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Did Jesus Really Tell Me to Throw Away My Mascara?!
Me and My Makeup
Makeup is artistic and self-expressive and fun. But even though I want to be artistic and self-expressive and fun, I don’t wear it – not anymore.
My relationship with makeup began in my cool, stylish grandma’s bathroom. I was just tall enough to look over the top of her olive green laminate countertop at a lineup of creams, clicky compacts, eyelash curlers, and eyebrow wax. I sat in a powdery smelling haze, entranced, as Grandma slicked on a thick layer of red lipstick, dabbing the excess with a piece of toilet paper.
Later, I would discuss makeup with my dad, who was, and in some ways still is, a hippie.
“If the barn needs painted,” he began.
“I like painting,” I said.
“But makeup is for when you’re old, honey,” he said. “When you need it. Right now you have natural beauty. So enjoy it while you have it. And when you don’t, wear makeup.”
By the time I was 22 and newly married, I had stopped waiting for the barn to need painting. Why wait for complete disrepair to clean things up a bit? So I applied makeup at 7:30 every morning with the faithfulness of Big Ben.
Makeup is like a cross between coloring and decluttering. It’s like your face is your very own portable, reusable coloring book. Or a closet waiting to be cleaned out and organized. Either way, it’s cathartic.
One morning, I stood before the mirror with my tiny arsenal of perfection-producing products. I particularly enjoyed mascara, because it made my eyes look bigger. This is important when your glasses prescription is higher than your credit score.
Anyway, there I was, mascara wand poised, mouth open, when God spoke to me.
Don’t click away, it wasn’t audible.
He spoke to my heart. In a still, small voice.
“Why are you doing that?”
I froze, mascara wand two inches from my face, and slowly turned my eyes heavenward.
“Don’t you think you’re beautiful?” God continued. “Don’t you like what I made?” Many years later, I would relate this story to Muslim friends. They would invariably shake their heads and rub the goosebumps out of their covered arms and say they wanted to cry.
I set down the wand and looked in the mirror.
“Is it possible you may be using makeup to hide yourself because you don’t feel good enough?”
I looked down at the perfection-related paraphernalia on my bathroom counter, then back up at the mirror.
“But I have a zit,” I whispered.
“What would happen if you just let that be there? What if your flaws were seen by others? What would happen?”
It occurred to me that not wearing makeup could be a kind of spiritual discipline. A way to practice simplicity, humbleness, and contentment. It could be an experiment in honesty.
I made a decision. I would just be myself. In front of people.
I threw everything in the trash.
And spent the next several weeks feeling very, very self-conscious.
The Taj Mahal
Two years later, I was living in India and thoroughly used to not wearing makeup.
My husband and I figured we should probably visit the Taj Mahal while we were there, so one day we embarked on the 20-hour journey from our house to one of the seven wonders of the world.
I know I don’t need to say it, but the Taj Mahal is really beautiful. If you get close, you can see that the Taj isn’t just made of plain white marble. It is covered with thousands of precious and semi-precious stones, hand-inlaid in the form of flowers, leaves, and Quranic verses.
From far away, the Taj is beautiful because it is so symmetrical and so grand. It’s also beautiful because of a feature you can’t really put your finger on. Somehow, in person, in the light of the sun, it is more glorious than in photographs. It appears lit up from within, almost as though the Taj itself were glowing.
Our guide explained why. He said the Taj glows because it is made of a special kind of white marble sourced from a place over 200 miles away and transported by elephants. This material is special because it is very slightly translucent. When light hits the Taj Mahal, it doesn’t just bounce straight back. Each ray of light entering the marble exits at a slightly different place, an effect called subsurface scattering.
Subsurface scattering is something artists and animators use to make certain renderings look real. In particular, they pay attention to subsurface scattering when trying to render realistic-looking skin tones.
As this animation article says, “Crucially, if there is no subsurface scattering on skin, then it won't look realistic because skin actually has a degree of translucency.”
In other words, one of the very same things that makes the Taj Mahal beautiful is exactly what makes our faces beautiful. Our skin is attractive because, no matter what color it is, it is just a tiny bit transparent. Our skin lets in the light, and the light bounces back in a hundred different directions. So even though you can’t put your finger on it, unpainted skin just looks a little bit . . . realer.
Meanwhile, Back at the Barn
Although the barn is probably closer to needing a coat of paint now than ever before, I’ve come to enjoy not wearing makeup. I love the way my skin breathes, the fact that my eyes don’t water, and the reduced complexity in getting ready.
I’ve also realized that this journey wasn’t really about makeup at all. Makeup is just a tool. A tool that really helps some people feel less self-conscious, by hiding scars or missing eyebrows or whathaveyou. That can be a huge blessing.
But when God called me to embark on this little experiment, I have a feeling He was interested in more than just my face.
Makeup let me hide my fatigue so nobody would know that I needed rest. It let me glow even when I didn’t take the time to drink water or go on a stroll in the sunshine. Makeup told the world I was fine, even if I wasn’t.
See, I’m a recovering perfectionist. Sometimes I’d give anything if I could only be a little more perfect. But perfectionism is not the same as obedience. It’s not the same as holiness. In some ways, it's the opposite of a growth mindset, because perfectionism can't tolerate the need to grow. It has to be perfectly perfect, inoffensive, and attractive, now and forever.
Perfectionism is rigid and cramped, like a thick layer of cheap foundation. Perfectionism causes us to hyperfocus on fixing small things and miss the deeper issues. Perfectionism doesn’t let us rest. It doesn’t let the light in or out. It might look kinda like holiness, but there is no light there.
Holiness invites us to come aside and follow Jesus, letting Him change us how He will. Even if changing us doesn’t make us look or feel perfect. Even if changing us makes us see why we needed a Savior in the first place. The call to holiness works together with the gift of grace to beautify our characters from the inside out.
And that process takes more time and more artistic talent than 15 minutes in the morning and a counter full of beauty products.
So, did Jesus tell me to throw away my mascara? Maybe. Or maybe He invited me to bring nothing but my honest, imperfect self on a journey. Not a journey to perfection, but to a place He will show me, in His time, and in His way.
What do you think? In what ways has God called you to authenticity in the past? How is He calling you to follow Him now? Hit reply or leave a comment. I’ll write more soon about perfectionism, and I’d love to know your thoughts!