Even strong believers of the gospel of body positivity feel less than enthralled by their own bodies on occasion. It's precisely this thought that put me on a journey for which I vowed to give up eye makeup to see how it made me feel. Let me be honest with you: Even though I know it is just a symptom of my own negative self perception, right now I feel quite outwardly ugly — my body dysmorphia glasses obviously on. For one reason or another, I can't seem to stop hating on my eyes, what with their long but blonde lashes and what I consider a beady shape. As a proactive person, I decided that enough was enough: It was time to actively try to accept my body with all its perceived flaws, one step at a time.
Those who have a strong sense of their personal beauty or who don't struggle with body image issues may snort when I say that one of my biggest fears a week ago was losing my bargain bucket mascara in a cafe toilet. However, body image issues are real issues that affect a great deal of men and women (and everyone in between!) regardless of how superficial individual worries may sound to those who don't experience them.
Ever since I had my "Eve" moment as a child and started seeing the real girl in the mirror staring back at me and not the fairy princess I had always imagined I was in my head, I realized that the flesh and blood female I saw did not exactly match the beauty ideals that had soaked into my young imagination. My body was rounded, my eyes were smallish, and my hair wayward. I was a far cry from the unrealistic Disney princesses glittering on our boxy TV screen from my VCR.
Me at age six.
As a 5-year-old, my mom told me that my dainty dark eyes reminded her of Björk and I took pleasure in the comparison. But when the mirror showed me I wasn't a waif-like Icelandic princess, but a slightly squishy, moonfaced girl, I started comparing my features to that of a little pink pig. The stacks of fashion magazines I consumed as a teenager didn't help either, with their otherworldly editorials that didn't feature a single woman I could relate to.
After much trial and error involving colorful gem tones and waaaaay too much black pencil — which actually achieved the opposite of widening my eyes — I finally mastered the minimal art of making my eyes appear larger in my late teens. I opted for lashings of clumpy mascara (with a thick, barrel-like brush — very essential) paired with liquid liner only in the outer corners of my eye, tapering to a slight U-shaped flick downwards. #Instabigeyes.
Me at age 23.
Unfortunately, a killer knowledge of exactly how to make my small eyes appear orb-like didn't make my discomfort regarding my body or face disappear. Granted, it gave me confidence and helped make me feel presentable in a selfie, but it was not a miracle cure to self acceptance.
In an attempt to accept my face as Mother Nature intended, however, I decided I needed to live with my eyes just the way they were, at least for a week. I knew it would force me to look at what was behind the mask of makeup whenever I glanced in a mirror or caught my reflection in a shop window. Gone would be my perfectly picked and dirt cheap mascara and eyeliner. I was determined to see myself in a more truthful light, and accept myself for what I am, right now.
Of course no woman, or human, owes the world beauty. It's not a currency they must have (in the traditional sense) to exist and thrive. But I like to feel attractive in the way that feels right to me. Therefore, simultaneously confronting a self esteem issue and creating a good first impression was a difficulty.
I started work with a bunch of beauties the same week I went without mascara, and noticed how a lot of them don't wear heavy eye makeup themselves. I love the way these women look so fresh faced with their bare eyes. It's almost ethereal. Since most women wear at least a lick of mascara day to day, the choice to leave it out of my makeup routine started to seem quite alternative and quirky.
Since no one knew me from before, obviously nobody commented on my lack of eye paint. But I couldn't help but feel almost apologetic inside. I challenged myself not to tell my colleagues about my self inflicted experiment, in the spirit of self acceptance, but it was definitely a challenge.
After a few days of forcing myself to look at photographs of myself sans mascara and attempting to look at myself objectively in the mirror, I started to see a more positive image of myself. In a good photograph, I am starting to quite like the way I look without my spidery '60s lashes, especially when teamed with a pillar box red lipstick. I quite like the novelty of the look, in fact. When I am feeling good, it almost has the excitement of trying a new haircut or color.
I even had a few compliments along the way. My new friend Sacha said my makeup looked "delicate and quirky" and my friend Sophie said she loved the way my freckles and natural eyes looked. Another friend Charlotte even went as far to say that I don't really need to wear eye makeup at all, although I don't know if she was just trying to reassure me.
The biggest challenge of the week, though, was my trip to Hampstead Heath natural swimming ponds, which combined the two horrors of wearing a swimsuit publicly and baring my eyes. Hampstead Heath is one of my favorite places in the world, and there's nothing I love more than swimming outside in a lake surrounded by willow trees and then lying in the sun amid long clover grasses to dry off.
Whenever I go swimming, unless it's purely for exercise, I make an extra effort to do my makeup. I don't usually feel very confident about my in-betweeny body, so I guess I try to get my face to make up for what I feel I lack in the bikini body department. I know it's problematic, but bear with me here.
I'm not going to lie: I didn't exactly feel externally beautiful. Hopefully that will come with continually pushing my comfort zone and body confidence boundaries, but I did feel beautiful inside. I didn't let my inner body shaming voice stop me from having a lush day in the sunshine. And for that I am proud of myself.
So what did I learn through facing my fears through saying no to mascara? It would be a lie if I said my body qualms have disappeared, but I have definitely learned a lot. After all, life's a journey and we are all works in progress. I feel like losing my mascara in a cafe toilet would not be the end of the world now, and in fact I am planning on experimenting with new eye makeup techniques that don't include copious amounts of black gloop.
Either way, I won't be letting the way I look hinder my fun in the future, and will be challenging myself to further accept the skin I am in — and the way I am — naturally.
Images: Freyia Lillian Porteous