Lent is a time to renew our commitment from Baptism, to reflect, begin anew, sort out things in our life that are junking it up or preventing us from being the kind of Catholic we are called to be. At least that’s the way I look upon Lent — it is rooted in conversion, turning our lives completely over to Christ and His way of life. This begs the question: what is impeding my ability to have a more faithful, Christ-centered life?
During past Lenten seasons, I’ve given up coffee, soda, gossip magazines, gum, candy and sweets, and nagging my husband (that was his favorite). One year, instead of giving something up, I donated two bags of food each week to a community action agency. All of these choices have been beneficial on many levels, but giving up make-up has been the hardest.
Here’s the thing. I love make-up. I’ve worn it since I turned twelve. It makes me feel prettier, better, more ready to face the day. In fact, I cannot head out to the grocery store for a forgotten gallon of milk without putting on ‘my face’ first. Without make-up, I feel insecure. And this is why I knew I HAD to give up make-up for Lent this year. There’s nothing wrong with make-up, really, but I definitely needed to go cold turkey. And so my no make-up journey began on Ash Wednesday, 2012.
Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart. — Kahlil Gibran
I teach third grade in a public school, and most of my students understand what Lent is. Although I didn’t go into a lot of detail, I was able to explain to my students why I wasn’t wearing make-up. Did I feel naked without it? Sure, especially at first. I was very nervous for the reactions of my co-workers and students, but everyone was very kind and supportive. In fact, probably the most frequent comment I received was, “You don’t look very different at all.” In my mind, I looked a LOT different; perhaps that’s one of the psychological tricks of the entire process. Just the act of putting something ‘on’ each day, covering up blemishes (real or perceived) is enough to mentally think that one looks drastically different with cosmetics. The rest of the world doesn’t seem to see it the same way. Distorted image? I think so. Perhaps even a bit narcissist. Yikes!
Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul. — Saint Augustine
In the time I would have spent putting on my make-up, I was able to get some extra sleep, read my daily devotional, and spend a few extra minutes with the kids before heading off to work. Parent-teacher conferences took place about halfway through Lent. In previous years, I would get all ‘dolled up’. I was that teacher, staking my claim in front of the bathroom mirror and plopping my over-flowing cosmetic bag down on the counter to whip out brush after brush for eyes, cheeks, lashes — as if some magic spell would wash over me and turn me into the confident person I wished I was. This year, though, I had to face each parent just as I am, without any help from make-up. Quite frankly, it scared me. Would they still think I’m a good teacher? Would they think I didn’t care enough about my job or conferences to even bother putting on a touch of make-up? Would they think I was ill? Would they notice the small patch of acne that developed on my jaw line just in time for conferences? No more running to the concealer for one last touch-up. My mantra became “I am who I am.” I had nothing to be concerned about except presenting the most accurate information in the most caring way possible to each of these parents. God accepts and loves me unconditionally, and I tend to be much harder on myself (as I think many women are). I prayed often, even small, short prayers in between conferences, for strength and self-acceptance.
I would be lying if I said this was such an uplifting and enlightening experience that I will never wear make-up again and live happily ever after, the end. I did learn a lot about myself and how stepping outside my comfort zone affects me. I certainly didn’t enjoy it, especially at first. What I did enjoy, however, was the confidence that came from knowing that I CAN be barefaced and still accept myself, be accepted by others, be at peace and content with all God has bestowed upon me. I am a mother, daughter, wife, friend, teacher, and child of God. For these blessings, I am so very grateful . . . makes mascara and lipstick seem a bit trivial. I must concede, though, that for something so ‘trivial’, it certainly pushed me into some pretty intense feelings, namely: discomfort, embarrassment, shame, guilt, and finally, acceptance and joy.
I wish all women would embrace the beauty that God has blessed us with. We were made forevermore in His image. How boring would this world be if we all looked like cover-girl models? We are beautiful for the love we share, the compassion with which we treat others, our intelligence, our ability to share our gifts with others, and oh so many things beyond our physical appearance. The media does not do us any favors in this regard. We are constantly bombarded with images of young, thin, tan, ‘perfect’ airbrushed women and encouraged to do whatever it takes to attempt to achieve this ourselves. The pressure is overwhelming, particularly for young girls. I guess the advice I’d most like to give women is to be thankful for the gifts God has given and always be true to your authentic self. Remember that our God is incredibly creative and intimately involved in shaping us into His exact idea of beauty. Trust me, it has nothing to do with mascara & lip gloss!
Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting. — Ralph Waldo Emerson