I’ve longed to be one of those women who can throw on a plain white t-shirt and jeans and look effortlessly stunning. They gather their hair in an “I can’t be bothered” pony tail; their unadorned skin glows, flawless. They travel light through this world, floating serenely with one chic carry-on while the rest of us struggle, juggle and strain under the weight of so much baggage. They are simply beautiful.
For a long time, I believed it was because they were beautiful that they could be simple. With no need for adornment or correctives, their attitude toward appearances could be a dismissive “whatever.”
Not so for me. I could never pull off that stripped down, unselfconscious basics look. No, camouflage is my watchword, and camouflage requires strategy and complexity. I wear jackets over my t-shirts to create the illusion of a waist. Scarves draw attention to my face and away from “problem” areas. The right shoes make my legs look longer and leaner. My hair is colored, cut, sprayed, and fussed-with to hide the fact that it is not naturally dark, thick or made for insouciant pony tails. Makeup maximizes my eyes, minimizes my nose and takes away my natural, deathly pallor.
Camouflage is the opposite of simple.
It is intricacy and indirection. It shades truth just enough to hide your flaws (physical and otherwise) from the world. It is the little white lie that allows me to believe all the things I’m trying to hide aren’t even there at all.
One day I decided to try on simplicity and truth. It was Lent, and I wanted to offer God a costly gift, something that would shake up my safe and comfortable life.
At first I decided to give up non-essential shopping. The thought of such a fast horrified me- shopping is my art form and my opiate. After the first week, I realized even if I didn’t shop for 40 days, I could still look good, thanks to my ample wardrobe, jewelry box and makeup table. Just as I was thinking this fast was going to be easy I knew I had given up the wrong thing. If I really wanted fast to be meaningful and sacrificial, I was going to have to trade in my camouflage for simplicity.
So I did the unthinkable. I went the rest of Lent without any makeup, jewelry or complicated, elaborately accessorized outfits. It was just as hard as I thought it would be. Every time I left the house it felt like that nightmare where you are in Times Square naked, except for fuzzy bunny slippers. I was certain behind people’s polite hello-how-are-yous, they were shocked at my unmasking. I was sure they were whispering, tsk-tsking and just generally thinking less of me. I discovered people didn’t focus on my appearance nearly as much as I thought. In fact, they didn’t even notice my lack of adornment. It was an important lesson in humility.
While social interactions were fraught with anxiety, my interactions with God became calmer and more peaceful. There was something about abandoning pretense — even in God’s presence — that was pure relief. Giving up the gilding made it easier to recognize all the ways I had tried to pretty up the not-so-pretty parts of my soul.
During that Lent period, I still sat in front of my makeup mirror every morning, only now I looked at my clean-scrubbed face and said, “Here I am, Lord. I am not perfect, but I love You. I am not perfect, but You are. I want to live knowing You love me the way I am.”
I used to think naturally beautiful women could be simple because they didn’t need the complexity of camouflage, but through my fast I realized I had it backwards. My 33 days of exposure showed me that beauty emerges from simplicity, not the other way around. Beauty emerges from the honesty of showing God and the world who I am as I am.
I have gone back to wearing makeup and jewelry and complicated outfits. What can I say? I like pretty things. But my soul doesn’t need them anymore in the way it used to. The world has seen me unadorned, and it shrugged. God has always seen me plain and simple, and He calls me beautiful.