November 5, 2013

What I Learned From A Year Without Make-Up

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In a past life, I used to wear a lot of make-up.

Actually, that’s not accurate. I know girls who wear a lot of make-up- girls who practically paint on a new face each day. I was never a girl who wore her appearance as a disguise. My daily routine was along the lines of moisturizer, powder foundation, eyeshadow, curler, mascara and maybe some blush or lip gloss.

Me with make-up… and a lot of hair
Me with make-up… and a lot of hair

Me with make-up… and a lot of hairWhen you consider the thousands of beauty products out there this is not really all that much. Still, after two years of traveling it’s absurd to me that I went through all of that every single morning for years and years. What a lot of time and effort! I could have been sleeping!When I started living on the road I pretty much quit wearing make-up cold turkey. I had packed the basics (including my eyelash curler-don’t judge!), but I immediately stopped using any of it. At first I was too jetlagged to bother, then there didn’t seem to be a point. It was just more trouble than it was worth.

In Australia we lived out of a van: the idea of putting on mascara in the rearview mirror was almost comical. In South East Asia it would have immediately melted off anyways. In China I already looked so radically different from everyone else on campus I just couldn’t see any point in trying to dress things up. All of a sudden 6 months had gone by and I’d worn make-up maybe two or three times. You know, for big nights out.

I sure didn’t miss it. In fact I abandoned most of my beauty routines from home: my hair was in a constant pony-tail and I’d lost all qualms about wearing the same dress four days in a row. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about my appearance, it was that suddenly, for the first time since I hit puberty, my own face just seemed like enough. I didn’t need to add anything to make myself presentable to the world.

Oddly, even during my three months in Argentina, where women at the grocery store are made up to the nines, I just couldn’t be bothered. I wasn’t like those women, I never would be, so what was the point. I was an outsider, exempted from their beauty rules, and it was really freeing.

In my past life I remember being late to work one day and forgetting to apply any make-up. All day people were asking me if I was sick. This didn’t happen when I travelled. Nobody commented on my bare face and Mike still seemed to think I was pretty hot. In pictures I may not look like a model, but I don’t look half bad. My beauty secret was written all over my face: I looked so so happy. Smiling eyes totally make up for a lack of eyeliner.

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You can look at this two ways: either I was so content with my life I didn’t feel like I needed cover-up, OR realizing I didn’t need a half hour of primping each morning to look like a decent human being made me super happy. Either way, it sure does make our cultural beauty mores seem like some major oppressive bullshit.

This realization was compounded by my anthropological observation of the lengths women go all around the world to fit the cultural concept of beauty. The barbie-like women in Japan, teetering in high heels and fake eyelashes. The skin-bleaching creams for sale at the supermarket in China. The absolutely incredible architectural marvel of fake boobs and butts in Colombia. We’re all suffering for beauty- it just seems sillier when it’s not your own culture pressing in.

I’d like to say the moral is that make-up is totally useless and I never wear it now. This would be a lie. A kind of judgmental lie. Now that I’m back in the US, certain beauty routines have crept back in. It’s vanity through and through: I can not go out for drinks with my beautiful girlfriends and be the one washed out weirdo- I just can’t, the beauty ideals here are just too strong and I’m not immune to their power.

I definitely don’t wear make-up every day – certainly not around the house or out to the store. I’m still a low maintenance girl, I always have been: I don’t wear heels, I bite my nails, my two hair style choices are basically “up” or “down.” But, I just bought a huge load of sparkly make-up from Ulta, and I’m currently obsessing over finding the perfect wedding dress.

It’s complicated of course. What travel has taught me though is that it’s okay to pick and choose what cultural beauty standards I want to participate in. And not to buy into the idea that they are laws or even rules. Because they ARE totally arbitrary- unique to our culture and space and time. It wasn’t until I spent some time opting out that I realized there was something to opt out of. It’s the choice that makes it liberating. TC mark

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