From the time I started wearing makeup (an issue of high contention and many winy, though I thought well thought out, arguments between my mother and I) I never stopped.
I never wore all that much makeup, the whole eyeshadow thing was (and is) lost on me and I liked (and like) to see the tone of my skin, not a mirage of powders but despite it’s typically minimal presence, I still wore it everyday.
Going to the gym? Mascara and blush.
The beach? The same.
Going out? A cat eye and maybe some red lips was my staple.
And why not? Since the beginning of people, we have sought to adorn ourselves through piercings and tattoos, jewelry and clothing and hairstyles and of course makeup. And truly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I have a strong affinity for shiny things and gold is my favorite color.
Needless to say, I love adornment.
But sometimes it goes too far. Sometimes, the adornment becomes the identity instead of an accessory. At some point, the thing I had fought to have control over doing had control over me.
I used to watch my makeup free friends in awe, wishing that I too could go without but feeling too insecure to do so. They looked so beautiful, so natural. I longed for that freedom but felt that
I was different
I was required to wear makeup
I just didn’t look quite right without it.
From pool parties to long weekends with friends, there I was, with mascara at a minimum, wishing it were otherwise but feeling as if it just could not be so. If a friend stopped by and I was just out of the shower I would panic and try to “do something” to rectify the situation before they saw me.
I remember the first time a friend’s mom described me as “smart” first instead of a physical descriptor and I realized that this was how I wanted to be seen and interpreted. I wanted my insides to matter the most but I didn’t know how to shift focus. I felt trapped.
But then, I turned my whole world upside down. I left my home, moved in with a wonderful girlfriend and started planning for Alaska.
She questioned: “So, are you going to wear makeup in Alaska?” She being one of those beautiful friends that was almost always sans makeup.
It had been on my mind. It was almost as if she had heard me thinking it. What am I going to do? No one wears makeup there it seems. And who really cares if I stick out but I already felt like the inexperienced city girl (despite coming from the country) with “high maintenance” written across my forehead and “priss” written on my back. When I asked if I should bring a hair dryer or if my girlfriend in Alaska had one she giggled and replied “Julia, if I plugged a hair dryer in at my house my whole inverter would probably blow up”.
I didn’t totally get what an inverter was but I did get that I was entering a totally new ballgame.
Back to nature.
And I was excited.
I wanted so badly to be free of feeling required to look a certain way but the voices of insecurity whispered “You’re not like the others. You don’t get to. You’re not enough”.
Pretty damn rude, if you ask me.
I responded to my girlfriend’s quandry: “I don’t want to wear makeup, but I’m feeling nervous”.
“Well, why don’t you start here and then you’ll be used to it once you arrive in Alaska? Plus, your skin could probably use a break, ya know? You could just spend the whole Summer letting it breath and rejuvenate itself”. It sounded like heaven. Except…
Umm, start at home, where I know everyone? No thanks. People will be shocked at how different I look.
Feeling my utter resistance to her idea told me that I needed to do it. I was afraid. So I forced myself.
It turns out that people weren’t shocked. People didn’t gawk or ask if I was sick (my personal favorite of the comments I’d gotten once from a previous stint not wearing makeup for one day at the office. It was going to be a week. I quickly reconsidered). In fact, I actually felt that I got more compliments with a naked face than with an adorned one but that is not what matters.
What truly matters was how I felt. I felt free. In the following weeks, I would curl my eyelashes or add a little blush for fun (and I still sometimes do, it seems that my cheeks, no matter if I’ve run a 10k or snowmachined up a mountain, do not blush, no way, no how and I really like a rosy cheek, so there you have it) but it wasn’t part of my duties for the day. It didn’t feel like a habit or requirement in order to be able to step outside.
Makeup felt, once again, like adornment. The freedom to add or subtract but in the end to be happy with the canvas I started with.
I took this new freedom with me to Alaska.
When I met someone, it felt like they were truly meeting me, not a constructed image of me.
Then I met The Chief. The night I really fell for The Chief (who am I kidding, I was hooked from “Hello”) was the first day I went Packrafting. We had all gotten drenched down to our undies, I had dirt all over my face and half dry-half wet braided/tangled locks for hair.
I mean, I’d certainly looked better before.
It didn’t matter.
To him I was me, the only me he’d ever known. He didn’t know the makeuped me of the past, just the dirty faced lady high on her first rafting adventure in front of him and he liked her. The feeling was mutual.
And so we fell in love naked faced. Stripped down to who we were and who we are. It’s a totally different experience than I’ve ever had before. I think every makeup wearer (who has grown uncomfortable with going naked) knows the stress of meeting someone while all gussied up only to wait anxiously for the first time they will see you without makeup. What a terrible reality to feel less than without adornment, but I used to feel that way.
There’s an Amy Schumer video that I think perfectly sums up the predicament, and in perfect Amy fashion she pokes fun at how ridiculous we can be as a society. I’m not saying that makeup is bad, just that if it makes you feel bad about yourself, then maybe it’s time to renegotiate your relationship terms. I certainly needed to.
Now, in the last year I can count on my hands the times I’ve worn mascara or lipstick. It’s a world away from where I used to be. Now, I look forward to fancier occasions (which might just mean randomly being in a bar on a Tuesday in Anchorage) where I wear makeup. It feels new and exciting, like a real event. But, by the next morning I’m ready to go back to bare and The Chief is always ready for me to get back to the real me. What a different place.
But, don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get a little bored sometimes. Living in the woods means there’s rarely a lipstick occasion (though, by all means, I could just go ahead and make it a Lipstick Saturday anytime) and so sometimes I try little beauty methods on my own. Julia’s Salon opens for business (Appointment Only and you might want to Yelp some other options. She’s new).
I go through phases of light and dark with my eyebrows, dying them dark and then letting them lighten. I’ve even done the same with my eyelashes. It’s fun to see how the face changes just from a little shift and it keeps me entertained trying out new techniques. It’s also interesting to see myself get attached to one way or the other and feel less than when things are different. Insecurity trying still to creep in. What a creep.
Starting at the top going down: Light Bright; An homage to Charlie Chaplin (dyeing the brows); Lash Tint Imprint; Darker for Now
So, with all these DIY beauty attempts I thought I’d try a new one. I thought to myself, hey, everyone out here seems to wax their legs and armpits. Maybe I’ll try that! Julia’s Salon opens again!
It seemed it (in retrospect, no). Our shower was on the fritz and shaving takes up extra water in my little birdbath bathing sessions so I thought, hey, why not? Plus, I’d done it before with a girlfriend this Winter so I was sure I could figure it out on my own. What could go wrong?
Well, it turns out that I’m allergic to the particular wax I used.
That’s one option that could go wrong.
Another is that my reaction could cause my armpits to swell and bubble up like the cauliflowered ear of a boxer.
Sounds glorious, eh?
So far, three days in, my armpits (could we perhaps come up with a more glamorous name? Even Armcaves or Armjunction feels better. Pit? Not shiny) are just as angry as Day One. They’ve carved three tally marks on the wall like prisoners and are threatening to fill the whole wall with tallies if I ever go near that wax again. Sheeesh! I was just trying to do as the locals do.
Thankfully, a few weeks ago, a friend up the road gave us two aloe plants which The Chief remembered as we looked around the med kit for relief. He broke the plant and applied it to the angry armcaves. One could almost hear them sizzling as the cooling liquid touched their hot surface.
Grossed out enough?
Yea, me too.
I can tell you that never has a beauty regime felt less important. In an effort to try something new I put myself out of commission, or at least made things much more painful to do. From hauling water to my new attempts at running, to folding laundry and carrying things into the loft my days have been filled with yips and squeals at the parting of the cracking skin while my nights have been interrupted with itching bumps that awaken me from sleep.
All this for a little hair removal? Geez, I’ll keep it. Or actually, I’ll just do what I’ve always done because now I’ve found out what works for me: shaving please (preferably with a man’s razor. What, do they think that women can’t handle a sleek six blades? They are way better, ladies, trust me. Or actually, just do whatever is working for you). I’d much prefer to spend a few more minutes in my birdbath than an afternoon (or at this point probably about a week) in sticky pain.
Even when one is loved barefaced naked, it’s fun to switch things up, to try a new beauty regime. And even while loved barefaced naked by another (and by myself as well) I still sometimes feel the whispers of insecurity telling me that I need more than what I woke up with.
But in times of cauliflower armcaves, that all feels a bit trite. Not being able to run around the wilderness because I wanted silky armcaves? I’d rather have unruly armcaves than be debilitated by changing them. I’d rather have a dirty face because of an adventure than a made up one any day. I’d rather be with a man who fell for me naked and I’d rather fall for myself naked because there is so much that is so much more important than how we look. To you, it may seem obvious, maybe something you’ve never even questioned. But after years of protecting myself against ridicule from the outside sometimes I need a reminder that the self is not just what is seen and hopefully it is so much more.
Thankfully, the reminders here are plentiful and the “so much more” is something I will always find more ways to work on out here. The vastness of this place calls attention to what really matters and to how much I have to learn.
From the big to the small.
From harvesting wild plants to make medicines to creating cleaning substitutes when I’ve run out of store bought ones to attempting canning solo for the first time (and stopping pre-seal), this place is afire with learning and perspective and reminders:
A bonfire with friends where everyone is lit by the glow of the flames means no one can tell (or cares) if you’ve dyed your eyebrows but they can tell if you’re happy.
A walk by the riverside where treasures of copper and walking sticks and skulls present themselves to you speaks to the magic I’d miss if focusing elsewhere.
Seeing my first sprouts grow that I was so sure I would mess up.
The reminders are everywhere.
These are the joys that take me out of myself, out of what I used to think important and sometimes still get lost in and transport me towards the person I want to become.
Cheers to the journey. Dolled up or stripped down it’s all still happening. Let’s try not miss it on account of CauliCaves*.
*No, that’s not the medical term but damned if it’s not the perfect descriptor.
I rarely (like once or twice a year) shave my legs, and spring always brings that niggling anxiety – what will people say? How will they react?
I so love my kids out here in the village. They’re surprised by my furry legs, but not mean. When I taught in Arkansas, kids would get really hateful – someone once left a lovely pink razor on my desk with a note that said “shave bitch”. Another time a kid wrote an entire diatribe on a teacher evaluation form about how my disgustingness and “lack of hygiene” distracted him from his studies. It was embarrassing and infuriating and it made me feel small and gross and then very angry.
Today, a kid said “Ms O, you’ve got man legs!” in the most genuine way – she wasn’t passing judgement, just surprised and making an observation. “‘Cause they’re hairy?” I asked, and she nodded. “Yeah. Too much upkeep, shaving all the time.” She nodded and accepted my explanation as if it were a perfectly normal thing, and moved on to talking about the prom. I’ve had similar experiences over and over again now that shorts season is here. The kids don’t keep their thoughts to themselves, they just express their surprise, ask questions until they’re satisfied, and move on. It’s weird, and it shines a light on how I’ve become conditioned to expect people to react. It’s always interesting seeing social and personal pressure from a new angle.
Hey lady, way to stick to your guns. I think we all have to figure out what is comfortable for us – and then have the gall to continue to do it despite opposition. That’s pretty insane how angry people get but I guess that’s for them to work out on their own. Way to stay there for yourself. -Julia