It was 2011 and I had just been hired as a production crew for a television show for the first time. I was excited and yet very nervous. Every day I would step out wearing a good amount of foundation, eyeliner and a lipstick. I told myself that the set lights are very harsh and so makeup protected me. Until one day the friend whose place I was living at, who was into television as well as was an intuitive channel, told me that she received a strong message that I must stop wearing makeup. Initially I was hurt at the suggestion. I resisted it giving the excuse that I am new to the lights and that makeup will protect me.
The television stint ended and a month later I was back to working in IT, my regular job then. I still continued wearing makeup, though to a lesser degree, avoiding the voice in my head that told me gently that I didn’t need it. I would debate with it saying I needed it to protect my skin from the pollution. This went on until one day I couldn’t stand my own lies. I finally questioned myself as to what is really going on here.
Various angles emerged in this story. The way I mindlessly went through it as a ritual in the morning and would obsess over it was pointing to the obsession with a ‘Perfect Me’ image that I wanted to hold up. Every month I would spend a considerable amount of income getting the latest eyeliner colors, the best shades of nail color and the most perfectly matching foundation that would cover all the flaws of my skin and made me look naturally perfect! However, the point I missed in this whole bargain is that when you are focussed on ‘covering up’, you are actually building on your perception of what you think is flawed about you.
Examining this perception of flaws further, I found the belief operating somewhere deep down that I am ugly. When I arrived to this thought, I immediately had an emotional release when I did an EFT, looking at myself in the mirror, with the worst statements I was afraid to hear within myself – “I am ugly“, “I am unbearable to look at“, “I have a terrible skin“, “I am not beautiful enough” and even “People won’t like me as I am“. After that release, the realisation arrived that being beautiful was one of those conditions I had taken on in my early childhood to find myself worthy of people’s respect. Those moments when I would see my mother put on the best of the lipsticks and foundation , getting ready for her work everyday in the morning, came up in my mind. I didn’t recall her saying anything specific about it to me but I had caught from her conversations that it made people at her workplace give her importance so that she was not passed over as a nobody. So makeup got linked to being important as well in the mind!
However, for me it was not just for work but everywhere else. I realised I was addicted to having a mask on my face and had endless justifications for it. Going out to shop for cosmetics fed my ego under the pretext that by being concerned about your looks you are taking care of yourself. This was a way of enhancing self-worth which itself was based on physical beauty meeting external validations. Even when out on a holiday the mind justified saying there will be a lot of sun, or my skin won’t be able to handle the harsh cold. One day when my brother showed me an article where humans have been one of the strongest species on earth having overcome the harshest elements biologically, I squirmed inside. I became aware of having believed all those advertisements that drill into you that the skin is too frail to handle the natural elements.
But the final turnaround happened when I examined this image of a ‘Nice Girl’ that I felt I had to keep up with. The need for beauty, perfection and worth all branched out from this basic need – the need to be nice. This awareness instantly shifted me out of using a foundation and a lipstick everyday. The urge to even wear something to ‘protect’ the skin became a very conscious act after much self-inquiry.
About the same time I read a study that showed how most products that are applied on the skin end up in your bloodstream, alongwith the quote that if you cannot eat it, don’t wear it. It helped me to switch to only the most essential, organically made products. Gone were the loud-smelling deodorants realising that what lasted 24 hours probably had some extreme chemicals that made them last that long, patching up the skin that was designed to breathe out waste from the body. Gone were the commercial shampoos, face washes, body washes that were applied just when the skin was fully opened up under warm water, giving them the easiest access to my bloodstream. Gone were the body and face polish scrubs after reading that the skin forms a natural layer that fights harmful bacteria that gets torn off due to exfoliation. Gone also were the whitening body lotions that had never really healed my dry skin anyways and replaced with natural essential oil blends. It was also a relief to drop the so-called essential kohl because on deeper introspection the intention behind its application was to attract attention, feeding an image I had built on it in my early college days.
Most of 2012 I was sick to the point that I had no energy to get out of bed to go to work, let alone put on makeup. What a blessing that was! It gave me ample of time to accept all my ugliness and learn the lesson that taking care of your body is more important than taking care of your looks. It taught to me accept my weakness, fragility,ugliness and shattered further the image of a ‘Perfect Me’. It also made me inquire firmly about what is so bad, unbearable or frightening about becoming a nobody as a result, exploring the various stories this polar opposite image contained.
Today I am in the middle. While occasionally, the unused eyeliner and lipstick do get used, I feel neither drawn to it nor find anything against it. The underlying need behind innumerable women using it must be the same – to look attractive, young, perfect, feminine, in control or to belong to a peer group. And it takes a lot of courage to admit the truth and arrive to the clear awareness of who you are – not a plain-Jane image or a perfectly attractive woman image, but someone without an image to keep up. And when you arrive, you no longer notice whether you confirm to the rest of the world around you or not. The curse of specialness falls.
Reminiscing a couplet from the Sufi saint Kabir –
aakhir ye tann, khaak milega
kyun phirta magroori mein
which roughly translated mean –
“After all this body will turn to ashes. Why roam about vain?”
~ Thanks to Sunday sessions with GD, the friend who told me to drop makeup and the friend who told me how beautiful I was inspite of not wearing any makeup.