"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.

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