This morning, my husband and I woke up before Ruby did and we just stared at her perfect little face – peaceful eyes with gently curled lashes, round rosy cheeks, cherry lips slightly open, adorable button nose moving subtly with each breath – framed by her perfectly curly auburn hair. “Even when you’re asleep, you waste so much of my time,” my husband said to the oblivious Ruby. I contemplate on how perfectly beautiful my daughter is and wish she won’t ever feel like she needs to change anything about herself.
Growing up, I’m not sure anyone felt that way about me, or at least let me know that. I never heard any of the adults around me say that I was beautiful or cute the way they remarked about my two other sisters. I remember always feeling awkward about my physical appearance and it didn’t help that I developed nearsightedness and had to wear glasses at about the same time my face was breaking out into pimples. One of my aunts said to me one time, “You should walk more gracefully. You’re not very pretty but at least you can be graceful.” I hated my chinky eyes that didn’t have the much prized upper eyelid crease (or “ting sun” in Chinese), my flat nose (described as “pango” in Tagalog), and my wiry hair that refused to look good whatever hair cut I try. Probably the only thing I liked about my body was that I never seemed to gain weight no matter how much I ate. I have concluded early on that I was unattractive and that was that.
I grew older, stretched, filled out, and changed. I received more compliments about my appearance. No remark though was more powerful than having someone fall deeply and madly in love with me, professing to love me exactly the way I am. This happened when I turned 20. Four years later, he broke off our relationship and I realized how fragile my self-esteem was. I needed change and wanted it quick. I splurged on a Php2,500 hair rebonding treatment (US$60). After about five hours, my unruly hair was transformed and became shampoo commercial-worthy: straight, bouncy and lustrous. Heads turned as I walked past, my gleaming tresses trailing behind me. I changed my wardrobe and started wearing fitted tops and long feminine skirts. I put on make-up. More heads turned and I coveted the attention.
Eventually I got tired. My hair started to look funny with frizzy dull hair growing from the roots while still straight and shiny at the ends. Did I have to rebond my hair every few months to maintain this look? Not only was that expensive and time consuming, but I also asked myself Why? Why go through all the trouble? Who was I doing it for? I admit there is a part of me that wishes I could bump into my ex- again so he could see how I’ve changed (kind of like, “See what you’re missing?”). And then there is a part of me that questions whether I got attention only because I looked according to what’s socially decreed as beautiful. Do I really want to hang out with a man who’s attracted to me because I looked a certain way? It sounds to me like being sentenced to a life of trying to maintain this look. I am reminded of a scene in a movie in which a woman quietly creeps out of the bed she shared with a man to put on make-up. She then hurries back to bed and pretends to be asleep. What a life!
Kat James, author of The Truth About Beauty: Transform Your Looks and Your Life from The Inside Out, wrote “Beauty is not about buying, applying, and doing all the “right” things. It is what remains in all of us once we lift away the burdens and stop the self-sabotage that prevents it from thriving.” Yes, the things we do to be “beautiful” are often burdensome. Consider the rule to never leave the house without make-up. Again, Why? Why don’t men have an equivalently burdensome rule? (and after having Ruby, I ask, Who has the time?).
Perhaps there is wisdom in my husband’s assertion that make-up (and I’ll use “make-up” as a shorthand for all other beauty treatments) is the new burqa, at least in the latter’s loose definition as something that women have to wear to cover themselves with before they appear in public. Make-up has become the lens through which other people (particularly men) see women, and celebrities are particularly vulnerable. How many of us would admit to gawking at photos of celebrities who look shockingly different when caught without make-up and their hair all over the place? Some women argue that they put on make-up not for men or for other women but for themselves. I would still say that by choosing to put on make-up, we are trying to project a certain image of ourselves – something that’s not naturally us. But that’s just me. Maybe the more important issue is how we feel about ourselves without make-up. Cynthia Bulik, author of The Woman in the Mirror: How to Stop Confusing What You Look LIke With Who You Are, says that if you “feel exposed, embarrassed, ashamed… there’s a good chance you’re hiding behind cosmetics.”
I gave up trying to change. I chopped off the rebonded hair and let my curly hair grow. One day, I discovered that if I apply a bit of mousse (or cream or oil) on my hair after a shower, my curls get defined and I actually had gorgeous hair! I used to hide it in a bun but now let my hair down. It was about this time when I gave up trying so hard to make myself look a certain way, when I have accepted and embraced the face and body that I have, that I met my husband-to-be. I knew his affection was genuine as I didn’t have any kind of mask on. He loves me “warts, farts and all.”
My regular beauty routine these days, if you could even call it that, consists of taking regular showers with toxic-free shampoo, conditioner and soap, putting something for my curls if I feel like letting my hair down, cutting my nails to a sensible work length, shaping my eyebrows with a blade, plucking what few armpit hair I might have if it’s summer, applying colorless lip balm on my lips and toxic free lotion/moisturizer (or coconut oil if I have a stash) on my skin if it’s winter. If I have to attend a special event, I put on a bit of blush, maybe tinted lip balm, and possibly eye shadow (all more than five years old – that’s how rarely I use them). The only jewelry I wear regularly are a white gold necklace, a pair of white gold earrings (both more than five years old), and my wedding band. I don’t own a pair of high heels, don’t ever intend to, and honestly don’t understand why women subject themselves to debilitating footwear reminiscent of foot binding in China.
I do indulge about once or twice a year on a Php70 (or US$1.7) feet cleaning in which my toe nails are scraped, cracked heels smoothed, and dry hard skin scrubbed off and an Php80 (or US$1.9) hair cut/trim. As far as beauty routines go, I indulge in enough sleep, lots of pure water, and fruits and vegetables. I often joke with my husband about how much money I save because I don’t buy any make-up products (read: mascara, concealer, foundation, face primer, face powder, eyebrow filler, eyeliner, highlighter, lipstick, lipliner, lip gloss, etc.), or any of the host of whitening or age-defying creams, toners, scrubs, tonics or masks. I don’t go for hair dyeing, facials, tans, waxes, manicures or pedicures.
Kat James also wrote that “Beauty comes not of obligatory self-maintenance but of joyful self-creation.” It is my hope that Ruby will be inspired by her mommy and will rejoice in the beauty that’s naturally hers, that needs absolutely no maintenance, and that shines through and takes its unique shape as she becomes.
Check out the Naked Face Project.