Once Was Beautiful

She’s a Jealous, Angry, Bitter Menopausal Bitch ~ that’s the mantra the pretty young spirituality teachers began to chant, like wenches at a lynching, when I upset the Vampires of Yoganesia recently in Bali. A nasty business, but an important story, if you want to know the real enemies of good women, everywhere.


I’m 49 years old. When i was 24, at university in the ruthless rural backwaters of my lonely adopted country, I remember falling in love with an Australian sheep farmer’s son who had the most beautiful wrinkles around his eyes when he smiled. It was as if his whole face radiated beams of light.

Compared to our suburban men he seemed polished by greater forces than Malls and bowling alleys. He seemed like a man made of textures deeper than we had been apprenticed to.

I wished for wrinkles like that.
I remember saying…
i want my face to be a map of my life.

I longed to trade the unstoried complexion of anxious youth for an expression that showed i had looked full at the sun, and cried with my face in the dirt as well.

In short, i wanted, above all things.. to be my self, and show it.

I was a young woman of steel-bright intelligence, but zero common sense. In other words.

My wish was an easy folly, because I was young and beautiful, and I didn’t know it.

My wish was a dangerous miscalculation too, because all my life I have underestimated the feminine, and its secret theatres of power and influence. The ones still carefully hidden in this public dialogue about the innate goodness of female empowerment and the need for gender equality and opportunity, regardless of the merit and nature of the individual.

Because a problem with this rhetoric is that it does not solve the problems of fairness, virtue, and opportunity. It provides a veil for female bullying, pack tactics and cruelty. It irritates a gender problem, and does not assist society or individuals to fulfill their best fates and qualities.

The Ace card in the deck of modern women has not been replaced by the wiser female archetypes of leadership or mercy since the liberation movement achieved its aims – it has become a sharper, fiercer, more ruthlessly pursued trump card in the hidden tarot of how women’s power really works.

All of this was lost on me until recently, here in the world’s sick Mecca of spiritual growth and sham psychology in Bali, as the prettiest, the most deeply entrenched in ‘club’, the ones advertising their asses or their network, and not the wisest, more experienced or actually educated women, thrust their claws or curls or cleavage at the yoga dollar.

These same women here now want the education dollar and the psychology one too, .  now that they have secured the yoga body fortune from their goddess enterprises in this massive new human devoloution market.

When avid Instagram marketers and seductresses began to breach the previous boundaries of just selling cute ass and chakra activation courses, and moved on to selling their dubious expertise on matters of … everything – from in-utero trauma, to how to die and grieve and become old, I kicked back.

Because as an independently empowered woman, and a daughter of philosophy and ethic – and as an elder, and a crone, almost, I wanted my right not only to speak, but to lead among my peers and to guide the women coming through.

But that was not allowed.

Because among women, there are those more equal than the others.

And because, among many women, ENVY is power.

Dissent among the women, especially among the ’empowered’, yogini, spiritually advanced and culture-making women here, who are walking in steps cut by myself and other pioneers before them in female leadership, is not here met with dialogue, or debate or even tolerance.

It is met with accusations of mental health, narcissism, envy, insanity and menopausal bitterness.

And this is why the women’s leadership rhetoric the world laps up so easily, is a very dangerous wine. As women, and most sensible men, know only too well.

When I voiced my concerns, I was sent rape threats, and publicly chastised by the owner of the biggest yoga school here, Meghan Pappenheim, at Yoga Barn, who did not respond to my comments, but announced to several thousand people online that since i was defecting from the spell of the yoga goddess cult,  I was insane,alcoholic, narcissistic, a failure and a jealous menopausal bitch.

which is exactly the female empowerment catastrophe I’m writing about.

All of this from women! Which is evidence, I am here to say, that the no – the world will not be in better shape when women lead. No, it isn’t now, and it will very certainly not be in the future, if we carry on like this.

The world, it’s obvious, will be in better shape when the best fit to lead, with wisdom, ethic and honour finally crawl through the barricades set to power by those of both genders who tyrannise for power.


So where have we got to? And what was really won by those who enabled and supported the movement of women onto playing fields they stomped their feet to romp on?

And have women betrayed their own cause? And each other? And is the real issue with women’s power actually women themselves? And women’s secret business? which, in my experience, outclasses male tactics in bullying, gaslighting, vilification and every sort of disempowerment.

Are we actually victims of a Patriarchy? Or are we victims, in fact, of a peculiarly female sabotage, which hobbles the best among us, as girls’ clubs of seducers and capitalists gobble all the available manpower and profit for themselves?



Back when I was young and afflicted by idealism, I was told by a much older woman to whom I once confessed my aims; All young people are beautiful.

This was one of the most significant things I ever heard. It changed the way I looked at my young peers. It freed me from the dark tensions of inadequacy that are fed by our culture to haunt and undermine us all. I saw that I was the youngest then that I would ever be, and that we all were, and that petty games of envy were a tragic waste of something lovely we would one day all lose anyway.

It softened my anxieties, and perhaps it dulled my senses, because I did not realise nor notice the evidence of the accumulating agonies of Not Good Enough and the Beauty Wars that were ripping through the lives of girls, everywhere. These were secrets, torments, envies, causing politics that were affecting everything around me, and which still, apparently do.

I did not know that there were women around me hurting themselves in pursuit of beauty. And hurting each other, and deliberately hating and undermining the sisters that they saw as threats, or who outshone them.

I took for granted the advantages of my unblemished youth, put my faith in study, books, friendship, the wild. While other girls milked every last dram of privilege they could find in fashion, thigh or bang I held more stock in kindness and intelligence, which were hard won, and guaranteed to lead, I was later to discover, to the Seven Signs of Ageing.

I read Camus, Carter, Dostoyevsky, Anais Nin, The Famous Five and Sartre. I brushed off boys, even rich ones, and spent my time with novelists and summits and snorkels.

I remember telling myself then, that I would like to grow into the kind of woman that I had needed as a mentor. That was a tough assignment, but I think I have lived up to that brave pact.

Back then, I absolutely believed that what mattered most about a woman was her integrity, her kindness, and her fair use of courage and smarts.

I had been naive enough to have not only listened to the tight-jawed, crop-haired Feminists and pale, revisionist lecturers who were rewriting our minds with rhetoric of equality and outrage and vengeance on an evil Patriarchy, which was news to me, but to have deliberately traded my natural advantages for their literal ones.

I made the very grand mistake of taking progressive intellectuals seriously, which is unwise for a woman, as I now understand.

Their promise was that we were building a world where there would be equal opportunity for the brightest and fairest, once the Patriarchy and all sorts of men were outclassed and smoked out.

It was a stupid idea. Because women would never allow it.

The whole structure of female power – even within female circles – is based on the destruction and marginalisation of any woman who is a threat to those who plot for men and status, and the ruthless patrolling of allegiance with men who validate or fund them. Fuck smarts. Fuck celebrating other women. Fuck equality

What issued from the boxy lesbian lecturers was an angry vitriol that lazered men, in general, and proved utterly, as I now realise, their total ignorance about their own kind.

They told bitter stories about wicked patriarchs instead of about the evil victories of other women who used beauty, seduction, shaming and ostracism to lever for power, control supply and were storming every place where they caught it’s scent.

Women were told it was good to be smart, free, independent and ambitious, but the prettiest and most apt to flaunt it among us were always chosen for the special gigs anyway – or the overtly gay –  who were considered so New Wave and serious.

All these lessons most girls sipped, but never swallowed. They passed all their exams without skipping a night at the University bar, or earning a wrinkle over challenging their lecturers, or souring their pancreases on the difficulties of human nature, political evil and the inevitability of violence. And courted the eligible men for their profitable divorce credentials instead.

The ordinary beauties, the vast majority, drowned in the weird swamplands of games they did not understand. And they are now still, maybe more than ever.

They are lost in a void between the anorexics’ invisible schemes for influence, the cheerleaders’ brutal cults, and the lesbians’ direct line to power.

… and many lovely, ordinary women of those days that I knew, took to drinking or cutting their skin with shards of broken glass, or hunting for a man to own, who would haul them out of the brutal politics of this new fad, equality.

Because while we play that card to our advantage, especially in the role of victim, women are constantly patrolling their territories to crush or malign their strong, beautiful or dynamic sisters, who they too often see not as assets, but as rivals.

When my best male friends married, I was carefully edged out of the space, because of insecurity among the wives. Just yesterday I made a diplomatic little laugh when a good friend of me here told me his partner was jealous of me, and we had to be very careful, to keep our connection free of ‘triggers’.


Wishes are dangerous things.

These days i can say that yes… well… it’s all there…

The cartography of a full and actually free life has woven a map across my face which does tell of the full beauty of the midday sun when I smile, and also of the inadvisable consequences of taking Feminism too literally.


you can read them,

my own true stories,

writing themselves ever deeper across my face.

A rich encyclopedia of wisdom gained and failed which is mostly redundant, in a world where women seem, more and more, to value false eyelashes, smooth brows and botox over actual signs of life.

My beautiful maps are mostly unread.

Stories of nights

alone on remote islands, or high on the glacier skirts

of isolated wilderness, staring at the shattering

brilliance of the galaxy, close up

and nights

crying on the floor

learning the paddle strokes

for grief, and rage and tragedy.

The contours of Long voyages in sinking feelings,
midday laughter

and horror

ripple unheard across themselves

over the ocean of experience

that is me.


There are mountains written there,

rivers, streams and injured birds.

Tales of dreams fought for, given freely,

and many torn and fraudulent.

There are two dead babies.
A cancer diagnosis.
Tango classes in Buenos Aires where i was the worst in the room, and rescued by an elderly gentleman in a three piece suit and trilby who danced me across those ancient floors like a butterfly in flight.

Agonies are there for the telling.

Lost dogs, dying cats, devastating news.

Betrayal, close calls, thieves and a cutlass at dusk.

A punch in the face at 4500 metres on Kilimanjaro.

An Italian man who smashed all my windows.

A French boy who wrote a song for me.

And two South Americans I rescued from drowning in Peru.


There are miracles, deceptions, lumps in the throat,

incredible luck,

a ghost at the door,

a fin in the water…

In certain light
I can see
the tracelines of terrible floods,
and droughts
and all sorts of immense tales
telling themselves across my face.

But this legible wisdom of a grown woman, this great currency of our culture, is squandered more than ever in this Age of Dark Mirror. And women, we all know it.

What should be the treasure of a lifetime, and the inheritance of all coming, this unique weave and literature of the stories that make women, that crack us, to let the light inside, is the pearl won by our grandmothers. And chewed on by our children.

Because secretly, we all admit
that it is a terrible thing.
for a woman to crinkle.

And that such a woman is not evidence of courage, or experience or mercy or maturity. But of frailty, envy and vulnerability.

She is slowly edged into the shadows, no matter how silly young things try to hand her the frazzled wreath of crone.

She is laden with the dark burden that older women carry – not a burden laid by men -but by their own beauty-hunting rivals.

As i was reminded, here in Ubud, Bali, when i was told that i was too ugly, too unpopular
and therefore too bitter and mean to be entitled to say what i really do think about a world in which re-engineered yoga bitches in lingerie and botox are selling Women’s Empowerment courses to a generation in dire crisis for safe leadership.

Yes, when I called for women to do something other than flash their butts and pump themselves full of paralysers in the quest for enlightenment, or influence or the dollar they are after I was told I was


Among other things.
That really staggered me.
But I know it’s true…

what modern women want, most of all, now that they have the golden staff of power, reached upon the shoulders of the giants who went before them, is even more of beauty.

And because of that, women who have lived are worth less than women who have fought against mortality, even after half a century of Feminism and the thousands of men it hobbled.

Invisible to most men, it is the Beauty Wars of sisterhood that secure the female pyramid. And at its base are thousands of ordinary beauties who were sacrificed along the way.

Women who know, but cannot understand, how no matter there were saints or angels in the room, the girls are cat fighting over who’s the prettiest!

It’s because of this, and not the brutal Patriarchs, that it is a terrible thing,
An awesome thing, really…
to grow old as a woman.

To have your skin begin to whisper your stories
To have a body that begins to write the journals of its vast journeys

and all its weather upon its surfaces.

It’s a thing you can be shamed for.

Or even punished for.

Or made to feel unworthy, inadequate and unwelcome for.
I ask myself, and others should be also…

How are we ever going to find our wise ones if we keep going like this?

Men might be to blame for putting posters of bombshells in their sheds, but here, at spirituality HQ in Bali, and everywhere, the chicks are all still rallying to the claim that a lingerie yoga body is evidence of a woman who’s empowered. And not the crease-lines and scar tissue of those who dared to live out loud, earning their stories in the field, or underwater, or by the bedside, or in the anguish lands of suffering, and art and risk and inconvenience, and letting that become a part of the face she shows the world.

Those women are not here teaching leadership, or how to live with courage, strength and dignity. The league of elderwomen here, women who pioneered this town, who were the first to defect their cultures and cut the trail to Ubud, are shoved aside like garden dross, and all their stories wasted.

There is something quiet-making and sad in coming into elder hood.
It sneaks up on you.
People either see straight through you
Or say.. you must have been so beautiful, once…

There is something a little griefish about it
when all you have learned,
and how you earned it
begins to trickle to the surface and show its deep calligraphy.

When summits, graves, delight, adoration, wonder and bewilderment begin to embroider their signatures around your own intimate landscape. And sometimes, the depth and hook of the claws that have cut you.

Then, a woman in our world is encouraged to hush.
To take a seat in the shadows.
To stay home from the ball
And make friends with cats or house plants and baking tins.

Then, a woman is very much warned not to dare set foot in the realm of those who exploit whatever assets they think they have…

for our presence among the beautiful is precarious..

we are all that is to be dreaded
… and because of all this
Just look around
At the world
Trembling with anxiety,
Craving for comfort,
And all those millions among us
Who don’t know the feeling
Of having
A woman with safe hands
Clear eyes,
And who can offer her own true face
To look back into theirs.


12 thoughts on “Once Was Beautiful

  1. Janelle Horrigan Wow! Jade Richardson another incredible piece. Reading this I suddenly realised what we are programmed to want is envy. As ridiculous as that sounds – because to be envied feels awful energetically – to some – but it feels like victory to others! The feeling of being envied is something most people of the inclination to seek power actually aspire to … To be envied. It makes sense. In a massively fucked up way. We don’t want to be wanted, or wealthy, or desired – we want all of these things so we can be envied. I guess it’s a form of energy vampirism. I have felt for a long time now that EVERYBODY seems to want my attention – but it isn’t just my attention – it’s EVERYONE’S attention. But why? It really annoys me – because I would prefer to go about my merry way without everyone taking notice of me, or having other people interfere in my bliss with their stuff. It feels uncomfortable. But I’ve just realised they want EVERYONE’S attention (read energy) – but my confusion has been as to why? Why do they want my attention? Your piece has resolved a number of questions for me. They want my envy. They want EVERYONE’S envy – it is an extremely passive aggressive play.

  2. This is amazing! This writing cuts thru, in a very new way. How wonderful. Thank you! The last bit just blows me away. The wise woman is missing. She’s missing. This pattern you bring light to is a major reason. Serious gratitude for this important work. Thank you! Thank you! And I loooove your writing about toxic yoga culture in Bali. I was laughing out loud with before/after pictures. Your writing is so fresh and funny and just exactly the insights we need! Thank you for being the missing voice of the wise woman here.

  3. This was so good! Love your insight!

    It is sad what the majority of people seem to value. But, there are still some that share your values Ms. Richardson. Thank you for sharing this piece as well as your other works with the world.

  4. Jade, I’ve been wandering through the world wide web in search of your writing. I’m so grateful to find this share, which touches my own story in many ways and highlights several aspects of this world that will close me down. Thank you for being an example of writing and living through it all, here and in the passage. 🙏🏼💗

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