I was surprised to see myself jumping on the no make-up selfie bandwagon last month.
True confession time: I don't usually like the 'share-this-if-you-love-this' thing on Facebook. I (for probably obvious reasons) really, really disliked the Neknominate thing that happened earlier this year, although I did warm to it a little more when I saw a friend filming herself enjoying a nice cup of tea. I don't tend to join in when these things go around. And when I first saw people's faces popping up, foundation-free, on Facebook, with the whole 'I'm-doing-this-for-cancer' ethos attached to them my first thought was: how stupid. How is that going to help beat cancer?!
And then I bothered to read on. People were donating as well as taking pictures. The pictures were just a catalyst to get people to text. I've read some pretty scathing opinions about the no make-up selfie thing, usually along the lines of 'Look how narcissistic we are that we can't give to charity without plastering our faces over Facebook and publicly declaring it' but hey - it worked, and Cancer Research UK are now £2 million better off because of it.
Second true confession time: I already had a no make-up selfie on my Kindle (always be prepared!). It was for a blog post I had been thinking about, and am still thinking about, to the point where I'm kind of writing it today. And so when I was nominated, I popped it onto Facebook and felt a warm fuzzy glow at being part of something that raised so much money for charity.
And do you know what? I liked seeing all these women popping up on my Facebook feed bare-faced. I liked the ballsiness that came with it. It felt a bit like rebellion against social norms. Because for as many beautiful women I know that wear little or no make-up day to day and feel completely happy and confident for it, I know more that have to put it on every day. And it's scary to let the whole world see your face without anything on it.
That includes me.
Third true confession time: this is what I feel it takes to make me look less like a washed-out zombie child every morning:
It's probably a lot less than some people, and I still get frustrated when I look at photos of myself and see that I look washed-out despite all of the above items, but I refuse to go down the contouring-highlighting-bronzing-eyebrow filling road, because it takes long enough already.
Before you start feeling sorry for me - don't. I don't really mind the way I look. Sometimes I wear less make-up, sometimes I wear more. Generally I've accepted that I am who I am, and apart from the odd wobble day, I feel happy about what I look like.
But I do wonder.
I wonder what my life would look like if I had that ten minutes a day back. Ten minutes a day. That's seventy minutes a week. That's 3,640 minutes a year. That equates to (if I have worked this out right) roughly 2.5 days a year.
I wonder what our need to paint our faces says about us. What it says about society and pressure. What it says about our freedom. Yes, we have the freedom to choose. Yes, make-up makes me feel good. Yes, I (sometimes) enjoy the ritual of putting it on before I go out for an evening because I feel I'm anticipating something that's worth dressing up for.
But do I enjoy it when I have to get out of bed earlier to do it? Do I enjoy it when I'm trying to not poke myself in the eye with mascara while the baby whinges because she's bored/tired/hungry?
Do I enjoy the fact that I am at the point where I feel like I have to wear it?
Which leads me to this.
True confession number four: I have a really old dressing table. An elderly couple gave it to my Dad, who then gave it to me. They bought it sometime in the 40's. This dressing table is potentially seventy years old. This is completely irrelevant to the confession, but no-one ever gets to see my ancient dressing table because it's hidden under a pile of junk in the spare bedroom that is forbidden to visitors so I never get to show off about it.
Anyway. This is what my body, almost-eight-months-post-giving-birth, looked like when I snapped it in the dressing table mirror today:
Admittedly I have good and bad days with my strange ever-changing belly and this is one of the not-so-good days, but still. I've been complimented quite a few times on how quickly I lost my baby weight. I took the compliments well (I guess I'm good at hiding the tummy, by the way). Because we do mean it well, don't we? It's seen as a great thing if we immediately lose those extra fleshy bits. And despite everything I wrote about in my last post about body-image-issues, you know, all that nice stuff about how I quite like the extra weight I'm putting on, I don't really like the baby belly.
I can't even really call it a baby belly because there's no baby in it (I repeat: there is DEFINITELY no baby in it). But I'm aware of it. Not to the point where it upsets me, but to the point where I think a little more carefully about what I'm wearing (case in point: I would not have gone out today only wearing that top. Although that is partially because I'd be far too cold). In fact, it was only a few days ago that I was shopping for a wedding outfit with my sister-in-law and I was saying 'I can't wear that because of the baby belly.'
It doesn't bother me too much, and to be honest, I'm not motivated enough to start doing crunches every day to try and shift it. But it really, really bothers other women. There are 118 million results on Google for 'how to lose baby weight'. There's a whole section in the People magazine website called 'Body After Baby' so we can closely study how the celebrities drop the weight. There are people like the 'No Excuse Mom' who tell us that, no, motherhood is NOT an excuse to not have a flat stomach.
And do you remember when Kate Middleton had George? There was this flurry of excitement about it when she stepped out of that hospital looking quite impossibly beautiful, but also, sporting a little tummy. People responded to this because she felt real. We could connect to a woman who was unafraid of (gasp!) daring not only to have a bit of a tummy a few days after giving birth, but also because she wasn't afraid to show it. When Hello! magazine printed the headline 'Kate's post-baby weight loss regime' the next day, there was a backlash against it. People felt defensive of her. Leave Kate alone! She's only just had a baby! etc.
A little while later, though, the headlines were back again. Just three months later, Kate is showing off her post-baby body in skinny jeans (or, you know, just wearing them) and the magazines are talking about it again. How did she do it? And the message is clear. A few days after birth? Baby bump is allowed. Three months later? Probably time to start working to get rid of it.
I don't think we've progressed as women, as much as we think we have. Because I am reading very mixed-messages in the media about women, and not just celebrity gossip media either. Do you notice how much we focus on beautiful young women? 'You can be just as smart, accomplished, and talented as men, but for goodness' sake don't you dare look old or fat doing it.'
And isn't it sad that this is what the beautiful, wonderful, mysterious nature of motherhood is reduced to? How quickly can you get rid of the proof that it ever happened? How quickly can you go back to pretending you're still a skinny twenty-year old? How fast can you prove that you are more than just a mother?
Just to be clear. I'm not saying we shouldn't be trying to keep fit, or be healthy. If we're honest, most of us could stand to do a little (or a lot) more exercise. And I'm not about to jump on the 'real women have curves' bandwagon! Some women just drop the weight and that's that. Some women are naturally slim. And that's fine. Some women really enjoy wearing make-up (as do I some of the time) and that's fine too. I'm not about to jump on the 'smart women don't have time to wear make-up' thing. I think we should be able to wear blusher and still use our brains. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look nice.
And I know this all sounds harsh. But I'm speaking to myself as much as anyone else. I know plenty of women that give little time or thought to this sort of thing, and that's fine. But statistics tell me that they are uncommon: according to this study, 90% of British adult women feel body-image anxiety. Given that percentage, shouldn't we be discussing it? Or even thinking about it? Questioning what we consider to be normal and whether what we read or watch is damaging us or other people? Or why we're putting on make-up every day?
If we don't, then what will that percentage be like when our daughters grow up?
Why are we all so intent on following what the media tells us is acceptable? Why do we feel that it's only okay to go make-up-free if we're doing it for charity? Why are there whole sections of gossip websites dedicated JUST to celebrities post-baby bodies and why on earth are women reading them?! (Not all women, obviously. But enough of them to warrant the articles about it).
I don't know. And I don't know what to do about it. I'm not sure how to square my inner knowledge that I am actually beautiful, no-make-up-face-with-baby-belly and all, with the fact that I still need to apply mascara before I go out in the mornings. I'm not sure that I like myself for doing or feeling these things, but at the same time I'm not about to step out of the house completely bare-faced any time soon.
I just wish we didn't need so many articles about it. On how to lose the flab and how to dress and apply your make-up so you look better. I wish that women embracing how they look naturally, with no make-up or photoshopping, wasn't such a shocking or headline-grabbing thing. I wish that there weren't people out there taking photographs of people's stomachs. And I wish that women wouldn't want to read about it.
And I wish people would write - and read, and be comforted by - things like this:
'First of all, our bodies are tools, not treasures. You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want a very dinged and dinted body. Motherhood uses your body in the way that God designed it to be used. Those are the right kind of damages.' - Rachel Jankovic - 'Loving the Little Years.'
I'm not sure that there is a neat answer to this. But I know that the next time I look at my baby belly and I think about sighing, I'm going to try and praise God for my healthy body instead. And the next time I see an article explaining how the latest famous-for-some-reason person has achieved a flat stomach three days after giving birth, I'm going to loudly and defiantly turn away from it instead. Like a teenager having a strop. That kind of thing.
Maybe you'll give it a go with me? We could start a 'we're-going-to-treasure-our-bodies-in-their-different-seasons' craze. And maybe a 'we're-not-reading-these-trashy-magazines-and-websites-anymore' revolution. ;)