Beauty Relationship Status: It's Complicated.
We need to talk.
If I were to describe my relationship status with beauty, I would definitely say, "it's complicated." I don't think I'm alone in this. Many women, it seems, regardless of size, shape, or skin color, have a complicated relationship with beauty. I was never one to wear makeup or take the time to style my hair, and I majored in Women's Studies in college. How I ended up working in the beauty industry and falling in love with it is as surprising as it is miraculous. When I enrolled in cosmetology school, my dad actually joked, "do they let people in who don't wear makeup?"
I first became conscious of beauty when I was nine years old. I had a crush on a boy in school. He was tall for his age, had the perfect light brown bowl-cut, and got in trouble quite a bit for sassing the teacher. So you know, prime crush material. I wanted to figure out a way to get him to notice me, since apparently being my regular old self wasn't doing the trick. My aunts had been complimenting me on my long legs, saying things like, "the boys are going to love those long legs of yours." I had no idea why long legs would be considered attractive, but I was convinced bowl-cut would be blown away by my nine-year old gams. So, in school one day, I sat next to him and jutted my legs out into the aisle between our desks. I crossed them real casual like and waited for him to notice. And notice, he did. He took one glance at me and scoffed, "man, you should really shave your legs."
Ouch. Not the response I was hoping for.
Something about this embarrassing incident stuck with me and likely contributed to one of my biggest complications with beauty: attention. As a teenager and even now as an adult, I'm very uncomfortable with attention, good or bad. When I'm getting dressed, I aim to look good - but not too good. I can't count the number of times I have changed out of an outfit because it was too flattering. Weird, right? But not really. What happens when women leave the house looking too good? We get attention. Sometimes in the form of polite compliments, but often enough in the form of an obnoxious come-on by a man who somehow thinks he has the right to interrupt your night out with the girls, your walk to work, or even your attempt to just fill up your freakin gas tank on the way to the grocery store. It's annoying, uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous. So, I took the route of drawing as little attention as possible to myself by blending in. In my case, dressing in drab, modest clothing with little to no makeup was my own kind of camouflage.
Makeup can be a kind of camouflage in a different way. Warpaint is not just for indigenous tribes on the cover of National Geographic; it's used every day on the runways, in magazines, and in everyday life. We use foundation to disguise our uneven complexions, concealer to hide our dark circles and acne, bronzer to give us cheekbones, and lipstick to plump and pout our lips. Makeup performs double duty; it both hides who we really are and transforms us into who we want to be. We may not be conscious of this while we're getting ready in the morning, but it's all there bubbling beneath our BB cream.
Transformation is fascinating. This is why before and after shots are so popular on Instagram and makeover shows hold our attention like butter on popcorn. Look at boring Bethany! She went from drab to fab; that means I can too! Before shots are really just us, naked from the neck up in unflattering lighting. Before shots are literally what we look like in the morning. It's who we are in real life. Many times I actually prefer the before shot to the after shot. And yet, I too, am fascinated by the transformative power of a good makeover.
So yeah, beauty is complicated. Thankfully, I like complicated. What I have learned through working as a hairstylist and makeup artist is that the key to becoming comfortable with beauty is perspective. You know how certain cartoons are so annoying that you want to rip the power cord from the TV? Caillou, I'm looking right at you, kid. The voices are high pitched. The storylines are cheesy. And the songs just put you over the edge into crazytown. And then one day, you sit down with your little one and watch an animated film you think the whole family will enjoy. Something like, "The Book of Life." And the animation is different. It's magical. The colors are riveting. There are spirits and big questions about life and death. There is humor appropriate for kids and adults. It's layered and complex. It's a children's film for sure, but it's universal in its message. It's complicated and simple at the same time. It's beautiful. Just as we can't discount all cartoons as trivial; we can't discount all attempts of beauty as vapid.
After four decades on this planet and many years since the bowl-cut incident, I'm finally comfortable with both the concept and the application of beauty. I take care of my body that has carried and nursed three children, and that is beautiful. I nourish my skin with plant-derived skincare products that give my face a glow I haven't had since childhood, and that is beautiful. I leave the house without makeup and feel just fine, thank you very much. And I wear makeup when I go to work, go on a date night, or meet my friends out for dinner. I see makeup not as warpaint, or camouflage, but as everyday art. I choose my eyeshadow colors based on mood. I blend the bronze, pink, and pearly tones of my cheeks like an artist blending paint on canvas. I mix lipstick shades to create a customized color. I have fun with it. If your relationship with beauty is negative, abusive, or just uninspiring, break up with it. But if it's complicated, consider why that is and maybe look at it from a new perspective.