at the hairdressing salon of TAFE Queensland, Caboolture Campus in April 2024.

I remember when I was a little girl seeing my great auntie who was all prim and proper..., Possibly at our first meeting, she said to me, "Now, K you are a beautiful girl… but whatever your do JUST DON’T GET FAT". I remember this gave me a fair bit of anxiety because it implied that if I got fat I most certainly would not be a beautiful girl anymore. - K 

Arriving in Darwin after a meandering drive of some 3000km, myself and my two sons were set to stay a few days with my sister and her partner while we looked for somewhere to setup more permanently. We hadn't seen my sister for a year and I remember the first words of greeting from her bloke to my 9 year old son were, "Jeeze mate, haven't you got chubby!" He wasn't overweight, just robust with a little rounding. I witnessed his face hit the floor and a load settle on his shoulders that hadn't been there before. He'd never exhibited self consciousness about his appearance. He was a happy, healthy, carefree child who's world was changed by a careless comment from a clueless character. Instead of spooning joy when he ate ice cream, now there was a measure of shame on the spoon. He started wearing a t-shirt when swimming. He smiled less. Always the athlete, the couple of extra kgs disappeared the next footy season but the comment affects his presentation in the world still and the cavalier attitude of running around half-naked never returned. - CL

I can remember a couple of remarks... My grandmother (who lived with us) remarking that I should "Wear a girdle to keep my bum from wiggling" – said with the attitude that that was very unattractive. Similarly, my mother was eager to get me wearing a bra ASAP to keep my breasts (which have always been small) under control. The overall attitude seemed to be that I was not very attractive though I can't remember anything said directly. Perhaps it was considered immodest or undesirable to be too attractive. Certainly the word 'beauty' was never used in this context. I may have concluded that I am unattractive as I seemed to need lots of fiddling with the right clothes and hair dos to be acceptable. Though photos were common in our house (my father was an early enthusiast for colour slides) – my first real memory is looking at our wedding photos many years after we were married, and realising with amazement that I really was quite pretty (certainly not beautiful, and I find it difficult to even use the term pretty). - JN

I remember I was terribly self conscious about having grown breasts. The first time I went to get properly fitted for bra I was about 17, and the fitting lady came into the change room, saw my breasts and said with a look of horror, "Oh my god! Have you thought about a reduction?" - KB

I was horrendously small breasted. I  mean, I had nothing at all and I was horribly self-conscious about it and teased about it by the other girls at my school. I hated it. When I was 18, I convinced my parents to pay for a breast augmentation surgery and then, I had breasts. It was a source of pleasure because I liked how I look but also a source of pain as I never wanted anyone to know that my breasts were fake. In fact, I became adept at giving side-on hugs so no one would ever get to feel my rock hard grapefruit breasts pressed against their chest and know the truth. I felt like a fraud for many decades, my secret shame. - ST

My mum kept my hair cut brutally short as a child and I was often mistaken for a boy. One time in particular, about 7 years old, I was out shopping with my mum and we went to Mathers for some new shoes for her. I remember the green carpet and the smell of leather and feet. At one point, the saleslady came over and bent down and said to me, "And would the little boy like some new shoes today too?" I crumpled on the inside. I felt so unseen. I balled my fists and yelled in her face, "I'M NOT A LITTLE BOY!!" - MC