I know that today…my life is changed. I’m not sure I will ever be able to go back, maybe I won’t want to…but to me this is a big deal…I’m shifting. I’m beginning to see what I’ve tried not to…and it’s scary…if I look at it from the big picture. So here goes.
Every once in a while someone comes along and you know, from the get-go, you were meant to meet them.
Caitlin Boyle is one of those people in my life. If you don’t know who Caitlin Boyle is, please take a minute and get to know her. The quickest way to do that is go to her blog www.healthytippingpoint.com or www.operationbeautiful.com.
I met Caitlin about two years ago when she moved to Charlotte. We went to lunch. We were friends…immediately. Since that time, she has been a Girls on the Run coach, run a marathon, done a triathlon, written three books, been on the Today Show and gotten pregnant.
Recently we went for coffee. We began to speak of our work around beauty, gender, stereotypes, negative self-talk, cultural norms and 8 year old girls. (Not necessarily in that order, but more like…all bunched up together.)
Caitlin: What do you say to one of your little GOTR Girls when she asks you why you wear make up…or why you highlight your hair?
Molly: Because I like the way it looks, I guess.
Caitlin: I say something like, “Because it’s fun” or “I like to.” But what would you say Molly, if you were really honest.
Molly: (I stopped to think about my HONEST answer and I admit it took me a while because I’ve never really thought about why, exactly, I highlight my hair, wear make up or…add this ritual to the list…shave my legs.) My honest answer? I feel incomplete without it. I think it makes me look younger and I guess I think younger is prettier, better somehow…and in our culture more powerful.
YUCK! Hypocrite…I hear myself say inside. How many hundreds, maybe thousands of times, have I looked an 8 year old girl directly in the eye, held her hands in mine, and told her “You are beautiful just the way you are.”
We pause…she and I have built our entire lives around authenticity…using our experiences, thoughts, time and intelligence…to transform cultural norms around beauty and gender…to help little girls and big girls, alike, see that they are beautiful just the way they are…that beauty really is an inside job…that when we love the BIG US on the inside, the outside will, as an outcome, be loved too! Our power is in our authenticity and our strength of character.
We remain silent.
Caitlin: Wonder what it would be like to be able to answer those girls honestly…to say precisely why we do these things. To know what it is like to NOT do those things so we can say with certainty that we chose them.
Caitlin: Scary as hell.
We smile…both of us that kind of devilish smile that comes to one’s face when both fear and joy occupy the same thought.
Caitlin: Let’s do it. Let’s go sixty days without using any beauty products or girl-woman-only products. No shaving, no tweezing, no highlighting, no high heels, no skinny jeans, no smelly lotions, no make-up, no padded or push-up bras. No flatiron, curler, hairdryer.
We pause. I look at her. She looks at me.
Molly: I’m training for a triathlon. I’ll be in the gym AND the pool. I won’t be shaving. That’s gross. I’ve got a ton of speaking engagements, media opportunities. I will be in front of large crowds of people, the media, photos taken. I can’t do it. (I’m smiling the whole time I say this.)
Caitlin: I’ve got a book coming out…If I’m lucky I’ll be back on the Today Show…no makeup. My hormone-riddled-pregnant-teenager-all-over-again face will show.
And so here we are…two days out from experiencing life in a way that I have never known…or at least not known since I was 11. I started highlighting my hair, the summer of 1972 with lemon juice. I do not know what color my hair is.
I began shaving my legs, wearing make up and using a padded/cuppy bra in seventh grade. I don’t think I can honestly say, that I’ve gone one full week without wearing what my daughter, when she was a little girl, used to call sassy shoes, sassy pants or sassy shirts…sassy is code for high heel, tight and most of the time uncomfortable. It’s just been a part of my southern DNA. Sure…a few days without playing by the “fashion rules” so what? But three months, continuing my professional and personal (dating, parenthood, social) life…what might happen?
We are both here to shout it out from the mountain top, that we are not suggesting any of these things are wrong. What we are suggesting is why? Why do women potentially and occasionally permanently damage their feet, calves, achilles from wearing heels? Why do women wear make-up…like really why?
Why do we highlight our hair? Why do we think that wearing sassy clothes makes us sassy? Might we discover our sexuality/sensuality is more of a “be” kind of thing rather than a “how we look” kind of thing? Does looking younger really matter? Have we ever tried just being what we are…looking like how we really look…naked face, open eyes and totally free to be as we are with the world around us…not just some of the time, but all of the time?
I’m also not trying to trivialize the plight of women from around the world. Women in so many areas of the world don’t have the luxury of this conversation. They are concerned with living another day…to see another day…simply because they are a woman. But I wonder if on some very simple level…maybe even deeply within our molecular connection…we don’t all cry out a little anytime we give in to any systemic view that (may) limit us.
I guess it all comes down to the question under all the easy questions which is…what is THAT line you simply won’t cross? Is it wearing heels? Is it accentuating your breasts with a padded bra? Is it highlighting your hair? Is it Botox? Is it breast implants? Is it plastic surgery? Is it connected to what is appropriate sexual behavior and what is not? Is it woven into your religious, political, familial beliefs? Is there a line in your life that others have set for you…a line over which you have no control? What is the line you simply won’t cross and why do we choose things on this side as “okay” versus things on that side as not? What are our justifications, rationalizations to do what we do and aren’t those availalbe no matter where you draw the line? Why is one line right and another NOT right? Genital mutilation, an accepted feminine ritual in several nations, is an extreme form of systemic predjudice as far as I’m concerned, but might plastic surgery be considered an extreme form by some naturalists?
It is a very complicated conversation and can rightly so, be a hot topic for many people.
I have no idea what the outcome of this sixty day journey will be, but I do know that I will be digging deeply into some things that potentially frighten me…like looking older, somehow seeming less sexual/sensual/desirable, not feeling complete or professionally buttoned up. But on the other hand, everytime in my life I have let something go, something else has come into my life. Something positive, rich and fulfilling.
I told my daughter about this adventure and her response…”Maybe I will finally get to school on time. Besides, I’ve told you for years (she is 13 now) that you don’t need to do all that stuff anyway.”
My 16 year old son was totally grossed out. The body hair thing…well…let’s just say he could hardly imagine it. “Don’t pick me up at school.” I think he was kidding, but I’m not sure.
Caitlin and I will be chronicling our journey on our blogs with our words, some photographs and video footage. We have NO idea where any of this will push or pull us…but I do know, without a doubt that when it is all said and done, I can begin my response to a little 8 year old when she asks, “Why do you do that?” with “I choose to do this because….” What rounds out the sentence will be what I think Caitlin and I will discover.
I wonder if we aren’t making a bigger statement here than just exploring the American beauty landscape. Might we learn that all of these feminine/gender/beauty/sexual stereotypes connect us, in some way, to our sisters across the globe…that by exploring these beauty “handcuffs” or” treats” …this simple, little, nearly-superficial-relative-to-their-plight-experiment might in some way be encouraging a woman from across the world to explore HER’S. What is the line she will no longer allow…what choices does SHE make or buy into that limit her potential and which ones does she avoid that may enhance it? What will we stand for together and what will we stand AGAINST? How does returning to the beauty, child-like curiosity and the unfiltered view of the 8 year old girl impact us all…whether we live here or in another nation?
I just want to feed my curiosity…explore what is unknown. But could I possibly, by being curious within the small space I live, in reality, be encouraging my sisters, far, far away to be curious as well. I want to as one girl in Girls on the Run put it so beautifully, Be the Boss of My Own Brain.
I’d love for you to join us, share in the journey. We start February 1st and go ALL the way through April 1st.
To join in the conversation add your remarks here or go to our Facebook page. The Naked Face Project. You will also find everything you need to know about what’s going on, as well as our essays chronicling the experience at www.thenakedfaceproject.com. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cailtin has written a beautiful piece for today and will be chronicling her experience too. Read all about it at www.healthytippingpoint.com.
Wish me luck and love.