My big sister Emily seems to always know what to say.
My memories of her are many…the specifics of our conversations are not always clear, but I do remember how I FELT whenever I was with her. She welcomed me, listened to me…but mostly loved me. She has been the voice on the other end of the phone, who was always there…who has always listened and who has offered guidance…in the gentlest of ways.
When I started into this journey…this Naked Face Journey…I don’t think I fully grasped the changes that would occur in my life. How could something as simple as going 60 days without makeup matter so much. Who cares?
I did know that if the questions being brought up by this were puzzling to me, they would be puzzling to others…and I thought that it would be really awesome to talk openly with others about why. Why this matters?
Today, Emily sent this essay to me. She is 12 years older than me and a very, very wise woman. Take a read and see if you aren’t somehow moved by what she has written. I know that I am.
While she and I may not always use the same language and the same lens through which to view the world…I do know that what she has written here…makes sense to me.
Sister To Sister:
Molly, as I have watched you and so many others wrestle with and welcome the implications of the Naked Face Project, I’m remembering the little blonde wisp of a girl, nine years old who greeted me, the big sister by twelve years, in the guest bedroom one morning when my new husband and I had come for our first visit post-wedding. It was a room outfitted with two twin beds but being newly married we had snuggled up into one bed.
You jumped up on one bed and bounced around chatting away until you asked, “What pajamas did you wear last night?”
I responded, “I didn’t wear any.”
Somewhat aghast you said, “You slept naked!”
“Which bed did you sleep in?” was your follow up question.
“Well, we both slept in the same bed last night; the one you are bouncing around on”
“What! You both slept naked in this bed! I’m not staying on this bed!” and you jumped off lickety-split…and left me laughing as you exited the room.
This is what I have come to know about you, Molly and what I want to say: You have continued to “ask the question”; often the surprising question; sometimes the uncomfortable question. Again and again you have asked the question/s so many people don’t want asked:
- What is the alternative to the prevailing culture that inculcates our children with distorted images of self and others
- How do we reach the hearts of “little girls becoming women” to show the way to health and self-respect.
- What can we do as individuals and communities to support the dignity and integrity of all of us – not only little girls.
Now you are asking:
- Why do we highlight our hair, wear makeup, wear sassy clothes?
- 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 who 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?
Underneath all these questions I hear a deeper question: what will happen to us if we allow ourselves the freedom to be who we are? Who are we becoming as we let go the makeup and all that it stands for?
As I read your posts and the comments from so many who are interacting with this Project, I notice a thread that leads to a deep encounter with one’s self. For some of us in answering this ‘call’ to look more clearly and honestly at our naked faces, we see that makeup becomes metaphor for all the ways we try to hide, conceal, disguise or otherwise cover up our concerns and/or anxiety about who we are. With each layer of makeup we peel back we find revealed our insecurities and shame, our fear of loss of power or voice or youth or lovability.
We stumble into questions or observations that surprise us:
Will I be noticed anymore? Will I be passed over for a promotion? I don’t like the way I feel without makeup – I feel naked, undefended, vulnerable. Without my ‘power suit’ I feel powerless.
I have so much more time in the morning. I love the way my skin feels. I could get used to this; I don’t need to impress everyone on the bus or train. I have more freedom to move.
The more we peel back the layers, the more we are invited into the hard work of engaging the self. As we wrestle with what appears under each layer we discover the places in us that need healing; the hurts and fears, the losses and wounds, the tender spots that need care and attention. Let me say right here: This is a good thing; scary but good! Why? A friend of mine said it best:
You know when Love is doing her work because she brings forth that which needs healing.
At the heart of it what we are talking about is nothing less than TRANSFORMATION one person, one heart at a time.
When we are brave enough, courageous enough to encounter these difficult and challenging and tender places in ourselves, we grow in compassion, forgiveness and acceptance of self and others. As we let go the surface things of our lives and live and breathe more deeply into what is good and true and beautiful, acknowledging our success and failures along the way we begin to share the fruits of our experience. We begin to see into life and discover what is truly ‘real’ which always includes the light and dark, the suffering and healing, the joy and sorrow.
Because I am a person of faith, I’ve come to see this journey towards transformation as a journey into the Mystery I call God. Person of faith or not, it is a life-long journey; healing takes work and time and it takes guidance from others more experienced. I’ve been walking this path for 35 years now and I am learning a lot about love and being loved; about the humanity of “the other”, the one so different from me. I am learning a lot about listening; really listening to the soul of another who longs to be seen and heard – and loved. I am learning a lot about non-anxious presence to self, others and all of creation around me – “being present in love, being appreciatively and responsively present right here and now.” (Gerald May)
So what can happen to us if we allow ourselves the freedom to be who we are; who we were created to be? Who are we becoming as we peel back the layers of makeup and sassy clothes and power suits and highlighted hair? I would suggest that we are becoming a fully alive human being:
- loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving, playful
- quick to laugh, willing to own our missteps without defense or justification,
- sharing power with others, working for the common good,
- defending the poor and vulnerable
- thinking about the greater context in which we live; beyond our local neighborhood or city
- and yes, wearing makeup, sassy clothes and highlighted hair because we know the why and the why doesn’t have anything to do with who we are at our core.
Where could all this lead us? I like what the Dalai Lama says in the forward to Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Peace is Every Step:
“Although attempting to bring about world peace through the internal transformation of individuals is difficult, it is the only way. …. Peace must first be developed within an individual. And I believe that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace. Once these qualities are developed within an individual, he or she is then able to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony. This atmosphere can be expanded and extended from the individual to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world.”
(His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso in Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step (New York: Bantam, 1991), p.vii)
Really? All from accepting the challenge to experiment with giving up “makeup, power suits and sassy clothes for an extended period of time”? It’s a good place to start.
So Molly, I think you and the hundreds (thousands?) of others in this project might be on to something you had not imagined when you and Caitlin sat down for coffee. If people accept this invitation and follow it down to its deepest invitation, asking for help when they need it, celebrating the growing freedom and speaking boldly for love, it could be life changing indeed; not just for the individual but the larger community as well. I join you in seeing where it leads us and who we become.