On Beauty

Many women in my life, myself included, are finding themselves in a personal renaissance as it pertains to their beauty. We are all getting a little older, a little wiser, and are taking our accumulation of experiences and settling into ourselves. We’ve forgone the battles we used to wage on our parts that are too soft, too sharp, too big, or too small and fill the spaces left behind with acceptance for what we are. We are all slowly beginning to learn that our physical selves don’t define who we are or what we have to give.

My relationship with beauty, without hyperbole, spans two decades and is rather tortured. It’s probably clear to many of you that I was raised in a liberal, enlightened home where my sister and I were supported to find our own paths. We were praised for trying new things, for succeeding in school, for being good friends and good family members, and for helping around the house. We were not praised for our looks.

My best guess, when reflecting on this absence of praise, is that my parents were attempting to teach both of us that beauty does not possess true value. They may have been discouraging vanity and hoping that in not discussing our looks we would learn to focus inward and develop into compassionate citizens of the world. Rationally, that all makes sense and seems like a perfectly reasonable plan. But somewhere along the line I began to internalize the absence of compliments for my physical appearance and turn it into, “Maybe it’s because I’m not pretty. There’s nothing to compliment.”

I took those thoughts with me through my teenage years and my twenties and they solidified into my reality. It became my truth that there were people in this world who were beautiful and I was not one of them. I didn’t know how to accept this truth and fought bitterly against it with a lot of makeup, and a lot of clothes, and a lot of piercings, and a lot of tattoos, and a lot of hair dye. The praise with the highest value in my life was being called pretty (never cute, short people DO NOT like to be called cute! At least this short person doesn’t) and I sought it from outside sources, never feeling pretty from the inside.

A lot of time, energy, money, and sadness was spent agonizing over how to break into the clique of the beautiful. Living in Orange County, land of skinny, tan, surgically enhanced, and very blonde, didn’t help.

Moving to Napa improved my relationship with beauty. The vibe up here is much less superficial and we don’t even have a mall, so forget staying on trend with fashion. People go to work at 6 a.m. and spend their days in cellars and in vineyards. But my old, nagging thoughts persisted.

There was a Saturday evening about a year ago when my husband suggested we pickup frozen yogurt. We were at home and I was in my weekend uniform of faded yoga pants, a t-shirt, no makeup, ponytail and flip flops. It’s impossible to leave your house in Napa without running into someone you know. Grocery store – coworker. Dentist’s office – high school history teacher. Target – the one girl who stood your husband up before he met you. Every time. All the time. So I preferred to meet this reality with at least the 5 minute makeup routine and some clothes without holes in them.

This particular evening, my husband wasn’t having any of it, and was ready to go then and there. We went to the downtown Napa YoBelle and my anxiety was at a 10 every step of our walk from the car to the shop and back. I was terrified of being seen without makeup, hair undone, clothes a mess. Truly terrified. I remember every minute of the walk, scanning the street for faces I knew so I could duck and hide if necessary. Conjuring the memory now makes me breathless and a little sweaty. The fear of discovery was brutal and very very real.

But here we are, a year and a major life decision later. Leaving my job to focus on health and recovery has presented me with a bounty of gifts – one of which is a shifted mindset on my appearance. Over the last six months, I’ve grown into a warmer, kinder, more serene, more compassionate person. I spend most of my days at home without makeup. When I get dressed, it’s in jeans and a simple top. No jewelry, no high heels. The adornments of who I used to be, statement jewelry, bright colors, full makeup, feel like they belong to a different person. When I dress for job interviews and put myself back into “Marketing Barbie” mode, it feels inauthentic, incongruous with who I have grown into.

Over the last week I had the pleasure of spending a day adventuring with a good friend. I told her I had noticed that my old clothes and old beauty routines felt unnatural to me and we talked about accepting our looks and being at peace with ourselves in a natural state. In having this conversation, it occurred to me that somewhere along the way I stopped caring if people think I’m pretty. That clique doesn’t interest me anymore. My greatest hope is that people will find me warm, compassionate and kind. There’s no amount of makeup that can make me that woman, but there is a whole lot of love and generosity that can.