by Taylor M. Vogel
If you’re anything like I am, then you’ve gone through various phases of caring for your personal appearance. When I was ten years old, I wanted to spend my time in the mornings doing literally anything but taking a shower. This resulted in my running the shower for ten or fifteen minutes and wiping down the shower sides with my towel after, so that if a parent came to check on whether or not I was engaging in personal care (I also smelled really, really bad), I would be free of dealing with it. Fast forward to learning to shave my legs, and I wanted to shower every day, because I saw value in my time spent in the shower. I, personally, love having shaved legs--and now underarms and arms as well. Forget the patriarchy for a moment, because I’ve gone days without doing this camping-related reasons, and I would choose being able to shave every day. So I do.
It’s easy sometimes to write off beauty practices as women being self-involved, or even as women being ignorant to systemic oppression. But I also think that it’s possible to be intelligent and (wait for it) involved in caring for our appearance. Gasp! The intelligence aspect of this comes into play when we do some initial thought work behind how we’re caring for our personal presentation.
It’s great to do makeup, but do you know what you value about it?
I know, thinking about values is annoying. But in actually naming the thing that we value about our appearance and presentation, we can free ourselves from a lot of quibbling over how to take care of ourselves. This can change for various reasons throughout your life, as well, so check in every here and there. I’ll walk you through my process as an example.
Scenario 1: Being an Example of Self-Confidence
I used to teach high school music, and high school is the prime time for marketing products to hyper self-conscious teenage girls, who are receiving messaging from adults that they are beautiful the way they are when they first wake up, but who are also receiving messaging from their peers and youtube that if they don’t want to be shamed on the internet that they need a 400-step beauty routine. As a part of my role, I had to determine the stage appearance of my choir groups, part of which involved makeup--for girls and boys--both setting expectations of what would be worn and ruling out purple glitter lipstick.
One of my students came to me in tears, conflicted over these instructions, because her dad wouldn’t allow her to wear makeup until she was eighteen. Of course this resulted in a calm, kind, parent phone call with a discussion about the effects of stage lighting (if you’re not wearing lipstick and eyeliner, you look a little like Voldemort). But it also resulted in a conversation with this brilliant high school sophomore about how we spend our time. I realized that I as a teacher was wearing makeup everyday to school, setting the impression that I had to do that to be attractive. She used an example of me as her twenty something single teacher and how pretty I was every day. So I stopped. I stopped wearing makeup for the two years that I taught this child, because I was also pretty without makeup--and so was she. I was also brilliant and hardworking, and so was she. She sneaked a lipstick into school once, after a year or so of this, and I was able to call her out on it--she replied with, “Miss, I know I’m gorgeous. This is just for fun.” And together we grew more confident.
Scenario 1 Values: I value using my appearance to cheer on the young girls around me and personally demonstrate that makeup is a tool, not a requirement. We are all truly beautiful.
Scenario 2: Pandemic Daily Life
I’ve been working from home for a grand total of six and a half months and it has been hard on me. I’m a pretty intense introvert, but I have relied, since my school years, on my work life in office to give me the creative challenges and social interactions that I can then hide from at home while watching horror movies and stress eating tortilla chips. Now, that’s all I want to do, since this is how I’ve conditioned my brain for sixteen years.
Self care during this pandemic has been hard. I am also navigating a few mental health things [insert tap dancing gif here], but pretty darn well, if I do say so myself. And by well, I mean, about one day a week, I’m worthless for much more than responding to critical emails and eating leftovers (I try to make this day occur on a weekend now that I’ve identified it). One day a week? Victory!
This day almost always occurs if I don’t get up and take care of my physical appearance. I’m also in a high-risk situation, so I can’t get to a salon for the sit-there-and-do-nothing-and-be-responsible-for-only-yourself time that I have worked to justify financially for a while. So, instead, I watched a Youtube video on how to cut my own hair--because my hair was driving me crazy and my cat was eating it. I ordered an at home dip manicure kit and taught myself how to do that--because I like having my nails a color, but I don’t want them chipping every other day when I wear dark polish. I have three specific makeup looks that I go for (1. Nearly naked, which is mascara and brow pencil; 2. A little something--which is my NARS Multi + 1; and 3. Full face--which is fewer than 4 minutes of time spent applying color and setting it with powder), depending on my schedule for that day, but it triggers in my brain that “I am going to be around others,” even if that’s only in another Zoom call. And I need it. I need it so much.
Scenario 2 Values: I can use makeup to help trigger change in my brain that keeps me from going into a depression spiral. Makeup is a tool that helps me add a splash of color to a sometimes beige and boring self-isolation life.
Scenario 3: A Unifier
Even my friends who don’t wear makeup talk about beauty. Be it how we cut or style or color our hair (how many times do I have to remind myself that I HATE growing out bangs?!) to what our skincare routine is (I’ve now settled somewhere in between just rubbing coconut oil all over my face and a 10-step system that I don’t have energy to do at 10 p.m.). Everyone talks about our appearance, because this is a part of living. It’s simply taking care of ourselves. I’ve had the high minded conversations of why we value different brands, which is actually a conversation about business and economics, thankyouverymuch. I’ve had the almost mindless conversations of why a blue-based lipstick doesn’t work with my warm complexion. But all of these conversations were bookended by a hug with a friend and on the best days a bagel and coffee.
It’s fun to talk about something that’s not the world crashing down around us. And while I used to be a goody-two-shoes and not value these conversations the same way I did political discourse, I now know that this can be the stuff of gluing friendships together in hard times. I now know that shopping trip to Ulta with a friend (that I can’t wait to take again, even if it’s a year from now) where we mindlessly peruse the aisles and swatch different colors on our arms and chat when we casually meet up in the haircare section--this shopping trip is something I miss now. It’s not stupid. It’s a built in activity that gives us room to talk about anything we want.
Scenario 3 Values: Beauty is a tool for unifying my friendships in play and lightheartedness.
I hope these words breathe some light and joy into your personal care and how you consider the steps in your daily routine. I hope that you’re able to connect with your friends and family around what personal appearance might mean for you in a weird world right now. Either way, we would love to know:
Does your personal care value system have a storyline arc? Comment below, and be sure to check out Episode 12: Full Face Fancy, for more conversations on how our upbringing has shaped our views of beauty.
Hi! I'm Taylor Vogel, one of the hosts of SHELTERED: the Podcast and each week, I'll be bringing you some written content along with the podcast that connects you and yours more deeply with the topics discussed on the show.