My Decidedly UnSexy Makeup for the Monologues

The good news: I'm on the cover of the Emory Wheel! I'm the one in red and black, onstage.

The Emory Wheel 2/21

This is how it looked up close:

In the bathroom, putting on ageifying makeup with Angelle Tanner.
Yeeeeaaaah. Oo, sexy.

I'm front and center with a large part of the cast. Aren't they lovely?
The bad news: I was on the cover of the Emory Wheel... looking like that.

But it's OK. It would have been a whole other story if I had been trying to look cute, but sure enough, my wearing the "mask" of being someone else gave me the leeway not to care about how "beautiful" Lauren looked.

I spend a lot of my time, day to day, talking about "the problem." Sometimes it's heresy (that's in Christian History class) or divine wrath (in Old Testament class); other times, it's homelessness, or homophobia, or lack of funding to pay social workers, teachers and cops a decent salary and what that says about our values as a country. I think about the issues associated with the market economy (in Markets, Justice and Christian Ethics class) or with the impossibility of personal actualization in a system which keeps us from defining ourselves independent of what the advertising industry inundates us with (in Morality in American Life). I consider steps towards solving problems that are part of modern life, so ingrained in our collective souls that we don't even see them until we're in pain. For example, I didn't think about just how much I relied on my youth and "beauty" to define myself until I perceived myself losing it.

As you might expect, I also spend a lot of time fighting the hopeless feeling that the problems are too huge, and I am too small and powerless, to ever solve or even ameliorate them. No one listens to some grad student living in Atlanta with no money or powerful friends, and do I shape public policy? Pff. Please. I can't change "the problem." So what's the point?

I have little to no control over the world... but I have control over myself.

I have daily conversations about this with lots of women, and at least as many with men, and all of them, down to the last one, have been affected in some way by this project. No one hears about it and is totally bored-- at worst, they tilt their heads and go, "Huh. That's interesting." Women love to talk about what a pain in the ass it is to have to look cute all the time, or how they stopped caring through some life-changing event, or how they could never, ever, leave the house without foundation, and why that is. Men tell me how much more they like women who don't wear makeup (I mean, like, a lot of men), and how sexy it is when a woman walks around with nothing but confidence on her face. Some women have even begun to question their own habits, and one of two have joined me for a day or so at a time to see what it feels like. My choice to change has made other people think about their assumptions, and I can't tell you how gratefully I feel about that.

There's a huge, stupid, oppressive beauty standard and attendant industry in Western culture that insists that youth, long hair, white teeth, and a tiny waist are the ultimate goals in life, and I can't change what the masses think. But what I've done in TME has been like a billboard advertising an alternative way of moving through the world as a woman... and I can certainly see why many women, religious and otherwise, choose to do so.


The Oppression of Sexual Violence

As you may have guessed by now, my interest in TME is really about awareness of oppression of women, in whatever form it comes. Tonight, I'll be onstage in an all-proceeds-go-to-charity event designed to raise awareness and money for the support of groups committed to the protection of women:

The Vagina Monologues at Emory

Contrary to popular belief, this show is not just a bunch of random women getting up and talking about their individual vaginas, nor is it a bunch of man-hating rhetoric or self-indulgent whining. It's the culmination of years of interviews, writing and work by Eve Ensler, who compiled this play in order to address the oppression of women as it appears in the guise of fear of the vagina. "Vagina," in this context, is analogous to a woman's sense of self, safety, and sexuality. In The Vagina Monologues the audience (and the actors, really) learn things they never knew while laughing hysterically, and in the cases of many women I've seen the show with, will be cheering at least once during the show. (Unless you have no soul.)

Fun+Learning+All Proceeds to Charity = YOU NEED TO BE THERE.

Trust me, you'll have a great time. Really. If you don't, you can comment on this blog and slam me until your fingers fall off.


"How do you feel?"

Ahhhh. Sermon is done, and I survived this past week (more or less, if you don't count the short paper I totally spaced on). So now I have some more time to spend catching up on TME, and I can tell you how I really feel about all this.

This coming week, I have rehearsals every night for The Vagina Monologues. I'm performing, "The Flood," a story about an old lady (75-ish) who is so alienated by her first sexual experience that when it's over, she "closes the whole store." It's sad and funny, and because I'll be onstage I've had to consider whether or not to wear makeup-- stage makeup, of course. The purpose is to make my features visible, and in this case the point will be to make me look much older. This made the decision to wear makeup easier: I'm not trying to look beautiful. I'll be wearing a thick layer of foundation and contouring my cheeks so that they look saggier, and making my lips look smaller. Also, it won't be "me" onstage, it's not "Lauren." It's an old lady who's never told anyone about the most humiliating experience of her life-- so this will have nothing to do with my identity.

The Vagina Monologues on Creative Loafing!

Speaking of which, I would like to say for the record: this project has been one of the best things I've ever done for myself. When I had to preach my sermon on the 4th I wore makeup:

This picture is courtesy of Candler Theological Seminary. All rights reserved. In other words, don't re-use it, or get ready to receive a lot of letters from a troupe of lawyers.
You know what? I felt less beautiful with makeup on. Really. I looked in the mirror before the sermon and saw what was wrong with my face, how my blemishes weren't covered. I constantly worried about whether I was wearing enough lip color; I was back, in one fell swoop, to wondering what I didn't have as opposed to accepting what I did. The chapel is naturally lit with windows in the ceiling, and somehow, I felt self-conscious about peely skin and clumpy mascara showing up in the bright sunlight.

I think that I felt this way not because makeup makes me less beautiful, but because when I go natural I don't feel like I'm communicating that I want to look different than I already do. When I'm wearing makeup, in a way I'm inviting people to appraise my appearance. When I'm not, I feel like I'm saying, "This is how I look, and I'm cool with that." I move far more freely through the world because I'm not putting on a costume. I walk into coffee shops and no longer worry about what the strangers I'm walking past think, and when I walk into class in one of the larger rooms I no longer consider how to walk from the door up the stairs and to my seat in ways that give some overall impression of... something or other, an impression that, when all is said and done, I can't really control at all. I feel feminine, powerful, and beautiful.

Also, I can now say with absolute confidence that I have more mental space to devote to other things. I say "space" because that's what it feels like, as though I have more breathing room in my head. I'm not guilt-tripping myself over makeup that I bought that I didn't need, or looking at my hair and wondering if I should schedule an appointment to get a trim, and where (because a bad haircut, for me, is the end of the bloody world). I'm not looking at lipstick and convincing myself it'll make me beautiful finally. There's a sense of relief, like I've put down a weight that I had agreed to carry because I thought I had to. I put on clothes in the morning, don a headscarf, and go about my day, never to worry about my appearance again until the next morning, apart from tucking in my hair or adjusting a shirt. I still get lots of compliments on how I look.

I've heard a few really inspiring stories about women's transformative experiences: one woman told me about shaving her head in India. She described it as "a baptism." Another woman I know told me about the freedom of pregnancy, how you no longer care about what people think about your hair or whatever cause you're tired, dammit, and how that led her to let go of her attachment to her appearance. Packing for trips is ridiculously easy-- no more bringing along 47 makeup options, hair dryer, hair stuff, and brushes to tote around. Several people have told me that they didn't notice that I'm not wearing makeup any more-- they notice the headscarf, but that's it.

And so I say to you, my lovely ladies (and of course, the gentlemen who love happy women): I had once thought that beauty products were what made me beautiful. Now I know, without a doubt, that I don't need any of that crap, and I can't recommend highly enough that at some point, you try something like this. I know, it seems scary. Remember how terrified and miserable I was at the beginning of all this? I couldn't even conceive of a life where I didn't define a large part of myself by my appearance. Now, I just don't think about it much any more, and I'm a million times happier. I work out and take care of myself, but beyond that, you know what? I just don't need all the crap they're trying to sell me, and where before I was just saying that, I finally feel like it's true. Nail polish commercials, hair commercials, jeans, anti-aging treatments, eye shadow that supposedly makes your eyes look "more" blue or brown or green or hazel... it's endless, and it's just a bag of bricks I no longer want to carry around.

I do miss the fun parts-- getting made up is fun. But I feel a million times more secure because I know now that how I look is not nearly as big a deal as I thought it was.

People ask me if I'll "carry any part of the experiment with me," meaning, Will I wear as much makeup? What about my hair? My answer is, I'm actually trying to think of excuses to keep doing it after I turn 30. I don't ever want to go back to how I felt about myself before. My mind may change, but right now... it's just a relief.



At the beginning of this month I decided to challenge myself a little more with respect to how I was dressing. See, I was wearing cute hats, shirts and pants, and while it was initially difficult it got to a point where I realized that I was dressing sort of the same as before, only now I only wore hats and long-sleeved shirts.

So I decided that, for the month of February (at least) I was going to try some headscarf action, and only wear skirts. The results have been really interesting.

1) I feel beautiful, and I get complimented a lot on how "elegant" or "classy" I look. I feel elegant.
2) At least five people who know me well did not recognize me with a headscarf on. This, according to several of them, is because I look like a Muslima, and they're not used to my looking like that. A few times, I've actually had to point to myself and say, "Lauren," when someone stares confusedly into my face when I greet them in the morning. Also contributing to this phenomenon, and more interesting because it's the opposite of what I expected:
3) NO ONE looks at me.

This last one is, according to those I have asked, because, "You try not to stare at people who are significantly different," especially Muslim women. We're taught, when we see a woman with a headscarf, not to stare at her to avoid making her uncomfortable. Makes sense, but it's the opposite of what I expected.

In general, I feel less trendy and less visible (although I'm sure people are staring at me when I'm not looking), but even more femininely beautiful.

Last Thursday I gave a sermon at Candler, and I wore makeup. I'll write more this week about how that felt-- it was truly shocking how much less-beautiful I felt, and how much more I worried about how I looked.

But for now, another brutal week in grad school is looming! If you'd like to hear the sermon (it was about immigration), go to "Sermons and Speeches on iTunes" in the center of this page:

Unitarian Universalist Student Service: Sermon

The name to look for is "Lauren Shields," down near the bottom.

Stay warm! (P.S. Headscarves are great for this...)