As most of you know, I grew up half-Chinese in a mostly white area. And while I know a lot of people who grew up “different” that always felt extreme pressure to be just like everyone else, I felt the opposite. I felt like the rules of how you’re supposed to look or act didn’t apply to me. It was freeing. So when I look at teenage girls and the struggles they face, I need to force myself to have patience because I really don’t understand what makes some people work so hard to fit an ideal. And I say teenage girls because the most hyperbolic and shameless examples of obsession are usually in that group, but it goes beyond age and gender. I see twinges of it in so many. Clients who were told they were too “this” or “that” when they were young and the scars run deep. For a 45+ year old client to base the haircut they want on someone telling them their nose was too big when they were a teenager is wild to me but it happens. (SIDE NOTE: sometimes facial features grow at different rates during puberty so even if your nose might’ve been proportionately too big at one point doesn’t mean it is now…)
The way we distort images of ourselves is not a new topic, so what more could I have to say about it? We all either are or know girls who won’t cut their hair because they want it longer even though the bottom six inches is so split and damaged you can see through it because they are looking at LA beauties with extensions and thinking that their hair would look like that if it was just another two inches longer… or people who bring in a picture of a fairly light blonde but don’t feel like their hair is as light as the picture until it is white. And fitness obsession: not everyone body can achieve a thigh gap (especially if your hips are narrow) or a six pack. But I just want to say a few things to keep in mind when navigating the murky waters of self-judgment.
Understand who you are and what you actually look like. One thing I’ve learned from doing countless bridesmaids and family members at weddings is that a lot of women have something that they just don’t feel like “them” without. Generally it is something very small like mascara, undereye concealer or filling in the brow area lightly and it isn’t a cause for concern by any means. But from time to time I come across someone who is extremely rigid and cannot identify with the person in the mirror until something very extreme has been applied to their face, like lots of black eye shadow or altering their foundation until they are uniformly three shades darker all over their face. But what makes me crazy is that they are looking at pictures of celebrities with gorgeous sunkissed highlighting and contouring but don’t identify with it until they are a completely unnatural color.
For some reason it seems like in our culture people become very obsessed with particular features and are much less holistic in their approach to their appearance. Maybe it is because of marketing… because it is easier to sell something to improve one feature at a time rather than to look at their whole face/body and identify for themselves what needs adjusted. It’s easier to focus on lashes and then show photos of models with lash extensions and get people to want their lashes to be better. “Lashes are just a part of the finished look” doesn’t sell mascara.
It also amazes me how many people don’t really know their natural hair texture. Between hormones and medications and shampoo and product changes, the hair you had at 14 is probably not the hair you have 5, 10, 20+ years later but people still will base their beliefs on their hair on struggles they had when they were young. I’m not saying people shouldn’t style their hair by any means, just sometimes a person could benefit from taking a step back and trying to be objective instead of carrying all this baggage into their every day beauty ritual.
When you can look at your naked face and naked hair in the mirror and feel like you are looking at yourself, that is when you can make the best decisions about style, makeup and hair care.
Understand how photography and lighting change how you feel about certain images. Everytime I do a photoshoot with a model, especially when I have colored her hair for the shoot, the photographer will give me choices based on lighting and camera settings that really alter the mood and overall tonal qualities of the image and the hair. Understand that when the ultra, ultra cool blonde model leaves the set and is in the real world, her hair will probably look cool still, but closer to the natural range. And this isn’t about photoshop as much as it is about context. I think this is a factor that comes into play when you see girls who don’t feel blonde until their hair is almost white. Obviously platinum is a look that is quite striking and pretty awesome on some people, but my worry is that I hear people say all the time that they want something natural and not to be too light but then they aren’t satisfied until they are waaaay beyond any natural shades. People are at times terrified of warm tones but sometimes they make more sense… but there is a certain way some people fixate and see “red” or “copper” in everything and those colors are just part of the spectrum and sometimes if you completely take them away the color will feel hollow or artificial. Again, what looks good changes from person to person but my concern isn’t with what people do, it’s with how they feel about it and the “it’s never enough” attitude is worrisome to me.
But lighting can also thin and distort and change so much about a picture. Now with selfies you can always snap a picture of yourself, but that doesn’t mean that the picture is how you look to other people. And I also think the use of photoshop is really overemphasized because good lighting can remove a lot of flaws without post-editing. As can using professional makeup artists.
I read an article from a professional makeup artist recently about how all the internet beauty bloggers are teaching people makeup artist “secrets” that just don’t make any sense for everyday wear. And it’s true… you don’t highlight and contour the same way or with the same products when you are mostly walking around with overhead fluorescent lighting….. On set you have to do so much more so the persons features will translate realistically and not flatten from the lighting.
Understand that healthy will always be more beautiful. Admittedly, there are plenty of perverts and people living half in fantasy worlds that think otherwise, but most of our standards of beauty stem from what is healthy. Long hair was associated with beauty originally because it was a sign that the woman was young, healthy and fruitful. I think most people would agree now that hair down to your middle back but badly damaged is not more attractive than hair even four or five inches shorter. Yet the tantrums I hear from fourteen year olds arguing with their mom at the salon… my my my. I love gorgeous long hair as much as the next person, I don’t think, stylistically, that short hair makes sense for everyone…. but when your hair is not healthy at all, it does not look good. The same goes when people flat iron it until it looks like straw (sometimes to make it look longer). Shiny straight hair can be gorgeous but what happens is they see images of people with healthy and shiny straight hair and they want that hair, they are attracted to the image because the hair look healthy but the take away, the obsession is placed on the straightness.
Likewise, tan can be beautiful, but orange is not. A nice tan can make your skin glow and people see the healthiness of nicely tanned skin and they try to emulate the darkness, not the healthiness. But even if your taste is more dramatic than natural, the health of the skin and the hair should be the number one priority because once you have a good foundation, there is more possibility.
I will leave you a gorgeous picture of Miss Maddie Toy by Brosius Photographics with some very natural makeup. Take care everyone, stay beautiful and don’t lose track of who you are!