Hello There, Me: Why I Love the Way I Look, Bare-Faced, Gray Hairs and All
Have you given up makeup and hair color during the pandemic of 2020–2021, and like it?
Or maybe it’s not a pandemic thing. Feel more comfortable with a bare face, no makeup? Have gray hair and don’t care?
Are you a person of a certain age that has embraced their natural look (wrinkles, grays, and all) and couldn’t be happier?
Great! Welcome, you little natural wonders, you! I’ve been expecting you.
You see, I’ve embraced my natural look in a great big bear hug, especially now. And perhaps you have, too.
So much yes to THAT.
And with that, let’s stop for second: if you like makeup and hair color, and it’s your thing, terrific. Enjoy! This piece isn’t an anti-makeup/anti-hair color missive; I like wearing makeup from time to time (I don’t like messing with my hair however, but that’s me). I cordially invite you to read on, for a few of my discoveries, and at least a little chuckle along the way in my personal beauty journey of misery, mishaps, and triumphs.
So, here are the basics today: my look, (if you can call it that) is to sport a make-up free face (most of the time, except for special occasions), and to let my gray hairs just be (all the time).
It starts at the top (with hair, that is).
Asked recently to describe my hair color, I had to think about it for a moment. Brown; but…. dusty!
My medium brown short hair is woven with a fine strings of dusty gray-silver, mostly at the temples. Not literal dust, mind you, but the dust of age, years gone by, and wondrously mature hair.
When this phenomenon began in my late thirties, I didn’t like it and starting using hair color to distract away from the gray. It started with highlights. I didn’t put the highlights in myself. No way. I ALWAYS went to a professional because I was terrified to try it on my own.
The highlights looked great until it wasn’t capturing the grays as well. Then I moved to full color. Then full color with highlights. Then full color, highlights and lowlights.
I reached the end my journey at 43 (I think, give or take) and quit for good.
Why I quit: 1. Time; too much sitting around. 2. Too high maintenance and fussy; the more color, the more work. 3. Expensive. 4. Caused me anxiety during grow-out.
More on number four above: the grays would pop out faster and faster (and they brought lots of friends!), and it would look funny. It’s like nail polish (a product I quit using some time ago). Example: you have a lovely manicure and/or pedicure, and you get a big chip, gouge, or scratch in the paint; or it looks unkempt when the nails grow out; or the polish looks worn and faded. Not cool (for me anyway).
Back to hair.
That’s why hair color drove my perfectionist self over the edge.
Does my hair look good right now? Sure! I have a short haircut I love that suits my hairstyling laziness (read: wash and wear, basically), and the gray hair shows in a mighty way.
It’s all good until it’s not.
Truthfully, once and awhile, I get concerned that I might look too old, and the grays are a giveaway, since I’m looking for work right now. That’s a whole other story, and frankly it has nothing to do with hair, but how we address age in this society. But I digress.
Onto my face.
And that very face has not a speck, stitch or dollop of makeup to be found on my olive-colored skin, just my beloved lotions and potions (which I have too many because I am obsessed with skin science, health and wellness). In fact, most of the makeup that I do have is likely expired by now, a pandemic casualty, quite surely. Or maybe not. I guess I really haven’t checked since March of 2020, the last time I put on makeup (at least I think that’s when it was).
With a bare clean face, is my skin healthy, glowing and flawless? Decently healthy and glowing, never flawless. Cue sunspots, dark undereye circles on tired days or wicked-bad allergy days, and some around the eye skin crinkles and lines from laughing, age and worry.
I got to this place and like this place, but there’s a bit more that comes from the past that crafted my look today.
As a young teen, I got the green light from my parents to forge ahead in creating a hairstyle and a makeup look. I was excited, terrified, and determined, all at once. I took this as a challenge, and challenge it was.
I learned, quickly, that I was not terribly skilled or patient; I was willing to learn and try at least, more so than I am now.
Let’s start at the top again.
My hair was hard to work with: fine, but thick, and straight as a wire. My hair strands were, and are, unwavering with its texture and structure, and it quickly became my nemesis.
My junior high hairstyling attempts for the 1980s looks (feathered back, big hair, curls, swirls, kinks and waves) was a painful lesson, literally and figuratively, First, I tried a beginner feathered look in junior high which was swept back hair that was layered (think bird feathers, literally) for the sides of my hair, around my face, and the bangs that framed my forehead. To make the hairstyle work on me, I had to comb my layered and limp hair carefully back and spray hairspray, simultaneously, spraying it heavily and quickly, to capture the feather and hold into place. It took so much spray to make it hold that my hair was crisp, stiff, and moved as one entire piece on each side of my head. The hairspray smell (Aquanet) was like a strong cleaning solution smell and it was overwhelming for some time. If my hair got wet from the rain or got sweaty, the smell unleashed like this chemical fog, that stung the inside of my nostrils and my eyeballs. No idea if this impacted others in my path, but I suspect it did.
In high school, I tried to graduate into fluffy puffy curly big hair, but that too, was tough. Curling irons? Forget it. I was too slow to work the iron and got frustrated quickly when it didn’t come out right. I couldn’t produce many decent (read: perfect) curls at all, and the curls I did capture, would fall out within 20 minutes (even with loads of extra firm hairspray, unlike feathering where hairspray worked).
So, I went old school.
I put rollers in my hair after washing at night and partly drying it with the hairdryer; they were these uncomfortable pink sponge rollers with hard pink plastic clips to close them and I wore these to bed. They pinched and dug into my skull when I tried getting comfortable on my pillow. Eventually I’d fall asleep, and when I awoke, a couple of rollers went rogue and came loose, creating at least one or two strips of kinky hair.
I then graduated to using pieces of cloth and twisted and tied up my hair in tiny buns all over my head; think Star Wars Princess Leia buns (but many more and much smaller). I needed to be able to sleep. These were more comfortable to sleep on for sure, but typically unfurled and went rogue more easily when I rolled around on my pillow, producing an odd hairdo (one side of my head with kinky shaggy hair, the other side beautiful loose ringlets). I even tried a professionally done spot perm on the top of my head ONLY at a friend’s suggestion; that’s right, just the top that was cut into layers and permed. Think poodle on the top and afghan hound on the sides and the back. The spot perm fell out in mere weeks, thank the hair gods and goddesses.
I also tried hair color, for the first and last time, in the summer months during high school. I squeezed fresh lemon all over my head and laid in the sun without sunscreen of course, just baby oil on my skin. It did nothing to color my hair and the baby oil did nothing to protect my skin. So, I tried a horrible little product called Sun-In, a chemical spray, using the same sunbathing technique and turned my brown hair burnt orange.
Thankfully, the grown out wasn’t too painful from that experiment, again, thank the hair gods and goddesses.
The makeup gods and goddesses weren’t as forgiving back then though.
Oh, my teenage makeup (insert long, deep sigh). I didn’t like the bridge of my nose (a little crooked with a slightly noticeable deviated septum after taking a basketball to the face as an adolescent from an errant, hard thrown pass); crooked teeth with a pronounced overbite on top, that I wanted to downplay; deep dark under eye circles from allergies or lack of sleep; and the occasional blossoming zit by my nose or mouth.
I studied beauty magazines for makeup tips to solve my perceived imperfections and they all said the same thing, so much so, it became my mantra:
Play up the eyes! Downplay the lips! Conceal, conceal, conceal!
I used my new-found knowledge and mantra by investing in cheap drugstore makeup or procuring my mom’s leftovers. The concealers produced at the time were designed more for white skin tones, not brown skin like mine, so I sometimes had harsh whitish stripes down the bridge of my nose and under my eyes. If I used foundation (which I LOATHED how it felt on my skin, so I only used it for special occasions to make my makeup last longer), it looked like blotchy or streaky white skin, attached to my brown neck. I tried to blend it, but the more I blended, the worse it got it seemed. I have no idea why.
And my pimple covering process was horrifying (skin care experts, avert your eyes). I would pop it, scrub it with hydrogen peroxide until it quit oozing and/or bleeding, followed by a light dab with a Q-tip full of toothpaste (that’s right), blended the toothpaste and conceal, conceal, conceal.
My mom, who had lovely skin with no lesions like mine, didn’t wear much makeup, yet tended to get makeup kits as gifts, which she’d give me the colors she didn’t want. My mom’s leftovers (like lipstick, blush, and eyeshadow) were for designed for her light skin, so I doubled, and sometimes tripled down, on the volume by applying heavily caked color on my eyelids and cheeks to make it show. I also figured more color would take away attention from my blending or lack thereof. It was a complex process to say the least.
Yet, my high school look and beauty routine came to a screeching halt during the summer before my senior year of high school though.
I got orthodontia right before turning eighteen (oh, the horror!) that made my teeth and mouth look like pure molten monstrous metal. Add to that mess of gunmetal silver some beige rubber bands stretched from front to back on the top and bottom teeth for treatment, along with a frequently sliced and diced mouth, gums and lips from broken brackets and wires, stuck food morsels, and sadly, so much more, I realized, there’s no amount of make-up or a hairdo that can help. None.
So, I gave up and it was beautiful.
Makeup, if any, was lighter and simpler, and I lost interest on whether it lasted. Meh. Didn’t matter. Holidays or special occasions, I would do a little something, of course, but didn’t think about it much. I cut my hair into a short straight bob (think Roaring Twenties) that was easy to style and pain-free, literally and figuratively. Despite my hideous mouth, my new beauty routine and look were really freeing: more time, more money saved and put towards other things, and less worry. I just did my thing and counted down the days my mouth would look normal.
My freshman year of college the braces came off, and I had nice straight teeth, a grand payoff! Did I buy lipstick galore? Nope. As a student with not a lot of spare cash, luxury expenditures were food, concerts, gear for my bike, and the occasional beer, not necessarily in that order. Cosmetics, hair products and haircuts weren’t in the equation. I grew my hair quite long so I wouldn’t have to pay for many haircuts, cut my own bangs or had a friend do it, and kept makeup simple, if I wore any, so I didn’t have to buy much. Did I look a little haggard at times? Sure did. Did people tell me I looked like a hippie chick on the regular? Of course. But I was busy worrying about other stuff and shrugged it off.
As I entered the work force post-school after a long-fought battle to find a job in a recession (where I ended up landing in a corporation), I thought I needed to try more. So, I had my hair professionally cut in a short pixie cut that was easy, stylish and low maintenance, and kept it maintained on the regular with a good hairdresser and spent a little bit of money on cosmetics. I thought professional women had to look the part, and that included hair and makeup, right?
Special occasions, now that I was professional, needed to be elevated, too, so I thought.
My wedding day to my lovely husband was indeed a special occasion, so it was really go-time. Our wedding was casual and low key; but my face and hair were not. For the first time in more than a decade, I went back to studying make-up tutorials in magazines to perfect what I thought was a pretty bridal look. I practiced regularly and invested real time and money (two things I didn’t really have in abundance, but I made it work) to make my look what I thought it was supposed to be. First a businesswoman, now a wedding woman. Magazine ready indeed.
I spent a good amount of time on my makeup the afternoon before the wedding, until I expertly achieved the look that the magazines all described. Perfection! Camera ready! I tried to style my short-bobbed hair, but that failed (my maid of honor, skilled with hairstyling, took over, thankfully), so I had full, soft, voluminous hair in the end!
It looked great, but it was exhausting and stressful to produce, and I was thrilled to wash my face and rinse out that hairdo by the end of the evening.
I guess I continued to wash, rinse and repeat even more so as time pressed on.
The corporate career gave way to quitting said corporation, said marriage flourished onto having two kids, raising said children until they were school age (makeup, hair, huh?), then contracting and freelance work, where I worked out of my home office most of the time, and worked in the field, events or in the office sometimes, for many years, including to the present. Makeup was limited (if I worked outside my home office, I enjoyed getting fancy here and there), and my hair was either quite long (well past the shoulders) or incredibly short. Mid-length hairstyles were too much work to look right; I tried to avoid the temptation, which wasn’t always successful. When mid-length worked, it worked, and when it didn’t, it really didn’t. My hair tends to flip up at the ends at that length, it could resemble the shape of a bell, which looked terrible. Bell hair don’t care — NO. Bell hair DID care, on a few occasions to near-tears, which looking back is quite silly, but nonetheless true.
So, what is this all about? Some hair and makeup pandemic simplicity? Absolute necessity? Laziness? Freedom? Revolution? Revolt? Boredom? All of it? None of it?
For me, here’s what I know for sure: time saved (yes!), money saved (yes! yes!), simplicity and ease (yes! yes! yes!).
So many questions for just a face and head of hair, really. Deep thoughts, ha.
What isn’t so deep; I’m better not fussing with hair and face. I’m not good at it. I’m too anxious clearly. I love orderly and simplistic things (for those who follow astrology, I’m the Virgo poster child). Letting my natural hair and face shine through is a form of self-care for me. I suspect this may be the case for others, too, and for some, realized during the pandemic.
I don’t worry about crooked noses, dark circles, lines, gray hair, and teeth (which have now moved back to where they were before pretty much, as my loathsome retainers blessedly broke years ago). Imperfect in this case for this perfectionist seems to serve me quite well as I journey forward.
And yes, I show my age. I like my age and have grown more confident about my age.
I also acknowledge that I want to look good. Heck yeah. But I want to look good on my terms, not what I think I must do. Or what others expect me to do. And the older I get, the less willing I am to do something I don’t enjoy. Don’t get me wrong; I like to do a little dress up and do fancy days every now and again, and that’s great. But it’s an option, a choice, a fancy.
And the mirror is an old friend who I like to see. Hello there, me.