Ever heard the saying, beauty is only skin deep? I vehemently disagree with that statement. I believe beauty is rooted in our core. Aesthetics may be only surface level, but true beauty has nothing to do with appearance.
Like most girls, I grew up with a warped perspective of my value, my body and its appearance and my role in my personal health. My parents raised me in a conservative household where makeup was not permitted until I was 14. I did not have the typical adolescence makeup experience – you know, bad eye liner, neon eye shadows and blush so deeply red you rival a clown.
After I turned 14, my mother took me to a Bare Minerals beauty counter, and the consultant helped me select a few items that would be appropriate for a 14 year old just beginning to dabble in the dark arts of makeup. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to transform the plain, boring version of myself that I viewed in the mirror into the knock-out I always imagined lay underneath an intense makeup application. One that would camouflage everything I thought I wasn’t.
As soon as the car pulled in the driveway, I bolted up the stairs to my room, ripping open the packaging on the way – eager to apply my transformation. First, foundation powder all over my face. Then some naturally colored blush on my cheeks. Swiping several different colors across my eyelids, hoping that would make them pop. And for the final touch, some mascara. As I applied the final coat of black mascara, I sat back to gaze at my final product, ready to drink my newly beautiful self in.
I blinked…in shock. I looked exactly the same, just with a little shimmer around my eyes. My face still looked too round, no definitive cheek bones, small eyes and thin lips. I rotated my head, observing it from all angles. Nope. I still looked the same. Well this was a complete flop! I went into the bathroom, wiped the gunk off my face and chalked up the makeup idea as a farce. I believed that I wasn’t enough, but that I was beyond help. The first time I remember feeling dissatisfied, truly with my appearance.
Fast forward several years to a 17 year old. A committed tennis player, training 4-5 hours a day. Sweat, allergens, dirt, weather elements as well as genetics, all contributed to the start of a severe battle with acne. One that plagued me until I was 22. I evolved from a girl who hardly ever wore makeup to a person who would not leave the house without it. Slathering it on, in hopes that it would conceal the painful bumps blanketing my face. But even with full-coverage foundation, in my eyes, my skin felt and looked like a topographical map of my face. Splotchy, bumpy, uneven and embarrassing. I had tried virtually every available acne-cleansing system on the market but nothing helped. On the tennis court, I felt invincible. But off the court, I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror. But with each makeup application, I learned to cringe a bit less.
When I say, make-up was a necessity, I mean it. In college, my routine would go as follows. Wake up, usually after 5 unheard alarms and my roommate shaking me. Makeup application. Class. Lunch. Makeup reapplication/touchups. Tennis. Dinner. Shower. Makeup application. Study. Wash face. Bed. I wouldn’t go to class without. Couldn’t go to tennis practice without reapplying an additional coat. I wouldn’t go to study with my friends unless I had reapplied a third coat. It was a problem, but I believed the lie that without less flawed skin I was ugly and had no value.
Until one day, I was about to hang out with a particularly handsome man after tennis practice. I jumped in the shower, got all cleaned up and was just about to apply another coat of makeup. But my sweet, roommate Kayla, stopped me. She said, “Why are you putting make up on? You guys are just hanging out.”
I began to list my rolodex full of reasons why I needed another dose of makeup, especially because I really, really liked this guy.
“He’s going to have to see you without your makeup eventually. You’re beautiful with and without makeup on.”
My lips wanted to protest, but my heart softened. No one had ever told me that before. I glanced into the mirror perched on top of my desk. My eyes swept over my face, scrutinizing every discolored, red fleshy bump. My years of negative self-talk kicked into overdrive as I ripped myself to shreds.
No one thinks this bare face is beautiful without makeup.
If he sees you like this, he will be so grossed out that he’ll never want to hang out with me again.
But Kayla’s words echoed through my hardened exterior. The welcome sunshine after a hard winter of snow. Meeting up with Kendrae that evening without makeup petrified me to no end. And while I didn’t quite believe that I was beautiful without makeup or with it on some days, I wanted to. So I took the plunge. And was shocked when Kendrae didn’t seem to bat an eye.
I realized how wearing makeup had crippled me. So much so that I had extreme anxiety if I wasn’t wearing it. So the next morning, I got up a little later than I planned and made a sleepy-eyed decision not to wear makeup to my 8:00 am class. I was extremely nervous and anticipated some stares, but I could handle it.
I sat down at the long table and began to page through my notebook. Out of the corner of my eye, I felt a stare from a classmate a few seats down. I steeled myself, and raised my gaze to meet her. As I shot her a smile, she questioned: “Are you sick? You don’t look like you’re feeling well.”
My smile quickly faded and my face grew flush. I shook my head no, as I lied and told her I was just tired. Absolutely mortified that my initial suspicions were true, I vowed with tears in my eyes never to be caught without makeup on again. The rest of the class was a blur, and I jogged back to my room as soon as it ended, praying no one else would see me.
About a year after that, I finished up 9 months of Acutane treatment. A radical prescription used in the treatment of acne. It warrants intense side effects and came with a large price tag, one that mostly I absorbed. But I didn’t care how awful I felt while taking it, how difficult it made playing tennis and how inconvenient the monthly pregnancy tests and blood work were. If this drug could eradicate my acne, I would gladly pay any cost – financially, mentally, physically and emotionally.
And when I completed my final month of treatment, with a long-awaited clear face, I was relieved. I could finally live the life my acne had held me back from for so long. But after the newness of no longer popping pills and the range of side effects they brought with them, I still was not happy with what I saw in the mirror. My face no longer had bumps, but I continued to feed the need to consume makeup. I’m just covering up my redness and acne scars, I’d reassure myself. If I couldn’t bear to look at it, surely no one else could either. And the vicious cycle perpetuated. The acne was merely a magnifying glass enlarging the problem that was pre-existent. One that could not be remedied with a prescription.
Again, let’s skip ahead in the story to yesterday. I woke up not feeling well. And since it’s been so dry and cold lately, I felt like giving my skin a break. So I moisturized twice and went to work sans makeup. No foundation, no eye brow filler, no highlighter, blush, eyeshadow or mascara. My face was completely bare. And after about 30 minutes in my classroom another adult made a remark.
“You look sick. I didn’t want to say nothing, but your eyes look all glassy and your face looks puffy.”
I nodded, half-smiled and rolled my eyes on the inside. A comment similar to someone remarking that you’re sunburnt when you’re obviously acutely aware that you’re the color of a ripe tomato and physically hot to your own touch. Unnecessary, obnoxious and rude. And so I continued about my day. But it was during my lunch break that I unpacked the encounter from earlier.
While the comment about my lack of makeup was rude and uncalled for, I wasn’t negatively impacted by it. I didn’t run off to the bathroom and look in the mirror to see if she was right. It didn’t change how I felt about myself inwardly or outwardly. In fact, it didn’t affect my day at all. But it did allow for some reflection. When had I become more comfortable with my natural skin? There was no moment of revelation. In fact, it has been a long process over the past five years. A process of limiting my negative self-talk, reframing critiques from others and myself, intentionally speaking kindness and nourishing the skin I’m in.
True change takes time and effort. But most importantly consistency. If I had not chased after true change in myself years ago, I would have been devastated by that individual’s remark today.
*I did not wake up like this. I didn’t even apply this myself, a professional did.*
There are some days I choose to wear makeup. But now it’s because I want to. I view it as a form of self-expression which allows me to be more playful and artsy. There are some days where I don’t wear any makeup at all. And I even leave the house looking that way. I have learned that what is or isn’t on my face has no true impact on the way I carry myself, my abilities or my heart. Beauty has nothing to do with appearance. Beauty radiates from the inside out.
Words–from yourself and others–only have power over you if you allow them to.
Author’s Note: Someone dear to me shared a personal experience the other day on social media. She discussed this inner war that teetered back and forth with her appearance. The things we say in our head about our own bodies that we would never speak to another human being. And in her moment of frailty, a stranger spoke words of love to her, shaking her to her core. Reminding her that what we think and say to ourselves matters. And this reflection touched me, and stirred a burning question in my mind. Why is it so easy to speak love over others, yet so hard to nurture ourselves in that same manner?
In celebration of Women’s History Month, I wanted to touch on a subject that was near and dear to my heart. I too have suffered many barbed and poisonous verbal attacks, some of the deepest wounds coming from my own tongue. Comments laced to damage and destroy, yet ones that I would never utter aloud. Especially not aimed at another person. But time and time again I would lower the boom on myself and let loose.
Something has to change. The comparison game has to end. This idea of perfection is a mirage. A dreamt-up concoction that will leave you stranded in the middle of a desert.
I’ve seen it happen in others and I’ve slowly started to witness the change in myself too. Words are insanely powerful. And over time, their power can increase. If you continuously berate yourself, you will not only believe those lies, you will become them. If instead, you nourish yourself with kindness and truth and love they will transform you, but also radiate through you in such a way that others will feel their warmth.