There is something magical about the energy of coffee shops. It certainly makes for entertaining people-watching, however I am often struck with my most profound bursts of writing inspiration in between latte sips and muffin bites. Fairly recently, I stumbled upon an old friend in one of my favorite coffee spots, whom I had not seen in over a year. While reconnecting with her, something occurred to me which I have been unable to eject from my mind: I think we have forgotten what beauty is.
After hanging out for almost an hour, our flow of conversation began to lag. My friend began to compulsively check her phone, and had developed a very distant, detached gaze. She was clearly no longer present in the coffee shop with me. “Where is your mind?” I asked her. Her reply has haunted me since. “Oh, just thinking of ways to make myself look better,” she whispered, before going on a seemingly endless rant discussing her delusions over a guy who clearly had no intention of ever seeing her again. She concluded her rant with an attempt to make a case for how she was clearly superior to his other alleged conquests, going as far as offering proof by showing me images from their Instagram profiles.
It was clear she was on a mission to achieve a higher level of physical beauty, for she felt it would make her more desirable. In that moment, I had an epiphany: Countless women, young and old, are plagued with a dangerous epidemic. It is oftentimes the ultimate roadblock to their attainment of happiness. They believe beauty – physical beauty – is the key to a better life. They believe it determines their worth. Some are even deluded enough to believe it makes up the totality of their value. They are wasting their life away because the truth is… it never will be. It will only render them to an even more devastating level of empty. I know, for I was girl for a long, long time.
A few years prior to my encounter with my friend that day, I had experienced somewhat of an inner transformation. Such a transformation began when I participated in a mission trip to Belize. Prior to the trip, I had been working as a regional makeup artist for a well-known cosmetic company while finishing college. Although I had met countless fun and inspiring individuals throughout my time doing so, I had also experienced countless encounters of its terrifying opposite.
The opportunity to participate in the mission trip was presented to me at the most opportune time because I had been growing increasingly hungry for something no superficial encounter ever seemed to pacify. During a period of eight days in Belize, an irreversible shift took place within me. The experience was nothing short of crossing over. A seed was planted during my time there, and my desire to experience true beauty – something no cosmetic product or procedure could ever provide – began to take on a life of its own.
Beauty Smacked Me In The Face, And Never Again Was I The Same…
My eyes were forced open, and I felt as though I had been knocked over the head with the truth. It left me nearly breathless. The love and gratitude flowing from the people I encountered – people who had nothing to offer me but human interaction and relationship – was simply majestic. I was humbled to tears each day. Their appreciation for the most basic life necessities stunned me, stripped me of my grandest delusions and ultimately exposed me to myself.
I could not help but feel compelled to examine myself and consider all of the grudges I had been carrying, my often knee-jerk reaction to criticize others and how much emphasis I often placed on my appearance and image.
I realized I had often been a seeker of things which would only produce emptiness in my life. Ironically, upon returning from the trip, I was scheduled to immediately return to work for a demanding makeup event, which inevitably came with a high sales goal attached to it.
The most uncomfortable yet ironic aspect of all was that I felt as though I had departed a place of such immense, healing beauty, only to be thrust back into a place of superficial ugliness. Even writing about it now, in this moment as my fingers are moving across the keyboard, I feel a lump forming in my throat as I long to once again swim in that place of love and joy in its purest form. There is nothing more beautiful than raw, organic love for another person who has nothing to offer you except for human relationship. In giving me the opportunity to learn that, the people I encountered in Belize gave me everything.
I recall sitting in my car for what seemed to be an eternity on my first morning returning to work. Coaxing myself to pull my makeup brushes from hibernation and convince my two feet to walk toward the door was no simple task. I just didn’t want to. I adored my co-workers and many aspects of my job but, on that day, still existing in a cloud from the beauty I had so mournfully departed, I didn’t care about my stupid eyeliner. I didn’t care about some overly fragranced and insignificant potion I was being paid to sell. It almost felt as though I was attempting to convince myself to approach the belly of Hell after having been given a glimpse of Heaven. I was searching for the tiniest shred of desire, but it was nowhere to be found.
In The Name Of… Beauty?
I contemplated the irony of my surroundings. The purpose of my returning to this place was to help people become more “beautiful”, yet I seemed to repeatedly encounter little more than an ugly state of desperation for superficial perfection. What a paradox, I thought. I had just been immersed in the epitome of beauty, and I felt that the environment I had returned to demonstrated little evidence of such. I also knew that I had been just as guilty as the next person.
I searched for the words to explain to my co-workers the metamorphic significance of what I had just departed from. I grasped for the words to convey that I was not the same. Any justifiable explanation eluded me, and so I worked quietly for most of the morning just existing in my inner cloud of transformation, as well as occasionally blinking back tears as they formed in my eyes.
My first day at work upon returning from the mission trip proved to be quite interesting. I recall being assigned to a middle-aged woman who, while being escorted to my makeup station, was anxiously looking in every possible direction. She reminded me of a child, nervous about being caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She reeked of misery and poor self-esteem. Her posture was bad. She was literally curling into herself, as though she wanted to make herself appear as small as possible.
I worked overtime to ensure my customer felt at ease, however something inside of me understood I was contributing to something incredibly destructive. In the duration of our hour together, I learned of her arguments with her husband over her vanity-related expenses, her “maxed out” credit cards, her list of scheduled cosmetic procedures, and was questioned repeatedly on the degree of satisfaction and pride I had with the work I had performed on her face. I knew I could never fix her face to her satisfaction or sell her enough products until she fixed what was going on inside of her.
The entire encounter was nerve-wrecking and blood-sucking. It was such a grossly stark contrast to the encompassing and healing beauty I had encountered in the most destitute villages of Belize.
I had never encountered such a depth of ugliness until I observed others on a quest for superficial beauty. I was beginning to feel as though I was witnessing zombies walking straight into the mouth of a giant, black hole. It wasn’t the fault of the makeup artists or the beauty advisors in the store. Many of them had the purest of intentions with their work. Rather, it was the fault of a mindset born from our culture. I decided I wanted to have a role, no matter how small, in reshaping such mindset. The seed planted within me during my time in Belize soon became a blazing furnace I could no longer smother with the layers of covers I wore to still pretend to be who I once was. It wasn’t working. I had encountered truth, and I had been transformed by it.
Later that evening, I returned home, crawled into the bath, got as still as possible and posed an important question to myself: Why am I contributing to an industry which often thrives on making women slaves to the goal of being desirable and physically perfect? Even more frustrating, why had I allowed myself to fall prey to it as well? How can I do this differently? How can I do something positive with my experiences?
Beauty May Not Be What We Always Thought It Was…
I now believe the quest for beauty – even physical beauty – should be more of a celebration of self versus a labor of any kind. The quest for beauty should be from a perspective in the realm of “I am valuable, therefore I will take the utmost care of myself,” versus “I’m too fat, too ugly and less attractive than her, therefore I need to be different,” or “I’m nobody until I’m somebody’s Woman Crush Wednesday.” It should never be painful, nor should it ever create feelings of desperation or inadequacy.
The mental shift which took place within me as a result of my time in Belize inspired me, in part, to create The Daily Doll. I want my readers to be a more developed version of themselves than they were yesterday, as I am working to be a more developed version of myself than I was yesterday. We should celebrate ourselves. By all means, buy a lipstick in ever color of the spectrum and take a million pouty face selfies if you so enjoy. Do all the squats and crunch until your heart is content. But. don’t search for beauty and value in it. Don’t be a slave to it. Taking care of your body and your appearance shouldn’t be a life-draining or laborious effort ever. It should be something you do because you value yourself already; not because you are trying to earn your worth.
Please join me on a quest for beauty. It may not be what you always thought it was.
I’m just being honest.
©TheDailyDoll.com/Lacey Johnson 2014, 2015
A word about the latest version of this article, recently published on The Huffington Post:
Please understand that my purpose of writing the article was to explain my journey of discovering that physical beauty could never increase my value in any meaningful way. The article is somewhat controversial, and I have never received such mixed emotions in response to something I’ve written. Some people expressed extreme delight and gratitude for it, while others were offended by the fact that I continue to wear makeup and discuss beauty products on The Daily Doll. Some labeled it life-changing and some labeled it offensive. I appreciate all feedback, and understand that everyone is entitled to respond however they choose.
I feel that it is important to note that the updated title, As A Makeup Artist, I Started To Hate the Superficial Quest For Beauty, was not created be me. While all of the words within the content of the article itself are mine, The Huffington Post editors opted to change the title (as they have full reign and right to do so). The original title, Beauty?, which I came up with, is more representative of my feelings on the subject, as well as my intentions while crafting the article. The article was written to be an exploration of my personal feelings in regards to what beauty actually is. My intention was never to bash any profession.
I do want everyone to know that my heart motive in writing it was to share a life-changing experience for the purpose of empowering, enlightening and motivating others. It was to help you understand that you are valuable the way you are already. It was to stress that superficial endeavors do not bring about fulfillment. It doesn’t mean I’m trying to convince anyone of anything, let alone proclaim that all vanity-related endeavors are bad. Nurturing and being mindful of one’s physical body is a part, I believe, of a healthy life. Also, it’s fun!
Clearly, I have a beauty section on The Daily Doll. I still love to occasionally discuss products and share my knowledge from my years of being a makeup artist. I still love to play dress up, I still love to try on twenty lip glosses within a five-minute time frame at the makeup counters and sometimes I still primp in the mirror. However, my point is that I never allow myself to be a slave to any of it. In the article, I was trying to convey that I learned even the most ego-satisfying, flattery-provoking and grandiose vanity-related endeavors absolutely paled in comparison to the immense beauty I encountered in the destitute villages of Belize.
My point is, I now see those things as a mere celebration of my femininity versus a means to increase my value. I’ve learned that it does not remotely determine my worth as a human being, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have fun with it on occasion. Those things are merely recreational, but do not consume me the way they once did. I hope this explains my stance more clearly.
I care about each of you, and I thank you for sharing this journey of discovering true Beauty with me.