I can’t recall the last time I saw myself “au naturale.” By that I mean without make-up, hair products, clothing, and anything else that masks my true self. I recently realized, when going though my twenty-seven-step-before-bedtime ritual—washing face, applying under eye cream, wrinkle cream, anti-aging cream, pore minimizing cream, skin brightening moisturizer, and several other steps—that I don’t even go to bed au naturale, never mind leave the house. I have a staff of millions working overtime on my face to make sure I wake up looking younger or at the very least, no older. And they’re getting paid well.
It doesn’t stop at the face. There are millions of products that are marketed to and bought by us women to conceal, cover up, and change our natural selves—as if the skin we were born in wasn’t good enough. There’s a billion dollar industry pushing us to realize that we’re decreasing in good looks every day and prodding us to buy more products to forget this. And we fall for it, groomed head over Gucci heels. We—myself included—stock our bathrooms and closets with maximizers and minimizers, and adhere to this societal standard that “natural” is a polished look that requires seven steps and as many products. We must be lifted, smoothed, tucked, plumped, slimmed, and so on. I must be lifted, smoothed, tucked, plumped, slimmed, and so on.
I’m a user. I color my hair, use several kinds of facial cream, get bikini waxes, use plumping lip-gloss, and wear make-up. I’m not preaching from a macrobiotic dieting, organic facemask wearing, vegan shoe shopping, cosmetic-free pedestal. I’m just frustrated at the beauty trap I seem to be caught in.
When I feel resistant to my beauty routine, I ask myself: was Cro-Magnon woman worried about the unsightly hairs all over her body? Did Viking women fret those extra pounds hanging out of their steel-plated battle vest? Though Roman women painted their faces, did they despair that their voluptuous bodies and plump faces were a sign of wealth, not over-eating and laziness? How did we get here? And why, if we choose not to take part in these rituals, are we savages? Then I proceed to even out my skin tone with my foundation sponge.
We’re told by the media to “love the skin we’re in,” yet the tools to look younger, fitter, sexier, and more radiant are at our disposal and incredibly abundant. It’s like we were born with a “fixer upper” body and we need to make improvements to every single nook, cranny, inch, curve, and hair on it. Our self-improvements run the gamut from tinting our eyelashes, to waxing our legs, to ironing away our curls, to changing the color of our skin with tanning creams. A recent issue of the shopping column Found It. Loved It. included dye for graying pubic hair, underarm pads to protect your clothing from sweat, and my favorite, pads to absorb the smell of gas that occasionally escapes your southern end. I have all these symptoms, so should I fork over the cash to correct them? No. See, I don’t see them as things that need correcting. We fart and it smells. So what? And as for a little gray in the nether regions, well, like the hair on our heads, it’s a fact of life. (When did it become optional to age?)
Botox used to be a whispered word, but these days, it’s discussed openly in front of the ladies room mirror. In fact, we can actually inject ourselves with Botox while frequenting the ladies room, so that we can return to our desks with relieved bladders and relaxed wrinkles. Why stop there? There are tools to inject our armpits, toes, necks, décolletage—wherever it is, we want to zap the natural aging process. Whenever I find myself tempted by the idea of freezing time, I look to Hollywood’s few female celebrities to be reminded—and grounded in the reminder—of just how horribly wrong and unnatural the needle (and knife) can be.
But are tools that don’t require needles or knives any better really? Is it condescending of me to look down on the actress on the big screen who has befriended collagen to make her lips larger than life, when I have a bff crush on collagen-infused lip-gloss to achieve the same result? I love how my lips look luscious, like I’ve just bitten them. But really, my lips are just fine the way they are, glossed or unglossed. (I say that, but because I think they look better all plumped up, I don’t leave them unglossed.)
Beyond my face, where do I start? G-string, thong, tummy-tucker? I thought underwear was all about sexiness, showing some skin, feeling desirable under my clothes (if only to myself). I recall a specific scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary where Bridge is going on a date with Daniel Cleaver and she has to make the decision between incredibly slinky panties or clever sucking-in granny panties. “If I actually do, by some terrible chance, end up in flagrante, surely these would be the most attractive at the crucial moment (holds up thong). However, chances of reaching the crucial moment greatly increase by wearing these scary stomach-holding-in pants very popular with grannies the world over.” Oh Bridge. You should have known then that if Daniel didn’t love you, lumpy tummy and all, he was a poor choice. I wish we wouldn’t endure hours of discomfort, binding ourselves with nylon and spandex for the sake of a slimmer profile. Why can’t we just wear clothes that fit and flatter us instead?
I could go on forever about the ways we “improve” ourselves—microdermabrasion, teeth whitening, chemical peels, and bras, well don’t even get me started. But being as much a user as I am an accuser, I’ll stop now.
I do want to love my natural self. I want to love “skin I’m in,” so to speak. Realizing that there is only a slight resemblance between the Me I see fleetingly in the morning and the Me that the world sees, makes me want to be more real. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going cold turkey mind you. It’s going to take a little time to get used to the blotchey-faced, matte-lipped, paunchy tummyed me—never mind learn to love the real me … but I want to try. I’m no longer willing to resign myself to that fact that industry wants me to look at myself in the mirror every morning, wave good-bye, and then spend an hour airbrushing the real me away. I want to feel awesome in my own skin, not hide behind a more perfect one.