A layered conversation.

layered | kourtney thomas fitness

I have never been much of a make-up gal. For most of my life, I have worn mascara nearly every day, but that’s it.

I had slightly troubled skin in my youth, so I didn’t wear any kind of foundation or powder or whatever other stuff people put on their faces (Blush? Bronzer? Are those things?). Couple that with the fact I had no idea how to apply all of the various layers and steps that go with a “full face,” and I just didn’t. I went through phases of shimmery eyeshadow and even liquid eyeliner, but for the most part, it’s been mascara and chapstick.

The mascara has been a constant though.

For whatever reason, and through no specific experience I can pinpoint in my memory, I have always felt that I look like a little boy with no mascara. I am incredibly self-conscious about it, and historically have felt very unpretty when not wearing it. In fact, it’s been years since I’ve spent any regular time, especially in public, without mascara.

Until last year.

I had LASIK surgery in March, and part of the recovery requirement is no eye make-up. It was only for a month or something, but it was part of the deal. And it was a part of the deal that shook me up more than I thought it would. Like, I had to sign a waiver that I could go blind or die, and the thing I’m worried about is not wearing mascara for a month.

At first, I struggled. I would stare at myself and feel like my face was naked, too bare. Weird. Not ugly, not pretty. Plain. Boring. I was clearly going down the rabbit hole of my conditioning around traditional feminine beauty standards.

And as soon as that month rolled around, I grabbed my eyeliner and mascara and swathed my lids and lashes in it. Just in time too. “Lucky for me,” I thought, as I headed to a women’s fitness conference. “If this was two weeks ago, I would have had to show my face in front of all my friends with no mascara!” As if that were the end of the world.

And it’s not the end of the world, and I know that. I knew it then, and I especially know it now. But as they say, old habits die hard. The stories we learn in our youth take a long time to rewrite, no matter who’s doing the writing. In this instance, it was partially myself, and partially a society that continues to preach the importance of a certain beauty ideal for all women. Not only that, but if you don’t buy into that, you immediately fall into the hot mess/she doesn’t take care of herself/have any pride in her appearance category. How shameful a woman should step outside the house – or really, out of bed! – sans makeup.

It’s an uncomfortable should for me. Again, I never took it even to a “full face,” but I held onto that mascara as the one crutch that made me a worthwhile woman. This makes me pretty. This makes me feminine. This shows the world that I care.

But here’s the thing: I don’t care. I do not care for make-up. And I especially do not care for the requirement that I wear it.

I do not care for the external judgment (from men and women) that comes with choosing whether to wear make-up, or not. Or the subsequent internal judgment that grows out of that. Because that’s another thing – it is a 100% individual choice. I’m growing tired of the expectations that we should all choose the same things for ourselves. If you want to wear mascara and I don’t, that is completely amazing. I don’t believe that make-up, or no make-up, defines us as women, so why does it feel like such a rebellion if I don’t do this one thing, meet this particular expectation?

After I went through that immediate relief in my jump back into mascara post-LASIK, I began to feel oddly, and surprisingly, meh toward it. In one month’s time, I had already grown to enjoy not having to use make-up remover and constantly be cleaning up raccoon eyes. I went some days with, some days without, and started to like how I looked both ways, but to prefer mascara-free. Within a few weeks, I was choosing naked eyes with a freedom I had never felt since I started wearing it when I was twelve.

This is not to say I was always comfortable looking at my own face in the mirror.

That doesn’t happen in a matter of weeks, after a lifetime of avoiding it. It’s a story far too deeply ingrained in my bones to unravel immediately. The same as telling someone to “just love your body!” – it feels insurmountable to all of a sudden decide that you’re completely comfortable with something you’ve been told for so long you shouldn’t be. It won’t happen overnight. Self-love takes practice.

Over the last year, I have practiced. I have gone most days without mascara, and I think I threw out my eyeliner. I take lots of selfies and look at them frequently. Somehow, the mirror and a frozen image are different, tell different stories. But they’re helping me work through my stuff. And sure enough, practicing love for my bare face is turning out to be hugely positive. This one thing, not wearing mascara, is having a big impact on my overall self-image and self-confidence, owning my look, and writing a new story of what I consider beautiful, for myself.

Just recently, nearly one year after the LASIK surgery, I went to another event with many of the same people who were in attendance at the one right after the surgery, where I immediately added my mascara back into the rotation. This year, I left my mascara at home.

I won’t even try to lie and say that I felt super awesome about it, no problems or insecurities at all. But I did feel like, well, this is me. These are my friends. And honestly, if anyone even notices whether or not I wear mascara is up for debate anyway. I’m going to be fine.

I was fine.

I was better than fine. And in fact, the topic came up among a few of us. This whole idea of putting on a face and curling hair and crafting a look, for ourselves, for pictures, for partners, for public – turns out, quite a few of us are struggling with our feelings on the subject. Working through our various comfort levels, redefining our own expectations, embracing our very own faces.

As my friend Jen summarized so perfectly, “It takes a while to recalibrate.”

And that’s a very interesting conversation to have. I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the fact that it’s still so uncomfortable in so many ways, but I like having it anyway. The more I learn and grow as a woman every day, every year, the more I enjoy uncovering these things, having new kinds of deeper conversations, choosing for myself and constructing my own vision of what I want to look like and how I want to feel – and respecting so much more the same in every other woman I meet.

Ultimately, it’s a layered conversation. We’re talking cultural conditioning. Self-love and acceptance. Respecting choices. Judgement of self and others. Confidence. Empowerment. Autonomy. It may seem like it should be simpler than that – it’s just make-up – but as we well know, it doesn’t work out that way as a woman. There are always layers.

But for me, the layers are where it’s at. And as bumpy as it is to work through them, not layering on the coats of mascara anymore? Is where it’s at (for me) too.

You can always continue this layered conversation with me each week via email. Or, personally. What do you think?

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