Monday, March 12, 2012

Evolution of beauty

Sometimes I feel pretty and take photos of myself.
Today as I looked in my bathroom mirror and thought about how I would prepare myself for an afternoon at Disneyland, I had this revelation that I had arrived at a really integral point along a journey of self-discovery that a lot of young girls face: the point of acceptance.

I thought a lot about it as I applied my foundation and eyeliner, braided two strands of hair and tied them together around the rest of my hair like a hippie headband and moisturized my skin with Palmer's Cocoa Butter. How have I arrived at this point of an established beauty routine? And what were things like before this moment?

Most of the time I try not to think about my appearance pre-high school. Unfortunate looking to say the least, I wore no make-up, kept my hair au naturale and dressed in screen T-shirts and black nail polish. For some people, this look is flattering. For me, it provided more of an abrasive, unfriendly appearance. I was no stranger to kids asking me whether I was goth (they had no concept of the label) or why I always let my hair fall in front of my face.

At the time, the look fit my position in life. I was an avid Green Day fan who enjoyed wearing band shirts and Converse All-Stars all the time. My outfits had little variation, almost as little as my permanently raven-colored nails.

But I couldn't shake the fact that I didn't really feel pretty. Ever. In fact, most of the time I felt like I was a shadow walking behind the other girls I knew who actually did dress themselves well (granted, these were rare anyway because at middle school we had uniforms which hindered my own gender neutral self-expression too).

I was afraid to let myself try out new styles. I thought I was in a new, more mature stage in my life in which music had more meaning and so did my appearance. It was all toward proving that I was more than just a little girl who listened to pop music and watched Disney Channel. I had multiple facets. I watched MTV and Fuse.

In trying to carve out a place for myself among the "punk" elite, I was losing whatever sense I had of who I was and what I enjoyed. I forfeited my rights to a bright wardrobe in exchange for one of muted colors as well as black, black and more black. I buried my own interest with the media of my past, pretending I didn't still listen to '90s pop or watch crappy family sitcoms in my free time. Those things were "below me."

During this time in my life, I started experimenting with eyeliner. But it wasn't for beauty's sake. I wore gobs of the stuff on my lower lid which made my eyes look like they were being dragged down like the wrinkles of an elderly woman. I coupled that with straightening my hair to the point of burning and singeing the tips. Everything was harsh, and none of that was me.

I remained a really innocent, sweet girl through those times. I may have listened to moody music, but I was never much of a rebel myself. My real self hid behind a facade of false strength. I didn't know how to let my true personality and my interest in Green Day coexist.

Once I arrived in high school I instigated a pretty huge change. I stopped wearing eyeliner only below my eyes. I tried it out all around the eye, eventually shifting it from the upper and lower lids to the upper lid and lower waterline to only on the upper lid.

At the same time I tried different techniques. I gave my eyeliner wings (kind of like cat/Asian eyes - to emphasize that my eyes were pointed up at the outer ends); I used varying colors like blue and silver to see if I could pull off anything other than black.

Simultaneously, I advanced myself in beautification processes otherwise. I started trying new cleansing products and lotions. Astringent wasn't helpful, but deep cleansing scrubs were. Bath & Body Works did not retain their scent and moisture, but brands from Sephora or even cheap Target products were significantly better.

My hair became an asset rather than a burnt mess. Instead of letting the flat iron roll down my wavy locks for five minutes per strand, I would hesitantly apply heat to my hair, blow drying quickly and then using a curling iron or straightener without letting it make my hair so scorching that it was untouchable.

Even clothes became more of an expression of the real me. I started reverting back to what I wore when I was happiest: dresses and skirts and pretty floral patterns. Things that represented the type of person I knew I was on the inside. Just because I liked Green Day did not mean I had to forget that I also loved Disney movies and N*Sync. These two very different aspects of my being were not really fighting each other. The problem was that I was fighting both.

Over my high school years and first year in college I've tried new styles, thrown out old ones and even revived things like lower-lid liner. On different days the beauty spirit will inspire me to try new things.

But overall I've come to treasure the real beauty secret that everyone knows, but that they don't acknowledge that they know. The value of make-up, of hair styling, of moisturizing and cleansing is to exemplify the best and cleanest form of you. The real operative word here is you.

Wearing heavy eyeliner, I was hiding myself in the same way I did by draping my dark hair over my face during my pop-punk stage. Dressing like a rebel without a cause was a product of feeling the need to fit into the persona that best coincided with my musical taste.

But none of that was me.

I learned, I progressed and as most people do, I became a better representation of myself as a result.

When I looked in the bathroom mirror this morning, I thought to myself how very beautiful I was. I didn't think it in a vain way - there was nothing "Fairest One of All" about it - but rather in a self-affirming, personally empowering sort of way. This was the kind of thought that counters those feelings of inferiority that make so many girls lose their self-esteem.

We're always evolving in our notion of beauty, letting our opinions of what suits us best alter over time. But the real goal is to locate that place in your heart, regardless of how updated your look is, that makes you feel like at this moment: I am perfect.

It's actually one of the most valuable feelings in the world.

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