Women's Empowerment

For TooD Beauty Founder Shari Siadat, Feminism Requires Ignoring External Beauty Standards

Photo: Clemence Poles; Graphic: W+G Creative
“Feminism” and “womanhood” mean different things to different folks. With The F-Word, our essay series running throughout Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting different perspectives—the good, the bad, and the complicated—of what those concepts mean to people.

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, with traditional Persian immigrant parents. The landscape of my upbringing informed my understanding of beauty, femininity, and womanhood, which reflected the Barbie dolls in my home, the female figures I saw on television, the classmates who surrounded me, and the way the women in my family groomed and beautified themselves in line with a Eurocentric standard of beauty. I grew to believe this image excluded me, largely thanks to my dark hair and ethnic features (namely my unibrow, mustache, hairy limbs, nose, and tan skin).

And so it began, at a very young age, the shame cycle of self-hatred and lack of acceptance for how I looked led me to want to change every single physical aspect of my identity, thanks to the ingrained belief that blonde hair, blue eyes, and porcelain hairless skin were the epitome of femininity. For years I sat with that burden, feeling as though I was unlucky for having been dealt cards that made me feel less than not only men but also other women.

I felt unlucky for having been dealt cards that made me feel less than not only men but also other women.

One of my favorite feminists, Simone de Beauvoir, argued that women are classified as “the Other,” which gives space for women to remain oppressed compared to men. When we are viewed as “Other,” we allow the socialized systems at play to have power and control dynamics over the way we live and move through space. From our beauty standards and our professions to the way we speak and the rights we have over our body, when rules are defined for us (especially by men), it results in us losing connection with knowing ourselves—who we are, how to live and look.

This is the fundamental core of oppression—to lose connection with self so it’s easier to be controlled. And I was a level even deeper than De Beauvoir’s theory; as a hairy, Middle Eastern girl in America, I was an "Other" amongst "Others."

By age 8, I approached my family about tweezing my unibrow, but culturally, removing hair from a female's brows, face, and body is a sign that she is ready to be married off—aka, beautified for the male gaze. My family’s traditional Iranian values did not have room to care about me being bullied for my appearance or my desire to make decisions for myself and my body. I needed to follow their rules, values, and culture, otherwise, I would bring dishonor to the family reputation. I was stuck living in two worlds, but I felt a lack of belonging to either of them, which only further isolated and confused me regarding gender roles and my appearance.

It wasn’t until I gave birth to my third daughter—a spitting image of myself—that I realized I had mistaken my "femininity" with self-hatred.

When I was in eighth grade, we moved from Massachusetts to Florida. I embraced it as an opportunity to reinvent myself, and my survival instincts were coming in hot. I knew that if I could just get those 100 hairs tweezed out from the middle of my face, I may have a chance of hiding my shame. After much persistence and lobbying, my grandmother ceremoniously allowed me to tweeze, and I learned the "cost" to being beautiful: that pain is required to satisfy the male gaze, that attaining beauty can require erasing who I am to be accepted.

Off I went into the long list of painful activities for the next 24 years of my life to groom and shape myself into something that was unnatural to who I was. I worked hard to maintain my appearance—from lasering, waxing, and tweezing, to highlighting, dieting, and contouring. “Thin and hairless” was my daily goal; it's what I felt was necessary to be a woman.

It wasn’t until I gave birth to my third daughter—a spitting image of myself—that I realized I had mistaken my sense of femininity with self-hatred. As I looked at this pure soul, a dark-haired baby girl, I could see her beauty, effervescence, and uniqueness—but I couldn't see my own.

I knew the only way to not pass on the self-hate was to take a dramatically different path than my ancestors before me: I had to stand up to a society that profits off my insecurity and conformity. So, I sought to heal my childhood wounds so I could exist in my own feminine gaze—the one I define for myself: I let my unibrow grow back in its full bloom and glory.

Thus began my journey of rewilding, reclaiming, and rewriting my own beauty narrative. My face returning to the one I was born with served as a bridge to my ancestry as well as a new narrative for myself, my daughters, and our descendants. My entire persona changed as a result of facing something that had so much power over me, and my journey of acceptance marched on. In addition to growing out my unibrow, I grew my underarm hair and let the hair on my head grow into long silver streaks.

Discovering how womanhood looked and what it felt like was about consent and personal agency to self-express my beauty and grooming habits through my own values. I created my own universe—one where I finally belonged.

I wanted to create a clean, eco-conscious beauty line that cared as much about non-toxic thinking as it did non-toxic formulas.

Throughout this process, I learned that my perception of feminism was actually not about having two separate eyebrows, but rather about optionality, choice, and consent. My life became a performance art piece as I began to deconstruct every beauty standard that was passed on to me, either from society or my family. I belonged to me. I defined my femininity; my femininity didn’t define me anymore.

I took my pain and turned it into a superpower when I realized there was no entity stepping up to create an inclusive and diverse world where I felt like I belonged. I saw that the beauty industry still did not hold space for me, so I developed a fun, safe space to uplift others—to show the faces and tell the stories that hadn't been publicly celebrated.

I wanted to create a clean, eco-conscious beauty line that cared as much about non-toxic thinking as it did non-toxic formulas. I wanted to let everyone know there is no amount of makeup in the world that can compensate for a lack of self-love, that freedom cannot be purchased in a bottle or ever taken away from you once you feel it.

This is how TooD Beauty, my nonbinary beauty brand was born. TooD is short for "attitude" because at any minute, we can pivot how we feel about ourselves and rewrite our own beauty narrative. When I launched TooD, I had no background in beauty, other than being a lifetime consumer of makeup. Knowing that the beauty industry has made billions of dollars by keeping women “Other,” I believed it was time to call bullshit on a socialized system of oppression and shame.

Who said blush needs to go on cheeks and lipstick on lips? Who said makeup is only for women? These are all binary constructs to create gender roles and control our thinking and our spending dollars. Not only does TooD create nonbinary products for nonbinary thinking, but it’s also removing all boxes that have been placed onto us—about who makeup is for, where it should be worn and how it can be formulated.

I’m committed through TooD Beauty and my voice to usher in unconstrained femininity—responding to change by positively reframing female traits and championing strengths that go beyond traditional gendered boundaries. Ultimately, we are all souls that possess a masculine and feminine side. Let’s transcend both the gender binary and the limited thinking it upholds; let's free ourselves by removing our masks. Doing so allows others to free themselves, too.

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