When I was fifteen, I first realized that I was a little judgy. OK, maybe a lot judgy. And also a perfectionist. I was on an Episcopal Youth Retreat, in spite of much protestation. When I signed up, I didn’t realize that it conflicted with some pretty major high school events, and, as I was fifteen, I did not feel I could sacrifice my social capital in this way. I also didn’t know anyone at this retreat, so my social anxiety was off the charts.
But I had committed to it and my parents had paid money. So my mom kicked me out of the car anyways (rude), and since I was feeling very fragile and annoyed, I did nothing to ingratiate myself with these people. They were nice to me anyways, and I ended up having a very meaningful weekend. So much so that I went back on staff several times.
I wanted to remember what I had learned about not being the worst and not being so afraid of being seen, so I decided to stop wearing make up. At the time, I had some acne woes, so I had started wearing foundation every day to cover up said blemishes. But if I didn’t wear make up, I would have to look at my face in the mirror and get comfortable with what wasn’t perfect.
I am a true martyr, I know.
Since that time, I have had a tendency to feel superior about my decision to not wear make up. Look at that, the thing that was supposed to help me be less judgy did not ultimately cure my judginess, it just redirected it. My acne has faded, and so what started out as this big, scary decision has become normal. My current day to day motivation for not wearing make up is a combination of not liking how it feels on my face, and not thinking I really need it. Sure, I wear make up at weddings and stuff, but most days it just seems like a waste of time.
I thought of make up like real life photo shop, used to cover up what we don’t want people to see, and I thought this had soul-level ramifications. And for me, it did. The thing is, I used to use make up to hide, but now, not wearing make up has also helped me hide. By not accentuating certain facial features, I get to dictate and control the attention that I get, especially from dudes. I get to not be noticed until I want to be. I mean, most of the time. So, in spite of my efforts, my decision to not wear make up has not actually solved any of my soul-level issues. It did not magically make me a different person. My derpiness just found another way to express itself.
I tend to think of empathy in terms of “How would I feel in this situation, or if someone did x to me?” But I wonder now how accurate a picture that paints of each other. Because the reality is that it isn’t me going through that situation. The person with whom I am trying to empathize is their own collection of emotions and memories and wounds and joys. I can’t force my paradigm onto them and still honor the individual they are. It’s like comparing my insides to their outside. It doesn’t work.
Empathy demands that we commit fully to the other person’s point of view. When I look at someone who is wearing make up, I cannot assume that they do not like how their face looks. People wear make up as a form of expression and enhancement. It also shows time and care has been spent, implying a preparation for the day or the event. That’s not an inherently bad thing.
When I think about true empathy, I am drawn to Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” It’s not about making assumptions about each other based on what we see. It’s about an intimacy that says, “Your pain is my pain.” This is hard, y’all. I don’t even want to feel my own pain, let alone somebody else’s. And yet, it is crucial for genuine human connection. This act, however, keeps us from getting stuck in our own heads. Through empathy, we also learn more about who God is and who we are in relation to him. We learn the truth of our beauty, which is not contingent on any ephemeral standard, but is a soul-deep truth, out of which we can choose to wear make up or not.
Ultimately, my decision to wear or not wear make up does not change anything about who I am deep down. It can communicate laziness or superficiality depending on who is looking at me. But the truth is there are a million different reasons, both implicit and explicit, as to why a person would choose to wear make up or not wear make up. Maybe my decision to not wear make up is partially due to laziness, but that is not all of who I am as a human, as a woman, as a Christian. The only way we will know is to ask.