I remember the thrill of going through my mother’s purse like a sneaky anthropologist. Each item seemed imbued with magic and importance, at least enough that she would want it with her at all times.
Among the pens and checkbooks there would always be a few mysterious items for touching up her makeup. I liked to line them up on the bathroom vanity as she did her hair for church, or applied fragrant creams before bed.
No one had to explain to me that these grooming rituals gave her pleasure; like most women my mother worships beauty, so styling herself has always been more than a gendered chore. Me, I waited until college to really try my hand at it, but I too fell in love with the ability to shapeshift by way of powder masques.
Toward the end of my 20s, however, I pretty much settled on keeping things off my skin (and out of my drain) unless they truly warranted the cost economically and environmentally. I don’t like buying anything I don’t need, but on the other hand, I do still love to vamp it up. And I do still love the power of a makeover to project my mood, my personality, and what era of history is tickling my imagination on any given night.
As a young feminist I thought that if I ever had a daughter, I would warn her off of makeup all together – because it was a capitalist conspiracy to make you feel never good enough! Because it consumes women’s time without asking the same of men! Because it lies about who you really are!
But when I remember watching my mom in the reflection of her bathroom mirror, applying a few pats of color and dabs of potion, none of those reasons fully hold up. That was time she took to nourish herself, time away from four demanding children and a household fully dependent on her attention. Now that I have a wily daughter who loves to run me ragged in the face, I admit that a few moments of quiet self-care go a long way.
So if and when someday my daughter asks to be initiated into this cult of femininity, I plan to welcome her in with this holistic advice. It may not be the normal tips of how to de-gunk mascara or contour cheekbones, but there will be no shortage of people and links to fill her in on all that. As her mom, though – and as a somewhat philosophical diva – I want to pass on my regimen for beauty inside, out, and beyond:
Don’t just cover blemishes.
Pay attention to where they are and when they happen – sometimes they’re expressions of a hormonal cycle. Learning your cycle can help you understand your moods and track your fertility, which is a free and natural (although imperfect) method of birth control.
Other breakouts may indicate underlying issues that need attention. Allergies, stress, sleep deprivation, and poor nutrition or hygiene all express themselves through our skin. Blackheads sometimes indicate a place you touch compulsively, a tic that, if noticed, may lead you to the emotional trigger that needs to be resolved. So don’t be mad at pimples and rashes – they are clues to better living!
Choose products that keep the whole world beautiful.
Mass production creates a lot of waste, and even something gentle on your skin may have poisoned someone’s water or polluted their air. Before making a purchase, consider how the ingredients were farmed or mined, tested, preserved, packaged, and shipped. It’s worth paying extra money for the luxury of a healthier planet.
Get some sun.
Life is short and you should feel the pleasure of sunshine on your face. Besides, direct rays on your skin and eyes are essential for proper digestion. You’re going to get wrinkles anyway, so just be reasonable with your exposure (use sunscreen, just not every minute you're outside) and be mindful of new and changing moles, especially if you’re at high risk for skin cancer.
Your face is not just for looking pretty.
It’s for expressing your emotions, some of which will displease people. Have fun using makeup to project a certain attitude or sense of taste, but don’t ever hesitate to show your true complexity. And when you’re talking to someone else, focus on their face as though it were your own.
Learn to love your scent.
I mean, if you really stink around the clock, talk to a doctor. But as much as you can, respect the function of your pheromones. These are airborne hormones that broadcast cues to others, helping us better express our emotional state, and even drawing together genetically compatible partners.
Plus, artificial scents and antiperspirants are some of the most physiologically invasive cosmetics. If you want a perfume, find or make botanical oils to compliment your natural smell without overriding it.
Be witchy about it.
Perfume isn’t the only way to dabble in herbalism: homemade skin and hair masks can help you learn about botany, chemistry, and your personal dynamic with each ingredient, which will change with your cycle and seasons. It’s also a great way to bond with girlfriends! Have some over and brew a batch of salves or tonics instead of going out to the bar again.
Notice whether you’re holding tension in your face.
If you are, the cause could be physical; facial muscles sometimes compensate for strained vision, poor posture – even a subtle toothache. All things that will only get worse with time.
Or it could be that you’re anxious about something that needs intervention. Relaxing breath techniques, aromatherapy, and face tapping can all compliment direct action to put you back in your happy place.
When you look in the mirror, look for something to love.
Don’t look too often or too hard, but when you do, appreciate your embodiment – what you have for health, mobility, youth, energy, appeal – and develop a relationship of gratitude for your individual features. Thread your eyebrows as thanks for keeping the sweat out of your eyes! Get your nails done because that cool little tool kit has earned it. Rub lotion not just to keep your skin soft, but to massage the muscles that do so much work all day.
Don’t rely exclusively on the shortcuts.
The idea behind makeup is to exaggerate signs of health – so be healthy! Hydrate, rest, and exercise or use breathing techniques to oxygenate and circulate blood to your organs.
The traditional function of makeup has long been to signal sexual maturity, but we no longer live in a “traditional” world where courtship rituals are clear cut. Just know that applying makeup literally draws attention to you, and for many people this is still seen as a nonverbal request to be considered by a mate.
Let your love of beauty amplify your love for other women.
The females of a species often determine which genes get passed forward, which might explain why we’re typically enchanted by all things “pretty”: we have an instinctual preference for good design. Throughout your life you will encounter women considered more symmetrical, feminine, fertile, striking, exotic, or timeless than you. Celebrate each one’s special beauty; identify with each other as different avatars of the same holy goddess.
Don’t hide yourself.
Not your coloring, not your taste, not your shape. Perfection isn’t just a myth; it’s a bad idea. Nature knows better, which is why she loves variety. So have fun accentuating choice features and experimenting with style, but trust that anything you don’t immediately like is part of your journey of self-love in its way, for its own reason.