It’s my first day at work. I go through the employee entrance, check my handbag, use the restroom, then head out to find a register and punch in. The department store hasn’t turned it’s lights on yet, so there’s an eerie, homey feel to the first floor. Having just talked to my mom on the phone, I feel calm and confident – I have sales experience and personality, so I can take this new learning curve in stride.
Then the lights come on, then I meet my new co-workers, then the customers flood the building. And I feel completely inadequate. It has nothing to do with my ability to talk to customers, manage their requests, and sell them clothing; neither are my colleagues unfriendly or hard to work with. It’s just that once the day gets started and I see everything in action, I realize that my heartfelt commitment to Individually Sourced Beauty is completely out of place here.
Allow me to recap: at the end of 2013, I made a commitment to consume as little as possible within the beauty industry for the whole year of 2014. My goal was to finish completely the products I owned (so as not to waste anything), and not purchase more (so as not to create new demand). These two objectives contributed to my overall vision of gaining perspective on what it means to feel beautiful from the inside, out. This concept, which flies in the face of popular cultural standards, is the phrase I used earlier, “Individually Sourced Beauty” (ISB). Even though I coined it, you don’t owe me 25¢ every time you want to use it. And by all means, please use it frequently.
A week ago, I moved to DC with my boyfriend. ISB was a flame that flickered before I had a concrete idea of where I would get a foothold (read: paycheck) within the city, and it turns out that my first foothold here is a major department store. A place where the look, the smell, and the staff are designed to outwardly source a person’s beauty. In the last few days I have come to understand that the popular idea of what makes a woman beautiful doesn’t just boil down to the products sold at the cosmetic’s counter. Although my original commitment to ISB focused on beauty products like concealer, perfume, and hair treatments, there are larger forces at play.
Do you own super-versatile cardigans in this season’s two most popular colors? Have you been told that the expectation for dress on the business trip you’re taking is “work-casual”? Are you self-conscious about the way your dress pants sit on your hips? Do you have shoes to go with that? You’re petite, so stay away from three-quarter length sleeves. You’re tall, so pants generally aren’t made for you – but we can have them altered. This dress is an investment in your professional future.
You can see, beauty in our culture isn’t just about what’s on your face or how your hair and skin look. That was my original premise, and it’s incomplete. Rather, mainstream beauty is also about the whole image that one projects. And suddenly, as the customers come to my department and willingly consume ticketed beauty, the ISB flame in my heart begins to sputter. Which is okay – every vision needs to be challenged, every commitment one makes should be reassessed and reaffirmed. I believe that this environment actually inspires me to dig in my heels and hang on to ISB come hell or high water. It does, however, put me at odds with the place that is giving me money bi-weekly for my time and effort.
All of that to say that so far, February has been an eye-opening month for me. And I invite you to consider how your environment either buffets or builds your unique, wonderful, individual beauty. Once you have identified the actors on your feeling beautiful, I challenge you to fence in the things that don’t make you feel good and channel the things that do. I’m convinced ISB hinges on women being empowered to critically assess the influences that have been specifically designed to channel our behavior toward specific industries like fashion and beauty. Taking a position of power in developing our self-esteem in spite of those influences absolutely kindles our sense of hope that what God gave us naturally is enough.
As an example, I’m surrounded by people buying pretty things all day, and I recognize that I feel left out if I don’t also purchase something. So I’ve drawn a distinct boundary that there is nothing in my department store that I need to purchase. “That’d be nice, but I have enough already,” is my mantra. Additionally, I feel most beautiful when I make healthy decisions. The smart way to accomplish that is to pack my lunch every day (has anyone ever eaten at Panda Express and afterward been like, “I feel GREAT.”?), and identify a time to go running every other day – no matter what my crazy retail schedule is like.
So find those strategies. It has been critical for me in taking charge of my ISB and putting my hope in the DNA that God gave me, versus the status of wearing the “right” thing or looking the “right” way. Just something to think about.
In ISB projects this month, there are several things to report. First, I tried dyeing my hair with Rooibos tea. Don’t believe anything you read on the internet (except for what I’m about to say) – it doesn’t work. So for now, I’m living with the consequences of having colored my naturally brown/blonde hair red, and experiencing extreme roots. I explained this to my boyfriend and he said, “I don’t see what you’re talking about.” I’m talking like, two inch roots! And he poured tea over my head while I did a back-stand over the tub wall. He’s great.
Second, and also within the hair realm, I decided that there is no getting around a professional haircut. My friends think that this ISB project is cool, but none wished to participate in the role of hairdresser. I thought about cutting my own hair, and then realized (thank goodness) that without a little give and take, ISB turns into hippy-dippy folly. I did get my hair cut professionally, by a woman that came recommended from family and neighbors – she was totally delightful and I enjoyed meeting her. I intentionally steered clear of a nationwide chain, and got a haircut that is easy to manage without styling products.
Third, I made deodorant. IT WORKS. It’s a recipe that I found here, made of coconut oil, corn starch, and baking soda. My stinky boyfriend uses it too, and it holds up for his terrifyingly hairy pits – often into a second day. I wore it with dress clothing and it doesn’t leave white marks, which is amazing.
And finally, my goals for March. I want to research real data on the fashion and beauty industry. How much do they generate annually? What are the effects on culture and people, and how does that further play into our hopefulness for the present and future? How do men factor into this equation? These are some lines of inquiry which will hopefully lead to some illuminating nuggets of information. Further, I want to explore thrift and consignment stores within my new DC digs. A prime example of retail that doesn’t generate more demand on a market and hints at a more developed environmental consciousness as well.
Finally, I need to figure out how to get clean in the shower without traditional soap. We’ll see.
So thanks for checking in, and rest in God’s beautiful plan until next time 🙂