I REALLY had to put on my big-girl pants for this week’s #plotdrivenlife experience, but first, let me share a book that had me thinking about its message long after I finished it: Dhonielle Clayton’s, The Belles:
In the fantastical land of Orleans, Camellia Beauregard is a Belle, one of a select few girls born with the ability to beautify the population. Without the intervention of a Belle, every person–even royalty–reverts to a natural “cursed” state of pale skin, grey hair and colorless eyes: the definition of ugly. Only the wealthy can afford regular Belle treatments– painful procedures that must be repeated on a regular basis to maintain one’s beauty.
Strong-willed Camellia is determined to outshine her Belle sisters to be hand-selected by the queen to serve as the official royal Belle, known as “the favorite.” When she’s named the runner-up, Camellia is devastated, believing she failed her mother who, herself, served as the favorite. When Amber, her Belle sister, mysteriously vanishes from the palace and Camellia is put in her place, Camellia doesn’t know what to think. Should she be happy she realized her dream? Or fear for Amber’s safety? Camellia soon realizes one of the royals is unstable and will destroy anyone–Belle or not– who gets in the way of her plans to be queen. When the ailing queen approaches Camellia with a plea to use her Belle powers in an unconventional way, Camellia must decide if it’s worth risking her own life.
This book made me weigh the value of beauty in our society and got me thinking about what lengths we are, as a society, willing to go to look beautiful. Will future governments put restrictions on what procedures we can and can’t undergo to look a certain way? Or will advancements in genetics allow us to choose the way our children look? This is a great book to start discussion about the the concept of beauty and the pressure to look beautiful. The author also includes an interesting note at the end of the book about what sparked her idea for this story.
As I mentioned earlier, the Belles kept me thinking about our obsession with beauty long after I finished the book. My original idea for a #plotdrivenlife experience inspired by this book was to do something fun and inconsequential: put notes in helium balloons and release them, inspired by the “post balloons” that the people of Orleans can magically send to one another. As I thought more about our societal obsession with beauty, though, I decided on a more meaningful and much more scary #plotdrivenlife experience to honor The Belles: I went a whole week without wearing a stitch of make-up.
Now let me put this into perspective for you because if you are a young person reading this post, you probably know that the current beauty trend is to look natural. Messy hair, bare faces and comfy clothes are “in” right now, and I think that’s absolutely fantastic. In fact, I’ve been an admirer of Alicia Keys and her decision to wear no/limited make-up since 2016 (read her powerful message about going “raw” here). I know in my heart that no person should feel like he/she has to wear a mask every day to look beautiful or fit in. So if you’ve embraced this natural trend, or if you’ve never cared to wear make-up, you’re probably thinking I’m a big baby for being scared by the idea of going without make-up for a week.
Here’s the thing, though: I grew up in a family of women who don’t let anyone see them until they have their “faces on.” I don’t think I EVER saw my Nanny without make-up and perfectly coiffed hair, and my mom will still sometimes apologize to me if I FaceTime her early in the morning and she has yet to do her make-up and hair. The women in our family typically rise early to go through their morning beauty routines before anyone else can see them. They don’t go to their mailboxes (attached to their houses, no less) without fully made up faces. They don’t go to the grocery store, the doctor’s office or out for coffee without their make-up masks. So, for me, this has always been normal and pre-programmed behavior. As a result, it was especially brave of me to consider going to school every day to teach the wrinkle-free, fresh-faced youth of America who had never seen me without concealer, powder, blush, eye-shadow, eye-liner, pencil-lined brows, mascara, and bronzer applied to my face. Add to this fact that my face is rounder because I’m seven months pregnant, and, well, I dreaded the idea of going a whole week unfiltered. However, my goal in tackling this experience was to attempt to be comfortable in my own skin and challenge the idea that I need to wear a make-up mask every day to hide my real self.
To highlight how uneasy this whole experience made me, I’m sharing with you a graphic that made me so uncomfortable to create that I walked away from it a couple of times. Here’s me, during my no make-up week, with some of my own commentary on what I don’t like about my face. And readers, it’s scary to me how quickly and easily I came up with all of these criticisms:
Day one without make-up was rough. Walking in to school in the morning, I thought about making a run for the door and calling in sick. Seriously. I wore my glasses instead of my contacts in the hopes they would hide my deep under-eye circles and my tiny, unlined eyes. I expected my fellow staff and my students to point and laugh at me, or ask why I looked so tired. I expected them to look longer at my face because they could clearly now see right through me and realize how flawed I actually am. But, you know what happened? No one said a thing. I taught a bunch of classes, had face-to-face conversations with staff and even visited another school to talk to students about my blog, and no one questioned my value, my professionalism, or my appearance. No one. And by day seven, while in a public place, Mike told me I had a wild blonde whisker growing out of my face, and I shrugged and said I’d get it later. That, my friends, is progress!
So while I’ll go back to wearing make-up to work next week because I feel more professional wearing it, I won’t be so hesitant to go bare-faced on weekends, and I am beginning to accept that my worth isn’t tied to my appearance. Here’s a powerful ad from Dove that ran a few years ago that supports that idea that we view ourselves so much more critically than others. This would be an awesome experiment to try with students to help them see how beautiful they really are.
Could you go a week without make-up?