I don’t spend a lot of money on beauty products and treatments, and I’ll admit: this fact makes me mildly insecure.
But, I mean, of course I’m insecure.
It’s exactly how the companies selling these products and treatments want me to feel when they tell me my hair will never shine without a certain shampoo or that my skin will never glow without a particular cream.
And I get it. I get that the primary goal of the Beauty Industrial Complex is to make us insecure, to get us to spend and spend and spend some more in our never-ending pursuit to fulfil mainstream ideals of beauty.
But what about the fact that I like to feel pretty.
The times I’m feeling down on myself, all I want is to be invisible. My hair, my complexion, my clothes — everything feels uncomfortable and ugly. My pants are too tight, my pores look humungous and all I can see when I survey myself in the mirror is the cellulite dimpling across the back of my things.
When I feel good about how I look, however, it shows in my body language. I’m lighter, happier, more at ease — and I’m more confident. I don’t mind being seen.
It’s not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong about wanting to feel pretty.
What I struggle with is the idea that we’re meant to abide by prescribed ideals for the privilege of “feeling pretty,” and that failure to obey is a sign of our unworthiness.
Last summer I paid for a set of eyelash extensions in advance of a two-week road trip camping down the northern California coast.
My thinking was that I could compensate for the fact we’d be living out of our car for 14 days by at least making my face look a little bit prettier.
I wish I could tell you the lashes were a waste of money, but no. They were incredible. When I look back at photos from the trip, I can’t help think, Damn, I look pretty put together for three full days of not showering.
That set of eyelashes (which were, for the record, the most basic option offered by the salon) cost me $100 . Two weeks later, I paid $50 to have them filled in. If I had chosen to splurge on the salon’s most premium option, I would have paid $220 for a full set, and an additional $60 to have them filled after one week (the price jumps to $80 after an additional week).
This means that a person can potentially spend anywhere from approximately $150 to $350 per month for eyelash extensions alone.
As much as I wished to be able to maintain my prettily fringed eyes, I couldn’t justify the cost of keeping them going. I let the extensions gradually fall off, the natural length of my lashes feeling inadequately short.
My husband and I both have relatively well-paying salaried jobs. We own a house and two vehicles and have the ability to occasionally splurge on a meal out or a weekend away.
But at the end of the day, we don’t have a lot of money leftover to spare, and whatever there is “remaining” is allocated towards paying off debt, and towards bigger expenses like a new mattress or the treadmill we’d been talking about for a couple of years.
I asked a friend recently how it is that other people our age — people with similarly paying jobs — can afford to spend so much money on high-end clothes and beauty treatments.
Her explanation is that people our age — millennials, if you will — are known as the generation of instant gratification, which means that if they want it, they get it. Some argue this is a good thing, that this preference for wanting-it-now has revolutionized efficiency in the realms of business and technology.
At the same time, millennials — often burdened with student loan debt and the reality of ever-rising housing prices — are prone to the believing they’ll never save enough to “get ahead.” So instead, they funnel their resources into more gratifying and immediate rewards, whether that be $500 passes to a weekend music festival or $350 on premium eyelash extensions.
If money were simply no object (ha!), and my husband and I weren’t channelling the majority of our financial resources into our house and other related expenses, then I can bet you I’d have no problem splurging $150 per month on eyelash extensions, $275 every eight to 12 weeks for balayage hair colour service, $40 a month on brow and upper lip waxing, $100 per month on manicures, $200 per session on laser hair removal (I can’t begin to guess the total here, since I’d elect to have my pits, legs and bikini area all well and taken care of) — and hey, I recently saw a poster for cosmetic Botox at my dental office, which was mildly alarming, but the before and after comparison was convincing enough that I figure why not throw that in the mix, too, for a conservative $300 per treatment.
All of this — the thousands of dollars potentially spent — doesn’t even encompass the cost of additional beauty products and keeping atop the latest fashion trends.
Yes, it would be nice to have the luxury of spending the equivalent of my monthly salary on feeling pretty, but this, my friends, is not my reality.
And I think what’s most frustrating about it all is the notion that by failing to have this be part of my reality, I’m disentitled from the privilege of getting to feel pretty.
But beauty comes from the inside, and yes, I know that, and I’ll get to that as well, but first let me also say that I’m not a high maintenance girl. As much as I fantasize about having the disposable income to keep my brows groomed and my armpits stubble-free, I honestly don’t really love spending my time fussing over such things.
For example: I’m prone to seasonal allergies. This means that on more than one occasion last summer, I caught myself absentmindedly rubbing my eyes before remembering I’d paid $150 to have synthetic lashes glued to my face, and that I was in the process of ruining them. There was this, and the fact that the extensions needed to be brushed several times a day, lest they look sloppy and wayward.
Also: I hate wearing make-up.
I hate the time it takes to put it on, and I hate the feeling of having it sitting on my skin.
I still wear make-up, yes, especially since I’ve been suffering a long spell of hormonal acne rivalling that of my teens. And yeah, I don’t mind the ritual of getting myself dolled up for a special occasion — an anniversary dinner with my hubby or meeting up with friends for drinks.
But I also cannot wait to wash it all off when I get home, the same way some people cannot wait to peel off an underwire bra.
It helps that I don’t have the kind of lifestyle that requires me to wear a lot of make-up.
There isn’t much need to apply a layer of foundation before a hike, when it’s guaranteed to all melt off, or to draw on eyeliner before a swim in the lake. Since moving out of the city two years ago, the frequency with which I apply make-up has become increasingly less, and I one hundred per cent do not mind.
It’s a weird thing, though, the fact I enjoy being relatively low key when it comes to my beauty routine, but also sometimes wishing I had the luxury of being a bit more high maintenance, a little more “put together”.
And I think this is where the insecurity comes to play, because this feeling of not being good enough always invariably stems from instances of comparing myself to others.
My sister was visiting from out of town a couple months ago and asked if we could stop at MAC while running errands in the city so that she could replenish her compact (my sister, by the way, has always been naturally beautiful, with seemingly none of the awkwardness I suffered as a teenager — so you can imagine how well that plays on my insecurity).
She and my mom spent a half hour or so in the store, chatting with the beauty consultants while I volunteered to watch my niece. In fact, it was a convenient excuse to avoid subjecting myself to the discomfort of feeling like an imposter some place I clearly don’t belong.
The stupidest part of all of this is that I co-own a small natural skin and body care business with my business partner, which means I should have at least some kind of confidence traversing the beauty realm.
That’s how it seems, at least.
But here’s my confession: I sometimes struggle as part-owner of a beauty-based business because, once more, I feel like I don’t belong.
I was listening to a fellow entrepreneur speak on this recently — on her same struggles operating a natural beauty business, and how it’s challenging to market products geared towards improving one’s appearance when you simultaneously stand by the belief that beauty doesn’t doesn’t define our worth.
Sometimes it’s hard for me not to feel uncomfortable at markets or events because of the sense that my appearance isn’t necessarily consistent with the products I’m selling.
People think (or, more appropriately, I assume people think) I should be dressed fancier or wearing more make-up or looking more put-together based on the fact I’m selling them beauty products.
I supposed it suffices to say I never had a strong desire to get into the field of beauty.
Rather, what happened after I completed my 10-month long herbal apprenticeship is that I discovered the powerful role plants and botanical ingredients can have in supporting our bodies, whether working internally to aid the body’s healing process, or used externally to support outer vitality and wellness.
My involvement in the natural beauty realm is multi-layered. On the surface it seems geared towards appearance, and this is helpful in a strange way because it introduces people who might not otherwise have any experience with plant ingredients to their unique benefits.
If you go a layer deeper, it’s also about showing people that beauty doesn’t need to be complicated. That simple ingredients can work in powerful ways, and that we can greatly lessen the toxic load our bodies endure daily as a side effect of our modern lifestyles by opting for simpler, cleaner options.
Beyond that, we’ve strived since starting our business two years ago to show that beauty and self-care are not the same — that hundred-dollar serums and laser hair removal and artificially-lengthened eyelashes don’t define our worth.
That the feeling of being pretty is not something that comes from outside us.
When do I feel my prettiest? When I’m active and sleep well and nourish my body with wholesome, nutritious foods. I feel my prettiest when I’m spending time with people I love and laughing and being aware of nothing but the real and present moment.
As a woman perpetually subjected to messages of what allegedly defines beauty, I will probably never not feel insecure about whether or not I fit within those ideals.
What I do have is the ability to define what beauty is to me.
Beauty is joy and love and the experience of making peace with who I am.
Beauty is me. I am beautiful.