Reflecting on Reflections

Another week gone; another fifty people asking me, “Hey! How’s the no makeup thing going?” My favorite is when people say, “I saw your post about Natural Beauty Month—what a great idea… I mean, I can’t do it, but it’s a cool idea…” When I ask them politely, “Why can’t you do it?” they inevitably respond with the same things: I’m too old—you’ll understand when you’re 40/50/60; I literally have no eyelashes unless I put on mascara—you’d understand if you had blond hair; I can’t go without foundation—you have good skin so you wouldn’t understand.

I hear all these reasons, and I get it. I am 27—not even into my 30s, let alone my 40s, 50s, or 60s; I do have (relatively) dark eyelashes; I don’t understand what it’s like to have “bad” skin; I even have what society tells me is a highly coveted body: tall, tan and slender. It is these things combined that prompted one of my friends to tell me, “You know, there are probably some people who resent you for creating Natural Beauty Month—like, ‘sure, Abby can not wear makeup—she’s already got a good body and a pretty face.’ Other people are not so lucky.” Again, I hear this, and I get it. (And don’t worry, I have already felt guilty about the genes I have been given.) But my friend’s observation ignores two key things: 1. I work very hard to maintain the body that I have; it is not purely “luck,” and 2. looking “pretty” is not the point of Natural Beauty Month.

Cameron Russell, a 25-year-old American model, gave a TED talk recently where she dispelled the idea that being naturally good-looking leads to healthy self-esteem. She admitted to reaping the benefits of being physically beautiful, of which there are many: absolution from speeding tickets, special treatment from strangers, and of course, making a very comfortable living without exerting much effort, to name a few. As a model, she said, being acutely aware of her physical image is part of her job—and as most of us can attest, this sort of awareness often leads to insecurity. Do pretty people get special treatment? Yes. Does this mean we should all try to be prettier so that we can receive special treatment, too? No.

How others judge our appearance has nothing to do with us; how we judge others’ does. When I look at another woman and ask myself if she’s prettier than I am, I am the one making myself insecure, not she. And since attractiveness is largely a matter of opinion anyway, to judge one as “hot or not” is not only self-serving, but also absurd. We have control over what we do with our bodies: how much we exercise, what we eat, how much we sleep, how deeply we breathe. But there are certain things we cannot control: how tall we are, the structure of our bones, the color of our skin. In these last two (official) weeks of Natural Beauty Month, I encourage you to appreciate your physical body, to love and care for it, no matter what state it is in. Examine yourself honestly, and talk to yourself gently. Cultivate your health and happiness, for they are rooted much deeper than physical image.

do what you can

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21 More Days: Confessions on Natural Beauty Month

Thirty-six hours into my naked-faced challenge, I had a panic attack. Call me overly-sensitive and self-conscious (I am), but when the reality finally set in that I would not be able to change my appearance for a whole month—even if I looked tired or haggard—I nearly started crying. I had known I felt more confident with eyeliner and mascara, but I hadn’t realized just how vulnerable I felt without it. Each time I looked in the mirror, I found myself staring for longer than normal, trying to find something nice to say to my “naked” reflection. Don’t get me wrong: I love myself, and I generally have very high self-esteem. But what I have realized during the past week is that a large part of that self-esteem comes from not worrying about how I look—and when I have makeup on, I don’t worry. So how do I get to a place where I don’t worry when I don’t wear it?

I read an article recently that discussed the detrimental effects of complimenting young women on their appearance. “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything,” the author, Lisa Bloom, says. Bloom argues that bringing the focus away from physical appearance, and toward intellect and personality would mitigate the self-esteem issues that so many girls and women suffer from. (I would argue that the same goes for boys.) As I stood staring at myself in the mirror last Tuesday, I thought back to this article. I wondered if perhaps my focus was in the wrong place, searching for the “beautiful” features of my face or body. What if, instead of looking to the mirror to tell me how beautiful I was, I did something that contributed to my overall health and beauty?

I am not self-conscious when I practice yoga, when I run or meditate, when I cook an elaborate dinner, when I draw, paint, read, spend time with my family and friends, or rehearse with my improv group. All these things make me feel happy and secure—so why not shift my energy to those things? I am not suggesting that this will cure me completely of self-consciousness or worry; my point is that, whenever I look around me, or look within myself, I realize that my life is pretty fantastic.

I’ve got three weeks to go in Natural Beauty Month—that’s 21 more days of no makeup. But rather than focus on the negative (“no makeup”), I shall try to think of it in positive terms: 21 more days to appreciate what I have and what I can do; 21 more days to focus on the things that matter; 21 more days to reinforce a new habit: Gratitude.

This June: Natural Beauty Month

I’ve just had an idea. It’s called Natural Beauty Month: if you’re an everyday makeup user, this one’s for you.

This weekend, I played in an ultimate frisbee tournament where everyone camped out in the rain and dirt. There was no point wearing shoes because the mud would eat them. There was no point wearing makeup or fixing your hair, because the rain and mud puddles would wash it all away — and I use the term “wash” loosely. We were filthy; we were soggy; and by golly, did we have fun.

But an interesting thing happened. A friend of mine, Susan*, didn’t recognize our friend Carla. Susan had met Carla several times, but since Carla wasn’t wearing makeup, Susan couldn’t be sure it was her. Another of my friends later commented that he did not recognize Carla without her makeup either. Yikes, I thought. I didn’t even think Carla wore a lot of makeup…

It got me thinking. Has this ever happened to me? Have any of my friends seen me without makeup and wondered who they were looking at? I’ve certainly been asked if I was tired on days that I was in fact quite energetic; the only difference was that I was not wearing my usual eyeliner and mascara. Most mornings I look at myself in the mirror and try to decide if I look alright as-is. Most mornings, the answer is, “Ehhh… I’ll just put some eyeliner and mascara on for now…” I don’t wear a lot of it, but I wear it a lot. I am used to seeing myself wearing it, so when I don’t, I look weird — but weird is relative. If I were used to seeing myself au naturel, I would adjust my idea of how I looked. I wouldn’t view my naked face as my face without makeup; I would view it as my face.

So here is what I propose: the month of June shall be Natural Beauty Month, where people everywhere dare to leave the house with a naked face. I know, it’s already June so you don’t have much time to prepare, but here’s the good news: there is no preparation necessary. Naked is sexy, right? So is your naked face. Wear it. Own it. And if you think you look tired, get some more sleep. If your skin is oily, eat more carrots and fewer fries. When you look in the mirror, see yourself for who you are, not who you aren’t. Actors and actresses wear makeup all the time: don’t compare yourself to them. In fact, don’t compare yourself to anyone. Be who you freaking are because who you freaking are is freaking awesome (or if it’s not, coverup won’t help)!! Go on, girl, admit it: you were born with it; you don’t need Maybelline.

ImageJoin us in solidarity through the Natural Beauty Month event on Facebook.

*All names are pseudonyms.

Love Your Body

Loving one’s body is one of those things that should be easy, but thanks to society and popular media, rarely is. Think about it for a second: when was the last time your body totally crapped out on you and didn’t recover? Sure, you may have broken a bone that didn’t heal quite straight; you might have lost a bunch of weight, then gained some (or all) of it back; you may even have had some crazy surgery that changed your body forever (like, oh I don’t know, had eleven of your vertebrae fused and two stainless steel rods screwed into your spine). But what happened this morning? Probably, you woke up, got yourself out of bed, made breakfast, ate it, then got yourself to work (or school, or maybe even a yoga class if you’re really lucky!). All those things are pretty amazing if you think about it. We are, for the most part, self-sufficient beings that can move, eat, breathe, talk, sing, dance, and heal — and most of this is done automatically! And even those who aren’t self-sufficient usually have someone else to care for them (that’s right, we have physical ability and health to spare!). Maybe our bodies don’t always look quite the way we want (or, more accurately, the way others want), but they sure do a lot for us. So perhaps rather than bemoaning everything that’s “wrong” with our bodies, we should simply say “thank you” every now and then. Eventually, we’ll might even see our bodies for what they are: a crude physical rendering of who we are and what we do.

How to Love Your Body When You Don’t Like It (Excerpted from Yogadirect.com)

This may seem like an oxymoron: love your body without liking it? 

Here’s why it’s important, and how to love your body.
  • If you are trying to become healthier, more in shape, or lose weight, it is imperative to love your body and yourself in order to stick to a regular healthy plan. If you don’t have love for yourself, why would you be nice to yourself? If you don’t love your kids (you may not like how they behave all of the time, but you still love them), then you wouldn’t be nice to them. 
  • When you begin to foster a deep love and care for your body, you will WANT to do good things for yourself. You’ll want to exercise, eat healthy, and take time for yourself.
  • Just because you love your body doesn’t necessarily mean that you like the way you look. Your body can be a work in progress, and you can still be trying to lose weight or get tone, and love your body.