There is this lady at work.
I see her every morning in the washroom with a huge makeup kit, colouring her eyes, painting her lips, her deft brush strokes expertly contouring her cheekbones and the hair brush sweeping through her long, wavy hair.
Sometimes, if I go back after a half hour, I still see her there looking at herself in the mirror, working hard on her face. But almost always, she looks dissatisfied. Her thin mouth is pursed up in discontent and gives her soft features an otherwise hard countenance.
To my eyes, she is perfect without makeup too. I wonder, what makes her so dissatisfied with her appearance that a good chunk of her morning is spent ‘correcting’ something she finds flawed. And I use the term correcting because I have never seen her smile or express satisfaction with her own grooming.
At times, I can’t understand if she wants to show herself to the world or hide herself behind layers of makeup.
I used to hide once. Behind my red lipstick. Not one to use makeup much, I would take out my lone red lipstick only when I felt a dire need to hide the real me behind that bright bold colour.
In fact, many a times, I put on that bold red lipstick and then just before I stepped out, I would wipe it with a corner of my towel because the person I saw in the mirror looked too garish…almost clownish. I felt like an impostor with makeup on. Like if I spoke to a group of people with lipstick on, my lips would crack open and reveal the inner me, one that was trying to look beautiful.
My usual makeup ritual includes kajal and I add mascara and a lipstick strictly for weddings. Till date, I don’t know which foundation matches my skin tone. And I say that with extreme embarrassment.
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For someone like me who sits through waxing and threading procedures with the patience of a toddler, anything that goes beyond it requires a genuine will to look groomed. My idea of manicure was cutting nails and my idea of pedicure was applying moisturiser once in six months on feet that I would suddenly notice are turning dry. I also hated the time it took to get all these things done. It seemed like such a waste.
In fact, eons ago, at 23 at my brother’s wedding I hadn’t even blow-dried my frizzy hair because I didn’t know that blow-dry was an option. So abysmal had been the state of my knowledge. I feel angry each time I look at those pictures from the wedding. Not because I didn’t blow-dry my hair but because I just didn’t know. In my world, ignorance is a greater evil than a wrong choice.
I’m not sure when the little girl who used to love nail polish, bangles, bindis, henna and makeup kits grew up into a woman who had a quiet disdain for made-up appearances.
Maybe, it also had to do with my mother who never spent more than five minutes a day in front of the mirror – looking after the house, the family, the kitchen and everything else, except herself.
Or maybe, it had to do with middle class modesty. Too much was never good.
In fact, each time I saw a woman well turned out, I would be envious of her ability to indulge in her beauty because it didn’t come easily to me.
The introvert in me had always wanted to hide. So, even my choice in clothes reflected more comfort than style, leave alone making a statement.
Growing up, I was the tall, lanky one in most rooms and I wanted to hide. To gel in with the crowd. I was awkward to the point of never taking pride in my appearance and even looked down upon it from time to time.
But slowly, I realised that this under-indulgence in my external appearance had seeped in all areas of my life. I lived on a need-to-buy basis. Do I need this dress, these shoes, this bag, this phone? It wasn’t stinginess but a hatred of hoarding.
Except for emotions that I have for someone, there is no place for hoarding in my life. So, each time I bought a new dress, I would give away two old ones. Same for shoes and other things. I guessed that there was so much mental baggage within me that my physical life did not allow me to indulge.
Also, the guilt. I felt guilty for eating at a five-star restaurant or splurging mindlessly, just to feel good in that moment. Because that happiness was ephemeral. It never really lasted.
And I realised that perhaps I was petrified of elusive happiness. Something we think will make us happy but eventually it does not. In fact, it creates more room for discontentment and the never-ending cycle continues.
But this state of under-indulgence bothered me. It made me too monastic. Too stoic. Too idealistic. And too boring, at times. After all, what was so wrong with make-up, dressing up and looking good?
Why did I preserve the idea of ‘looking good’ only for special occasions? Why couldn’t I simply celebrate the fact that I woke up today and showed up for life? Wasn’t looking after oneself, the truest form of love?
And then my mind wanders to that lady at work, vigorously making herself up. I found my earlier self and her at two opposite ends of the spectrum – one underdoing it and the other overdoing it. Perhaps, we both needed to reach a mid-point and learn from each other.
And that made me ponder.
Too much or too little of anything shifts the balance in the universe. Sometimes, to avoid larger issues in our lives, we tilt towards extremes.
For me, it was under-spending and for some it’s being a spendthrift…for others it’s dieting to the extreme and for some, it is over-eating. For many, it’s meditation and for others it’s overtime in the gym or office or even in the kitchen. A lot of these habits mask themselves as healthy but if we look closely, they are a way of shrouding issues that we need to address in our lives.
I wondered why I was scared to reveal myself in my full beauty and power and I asked the same question in my head to this lady – why do you feel the need to hide? Why don’t these colours in a box give you the joy that you are supposed to feel? Like a kid who has discovered a paint box and is ready to make a mess.
Over the years, I learnt to question what I am avoiding or what is it that I fear.
I realised that I was afraid of being in the driver’s seat in my own life. I was afraid to indulge because I was never taught to feel proud of who I am. Or even to spend on myself without feeling that it was a waste or the fact that it threatened my security.
Of course, a lot has changed over the years. Between 23 and 36, I have discovered a personal way of dressing that suits my comfort level, manages to hit the style quotient sometimes and is also cost-effective. I have also started using lipstick (occasionally) as a way to enhance how I already look instead of hiding behind a colour. In fact, I have discovered my secret love for bold colours, something that matches my personality as I grow older and become more aware of who I am and who I wish to become.
I have discovered the joy of looking after myself for myself. Pairing old clothes differently gives me far more excitement than buying new clothes. A little makeup to lift up a drab day, cheers me up. A new pair of heels when shown to my co-workers amidst oohs and aahs help me revel in the momentary happiness that only material things can bring.
I have learnt to strike a balance between letting my real, authentic self shine and still indulging in a little bit of the pleasure that a box of colours can give me.
And now, it’s my secret dream to dress up one day to my fullest potential without any judgement of myself or criticism or inhibition to look my most glamorous self and walk down a regular street outside my house, like it was just another day of my life. Like it was normal to be.
The lady at work feels like a soulmate now. And I understand that it’s okay to hide until you are ready to come out of that cocoon. And it’s okay to over-indulge in makeup until you feel like a shake-up. And if you have always taken pride in your appearance and makeup takes it a step further, it’s okay to be. It’s alright if the face is your canvas and make-up is your art or the fact that you have just discovered this magic box to bring colours to your life.
The point is, it’s okay as far as I am aware of why I am doing what I am doing. And it’s okay if I don’t judge myself and I don’t judge another.
Today, I wake up with make-up. I can deal with the rest later.
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