“There’s a part of me that likes shoes, and likes dresses, and likes makeup, and likes books, and likes to write. I think that’s the case for many women. But our culture makes us think we have to choose slices of ourselves that we’re comfortable showing the world.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
As often happens, our family dinner conversation took a strange turn. We were discussing cultural grooming practices. “Female shaving has been used historically to keep women in a visually infantile and docile state.” This is the kind of statement I will pick up from my colleagues and deliver to my critical, rowdy audience of three as we dine on soup and applesauce. My 11-year-old son immediately slapped palm to forehead. “Geez, Mom! Then you might as well be upset that I can run around without a shirt but Lila can’t.” Clearly, my message was received.
We have heard a great deal about women and feminism in the news of late. The media has highlighted concerns of “how we will explain things to our daughters.” Women have also been making waves in the entertainment industry. In a stunning display of natural beauty, Alicia Keys released a new album with her makeup-free face gracing the cover. Her #nomakeupmovement has taken social media by storm. In “Time to Uncover,” her essay for the website Lenny, she explores her epiphany:
“’Cause I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.”
It is a message of empowerment and newfound self-awareness.
I rarely wear makeup myself. It is actually more noteworthy to document days that I do take the time to prep my face for an audience. My hair is only further proof of my unbecoming. My mane is long, unruly and usually in need of a good shampooing but can be pulled together in a big beautiful mess on top of my head. I spend about 80% of my life in workout clothes. If success was based on dress, I would be a sorry disappointment. So, it would be hard to not draw parallels to my life.
But I don’t think Keys’s message stops at her clean, unfiltered face. She has stripped down her walls of protection and is showing her truth: the good, the bad, and the ugly (although I have yet to see anything ugly about her). She has realized the infinite power that comes from learning to listen to herself. She is not going to let society or industry expectations dictate her choices. Her transformation represents ownership and a deliberate seizing of power.
In an article for New York Magazine, Stella Bugbee reflects upon Hillary Clinton’s choice to show her face sans makeup at a post-election press conference after months of wearing a calculated, political mask and hairstyle:
“Obviously, liking lipstick doesn’t disqualify us from participating in feminism or having a career — and it certainly doesn’t distract us from our work or the important issues of the day […]. But there is no denying the power and freedom in rejecting vanity.”
Power and freedom seem to be an emerging theme. Choice and individual preference rise over societal, cultural, or political expectations.
I am not advocating for women to stop shaving or wearing makeup. I am, however, advocating that we stop and consider what drives our choices. Rosie Molinary, friend and author of Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance, goes as far as to say, “Beauty standards are a political issue. If you are obsessed, you are oppressed.”
When I am rushing to get dressed and groomed for a day at work, and my 9-year-old daughter says, “Mom, you care too much what people think,” I feel the need to explain myself. How do I show her young, impressionable mind that it is my choice to look a certain way in my career? I choose to dress in a particular manner when teaching in the classroom, but in most of life, or when I coach at our CrossFit affiliate, I choose a natural look. I consider myself to be a multi-faceted person with many roles, and I am okay showing different sides of myself. It does not necessarily imply that I am hiding my true self in my professional life.
It is incredibly tempting to just toss my makeup and throw scarves over my untamed locks in solidarity with Alicia, all the while belting out, “This girl is on FIY-AH,” but personal grooming preferences are just scratching the surface. The ways I choose to execute my power and freedom should be visible in the fabric of my everyday life. “Just because” or “That is how we have always done it,” simply do not suffice as responses for how we live our lives. I must demand more of myself.
For now, I will continue to shave my legs and occasionally wear makeup because that is my choice. It is not necessary for my legs to look like my dad’s in order to pull off some grand gesture of feminism. But I will try to be present and pay better attention to the motivations driving my day to day decisions. I can begin by examining the framework surrounding my role as a woman in our current culture. There is no shortage of issues beckoning analysis. I’m with you, Alicia. Let’s uncover some truth.