Fruitful Emptiness: Bare Essentials

Our recent trip to Maui was my brother-in-law’s graduation gift to his eldest daughter, Loreah. When asked what she loved so much about Maui, one of the things Loreah called to mind was the fact that we girls never have to wear make up when we are there. And I have to agree with her. Whenever we’re on Maui, we only ever need the bare essentials: sunscreen, lip balm, and a sense of humor. Everything else just came out in the water, anyway.

Everyone understands the pressure to look a certain way, to dress a certain way. Sometimes those expectations are reasonable; you dress up professionally for work, appropriately for church, comfortably for the gym. But there’s definitely another side to these expectations that can take its toll on a person. Every season there’s a new shade of red, a new cut of jeans, a new pair of shoes. There’s the need to be thin, the need to be tall, the need to have just the right amount of pout and squint and bedhead.

I added up the amount of time it takes me on a daily basis to keep up appearances. I’m not a particularly dolled-up kind of girl, but the math really astounded me. It takes me 12 minutes just to blow dry my hair (it’s that thick Asian hair), 5 minutes to do my make up, and approximately 10 minutes to decide struggle with agonize over what to wear everyday. That’s 27 minutes a day; 9,855 minutes a year; 164 hours and 15 minutes. That doesn’t even count the amount of time it takes me to do my nails, groom my eyebrows, shave my legs, or wax my upper lip. It doesn’t count the amount of time I spend reading fashion blogs, scouring #ootd posts on Instagram, or shopping for clothes and shoes. It doesn’t count the amount of time I spend on the weighing scale, or counting calories, or criticizing myself in front of the mirror.

Not to say that one shouldn’t take the time to look good. Like I said, some of these expectations are reasonable. Self-presentation is a language; it can be used to express respect (and self-respect), enthusiasm, intelligence, even love. However, this recent trip to the island has me reflecting on the amount of time and energy I have been spending on my personal appearances, and what that means to me. What it says about me. What it takes away from me.

Our adornments are supposed to serve us, but in my own life it has often felt as if I were serving my adornments. My clothes and shoes and make up and hair started to wear me, rather than the other way around. But the truth is, one can look professional without making a job out of getting ready in the morning. One can look respectable without looking like a street fashion blogger. It’s okay to walk out the door with damp hair and no make up. And I have no reason to be ashamed of myself just because I don’t have a 22-inch waist, or because I have cellulite on the back of my thighs.

So I’ve been refining my balance between self-presentation and self-obsession, or in some ways, self-oppression. I’ve been learning to appreciate the color of my own eyes, the touch of my own skin, the shine of my own hair. I’ve been learning to dress the body that I have, rather than wishing I could dress like the body that I don’t have. I’ve been making an effort to spend less time on the trappings that adorn me so I could have more time to actually be me. And you know what, I thought I would feel uncomfortable, conspicuous, and awkward. But the truth is I’ve felt more free in my own skin than I have in a long while.

Actually, that’s not true. Because the last time I felt this free in my own skin was when I was on vacation not more than a month ago. I guess you can say this is a souvenir that I took with me from the island, the knowledge that I don’t need nearly so much stuff to be happy with the girl in the mirror. Really, I just need the bare essentials: sunscreen, lip balm, and a sense of humor. 

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