Monday, May 5, 2014

Naked Face: An Abandonment of Makeup

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” ~Kahlil Gibran

Snapchat of my naked face! Ahh!!

The last thing I expected when I left America was to learn that I had self-esteem issues. I thought that I had outgrown them in high school and was confident in myself. Little did I realize that traveling would put all this into a new light and make me face some demons I had swept under the rug over the years.

Being the extreme budget traveler that I am, I can stay in the simplest and most barren of guest houses and hostels. In fact, I prefer it. Having gotten over my need for luxury in Rishikesh, our first stop in India, our accommodations don't usually have a mirror (who knew a mirror was a luxury?).
Not having a mirror was an adjustment at first. I have looked at myself in the mirror everyday of my entire life! I used to study myself for hours (especially when I was a teenager), changing outfits, posing in various "vogue" positions, changing my hairstyle, trying new makeup, obsessing about blemishes. I think this is normal (at least I hope, otherwise I just made myself look incredibly vain) and I believe the culprit is our media and culture. Our culture puts such an emphasis on how women look, how they dress, how they appear, so that we are innately concerned with our reflection, always checking for perfection or improvements.

No mirror meant no makeup (can you imagine trying to apply mascara by touch?) and no long hours of inspection of my face, stomach, and butt. I couldn't obsess about what I was wearing because I couldn't look in the mirror and after a while, I just stopped caring. Makeup while traveling became less and less important as our schedules filled up with activities, learning and sightseeing and taking time on my appearance meant cutting into adventure time.

Here is a list of what I learned in the absence of mirrors:

1.) I only conditionally liked myself.
              This is a big one, probably the most significant realization I had in my forced abandonment of makeup. When I was living back home, I wore makeup all day everyday. If I didn't have it on, I felt less attractive, less alluring, just less. My confidence was based on what kind of a hair and makeup day I was having: great makeup day, great day. Bad makeup day, less of a great day (I have an unyielding optimism so I'm always happy). I couldn't go out at night, especially to bars and nightclubs, without makeup on or I would feel unkempt, frumpy and unpolished. There were very few days that I would wake up in the morning, look at my naked face and say, "wow, I look radiant today." I always felt like I could look better, and therefore be better, because I knew what I looked like with makeup on. My makeup was my confidence. This idea was only reinforced by the amount of attention I received when I was wearing makeup versus when I wasn't. The attention I received was a direct result of my confidence which was directly related to my belief in the power of my makeup (see the relationship here?). Had I believed I was beautiful no matter what was on my face, I would have received the same amount of attention (from men, coworkers, strangers and friends alike). How many of us feel this way? Sure, we can go to Walmart with no makeup on and not think twice about our appearance but when it comes to being in a situation where we want to "put our best face forward" and impress people, how many of us feel more confident in our makeup?
This idea of confidence stretched over to clothing as well. I left America with little clothing with the intention of buying all my clothes in India so I could "blend in" (ha, what a misled idea). I left most of my western clothes back home and left the idea of dressing to impress. The clothes in India are more like pajamas, loose fitting and conservative. The idea of being sexy in India is scary with the amount of attention a woman already gets just having light skin and hair. The last thing I wanted to be was sexy because I didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to myself.
Now, wearing baggy clothing and not wearing makeup had a serious psychological affect on me. I went from feeling sexy and confident on a regular basis to feeling unattractive, bedraggled, and gross.
In reality, I looked no different. I looked like ME, the me I used to be when I was a child, when I was natural, when I didn't care what anyone else thought. My ego got a serious reality-check. I started questioning where my confidence came from and started questioning the messages advertisers and the media were sending. (In truth, I have always had these questions and suspicions but have kept them quiet because I didn't want to stop wearing makeup so why question it and feel like a hypocrite?) With the promotion of makeup in the west, advertisers and companies are telling women they aren't good enough in their natural state. You aren't beautiful without these products. You are less. You need to buy these products and you will consequently feel better and people will notice you. Instead of focusing on developing what's inside ourselves, we have been distracted into focusing on the outside. Not in totality, as many women I know have depth of character and personality with interests other than the application of makeup and donning personality-presenting outfits; we're multifaceted creatures!
Now I had to rebuild my self-esteem without the lie of makeup and build something strong and true.

2.) My awful skin was a direct result of my eating habits.
Here's a revelation that took some time manifesting. When I was in America, I ate like shit, truth be told. I was addicted to horrible, processed food (Oreos!!) and I drank alcohol quite frequently. When I went to India, I stopped eating processed food. I had heard over and over again that you are what you eat and if you are eating crap, you look, feel, and are crap. Within the first week of being abroad, Matt noticed a dramatic change in the appearance of my skin (I couldn't see myself so I had to take his word for it). I hadn't made the connection that food was affecting my skin yet. It took a few more months of experimenting with my diet and noticing different results.
This epiphany finally occurred when I went to Sadhana Forest in the south of India and began a new vegan diet. I never intended to take to the diet as I had always thoughts vegans were "out there" and extremists but since Sadhana was preparing my meals, I was forced into eating delicious healthy meals (oh, the horror!).  Not only were our meals vegan, they were nutrition-based. We ate specifically for energy and health. (You can be a vegan and still not be eating a well-balanced, nutrition based diet.) We didn't cook with oil. We ate based on color. We ate a detoxifying breakfast. We ate an energy-producing lunch. We ate a smaller dinner. (This is a very basic description of all the awesomeness and mindfulness that went into these meals.)
By this time, I definitely noticed a radiant glow emanating from my skin (I finally found a small mirror by this time). I was also putting essential oils mixed with coconut oil on my skin on a regular basis to eliminate my acne scars. I started seeing my natural beauty that had been there all along. The strongest indicator of our food directly affected how we looked was when a friend we met at Sadhana left the first week we were there and came back a few days before we left. It had been four weeks since she last saw us and when she saw us again, she asked us if we did something different to our hair or changed something about our faces. She said we looked absolutely amazing, especially Matt. His face was rounder, more filled in, his eyes were clear in the whites, not yellow like before, and his skin was glowing. The only thing we changed was our diets. (If you are intrigued by this topic, I recommend reading The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier. He talks about how nutritional stress is 70% of the stress we have in our lives and by eating for nutrition, we can become healthier than we've ever been and become a better, more active and productive person.)
I liked looking at myself with a clean face. I was healthy and genuinely happy, focusing on the internal instead of the external. I was nourishing and loving myself in a healthy way. Not rewarding myself with processed sweets and alcohol like I used to back home. (Funny how back home, I rewarded myself with nutritional stress.) I really let it all go in Sadhana, becoming a mud-covered natural free woman! I still haven't given up shaving my legs and armpits though, fyi.

3.) Women wear makeup and provocative clothing to compete with each other, not to attract a man's attention.
Men love natural beauty. I hear men saying this all the time. They hate makeup. This is most evidenced by the jokes they make among themselves about girls that sleep over at their houses and look one way before they go to bed and wake up looking like a monster when her makeup is smeared all over the place in the morning (or getting sick at the club, throwing up and having her makeup run down her face, or being at the gym and her makeup sweating off her face, or being in the rain get the idea). Makeup is a lie. We don't actually look the way we look when we have makeup on. So if men like natural beauty, who are we wearing it for? Other women. We are competing with them. We are competing with our girlfriends, with strangers, with family members. We compete for attention, for desire, for affluence, and even for resources. Even as a taken woman, I still feel the need to get dolled up when I FaceTime my girls back home (and by "dolled up" I mean taking my hair out of the bun it was in and finding the most complementing lighting-some habits die hard, people, I'm working on it!). I know my girls don't care if I look good or not but something inside me wants to look my best because they are beautiful and I want to be beautiful right alongside them. No one wants to be left out of the beauty pageant that is our day to day life.

4.) A genuine smile is the most beautiful thing a woman can wear.
Cheesy. Cliche. Obvious. I know you've all heard this one before but I'm going to reiterate this point. Sincere happiness will turn the ugliest of women into a radiant, stunning woman. Why? Let's talk physiology for a moment. When you are constantly frowning or screwing your face into looks of scorn and disgust, what muscles are being used? What is happening to your face? Didn't your mom ever tell you that your face was going to get stuck that way when you were a child? With repeated use, your face actually changes as the facial muscles accommodate your repeated moods (form follows function). If you're constantly frowning, chances are your lips turn downward at the edges, your brow and forehead have wrinkles and your eyes have a dim, darkened look to them. Anyone can spot an unhappy person in a crowd and can tell whether or not they're generally a happy or sad person. Body language and facial reading are the first languages we learn as humans. We learn to interpret what facial expressions mean and correlate emotions with them. What happens when you constantly smile? If you grew up smiling, chances are your cheeks are larger, your lips naturally curl up and there's a light emanating from your eyes. Being happy changes your physiology, changes your actual face. It's not just some new-age hippy anecdote, it's science. It's biology. If you are not happy with the way you look, chances are you are not happy in other areas of your life as well. The cycle goes round and round, everything connected to each other. If you are not happy with other areas of your life, chances are it shows on your face and changes the way you physically look. So. Happiness=beauty. (Side note: if you want your children to be beautiful, give them a happy childhood full of laughter and love and their faces will reflect it.)

Having learned all this in six short months, I still feel the urge to wear makeup and to wear sexy clothes (if I had any--a girl can imagine!) and strut my stuff. I'm not saying I'm condemning makeup and all those who wear it, I just think it's important to ask ourselves if we are genuinely happy with the way we look and if we're not, is it a result of our culture telling us we're not good enough? Being aware of the issue and actually doing something about it are two very different things. My goal is to continue having a naked face, to not succumbing to the pressure of western society to have a polished, makeup-adorned look that fits in with the accepted image of our time. I'm still in a cocoon outside of western culture, though Kathmandu is the most progressive city I've been in in the last six months, and it's easy to talk about what I've learned, far from the reaches of media and influence. Taking a stand in what I believe in, that all women are beautiful and complete without adding anything to themselves, is the road I want to take in creating change. I want to teach my future children and the girls of the future generation that they are enough, they are beautiful, their talents and skills make them shine from the inside out. If you see me starting to succumb to the desire to wear makeup upon my return back to the US, remind me of my mission! I'm only human and need a kick in the butt every once in a while. How do you feel about makeup? What are your thoughts on self-esteem and personal beauty? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject; drop me a line in the comments!


  1. This was a great post Nicole! I've never really worn a ton of makeup, it's usually just some eyeshadow, eyeliner and mascara. I was never good at putting foundation, blush, lipstick and whatever else on (although I'd still love to find a good lipstick someday). And being a mom so young and having my kids so close together, I REALLY don't have time to always think about makeup. Usually just getting a shower in is a successful day! Hahaha! But I have thought that I looked better with makeup, prettier, and just like I had put some effort into myself. What really helps me now though is Tim. He is always telling me I'm beautiful. "But I don't have any makeup on!" is usually my answer, and you know what he says? "I don't care! You look awesome!" I'm trying to be better about just saying thank you, but it's hard. So while I usually go places without makeup on, and I don't really care that I don't have makeup on, it is hard to get over the idea that I can be just as beautiful without makeup on my face. And I'm probably starting to ramble, but I want my girls to feel beautiful without makeup on too. I have a while before they would even start wearing it, but I really feel like the way that I look at myself will deeply impact the way they look at themselves. I am curious though, what essential oils have you been using?

    1. Thanks Amy! I'm glad you liked the post. Isn't it funny how when we receive a compliment, it's hard to just say thank you and accept it? It took me a while to do the same thing when Matt would compliment me and I wasn't wearing any makeup. I can only imagine how you busy are with three kids! Makeup is such a hassle and honestly, should be an afterthought, not something that we are consumed by. I think the best way to show children the importance of inner beauty is by living by the words we preach, I completely agree with you! As for essential oils, I use lavender, ylang ylang and bergamot mixed in with coconut oil (which is the carrier oil). The best one for skin is rose oil but it's also the most expensive, which is why it isn't in my apothecary yet. I definitely recommend using the blend!