My issue with the beauty industry isn’t the makeup or skin care itself. After 20+ years of wearing makeup, I would hope that makeup would just be a tool for me to use sometimes. I could wear it when I want to, and when I choose to go without it, my skin will breathe and thank me for it. And really, I should feel secure either way because most people are too worried about themselves to worry about me.
Have you seen these hashtags on social media?
At this moment in history, Alicia Keys is becoming a true countercultural icon for choosing not to wear makeup or treat her naturally curly hair with chemicals and dyes.
That’s right. She is stickin’ it to the man by going au naturale.
But if that’s countercultural, then some of my friends started that movement before Alicia Keys, because they never, ever wear makeup. Why has something so normal become such a strong political statement?
It’s because somehow, society has pushed us too far. Something is toxic about the way we see ourselves on a regular Tuesday if we have to preface our selfies with an entire paragraph about how we refuse to be ashamed for looking “normal” instead of Kardashian-fabulous. Women are displaying their cellulite and postpartum bellies now to try to help others breathe a collective sigh of relief.
“You’re okay because I’m okay.”
Apparently, a celebrity like Alicia Keys has to go without makeup for me to do it, too.
Makeup is not wrong. Fashion is not wrong. Feeling like you’re being brave by doing something that used to be commonplace–that makes me sad.
The anxiety is knocking on the door, and I have to decide whether or not to let it in. Life has enough actual problems without creating fear and loathing for my own body. My body is like, “Heather, when have I ever wronged you?”
“Well, Body, there are those allergies…and the spider veins.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry. But the spider veins were your mother’s fault.”
“True. Body, you’ve been really well behaved for 35 years. Not perfect, but you’ve done your best. ”
“Then… why do you hate me so much?”
“Because you don’t look right.”
Have you ever noticed how much more complicated life becomes the more advanced we become? Our current technology has made so many things possible and given me so many shampoo choices.
I used to be able to whiten my teeth in a month, with Rembrandt toothpaste. Next came two-week whitening kits. Now I can actually whiten them in one visit to the dentist’s office, with a laser or something. In the 1700s, people were just considered attractive if they had teeth. If I have time to worry about which shade of white my teeth are, then I’m focused on the wrong things. But that’s what Crest has to do to sell Whitestrips now, because none of us have yellow teeth anymore.
It’s the same with anti-aging. It isn’t enough that we all look a lot less weatherbeaten than 30 somethings did 50 years ago; now we have to look 19 when we’re 39. Once, plastic surgeries were only available to the very rich. Now, for a decent price (and lots of follow-up appointments), I can paralyze my face with a neurotoxin (Botox) and keep my forehead from looking the age it actually is. And the more women in my peer group give in to the pressure to paralyze and smooth their faces, the more strange you and I will look if we don’t give in. That’s what produces the anxiety.
I like to call it “The Doc Martens Phenomenon”.
When I was in middle school, everybody had a pair of Doc Marten combat boots. Well, that’s what I told my parents anyway. Everybody most certainly did not have Doc Martens, or Girbaud jeans, or ten Tommy Hilfiger polos, but a lot of kids did. Enough kids had them that you actually were teased and felt insecure if you weren’t one of them.
One fall, after harassing my parents (who were not well off, financially) for a pair of Docs, they finally found a pair on sale, in my size at a Gadzooks store. (Remember those?) My mom said to me, “If you get these, they’re the only thing you’re getting for Christmas this year.” I knew she meant it, and I agreed–these ugly boots were all I wanted in the world. I would wear them forever and ever, Amen.
So I got them. They were just like the ones in the photo above–a reddish leather. I was so proud to wear them to school after the Christmas break.
And they did not make me happy. They did, however, make me breathe a sigh of relief because I felt like I finally belonged. And that’s what it’s all about: I wanted to blend.
Sad thing is, I also became part of the problem when I gave in to buying something that almost everybody already had. There were always going to be kids who didn’t have enough money to buy a $120 piece of the popularity pie. Because I joined the crowd, I made those kids without Doc Martens feel even more left out. (That is, if they even cared about such things.)
That’s the way I feel about looking perfect at 35. If I save up my money, after bills are paid and charities are supported and I give money to what’s important, it’s not wrong for me to do a beauty treatment or two. I can honor God and my family and still splurge, if our pocketbook allows.
It’s a special treat to get pampered, right, ladies?
But it’s not about feeling better anymore. More than half the stuff that I find myself doing comes from a place of wanting to blend. It stems from a deep anxiety about my place in this world. Like feeding the body, the beautification of oneself is truly a never-ending pursuit–an endless to-do list that leaves me feeling spent. Sometimes, I don’t know where to stop this train. If I get Botox and fillers, will I need to get my lips plumped, too? Once I join that world and belong to that enviable group of perfect-looking women, what more will be expected of me?
Once you get the Doc Martens, will it be enough?
Because I didn’t wear those boots forever. I wore them for two years, and then they were worn out, out of style. And then I wanted something else.
It never stops.