When I was a sophomore in college it was the early 2000s and arguably one of the WORST fashion decades of all time. Velour track-suits, flared yoga pants, handkerchief tops and trucker hats filled the rafters of techno clubs and classrooms. It was a dreadful period, one that makes me cringe in utter shame when I think back to my own questionable wardrobe. Prior to a night on the town I'd never eat past 11am (that is, when I was up before noon) because my abs, which were always exposed (thanks, Britney!), needed to be flat as possible and all the fast food or canned soup I favored wouldn't allow for this. I'd need at least two hours to get ready and anything less than that would not suffice. To perfect just one smokey eye I'd need thirty minutes tops. I washed my hair every time to cheat maximum volume with a thin/fine mane which required blowing it dry, flat-ironing, and finishing each strand with a curling iron or hot rollers for luster. Two and a half hours later I was ready to get dressed. I'd slip on some stringy excuse for a top and a tiny skirt, adjust my two bras (yes, TWO. Because one just didn't give the girls nearly the cuppage I so desperately wanted), douse myself in perfume and out the door I went. This was the norm in 2003 for a twenty-one year old. A young woman, no longer a girl yet still not a woman, just trying her damnedest to find herself and break a few hearts or egos along the way. Now, 10+ years later, that unknowingly-insecure little lady is like an old friend that I once barely knew, someone I'd grab a drink with on occasion but a girl I just never made an honest effort in remaining close.
That young soul would finally make peace with her bra size (now I wish they were smaller. funny how that happens), swapped a smokey eye for just a coat of black mascara, traded her miniskirts in for Levi's and even actually put the hot hair tools in storage, making a rare appearance maybe once a year. And you know what? Cliches aside but pure honesty here--I feel far prettier today than I ever did then. Even on my worst days. It took a ton of mishaps, constructive criticism, revolving styles, and loads of self-trust to realize all that false advertisement was only hindering instead helping me. I concluded that the guy who preferred all that excess wasn't the guy that I was naturally attracted to. I wanted a man that didn't really understand makeup or how it all worked. Eventually he'd see the "real" me and, well, that could be catastrophic. Also, I was constantly embarrassed by the tan rings and skid marks I was leaving behind on everything my face came into contact with. It was like Death Becomes Her, and I couldn't go anywhere without my spray-paint for emergency patchwork which seemed impossible to escape. Even though I wouldn't dare leave the house without all of my protective armor, secretly I envied and crushingly admired those peers who regularly waltzed about au naturale, free and glowing without a care in the world wether their boobs were symmetrical or if their lipgloss was intact. On the outside I appeared stylish and confident but on the inside I felt ugly and tired. A slave to the Maybelline masks and VS Miracle Bras I so aptly hid behind. I look back at old photos and see a prettier albeit heavily powdered, thinner, tanner (terribly so) girl than I ever gave myself credit for. Ah, the trials of young adulthood and the woes of adopting humility and self-appreciation. It wouldn't happen overnight, but yes, I grew into myself and into "me". I still feel the need to throw on a bit of blush and mascara before showing my face in public but this is a far cry from the masterful art strokes I used to apply for hours. I'd really like to have whiter teeth, fuller brows and a tighter ass. I've regularly experimented with contouring and hair colors, and I'm admittedly guilty of taking a duck-faced selfie or two for all of my [very few] Instagram followers to loathe. Normal, right? Compared to the rest of the Instagram world today I hardly feel criminal about any of this.
Contouring to highlight one's best features is one thing, but what is with these human(?) Bratz Dolls invading our modern world, and more importantly--why do so many women deem it direly necessary to function. There are hours-long makeup tutorials on YouTube, Venmo and beyond instructing anyone [that hates their natural face] how to achieve Drag Queen status and charging hundreds of dollars in the process. Lilly Ghalichi comes to mind immediately. The mogul has solidified a serious career with every Persian-Barbie-esque-inch of her big fake hair, fake boobs, lashes and everything in-between. She's so "perfect" she hardly looks human. Perhaps that's the point?.. Massive props to her and her smart entrepreneurial ways, no one can deny her self-made success, that's for sure. But just the other day I was Insta-scrolling when I happened upon one of her daily contouring tutorials and it seriously made me ponder--wouldn't slipping on a mask be easier and less messy? Lilly is gorgeous, no doubt. Even still, I can't help but wonder if she actually believes that too. Extreme self-distortion is a certified sign of deep insecurity. Take Kim K. & Kylie J. These sisters/reality stars have been open about their insecurities in the past, with Kylie feverishly enhancing her lips and Kim enhancing, well, everything (allegedly). Both beauties are also main players in the contour--makeup game with sold-out cosmetic lines and even waist trainers. Just watching one of those makeup lessons is both fascinating and terrifying. What starts out as a streaky, painted clown reveals an airbrushed mannequin ready for her close-up. Do these women get to kiss anyone, actually hug someone they love or do they walk around with an invisible cone around their head, ready to behead any personal space offender with their 2.55 Chanel bag? I'm sorry, there are days I'd love to look like a porcelain doll too but foregoing real kisses is no way to live. But hey, ultimately it's all about how you feel. And if shellacking your face and body into a most unrealistic robot helps you achieve inner peace then by all means, faux yourself to your heart's content. I wouldn't change a thing about Dolly Parton. Not a damn square inch of her. But then again, Dolly is built for the stage and entertaining and therefore she's long had her schtick down. And she's damn fabulous at it too. This is also why Drag Queens are so astonishing. They have managed to transform their entire face and body into another gender entirely, beautifully so, specifically for the stage, the theater and to entertain. Why should women or men then feel the need to disguise their real selves just to grab a coffee, or even for a damn jog? It's become so prevalent today, so misused that I really can't see an end in sight. Before we know it, masks are the norm and natural is completely out. I just think we're once again hurting ourselves, our society and younger generations by believing we aren't good enough. Sure, none of us should settle for subpar personal achievements yet we could and should strive to be our very best, prettiest selves inside and out. But conforming into someone else entirely and wholly rejecting the faces and bodies we're destined to have is really just downright sad, and dangerous.
One of the biggest surprise acknowledgements I've ever convinced myself to accept is that people have almost always preferred the real me over the overdone me. You, too, might actually like the person hiding behind the costume. I can guarantee you the rest of the world sure would.