In Defence of Playing Dress Up

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my makeup habits a lot.

Why do I wear this stuff? How I justify hauling a “mask” of sorts around town? What am I trying to prove? What am I trying to hide? 

While sometimes the answer is “Um, obviously you’re trying to hide that pimple, Shauna,” I have realized that these questions as a whole are flawed. My makeup isn’t really a mask.

IMG_8802Story time.

Growing up, my mother rarely wore makeup. She was a low-maintenance country girl and, perhaps more importantly, she had four little people to look after. I was the oldest of these, and the only girl.

On very special occasions, my mother would unleash the mystical cosmetics bag. I would watch, fascinated, as she expertly curled her lashes and powdered her face with whatever-that-stuff-was. She would share her eye shadow with me (just a little bit, just for fun) and I would giggle as I buried my little feet in her size-8 shoes.

Dress up was one of my favourite games.

My day-to-day makeup free momma was no more or less beautiful than the date night version, and she was certainly no more or less my momma. Still, I really dug the special-occasions grooming process. I loved watching my mother ceremonially draw on her face before leaving us with the babysitter. Once, in one of my most embarrassing moments ever, I even stole red nail polish from my her bathroom and tried to use it as lipstick.

(Wait. Let’s just take a moment to reflect on how stupid that was.)

Fast forward through a few face paint faux pas and the turtleneck-centric middle school years, and I found myself in the dress up big leagues. High school meant my choices were endless and personal. It also meant that the factors influencing those choices were complicated. I had more self to express, more peers to please, more categories and clothes and I finally got my ears pierced. 

So I shaved my head, then dyed my hair brown for awhile. I went through everything from au naturel months, to questionably bold colours, earthy tones, pinkish glows, red lipsticks. I wore cowboy boots. I wore sneakers. I wore huge hoop earrings and tiny necklaces. I stole (borrowed?) my mother’s nail polish once again, and actually managed to finally use it right.

This was dress up. This was the same game my mother played when she got ready for a night on the town. The same game I played as a giggly little kid, stumbling around in mom’s shoes with 20 different barrettes falling out of my hair. 

…and it’s the game I play now, as I try on my third outfit and rush through my current eyeliner-infused routine each morning.

And so the questions follow:

Why do I keep playing this game? Am I trying to be something I’m not?

Hardly.

Actually, as I look back on my life, it appears to be quite the opposite: Dress up isn’t about denying who I am. It is a part of who I am.

Is part of the motive to look pretty? Of course it is. I felt pretty in my twenty barrettes when I was five, in my vintage earrings and cowboy boots at 16, and in my big-kid makeup yesterday. No, I don’t believe I owe it to anyone to be consistently attractive (though for some people that’s a thing, and it shouldn’t be). I just believe that feeling pretty feels good. work really freakin’ hard to be beautiful on the inside (not sure if that’s a weird/vain thing to say), so sometimes it’s nice to feel like my face is a part of that. 

Do I try to look pretty for other people sometimes? Of course I do (‘sup, hormones?). But I also try to act nice and be funnier and listen better. Highlighting your best qualities isn’t a bad thing. And getting your game face on (literally) isn’t a bad thing either, not really.

Dress up doesn’t have to be about changing who we are. It can be about expressing and highlighting who we are, where we are, how we are. We just have to own the game.

You’re allowed to wear whatever makes you most comfortable. If that means sweat pants (helloooo Thursday night Netflix!), then great. If that means covering blemishes and highlighting features with a so-called mask of colours and chemicals, then cool.

As for me? Well, I’m just going to stick with what dress up means to me today: Reddish lipstick, blue jeans, and unmatching socks.

IMG_0793(2)Classy is as classy does, folks.

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Making Mountains Out of Moments

We’re really bad at auditing our own histories.

Okay, I can’t speak for you. You’re probably great.  But other people, over-sensitive, nostalgic people like me, struggle with making sense out of a personal past.  We get caught up considering moments. Moments distract from patterns.

And patterns are what matter.

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Now, I’m all about good ol’ reflection.  When a long-term relationship falls apart, for example, doing a solid autopsy is just about the most positive response you can have. It’s constructive.  It’s necessary.

Good. Great.

But when things are fresh, when memories and emotions are running high, our autopsies tend to trace scars instead of patterns.  Sometimes, when we should be looking at recurring toxic (or not-so-toxic) behaviours, we dwell on moments.

And if you focus only on moments, friends? You are in for an emotional ride.

You’ll relive and relive and relive the really intense stuff.  Only the really intense stuff.  The major disappointments. The I-can’t-even-breathe-right-now romantic gestures. It becomes a mental scorecard–was the whole thing horrible, the worst, or was it unbelievably amazing? Was it that time I cried all night, or the time I laughed all night? I don’t know. I don’t know.

(Neither, guys. It’s probably neither.)

Instead of looking for patterns, we pit “good times” against “dark times” in our minds, acting like our history is defined by extreme stories and emotional confrontations. We forget the day-to-day behaviour. The reactions. How communication worked (or didn’t), and how do you feel about that?

Focusing only on tear-stained memories of “good times” and “dark times,” can paint a pretty dramatic and unfair picture of all these things.  Sure, mega-scars need healing, and the happy times are worth remembering…but in most cases, using only the most epic stories to illustrate how things went down might not be the best tactic.

Basically, it’s big picture time.

you-are-here

The relationship thing is just an example, of course. In general, we seem to have a habit of over-valuing stories drenched in perception and projection (and probably other dangerous things that end in -tion).  And that’s a pretty big problem when our little-picture memories are this malleable and unreliable.

Can big-deal moments be important? Of course, of course, of course. I’m not talking about overlooking major losses, abuses, and epiphanies.  Intense things can happen, and they can effect us.  Fallible as they may be, our memories make us who we are.

But, when we’re trying to learn from something long term, to make sense of ourselves and our pasts, we cannot just lean on landmarks.

When we are auditing our lives, little antecdotes shouldn’t override the whole story.

Three More Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me)

Let’s start by addressing a point one reader/friend made after last week’s post“You gotta stop stomping on all your prized possessions, dude.”

As much as I would like to defend my trademark…he was right.  Here’s how that one ended:

Bonus lesson: Don't step on top of aerosol cans. Not even if you're trying to be artsy. Though, since this already went down, I could probably pretend it symbolizes something fancy...
Bonus lesson: Don’t step on top of aerosol cans. Not even if you’re trying to be artsy. Though, since this already went down, I could probably pretend it symbolizes something fancy…

Ungh. Onwards?

[If you missed part one of “Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me),” you can read it here.]

5) Guitar

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What it taught me: Don’t underestimate “amateur.”  

This is the latest and greatest lesson I have picked up.  Seriously,  if you only read one of these, read this one.

The record company I’m interning for has the single greatest outlook on music, art, and culture that I have ever experienced.  The people who have made Folkways what it is (guys like Moe Asch, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger) are wholly inspirational.   Take one of Guthrie’s famous quotes: “Anyone who uses more than two chords is just showing off.”

W.G. keeps it real.

A few days ago, the interns all started talking about their musical backgrounds–the instruments they played, the classes they took, even the  degrees they held. I tried to slide in under the radar with this one, but we’re a small group. The conversation eventually turned to me.

“How about you, Shauna? Are you a musician?”

Awkward. “Well…I mean…I play music, sometimes. I picked up the keyboard, and I sing I guess, and I’m learning guitar.  But…I’m not any good.”

You know that feeling in the air when you’ve just said something out of line?  The chatter stopped.  One of the interns, a guy who had gone to college for music, turned to me sharply.

“Don’t say that. Seriously. Don’t say you aren’t ‘Good.’  Do you love music?” I started to answer, but he did it for me. “Yes. Do you play music? Yes. Do you love it?”

“Absolutely. Yes.” I rubbed my thumb over my fingers, blistering from practice the night before.

“Then you’re a musician.”

You know what? He’s probably right.  Sure, I have only had a guitar for a month now. I learn how to strum from YouTubers with cute accents.  I know a few songs… if you count slamming down G & C chords over and over while reciting the lyrics to Thrift Shop.

It’s perpetual amateur hour in my bedroom, and that’s totally okay. 

The fact is, I listen to, learn about,  and talk music all day.  I get inspired.  When the clock strikes 5, and I race home so I can get to my own instrument. I play, and it’s good for me.  It’s sometimes even good for other people–I recently received an anonymous message from someone who was at a New Years party where I played the keyboard :

Hey Shauna,

A friend of mine from the New Year’s party (you haven’t met him) wanted me to tell you that: “[you are] really talented and really made [his] new years to hear [your] performance.[you] resparked [his] passion for music, [he’s] re-picking up piano again… after a 12 year break”

Is that not the most beautiful thing?  I guess that in the end, loving and sharing music is what it’s all about.

6) Curling mousse

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What it taught me: Embrace what’cha got.

My hair.  Oh goodness, what to say about my hair?

Well, I guess the first thing to say is that I have hair at all, which hasn’t always been the case.

 

Yeah, I shaved my head in high school. We’ll call it an exercise in philanthropy, since I raised a bit of money and donated the hair to charity. Mostly, though, the head shaving was a result of the same “Well, why the heck not?” attitude that landed me in DC.  It’s a repeat of why I dyed my hair brown: I told someone in passing that I would totally do it. The opportunity presented itself. I totally did it.

Most. Freeing. Thing. Ever.

The whole process was a pretty big deal for a 15-year-old girl, especially one with braces and glasses (the word you’re looking for is “teenage heartthrob”). Up until that point, I had all but hidden behind long blonde locks.  If my haircut was half an inch shorter than necessary, there would be tears. My 9th grade email address was busy_being_blonde (heh. this was also my creative peak).  Not surprisingly, the head shaving was liberating.  My hair doesn’t define me.  Imagine that.

Since then, my hair has been just about every length. It has been most styles, too.  One of the many things I’ve learned from all this is that my hair is irrevocably curly. I mean, it’s really, truly, naturally curly.  It’s not going to be un-curly without a fight…and I do not have time for a fight.  All I have time for is a mousse.

When it comes to my curls, I can’t beat ’em, and I’m no longer in the business of shaving them right off.  The only option left is to join ’em.

7) ‘Senorita Margarita’ body wash

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What it taught me: Smell is associated with memory. If you’re moving on, change it up.

New body wash is my #1 weapon against homesickness.

…yes, actually.

I first discovered this trick in high school.  I was headed to France for an exchange, and was terrified of myself.  I figured France would be awesome, but it was my first time away from home and I didn’t want to mess it up with my emotions. I wanted to be able to take advantage of all that awesome. I needed to make sure I didn’t get homesick.

I knew smell could trigger nostalgia, and I wasn’t taking any chances.  I very deliberately left my collection of vanilla soaps at home. It was a great call.

Smell and memory have the craziest relationship. I know you cannot completely hide from scent-triggers, but when you move to a new place, it could be worth it to smell like a new you.

(And hey, you never know…maybe I’ll end up bringing Senorita Margarita home with me.)

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Remember, this is the second in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!