Tomorrow marks one week since Ash Wednesday, and therefore one week of my life which hasn’t included make-up or hair straighteners. In just seven days I’ve learned so much more than I had ever expected…
When I first mentioned I was taking part in this challenge, several people remarked that they had never noticed I even wore make-up. I’ve never been someone who plasters it on or goes for a flawless look on a daily basis. But I do find a sense of security from being able to at least cover up my skin – which has never been perfect – and hide the blemishes. In fact, my ‘natural look’ is actually the result of a lengthy stretch in front of the mirror concealing the imperfections. My use of make-up has always been more emotional than physical. So, for me, the biggest sign of progress is simply my ability to show you this:
I spent the weekend with an amazing group of young people planning an Easter retreat called Joel’s Bar. I turned up fairly late on Friday night, largely dishevelled after napping on a 3 hour bus journey, with hair that had been left to dry of its own accord (N.B. my hair literally has a mind of its own. Give it even the tiniest bit of freedom and it will go wild!) and a thoroughly blotchy face which had decided that morning was a good time to break out. But when I arrived I was just in time for a worship session – I walked into a room full of people I love praising the Lord and felt completely and utterly at home! My smile was genuine: the insecurity I anticipated was nowhere to be seen.
On Saturday night we were encouraged to dress for dinner. I debated whether this classed as ‘a special occasion’ (when the exceptions of the challenge would allow me to wear make-up), and decided it did. I half-heartedly went through the motions of applying the make-up, but didn’t feel quite right. Somehow, despite vaguely looking forward to the moment I could conceal my spots again, I felt less alive than I had all day.
When my friend saw me her instant reaction was: “You’ve covered up your face! It makes me sad.” I was SO glad she said it! I needed the reminder that this challenge isn’t a form of self-punishment. I don’t need to desperately cling on until I can ‘fix my face’ again. Just because I can wear make-up on certain occasions doesn’t mean I have to! That night I didn’t want to – I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t feel like me! It was so strange to find that the insecurity and discomfort I had once felt when I didn’t wear make-up was now triggered by wearing it.
So I washed it all off again and went downstairs for dinner in my girly dress with my hair tied up and my blemished skin exposed… And nothing happened! No-one gave me funny looks, no-one told me I looked ill, no-one laughed. In fact, no-one seemed to notice! Why? Because the people I was with were people who love me for who I am not what I look like. When they looked at me they didn’t see what was on the surface, they saw my heart and my personality – which remained unchanged. It took what I thought was a tough Lenten challenge requiring self-discipline and self-denial to make me realise that, but the joy that came from the revelation was immense.
I have imperfections. Tons of them. But they are what make me perfectly me. The me that I was made to be, the me that my friends love, and the me that I can allow myself to love as well.