What Is Reality?

Cloudy sunset and reflection of sunset on a glassy table.

In this digital age, what is reality? We regularly conflate facts with feelings and opinions—whether out of laziness, deceitfulness, or ignorance. Social media is teeming with people self-righteously clinging to their beliefs and bludgeoning others with them. Because, as we … Continue reading

Interesting Cell Phone User Species

There are many peculiar and interesting species of cell phone user for one to discover and observe in the civilized wild. Here are some you may encounter in your travels. (Please approach them with caution, as some startle easily.) Manibus … Continue reading

There Are No Innocent Questions

This is just a gentle reminder that no query is universally benign. Some questions shouldn’t be asked of a particular person, others shouldn’t be posed at a certain time. Under more circumstances than you might think, innocently intended inquiries can … Continue reading

We the People

A rich white man just got what he wanted and people are surprised. Why? Perhaps you think he doesn’t deserve it. Perhaps you think he hasn’t earned it. So what? Taking is the foundation of America. This country was founded … Continue reading

I Think Therefore I Rant: Just Stop

When did it become so difficult for people to just stop? Everyone is always in a rush to cram more doing into his/her day, and as a result society is growing increasingly impatient. This has long been affecting how people … Continue reading

Beauty That Doesn’t Exist

The other day I had a conversation with a man who felt women had no one but themselves to blame for their suffering. I don’t mean suffering of the violent and/or sexual kind, I mean the cosmetic kind, the fashionable kind—the type of suffering that is (as my mother would say) “the price of vanity.”

Why do women wear short skirts and then complain that they’re cold? Why do they bemoan their foot pain, but still choose stilettoes? And why does anyone else (men and/or “society”) get blamed for all this? They’re grown-ups. They’re autonomous. They are free to choose differently. That’s my understanding of his viewpoint, at least.

I am a woman who daily tries to divest myself of society’s destructive claims to my appearance. I refuse to believe that fashion should (or must) be painful. I reject the idea that makeup is a staple. And I denounce all those commercials with ulterior motives. You know the ones I mean. They’re the advertisements that make it sound as though your body’s contours need to be camouflaged, aging is a disease, gray hairs are adversaries, and your natural complexion is unworthy of being seen.

How have we allowed ourselves to become convinced that the natural is nefarious? Why do we fight so hard against our bodies—the unaltered presentation of ourselves? We dye our hair to look like someone else or younger versions of ourselves. We cover our faces with powders and creams to obfuscate our unique characteristics, which we’ve collectively relabeled “flaws” instead of “inconsistencies” or “differences.” We squeeze ourselves into corsets and Spanx® until the silhouettes of our bodies are lies. We damage our knees, backs, and feet to wear shoes that someone else first told us we should like.

We suffer to look beautiful because we first created an ideal of beauty that doesn’t exist in nature. We want to look young and/or flawless forever. And there is a whole host of companies happy to oblige our obsession. All those products that profess to improve your appearance are (sometimes subtlety and sometimes not) implying that without them you look worse. That’s a subliminal erosion of your self-confidence. That first hit is free because it’s a hook for dependence.

So whose fault is it? Do you blame commercials or the women who are coerced by what they see? Do you blame the celebrities or the fans that emulate them? Do you blame “the man” or the woman who seeks to attract him? Do you blame the image and the people who created it or the masses who attempt to replicate it?

I blame all of us. Society has a current. We all contribute to its flow. Some of us are in agreement. Others of us are at odds. We, as individuals, come together to create the collective. And that collective, even while being comprised of some dissenters, has a hegemonic aesthetic, priority, and opinion regarding everything. Your personal preferences may differ, but there is a collective idea of what is beautiful. You may make different choices for yourself, but there are societal norms for how one should speak, act, and look. And some of us feel more pressured than others to conform.

The tricky part is that since we’re all collectively responsible, it’s hard to feel personally accountable. We blame society, but rarely include ourselves. We say “they” have done this or that. We rarely think, “I contribute as well.” Unfortunately, no one’s hands are completely clean, even those that are scrupulously well meaning.

Example: I was recently watching a documentary about modeling. It included interviews with models from various decades. One woman, who later worked as an agent, described how often (in the spirit of diversity) someone planning to use dozens of women for a fashion show would call and ask her to send one exceptional black model—one. A perfect example of how better than nothing is not good enough.

What’s the solution? I have no idea. I mean, I believe it starts with us getting mad and taking a stand. To be honest, I’m surprised more women aren’t fed up. Why are we suffering for fashion or beauty when we could decide that our natural (comfortable) selves are good enough?

All I have to do to get angry is think about the money—the literal price of vanity. How much am I going to spend on dye so that the world never knows I’ve got gray hair? Not one penny. Who will become rich off of my guilt-ridden (yet seldom used) gym membership? Nobody. Will I purchase magazines that encourage me to diet and deny myself sustenance to fit into a mold that doesn’t represent the majority? Nope. Am I okay with making anti-aging cream and cosmetic companies wealthy at the expense of my self-esteem? Absolutely not!

It’s both a personal and a communal battle. We as individuals need to take a look at whose standards we’re straining to achieve. Sure, some are worthwhile. Let’s all aspire to be happy and healthy. But why should I deny or disguise my natural appearance? Why should I hurt myself by applying or ingesting poisons in pursuit of an unrealistic aesthetic? If it isn’t making me stronger, healthier, or happier, I reject it.

Let’s support each other and the breadth of humanity’s natural beauty. Let’s stop looking for our goals and guidance among illusions—ads, television, and movies. Every age and area of the world will have it’s beauty ideal—put pretty on a pedestal as it sees fit. That’s human nature, and it’s actually not the problem I have a problem with. The thing to avoid is idealizing the ideal until it no longer resembles anything real and then imposing those unrealistic standards of appearance on the masses. The problem isn’t the preference; it’s disseminating it as though it’s mandatory.

Whether in television, film, commercials, or any other visual medium, women of every shape, size, and color should be affirmed and feel represented. It is harmful to perpetuate an unrealistic or monolithic ideal. No one should feel shackled to something as subjective as an aesthetic or beholden to beauty standards that are illusory at best.

The world is diverse. Every body is different, and that’s as it should be. Yes, you’re entitled to your own definition of beauty’s epitome. You simply can’t convince me that your ideal is compulsory. I will fight against all attempts to homogenize women’s bodies and dilute diversity. And if you don’t like the way I look, that actually has nothing to do with me.

Makeup Is Misogynistic

At an early age, I learned to associate cosmetics with performance. As an aspiring ballerina attending Miss Janet’s Dance Studio, I wore makeup for the annual recital. My mother, who didn’t ever wear makeup herself, would spread shadow on my eyelids and apply lipstick to my lips and cheeks. I saw cosmetics as being another part of my costume. The makeup was for my character; it wasn’t me.

In college, I envied my makeup-wearing friends. For them, getting ready for a special occasion was a dramatic production involving powders, pencils, and an intricate assortment of apparatuses (some of which looked dangerous). All I had to do was shower, moisturize, and apply antiperspirant. It felt very anticlimactic by comparison.

In preparing for my wedding, I was adamant that I wanted to look like me—not some idealized version of myself that I’d be unable to maintain indefinitely. I had no intention of wearing makeup. I had no plan to loose weight. When I walked down the aisle, I wanted my fiancée to see what he was really getting—the au naturel woman he loved and had asked to marry him.

I wanted to recognize myself in my wedding pictures, but I also wanted getting ready for my matrimonial milestone to involve more than showering and putting on a dress—even if it was an elaborate bridal gown. So at a friend’s suggestion I decided to wear some makeup—the beginner’s version. I would apply it myself—lip-gloss and foundation.

Following my wedding, I began to work my little makeup duo (foundation and lip gloss) into my special occasion preparation ritual, but I had rules. I would not be a woman with makeup in her purse. I would not be a woman you could find “fixing her face” in the bathroom or on her way to work. If it all wore off, so be it. I’d apply it and let go.

Now while I realize some women wear makeup merely as a form of expression or an innocuous, auxiliary device, for me, wearing makeup raised a few red flags (or perhaps they were perfectly plum, poppy pink, or romantic rose). While I do feel more polished wearing some cosmetic covering, I also see the potential for becoming the type of woman who won’t face the world with her bare face. I don’t want to become dependent on makeup. I don’t ever want to feel naked or unattractive without it.

The possibility of that outcome (becoming addicted to cosmetics) is why I think makeup is misogynistic. It breeds minor bouts of self-hatred among women—or at least dissatisfaction. Makeup makes me look for my face’s flaws rather than accepting it as it is naturally. Cosmetics make me self-critical. I start to wonder what else I need to improve or cover up with this or that color. Are my lashes too thin? Are my lips well enough defined? Do my cheeks have the right hue? Is my complexion all right?

For as much confidence as makeup gives me when I’m wearing it, it takes a proportional amount away when it comes off. And besides that, it’s inconvenient. I hate having to worry that it will rub off if I give someone a real hug. I don’t like the feeling of sweating through it, so I don’t want to wear makeup to weddings (where I intend to dance) or during the summer months. In the winter, while perspiration isn’t an issue, there is the chance that my “face” will rub off on my sweaters, hats, and scarves. I find that unacceptable.

Some time ago I made the decision to let my hair go gray without dyeing it. (You can click here to read that post.) Part of my reasoning was to be chemical free after an unfortunate incident with hair relaxer left me with a semi-bald spot. However, another big part of it is that I think dyeing my hair would nudge me into an antagonistic posture towards aging.

I worry that our culture is subtly (and not so subtly) waging war against the natural physical form—a result of an unhealthy obsession with youth and perfection. We tell women that they’re beautiful and that they should love themselves. We tell little girls they can be anything they want to be—to have self-confidence. But then, and often with the same breath, we suggest they are beautiful (or can be confident) only when they are not quite themselves. We sell women (both young and old) products to “fix” or “improve” their appearance—wrinkle removers, concealers, eyelash enhancers, and other colorful cover-ups.

So the hegemonic message I receive is that our culture is against aging and truly natural beauty. Women are prompted to be fake—dyed and painted caricatures of femininity. The young want to look mature. The mature want to look young. No one really wants to look like herself. Everyone wants to look unflawed. Feminine façades have become the norm—what’s expected. Maybe you’re born with it. Maybe you bought it.

I want to avoid falling prey to that mentality when I look at myself in the mirror. Because real bodies come in a myriad of sizes, shapes, and colors. Real bodies age. Real bodies are imperfect and asymmetrical. I don’t want to view aging as an adversary I have to fight or the imperfections of my face and form as mistakes I have to hide.

If I could dye my hair or put makeup on my face and have both be adornments rather than keystones, I wouldn’t take such a structured stance. If I didn’t see the potential within me to become a woman afraid to face the world with my unaltered face or natural hair color, I could support hair dye and cosmetics—and maybe choose them for myself.

I’m sure that some women dye their hair for expressive fun and wear makeup like jewelry (each nice to have, but neither necessary). But I see too many women who have fallen prisoner to these things—things that were supposed to make them feel pretty—to be accessories, not shackles or obligatory.

For some, instead of being optional, cosmetic rituals have become the key to a chain that won’t let them out of the house or a crutch they can’t walk through the world without. Makeup, for some women, has become an adult security blanket—they feel exposed and vulnerable without it.

I wish I could rid our culture of cosmetic dependence. I wish I lived in a world where every woman was encouraged to be satisfied with her face instead of bombarded by messages offering ways to improve it or cover over it. I wish the majority of our society viewed makeup as an optional accessory as opposed to the required response to any perceived deficiency.

I have enough natural insecurity that I’m working on. I don’t want to buy or apply more at the cosmetics counter. So I’ve made up my mind about makeup. At least for now, I’m not wearing it.

I don’t mean for this to be a battle cry. And I don’t presume to speak for all women either. I’ve just grown wary of the subliminal influence of daily altering my natural appearance. I want to stand clear of the line that divides “want to” and “must do.” If I’m going to be a woman capable of self-confidence and self-love, then I can’t allow my face to become a façade.

I admit I’m not one hundred percent pure. Right now I have extensions in my hair. And perhaps I’ll choose to wear makeup again. But for now, I’m keeping my face as real as I can.

And I know, I know, technically I’m cheating. My skin is brown. I’ll never be pale—not that there’s anything wrong with a fair complexion. As my mother would say, and I paraphrase, “Black women don’t need to add color to their skin. Each of us is born preloaded with pigment. Makeup is superfluous when you have a hue that’s built in.”

Black is beautiful, and white is too. My hope is that all women will love their natural appearance and hues—that wearing makeup (or dyeing their hair) won’t be compulsory, but something each woman feels free to choose or refuse.