“When you are balanced and when you listen and attend to the needs of your body, mind, and spirit, your natural beauty comes out.” ~Christy Turlington
It wasn’t until I stopped wearing makeup that I realized the hypocrisy in every “natural beauty” ad. Be natural, wear a mask, they say. Unleash your confidence by hiding your flaws, they say.
If only it were so simple.
My struggle with body image began at age five. That was the first time I threw up to make myself feel thin.
I began to heal four years ago after I almost killed myself. All the years in between, I spent at least an hour each day putting on makeup, and all the rest of my waking hours obsessing about past and future calories and wondering if my clothes made me look fat.
When I went natural, it wasn’t exactly a choice. I had spent so long altering and concealing myself, making sure that nothing real would show, that nothing real was left—including joy, peace, and sanity.
I could say it was self-hatred that led me into a suicidal hole, but that self-hatred came from something else—my obsession with how I “should” be. I was so obsessed with crafting the perfect mask that I suffocated my authentic self. So, she burst out.
To heal my fractured relationship with myself, I decided to stop hiding. I stopped putting on makeup, stopped dieting, stopped dyeing my hair. I became, truly, natural.
I tried to focus on everything that was positive about the transition—more time, more money, more freedom. I could roll out of bed in the morning, wash my face, put on comfortable clothes, and go! But such moments of gratitude were few and far between.
Every other moment, I was either unaware of my appearance or repulsed by it. The image in the mirror shocked me. Her eyebrows were too light and her skin too blotchy. She had pores. She had pimples.
I kept telling myself that it was good to be natural, but when faced with my actual natural self, my mind revolted. “Not this kind of natural!” my thoughts would scream. “Aveno commercial natural! Blemish-free natural! Not this.”
I fought those thoughts. I didn’t fight them by suppressing them. I fought them by not reacting to them—by choosing my own natural self over this fake natural self I had become so enamoured with.
It took weeks before I got my first glimpse of beauty in the mirror, and it took years for those thoughts to stop tormenting me. One moment I would be feeling fine, but then I’d see an unflattering photo of myself, and I’d be hit with an avalanche of emotion.
It’s like noticing that you have a bug on your face. It’s like—“Oh god, that’s disgusting! How long has that even been there?” Your skin crawls. Your heart races. You feel like you’re dirty.
It’s just like that, but it wasn’t a bug. It was my entire body. My face. Just me. Disgusting. Has it always been like this? Get it off me. Now.
For so long, I was trying to get myself off me, to destroy any evidence of myself from myself. To recover from these behaviors was as difficult as recovering from any addiction. Self-judgment is a cancer. It doesn’t heal overnight.
And as I was learning to love myself, I began to realize just how unhelpful the culture around me was to my healing process. I would hear people around me saying things like, “I hope my children look nothing like me.” And, “I just want to cut this stupid fat off my body.” And everyone would nod. Yes, that’s how it is. That’s how we feel.
The more I became accustomed to my own natural image in the mirror, the more I recognized its absence from the world around me. From the niney-year-old woman in the grocery store with thick lipstick stuck in the crevices of her wrinkled lips, to the teenager in the bathroom with anxious eyes desperately rubbing concealer onto her chin, I saw the search for beauty rather than the acceptance of it. And there is nothing natural about that.
Struggling to become naturally beautiful is like struggling to become a human being. We already are human. We already are naturally beautiful.
Beauty has been ours all along, even though it was stolen, packaged, and sold back to us. We just want back what’s ours. But we can’t buy natural beauty any more than we can buy natural hair or natural toes. The moment we make a purchase, it’s not natural anymore.
The beauty companies have been criticized inside and out, and I’m not here to be another voice of opposition. I’m here to be a voice of encouragement to that part of you that’s tired of trying to be someone you’re not.
If you want to feel naturally beautiful, you have to let yourself be naturally beautiful.
You have to leave yourself alone and learn to accept what is there—warts, stretch marks, and all. It won’t be easy, but compulsively trying to fix yourself isn’t easy either. The difference is that self-acceptance will one day heal you, while self-judgment never will.
And you aren’t the only one you’ll help. By accepting yourself, you will be another image of real natural beauty in our culture. By liberating yourself, you will liberate others. You will change the world.
Girl at mirror image via Shutterstock