Thoughts on Beauty and Vanity

At a recent school auction, I was complimented by a fellow mom of my hair and makeup. The compliment bloomed into a discussion about beauty and vanity -- sadly more about beauty as vanity. It was a that moment I said something to her that I've always kept for myself

"... I'm turning 40 this year, isn't it about time that I can do my own hair and makeup?"

The idea of having hair and makeup done as vanity is truly unfortunate. It is a miss-opportunity. In this part of the country, no-makeup makeup is de rigeur. So, when I came to the function with my hair and makeup -- which consisted of a simple at-home blow out, a red lip, and a little shimmer on the eye -- I was quite done up.

Actually, it was nothing extraordinary that I did. Yet, I've gotten comments when I do so. Sometimes, I see women my age or even older with somewhat awkwardly-put makeup, on an occasion when makeup is expected, that I wish I could lend a little advice on them, "try a bronzy-brown liner on your blue eyes instead of teal," "that tawny, too-bronzed blush on your peaches-and-cream skin ages you -- try a rose instead," "a bit bolder on the shadow, just use a matte one instead of shimmer." Or more poignantly, I would come across someone who poke fun at those who are able to use a blow-dryer/curling iron/eye lash curler/mascara, while I think that very simple, doomed-to-be-vapid skill would bring out her natural beauty front and center.

Growing up with a post-WWII grandma and a feminist-at-the-height-of-its-movement mom, I've seen both sides of the ideals. I come to a conclusion that there is no such thing as a balance between primping and being a woman. It is the whole package. As women, or men for that matter, we all have the privilege and the responsibility to take care of our physical form in this life. Presenting the best version of myself to the world is far from frivolous or vapid, it is a life-affirming act I do everyday. As such, it is not vain to acquire skills to improve my appearance -- just as it is not vain to learn how to do yoga, running, swimming, playing tennis in order to enjoy life and to maintain one's health, or even to brush teeth, get a hair cut, or shave. If these things are done as maintenance and improvement on physical self, why should doing makeup or hair be any different? Being able to present one's best physical appearance does not diminish one's accomplishment, point of view, experience, skills, education, status, etc. How could the daily act of brushing teeth daily diminish the value of a human being?

If the idea of using a pair of tweezer or blow-dryer or mascara or eye lash curler scared you to death, or makes you giggle with unease, now is the time to give them a chance. These seemingly superficial act of putting makeup and doing hair can be transformed into a mindful act of self-respect and respect to other. Sure, there are plenty of days I go barefaced, but it hardly comes from the "who cares, who gives a damn" attitude. Whenever humanly possible, each moment presents itself as an opportunity to show up and I choose to show up by being my best-self version.


  1. I think it is resolutely UN-womanly to declare that to be appropriate one has to conform to one standard of beauty or risk the wrath of society calling one vain.

    That even women are ingrained to declare that another woman's makeup or hair preference is unseemly hews closely to a highly unfeminist ideal that we must stick to someone's else's standard. There are things I think are more or maybe less approparite in certain settings, but aside from that, if I want to primp because I want to make sure I present the best of myself, naysayers can just suck it! My body (or my face or hair), my rights!

    1. I agree.. I feel, as a mom -- even to a boy -- I feel an obligation to present my own ideals of being a woman and to support other's ideals of beauty. A little girl in the Tod's class mentioned where the Tod got HIS sparkly nail polishes -- my 3-year-old loves his nail polishes, the sparklier the better. Well, I was equally thrilled to show her mine (a sparkly sampling from recent Sephora trip).
      Wouldn't life be richer if everyone are able to present their own ideal beauties without much negative commentary one way or the other?

  2. I have much to say on this topic, but in short, I wholeheartedly agree with you. When I talk to people about my blog and its topic, I immediately see them starting to judge my hobby and my appearance. Even more ridiculous, when I worked in retail (a salon and beauty store), I was often asked about my nails for example, and when I said they were natural and I painted them at home, I would get looks of the 'cut the crap' variety, even though I was speaking the truth. I guess that's an unintentional compliment, but I couldn't understand why I would be judged both for not looking perfect in some situations, but in others also for having something that to some looked too perfect.

    1. Funny how it goes both way, doesn't it? As I mentioned before, it's time that all of us support each other's beauty ideals, whatever it may be. I think part of it is by being comfortable in our own's skin -- comments such as those will cease when we all feel comfortable and accepting of our own and other's ideals. Thanks for stopping by!