Getting REAL About Beauty.

WARNING: Lonnnngg post. Written for women. Statistic: In the United States alone, the beauty industry is worth over 60 billion dollars.

Every single day, women are bombarded with mixed messages about their appearance. While we are told that we need to look our best, we’re reminded not to focus too much on our looks. We’re told not to take beauty too seriously while also not ‘letting ourselves go’. We’re told to embrace aging, but on every billboard, commercial and magazine, we are sold products and procedures intended to turn back the hands of time.

It’s like we’re forced to walk this fine line between caring just enough and not caring too much and it’s a precarious balancing act we play with ourselves and the rest of the world and it is making us crazy. 

I know I’m not alone with all of this confusion, and today, I’d like to share my thoughts with you about appearance and beauty and authenticity because I’ve spent a long time trying to untangle them and then string them back together in a way that makes sense to me. Perhaps it will make sense to you, as well.

Here goes…

First, I believe our feelings about beauty and appearance are so complicated because our body image and our self image are so intimately tied together. 

Personally, I physically feel my best when I am taking care of myself—when I am exercising, sleeping, eating well, enjoying my relationships, practicing mindfulness, saying NO to people and projects that sap me of energy, deep breathing, and generally living a lifestyle I feel good about. And I feel good about it because of how good I feel. I wake up with energy, I feel optimistic about my life and I make choices that are aligned with my values.

When I feel my best, I also tend to look my best. My skin is brighter, my hair is shinier, my eyes sparkle and I generally just look better. Plus, when I’m feeling good, I smile. And smiling is just about the most attractive thing any one of us can do.

I think a lot of us are trying to buy the things that money can’t pay for. There is no surgery or procedure or cream that will replace a healthy lifestyle. And there is nowhere to buy happiness. That has to come from within.

There is also something to be said for accepting ourselves as we are. There is a freedom in it that can’t be bought. But what does it mean to accept ourselves as we are? I mean, most of us can agree that we wouldn’t leave the house without having a shower or brushing our teeth and our hair. What about putting on an outfit that makes us feel good because it fits us so well and is in style? Is that ok? Is anything more too much? What about wearing makeup? Is wearing makeup like “putting on a mask” or is it about highlighting our best features and having fun with color?

Last month, I spoke at a conference in NYC where our very first keynote speaker was the incredible Glennon Doyle Melton. Towards the end of her talk, she joked about being only 80% authentic. “The remaining 20% is Botox”.

I felt a lot of mixed emotions in that moment. First of all, it was funny. We all laughed. Then came scrutiny, because Glennon is known for her views, especially when it comes to women succumbing to societal pressures. She talks openly about how women mustn’t change themselves to suit society’s standards. Her admission about getting Botox felt confusing to me, and I wasn’t alone. I spoke with other women afterwards who felt the same way I did.

Glennon getting Botox made me want to get Botox. And it also made me not want to get Botox. And it made me think a lot about my feelings around the subject of beauty. I mean, I just want someone to tell me when the scale tips. Like, if I choose to wear makeup and have my hair colored, is that ok? Can I still be authentic if I do? And do we draw the line with plastic surgery because it’s invasive and permanent? Then, what about tattoos? They’re permanent. Are they ok? And what about fillers, because I see a LOT of plumped up lips on my Facebook and Instagram feeds. And then there’s Botox. Is it a harmless way to look refreshed? Or yet another way to admonish the natural aging process? 

Can authenticity and a desire to change my appearance co-exist? And, if so, how do I go about it?

Here is what all of my thinking and pondering and wondering led me to believe. I believe that if we are truly being authentic, then we will feel absolutely no shame about the choices we’re making to enhance or improve our appearance.

By sharing the truth, Glennon was being authentic in that moment. She didn’t pretend to have won some kind of beauty lottery that renders her forehead stationary. She didn’t try to hide it. Telling us about getting Botox aligned with her value of truth-telling. And as long as she’s got eyes wide open about why she’s doing it, and then has no shame in admitting it, then I see Glennon getting Botox as her empowered choice to make.

I believe it’s when we do things in secret that we stay stuck in this weird competition with one another and it contributes to the shame that keeps us mired under society’s pressure to look a certain way.

The way I see it, a big part of the problem is that we feel shame about what we are doing for beauty; and it’s the hiding and pretending that keeps us feeling bad about wanting to look good.

While there were certainly women in the crowd who believe that having Botox injections is unnatural and unnecessary and a waste of money and contributes to society’s warped view of what women are supposed to look like, I do believe G has eyes wide open about it.

But, more importantly, I realized that what she decides to do with her looks is none of my concern. I have no business judging her choices. And if I do judge them (because humans are naturally judgmental), that’s my business; not hers.

I think the point is that we ALL have to make choices that feel authentic for US.

We do.

Each of US.

No one else.

Only I get to decide what I want to do with my appearance.

I believe that if we are authentically showing up in our lives, in every way we can, then it shouldn’t matter to us what others think of our choices. Believe me, I don’t for a second think Glennon cares whether or not I agree with her choice to get Botox. And THAT is what makes it the right choice for her.

But I think it’s important to check in regularly. To make sure that we are doing the things we are doing out of a desire to self-improve; not to compete or compare.

People argue that society places an enormous amount of pressure on women to look a certain way, and while this is absolutely true, who will be able to change it?


Because if we say that it is society that puts so much pressure on us to look a certain way, then who is this “society”?

It is US!

And while we’re at it, can we please just stop putting so much focus on appearance in general?! I grew up believing that how I looked was the most important thing, and it has taken me years, decades even, to figure out that this is a lie.

A lie that I have perpetuated; as part of “society”.

We receive our earliest messages from our parents, which become our foundation, and in my home growing up, appearances were valued over feelings. It’s hard to admit that, but it is the truth. There was a lot of dialogue about weight and appearance and there was a tremendous focus on the way we all looked.

But as adults, we can choose to change our view. We don’t HAVE to feel all this pressure even living in the culture we live in.

Not if we don’t want to.

And I believe in G’s words, that our life’s work is about becoming the truest, most beautiful, most authentic version of ourselves. And I believe that doing so affords us the kind of freedom I think we’re all seeking.

For me, right now, as much as I might dream about a forehead free of wrinkles, I am not willing to inject Botox into my face. It doesn’t feel authentic to me. It feels like succumbing to the pressure society has placed on me and I am much more interested in learning how to embrace the aging process naturally. And when I read recently that Courtney Cox regrets all of the fillers and surgeries she’s had done, it reminds me that the pressure only wins if I succumb to it.

I am seeing posts on social media where women going makeup-free is being lauded as “brave”.

I understand this.

It does feel brave because of so many of us who were raised to put appearances over the truth, the pressure to always look “perfect” has been ingrained for as long as we can remember.

A woman I know wears absolutely no makeup. Ever. As in, never. Like, she doesn’t even own a mascara or a lipstick and yet she feels so incredibly comfortable in her own skin that wearing makeup would feel completely inauthentic to her.

Another friend of mine likes to wear makeup because she says, “It’s like painting on a canvas”. I love that.

My reality, at least for now, is that I like to wear makeup. I feel better when I have some on and I wouldn’t want to go to work or go on TV or head to a meeting or out for dinner with friends without wearing any. Wearing makeup doesn’t make me feel inauthentic; it makes me feel more like myself. I don’t feel like my makeup is a mask; I feel like it enhances my features and I enjoy playing with it.

That said, I’ve started going makeup-free more and more often. I no longer wear any to the gym and I don’t feel completely naked without it when I run in to grab a coffee or when I go out on a bike ride and stop somewhere for lunch. I’m changing. I’m getting more comfortable in my own skin and I’m pushing back on what society tells me I should do and I’m leaning in harder to what I want to do.

I’m breaking free.

The Bottom Line

There is so much more to life than our appearance! SO much more. I believe we place such a high priority on it because it distracts us from what’s really important. It’s easier to focus on our looks than to discover who we really are and what breaks our hearts and what makes us tick and what lights us up.

I believe the bigger work is getting to the root of who we are and accepting ourselves wholeheartedly. This doesn’t mean we can’t do things to change or enhance our appearance, but these changes need to stem from a place of self-love; not self-loathing. And for me, showing myself love starts with the way I treat myself–taking care of myself mentally, emotionally and physically.

And with all of this focus on appearance and self-acceptance, I have to say I’m encouraged every day! I see women owning their looks and embracing their uniqueness. I see women with amazing makeup and without any makeup at all. I see women sporting their own unique style, showing off a shaved head or funky colored hair or cool tattoos or a wild outfit. I LOVE seeing women expressing themselves… through the way they look.

But let’s get real.

If we’re changing our looks in secret; ashamed of what we’re doing and where we’re spending our time and money, then there is something systemically broken when we fear looking the way we look; aging the way we age; and being who we really are.

So let’s all band together and stop succumbing to the pressure of society because I have to tell you, society is changing; the pendulum is swinging back. More and more people (including celebrities like Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Courtney Cox) are realizing that society won’t change until WE change… because WE are THEY.

At the end of the day, I think what I have managed to do here is to remember that beauty is less about how we look and more about how we feel. If we are loving ourselves and truly accepting who we are, then enhancing our appearance should feel energizing, not draining. It should feel like fun and not a chore or something we are pressured by others into doing. And it should be something we feel proud of; not ashamed of.

Anytime we feel society pushing us one way, we have to recognize it as an opportunity to make our own choices. And the more we present the world with our real, authentic selves, the less pressure there will be to look or behave the way they want us to.

And we can find more freedom to be who we really are.

Because the world needs us that way.


Photo Credit: Natasha Villeneuve. Me. Forehead wrinkles and all.


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