Junior Doctor Melody Redman Serves Some Home Truths About What Beauty Really Looks Like

by Melody Redman
Melody Redman

Calling Yorkshire home, Dr. Melody Redman is a junior doctor in children’s medicine who contributes analysis on the NHS for the Yorkshire Post, and in 2015 she wrote a blog for the British Medical Association reflecting on the first year of her career in the NHS. For Bustle, she considers how her feelings about beauty have evolved in the decade since starting medical school, and how self-care is about more than having perfectly coiffed brows.

The alarm goes off, followed by that sinking feeling we all know: time to get up and ready for work. For me this could be some form of night shift, a day shift, or a twilight shift. As part of my routine, I will apply some under-eye concealer in ivory as a minimum — I don’t want to look tired for my patients. But equally, walking around with a smile goes a long way, so I make sure to spend time looking after my teeth.

As I’m currently working in children’s medicine, I sometimes like to accessorise. For Christmas, I have a selection of Christmassy stud earrings. For spring, I have a bunny rabbit and baby chick skirt (with some necessary pockets for practicality!). My daily accessories most importantly include my stethoscope — heavily hanging around my neck, but crucial to get me and my patients through the shift. Then comes the name badge, the pager, the fob watch, and the pens. Good to go. I must not forget my water bottle!

Over the years, I've learned that a splash of concealer or stroke of mascara won’t make me beautiful. That’s dependent on a daily choice I make inside. Deciding to be kind and compassionate, despite tiredness, busyness, or frustration — that’s the greatest form of beauty I can display. And that’s far more important to my colleagues and my patients than me having perfectly coiffed brows or flawless lip gloss. I'm not as beautiful as I'd like to be. But that isn't necessarily because I'm having a bad hair day, have a spot, or have bags under my eyes.

I’ve come a long way from my desperate pleas to my parents to let me bleach my hair.

Don't get me wrong, I do care about my appearance — but looks fade or could be damaged in just one day by an unfortunate accident. Many of us have bits of our bodies we think could look "better" when we compare ourselves to the images we see all around us of perfectly toned, tanned, defined bodies. As an 18-year-old girl starting medical school, I felt terribly uncomfortable during training, as we had to physically examine our peers. Under supervision, my peers would perhaps start by closely examining my nails, then eyes, then moving to examine across nine different areas of my abdomen (which lacked the perfectly toned appearance I longed for).

Melody Redman

Now 10 years on since I started medical school, I realise those perfect images aren’t a true reflection of reality — or an indication of good health. Not all illnesses and disabilities are visible, but some are noticeable from a distance. From the little girl with a skin condition covering her whole face who made it her mission to light up the room with jokes, to the brave and forgiving teenage boy who had badly damaged his eye in an accident. From life-changing accidents to new long-term diagnoses that changed their entire lives, the patients I see have much bigger issues to deal with. Having the "perfect" body and face no longer matters so much.

Working in hospital means professional but practical washable clothing (seriously, why don’t more dresses and skirts have pockets?). It also means tidy short nails with no nail polish. No bracelets or rings as we have to be "bare below the elbow." My engagement ring gets hung around my neck on a short necklace to prevent it from dangling in the way. It’s not the stereotypical place to put a ring, but at least it means I can still feel it and wear the ring in a different kind of way.

At school I always felt very self-conscious of my hair. I was bullied because of the ginger tones, and responded by spending at least half an hour every morning before school styling it and perfecting my eyeliner. I now appreciate my natural hair colour. About 12 months ago I got my lovely long hair chopped off and donated to the Little Princess Trust. The charity provides free real-hair wigs to children and young adults who have lost their hair because of cancer treatment or illness. I’ve come a long way from my desperate pleas to my parents to let me bleach my hair and while I’m trying to grow my hair longer again, short hair was a surprisingly fun change for a while.

Courtesy of British Medical Association

I do like to take care of my body, which in turn does affect my physical appearance. I know that working night shifts affects my appearance and my health, and I try to do things to help and combat those negative effects. Unsurprisingly, many of my choices in this area are driven by my knowledge as a health care professional. Firstly, I try to drink plenty of water, as this helps my energy, my skin, and my general well-being. I'm also careful to limit my alcohol intake, and drink below the recommended maximum of 14 units a week (approximately a bottle and a half of wine, or five pints of lager). This is good from a basic point of view of staying hydrated, but alcohol misuse can also increase your risk of health problems. Eating healthy is important too; this not only helps with my skin, teeth, and confidence, but also helps reduce my risk of further health issues.

Looking after our bodies is important, but having what social media, a magazine, or media define as "a perfect body," isn’t.

I have a fair complexion and don’t tend to respond to the sun well. Having seen skin cancers and skin conditions caused by sun damage, I am a strong advocate for using appropriate sun protection and avoiding the sun-beds. Looking after our skin is important. I wear sunscreen when out in the sunshine, and regularly moisturise — particularly my hands, as washing them in hospital so frequently makes them very dry.

I recently took part in RED January, an initiative that encourages intentional daily exercise to support your mental health and well-being. It’s been challenging on some days, but I’ve really enjoyed the experience. In general, I do try to make time for exercise, although this is tricky with some shift patterns (and there’s lots of rushing up and down stairs and along corridors at work!). This isn’t just about my physical appearance though. Exercise can reduce your risk of issues such as cancer, diabetes, depression, and dementia. Some research also shows it improves your quality of sleep, mood, and self-confidence. So, why not make time for exercise? That said, it's important to consider balance, too. I have seen quite a few patients who over-exercise, which can have profound consequences for their health too, so I try to keep in mind what constitutes a healthy amount of exercise.

I’m really passionate about looking after and encouraging children (that’s probably no surprise as a children’s doctor…), and I think it’s really important how we communicate to them what "beauty" is. Beauty is when a child shares with their sibling. Beauty is when they finish their "schoolwork" in hospital despite feeling poorly. Beauty is when they are kind and patient with those around them. It doesn’t matter how tall they are, what colour their hair is, or if they have the perfect symmetrical face. It’s far more important to show children that despite any form of illness — from mental illness to skin conditions — their beauty is not dependent on looking like others or having the newest, fanciest accessories. Their beauty comes from within; from being kind and compassionate. Looking after our bodies is important, but having what social media, a magazine, or media define as "a perfect body," isn’t. Let’s be grateful for what we have, be kind and compassionate, and show the world that is what beauty really is.