“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but can you put some of the bags back under my eyes?” I joked with the photographer as, with the click of a mouse, he removed spots, smoothed creases and erased shadows. I asked him if this program is what the pros use too. “Oh no,” he said, “for the big time stuff they go even more detailed. It’s almost pore by pore.” “Well no wonder we all have fucked up body images!” I laughed. I’m used to seeing my face without makeup now, but something about putting that same face under professional lighting and presenting it as art made me notice every tiny flaw.
We are so used to seeing altered photos that the real thing is startling. My face provides a map of my past, every emotion that has flashed across its features tells the story of what I’ve been through. Years of experience, smiles, screams and ugly cries all shaped the contours of my skin. Do I want my history erased? Maybe I don’t want my shadows removed. I worked hard to finally face them, to accept them, and I’m working on embracing them. Then again, I did look damn good in some of those after pics… Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally happy with how I look. We all have our insecurities of course, and over the last ten years I feel I’ve been going through a slow and steady journey towards self-acceptance. It started long ago, perhaps many lifetimes, and was re-ignited in this life when my mom died. She was my cheerleader, my comfort, my coach. After she left her body, I had to find all that within myself. At first I gave up and built more walls and shields around me. Little by little, I’ve been uncovering myself again. In doing so, I’ve often wondered what was covering it all up in the first place. The yoga tradition gives us an answer: Maya. You often hear that Karma’s a bitch, but she just gives you back what you dish out. Maya is the real trickster. This veil of illusion causes us to mistake a false projection for our true inner self. The more we identify with these external constructions—our possessions, our bodies, our thoughts, our egos—the further away we get from our Truth, Soul, Divinity, Inner ‘Badass Just the Way We Are’ Self. Maya comes in forms large and small, overt and subtle. Some say the entire universe of which we are aware is Maya. I realized I needed to make friends with Karma’s prettier, and more insidious, sister.
I used to wear make up every day. I worked in a corporate environment and felt somewhat obligated to put my ‘best face forward.’ More than that though, I was going through a season of insecurity, doubt and questioning. My inner world felt confusing and chaotic. I was the black sheep of the office, the weird liberal vegan girl who does yoga and pilates at lunch. Make up was the mask I painted on every day to fit in and hide myself. I want to be clear that I’m not dissing anyone who chooses to wear makeup. I’m just saying that for me at that time, it wasn’t a fun, healthy way to express myself. I didn’t enjoy doing it and I did it to appease other people, not myself. After quitting my desk job and transitioning into teaching yoga, I wore less make up but still felt the need to wear some. I can remember the day when my most recent ex told me sincerely, “You don’t need make up. You’re beautiful without it.” I’m sure I’d heard those words before, but partly because of the work I had done in therapy, partly because of yoga, partly because of her love for me (which I’m grateful for, even though the relationship is no longer) I finally believed it. And I started leaving the house naked. At least, that’s how it felt at first to expose my bare skin to the world with no barrier. The funny thing is, I don’t think anyone even noticed. I realized that I hadn’t really been hiding from anyone else, I had been hiding from myself. The sleepless nights couldn’t be covered up anymore. I couldn’t ignore too much wine, too much sugar, too much stress. It was all there written on my face. Instead of plastering over it with concealer, I opted to reveal. I shone light into the darkness that was causing me to abuse myself in those ways. I owned up to the fact that the relationship I was in wasn’t right. I owned up to the fact that these microaggressions against myself were a subtle form of self-harm, even though I hadn’t put a razor blade to my skin in years. I’ve started to own up to the fact that I am not always nice, that not everyone will like me, and that those are both ok. It’s been interesting getting used to the idea of being single again. At first there was a knee jerk reaction to start wearing the mask again, put the make up back on, act in a certain way so I would be attractive to a mate. Thankfully I’m aware of Maya’s little tricks and I’m better equipped to ignore them. Sure, there are days when I feel like wearing make up, and I do. There are times it’s fun to dress up and play a part, as long as I’m aware that it is just that–a part of me, not all of who I am. Deep down I know who I really am, and no concealer or digital brush will change that.