Pink and Blue

Apparently, when I was three years old, I informed my parents that “Pink is a girl’s color. Blue is for boys.” My parents, recovering hippies that they were, shared a perplexed glance as if to ask each other, Are you responsible for teaching her that genderist smut?! When neither owned up to it, they decided it must have been the evils of society – no matter how careful they were to shroud me from such ideas, societal roles and expectations were just too insidious.

Throughout my childhood, I was reminded of this story several times. To my parents – especially my father – the story seemed a sort of prototype, a representation of all the assumptions and preconceptions that we, as a society, pass down without knowing it. As I grew older, I would encounter many such gender half and halfpreconceptions, several of which would test my confidence: when I was in middle school, I learned that boys don’t like goofy girls; in high school, I learned that girls and boys could be friends without sexual tension (then, in college, I learned they couldn’t); in college, I learned that men don’t like confident women (then, in recent years, I learned they do); and somewhere along the line, I learned that women wear makeup and men don’t. While I have always fancied myself an observant and reflective person, it was not until last June that I truly pondered the absurdity of this last societal myth. If someone had said to me, “Hey! Isn’t it weird that half the population is expected to paint its face, while the other half is expected not to?” I might have acknowledged that yes, that was weird. But no one said it, and I accepted it as a truth.

In most of the animal kingdom, it is the male sex that primps and fluffs, and the female that chooses and chases her mate. In human society, we have somehow reversed this: women are the “fairer sex,” and under no circumstances are we supposed to chase our potential male mates. eHarmony even published an article alerting women to the dangers of, “E-mailing [the man she is interested in], texting him, Facebooking him, sending him a cute card, dropping by his house, in any way attempting to initiate some kind of contact.” Not only have we convinced women to cover up their physical blemishes, we have also trained them to cover up their feelings. What happened to letting the world see us as we are? Are we so afraid of judgment that we need to keep at least one layer between us and everyone else?

What would happen if we accepted each other as readily as we accepted societal norms? be-who-you-areHow would we behave if we did what we knew to be good, instead of what we were told was right? I have wracked my brain to come up with a non-cheesey way to say it, but I can’t, so I’ll just say it, cheese and all: Bare your face, and while you’re at it, bare your soul; speak your truth, and recognize that truth is relative and malleable; don’t worry if you don’t fit society’s idea of you, or even your own idea of you – a person is more than an idea. Perhaps Dr. Seuss said it best: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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Beneath the Surface

I won’t lie – I’m almost disappointed by how easy this year’s edition of Natural Beauty Month has been. Last year, I tormented myself by standing too long in front of mirrors, picking apart my reflection. Last year, I looked longingly at beautiful women, wondering how I compared. Last year, I researched one natural beauty tip after another, ate healthier, slept more – all in the name of cultivating “natural beauty” (read: “natural good looks”). But this year? This year, I have other priorities. Do I still feel strongly that a makeup-free month is a good idea? Totally. Do I still hate the societal expectation that women wear makeup while real men don’t? Absolutely. But am I still consumed by how I look with makeup vs. without? No, sir.

While I am pleased with this new-found confidence in my naked, unadulterated face, it makes writing about my experience more difficult – or at least, less superficial. Whereas last year, my insecurities came rushing to the surface, this year, my attention is deeper.Purchase this image at http://www.stocksy.com/51066 A lot has happened since last June: my boyfriend of three and a half years moved out; a dear friend moved in; I reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in too long; I went on dates; I finished my masters’ degree; I decided to sell most of my belongings and move across the country with no job awaiting. At 28, I am about to begin a new episode of my life – and instead of “Married… with Children,” this episode is more like “New Girl.”

As I reflect on this month so far, I cannot help but extend my reflection to the year itself. And as I ponder why I am so much more comfortable without makeup this June than last, I must give a nod to my experiences. Even though I am still concerned with what I look like, I have far more faith in who I am. The friends I have made (and will make) and the men I have dated (and will date) do not like me because I have black eyelashes or smooth skin: they like me for me. Of course, I want to be attractive (who doesn’t?), but unless we are looking at a photograph or painting, attractiveness is never purely physical. In a post last June, I wrote that, “looking pretty is not the point of Natural Beauty Month.” At the time, I knew it, but I didn’t fully believe it. This year, I believe it.

Natural Beauty Month: Season 2

Here we are: June 1, 2014. One year ago, I traveled to a giant, muddy field to play in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament; I returned a new woman. Spurred by a conversation one of my teammates and I had about the amount of makeup one of our friends usually wore, I was moved to accept (and advertise) a challenge: go the entire month of June without makeup. If this seems like a rather mundane declaration, know that at the time, it terrified me. I was skittish to look others in the eyes, nervous to leave the house, and unenthused to be the subject of any photographs. I felt vulnerable, exposed, and insecure. After the first week, I regretted having been so vocal about the challenge – if I cheated, everyone would know about it and I would die ashamed. But with each passing week, I heard from more and more people who said Natural Beauty Month made them think about makeup and beauty in a new and different way; this was certainly the case for me. I began to see makeup, not as a part of my morning routine, but as a thing that some people used, a thing that I too could use, but opted not to.

By the end of the month, I had become accustomed to my naked face, a face unobscured by lines and coatings, unblemished by coverup, unmasked by mascara. The thought of putting makeup on was almost scary, as I thought I might forget how secure I had become without it. Since last July, I sank back into the habit of wearing it – but not with anywhere near the frequency or Imagededication. In general, I reserved it for work and fancy occasions. This morning, I awoke to catch a plane to Nashville, to visit a friend and meet her friends. As I collected my toiletries for the trip, I paused to look at my eyeliner, mascara, and eye shadow: they stood comfortably snuggled in their black leather container on the shelf behind the mirror, and there they would stay. I closed the mirrored door, and, rather than feel separation anxiety, I felt a wave of liberation. The people I meet will see me as I am; this makes me happy. When I speak with these people, I will not waste time wondering if they notice how small my eyes look or how short my eyelashes are (for, if they are thinking these things, they are wasting their own time). I will not avert their gaze, or make a stupid face to conceal my natural smile. I will simply look them in the eyes, listen, and be present. Indeed, if eyes are the gateway to the soul, one would hope those gates are not locked or obstructed.

If the idea of Natural Beauty Month intrigues you, I invite you to join. If it frightens you, I urge you. And if there is simply no way you could ever do it ever, I implore you: at least tell your friends. I’ll be standing with you.