So, that said, the story of how I stopped wearing make-up, and then 10 reasons why I think it's a great idea.
As a teenager, I was deeply insecure, wracked with guilt and condemnation about my sin inside, and convinced that externally I was plain and needed make-up to fix feature flaws-- my too-straight eyebrows, my crooked mouth, my eyes with the funny outside slant, my stubby eyelashes, my high forehead and long face. God was very kind to bring me out of my forest of condemnation and into a joyful freedom in Christ when I was around 18 or 19, but the journey of physical confidence was just starting.
I often said I wore make-up because it was fun: colourful, experimental, interesting. There was a degree to which this was true (I liked cat-eye liner, bright lip colours, and bold eyebrows) but there was a much stronger degree to which I still believed in that list of "feature flaws" above.
The year I turned 20, Steven and I began our relationship. Steven has been an amazing help to me in overcoming my physical insecurity; from the first he has called me the most beautiful woman in the world, never criticized my appearance, and has complimented the very things I considered flaws. I was so nervous for our honeymoon because he would see me with my hair down for the first time and I didn't like how it looked down, and wondered whether I should wash my make-up off in the evenings!
His acceptance and love of my appearance couldn't help but work it's magic on me, though. I remember vividly one morning midway through our first year of marriage when he was once again complimenting me, first thing in the morning before I'd fixed my hair or put on make-up.
"Do you really think I'm this beautiful with no make-up on?" I asked.
"Your eyes are brighter," he told me.
Well, if that was true, I didn't see the point anymore.
It took me a while to get accustomed to my face without the additions I'd given it, but over time I learned to love my straight eyebrows (I think they make me look intellectual) and care more about my smile and it's one-sided dimple than whether my mouth is perfectly symmetrical. These days, I occasionally wear make-up to formal events like weddings as a way of signalling that they're special, but I barely put any on; I usually feel like it makes my features look dark and unnatural.
I'm now about two years out from wearing make-up on a daily basis, and here are 10 reasons why I think it is a great decision for any woman to make:
- You are free to cry, swim, or sweat without warning or consequence. Make-up subtly limits the activities you can participate in. How many times have you felt moved by something in church but been distracted from the deep significance of what you're feeling by the need to hold back the tears so they don't smear your mascara? How many times have you decided not to go swimming or play a sport (things that men participate in without a second thought) because it will ruin your make-up? Heck, you can't even drink normally as a make-up-wearing girl because your lipstick might smear on the cup. Losing the make-up frees you up to be more involved in actually doing things, instead of focusing your energy on just looking right.
- It saves you money. I always had a fairly small make-up kit: mascara, tinted lip balm/blush, an eyeshadow palette or two, brow shader, and eyeliner. At a frugal estimate this was about a $35 kit. (At this point in my life, I'm much more concerned about the quality and ingredients of my toiletries than I was as a teenager, so if I was still wearing make-up today it would probably be more.) Given shelf-life and rate of using up, that $35 kit was probably $100 yearly. If I started wearing make-up at 13 and kept it up until I was 65 (although in all likelihood if I went on that long, I'd probably keep going 'til I died) that would be over five grand spent on hiding my face. And that's a small, frugal kit! Aren't there better, more fulfilling ways to spend $5,000?
- It saves you time. I'll soon be a mother of two. I'll be nursing (probably both of them), getting two babies dressed, and making breakfast for us all in time for Steven to come home from work for 9:30 coffee break. I work a part-time job, am redecorating my house, and pre-homeschooling a bright, curious little boy. In short, there are a thousand practical things that I am responsible for. Beyond that, there are many other meaningful things that do more for my soul than putting on make-up: reading my Bible, praying, reading good books, spending time with people, creative pursuits, and building my relationship with my husband and child. I gladly take the extra 20-30 minutes of time that come from not putting on and taking off make-up on either end of my day. And I believe that reading the Word or loving people actually do more for my beauty than mascara and blush.
- It's better for the environment. There are a host of problems with the ingredients used in conventional make-up products, from animal testing to questionable origins, but even if you're using organic, "earth-friendly" make-up products, you're still facing a colossal amount of packaging waste, manufacturing waste (power usage, by-products), and transportation costs (emissions, fuel use). When adding up the cumulative effect of this from the millions and millions of women using make-up worldwide, shouldn't we be asking ourselves if this is really good stewardship of the resources God put on our planet? Especially given that it isn't substantially improving human lives or allowing us to be better in serving the church or sharing the Gospel.
- It's better for your health. If you've hung around me for any length of time you've probably heard me rant about the nasty ingredients in beauty products: alcohols, artificial fragrances, chemicals preservatives and dyes, many of which are known or suspected to be involved in causing cancer, reproductive difficulties, and more. Not to mention how a healthier planet (see #4) results in healthier humans. I mentioned this in a previous blog post about how the things that are considered feminine and beautiful are often harmful to our health, which I think is a good indicator of how warped our perception of beauty has become.
- It breaks a vicious circle. This is sort of related to the last point-- those nasty chemical ingredients in the beauty products that are supposed to give you flawless skin, miles-long lashes, a blooming complexion, erase your wrinkles, etc. are self-perpetuating a cycle of oil-overproduction and skin-drying for your skin, degrading and damaging your eyelashes, dulling your skin's natural bloom, and contributing to the aging of your skin. So that you'll need to buy more make-up to cover up the ill effects, so that your skin will be even worse off, so that you'll need to buy even more... Almost like make-up manufacturers don't particularly want you to be naturally beautiful isn't it? Like maybe they care more about profits than about you actually having any of those buzzwords they use in their commercials: "fresh", "natural", "breathing", "real you..." The other side of this is that the more accustomed you become to your face in an augmented/artificial mask-- the arch of your brows carefully achieved by plucking and pencils instead of your natural straight line, your thin upper lip plumped up with a lipstick, your undramatic lashes darkened-- the harder it is for your to enjoy or even recognise your own face without make-up; you start to feel as if the face you were born with isn't really who you are.
- It takes a stand against the world's lie that age is to be fought and feared. The world, faced with at best nothing and at worst, judgement, in the afterlife, has a good reason to fear the effects of age, as they bring death ever-closer. But we have something else to look forward to: eternal joy, worship, and peace in a world made perfect by Christ. We have a Scripture that tells us grey hair is a crown of glory. The lie about age is particularly pernicious in it's condemnation of female aging, and I have heard this explained as a simple matter of biology: men like women who look young because men like women who look fertile. Never mind that female fertility is generally decent until around 40; we as Christians need to assess the deeply humanistic assumptions of this idea.
Scripture teaches that the point of marriage is a lifelong commitment mirroring that of Christ and his Bride, the Church. Humanistic viewpoints often debate whether men are "meant" to be monogamous, assume the sole point of life is to pass on genes, and address attraction and parenthood from a purely naturalistic perspective. Not so the believer! We know monogamy is God's intention for human relationships and thus the happiest, most fulfilling path for both men and women. We know that healthy biological children are a great blessing from the Lord, but that they are not the be-all-and-end-all of a happy relationship or a happy life. We know that there is more to attraction than genetic influences because we are called to lifelong love and attraction where our mate's character and our own self-sacrifice are as important as genetic factors. Believing this, why do we buy into the idea that the highest compliment we can pay an older woman is that she "looks young"?*
- It declares the "very-good"ness of God's creation. I want to tread carefully here because I know the effects of sin have brought deformity, illness, and injury into the world so that there are real ways in which one's face might no longer be "very good" as it was created. But at the same time, I don't believe God intend to create a world without genetic variation. I think that if there were no Fall, there would still be women with big noses and small ones, high foreheads and long torsos and cowlicks and widow's peaks, with crazy afros and downy-fine locks, with wide hips, flat chests, sturdy ankles, and narrow shoulders. I certainly don't believe we'd all be slight variations on the modern Western ideal woman: white, long flowing locks, slender figures with curves in the "right" places, doe-eyes, and perfectly regular facial features. My straight eyebrows, my high forehead, my "funny" eyes, are all part of the Avery that God lovingly knit together when I was in my mother's womb. My childbearing hips and my Laura-Ingalls-esque "strong as a little French horse" constitution are part of my heritage, traits I can see in my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. I will never be the "ideal" presented in movies, but I am just as God intended me to be, and I believe that is a far more beautiful thing.
- It fights the false image of femininity sold to the men in your life. Sometime after I stopped shaving my legs, I came across an article about how, in a society where hard- and soft-core pornography is more and more readily provided for young boys, many young teenaged girls already feel pressured to get full Brazilian waxes-- boys from a very young age are squeamish about or unattracted by female body hair. Setting aside the numerous other issues we could explore in this story, isn't it scary that from such a young age, boys are indoctrinated to believe that a woman's body should look perpetually prepubescent? Make-up plays the same game, if more subtly; pouty lips and long, fluttering lashes help make a woman look perpetually physically attracted/seductive. Ditto blush. Arched brows suggest mystery. None of these are the things that make a woman a good Christian, a good woman, or a good life partner. Mystery? Honesty and encouragement in the faith are far more important. Seduction? It's all well and good in a one-flesh union, but it's not the part of a godly woman to be seducing the males willy-nilly. But if the media's image is the only one ever presented and it's always presented in a deeply attractive light, it's hard for male brains to ignore. If they should be seeing something different, surely they should be seeing it in the church?
- It fights the negative body messages constantly sent to the women in your life. The number of genuinely hideous-looking people in the world is pretty low. But there are women all around you who see themselves as less acceptable because of the messages of media. Women who think they are too stocky, too pale, too curvy, too fat, too skinny to be attractive. Women who think they aren't glamourous enough or charming enough or that they lack the "feminine mystique" to be valued and loved. And every time you criticize yourself they-- your sisters, your friends, your daughters-- face the temptation to compare themselves to you and measure up even shorter. You moan about how you need to lose five extra pounds? The girl beside you carrying twenty-five extra pounds has a new reason for self-loathing. You mention how you hate your hair? The girl beside you who has always wished her hair was as nice as yours now has reason to suspect you think her hair is ugly beyond all belief. You use make-up to "fix" how your eyes look "too close together"? Now your daughter with the exact same eyes has reason to believe her mother thinks her eyes are a feature flaw and she'd better find a way to fix hers as well. The world needs women who will proudly declare that not only are there many things vastly more to be valued than physical beauty-- from kindness to humour to persistence to wisdom-- but that women as God created us are beautiful anyways-- we don't need to fritter away our time and energy and money to "fix" ourselves.