I’ve stopped wearing makeup entirely. Well almost entirely–I still don mascara and the occasional lip gloss, but otherwise, my face is makeup free. While undeniable that it’s frugal not to buy makeup, this decision wasn’t solely motivated by my desire for the extreme frugality lifestyle. This choice is more about my drive for a simpler, less stressful existence that’s centered on what brings me joy–not on things I think I “should” be doing.
For years, I felt that in order to make a superb impression, succeed, and be well-liked, I needed to wear makeup, style my hair, and spend a fairly righteous amount of time and money on my appearance. I cringe when I think of just how much of those two precious resources–time and money–I wasted on something as insignificant as my physical appearance. My devotion to how I look was spurred on in equal parts by insecurity and the pressures that our culture mercilessly levies on women to reach increasingly unattainable levels of perfection.
Surrendering To The Acne Battle
I used to stare in the mirror and categorize my flaws: too much fat here, not enough there, oddly long arms and fingers, long feet and toes, a really sharp jawline, moles!, body hair, and of course, the bane of my visage since age 13: acne. At 31, I thought I would’ve outgrown it by this point, but it seems my acne is here to stay–an indefinite, uninvited parasite.
I’ve taken no less than 11 different prescription medications (topical and oral) in my battle against the oily menace and used countless over-the-counter/herbal/essential oil remedies–not to mention altered my diet in every conceivable way (no dairy, no wheat, no sugar, no caffeine, etc). I’ll spare you the details and simply state: nothing has worked. Actually, one medication was effective, but guess what? I’m not allowed to take it while pregnant or nursing, so it’s back to the acne for me.
For nearly two decades, the second weapon in my acne arsenal was cover-up: concealer sticks, gels, powders, solids–I made the rotation of commodities created to mask blemishes on women (notably, these are not marketed to men). And then last year, I gave up. Who was I kidding? You could still see the acne under the concealer–it looked like a zit with some gross paste packed on top.
After this revelation, I decided to follow the most effective course of treatment: I stopped thinking about my acne. Instead of tormenting myself over each new spot and maniacally categorizing them, I just stopped caring. I took on a new perspective and asked myself: am I really here on earth to waste time fretting over something so superficial as acne? Nope.
And so I began challenging myself to stop looking in the mirror to think belittling thoughts about my acne, and by extension, the rest of my body too. I decreased the amount of time I spend getting ready each day and slowly, I eliminated beauty products and regimens from my life. As each new routine fell by the wayside, an interesting thing happened: I began to like myself more. Gone was the self-inflicted misery of pinching fat and scanning my skin for breakouts. It was replaced by a newfound sense of confidence, pride, and integrity about who I am as a person–and notably, I’ve discovered I’m not a problematic bag of cosmetic issues.
Thinking Of Those Around Me
It was actually Mr. Frugalwoods who took me to task about my habit of self-berating mirror-gazing. He pointed out that when I criticize my figure, I’m projecting negativity onto everyone around me. By pinching my stomach and whining that “I look fat,” I was by default, making him feel insecure too. And anyone else in the vicinity. This message really resonated once we got pregnant, and even more so when we found out we’re having a girl.
The last thing I want is for Babywoods to grow up hearing me preach disapproval about my body. I’ve vowed never to do that. Instead, I now look in the mirror and say “hey, I look great!” And then I move on to more important things. It’s my fervent hope that by diminishing our preoccupation with appearances as a family, Babywoods will instead value traits that’ll facilitate her longterm success: intelligence, creativity, fearlessness, humor, and compassion. I want her to grow up hearing me talk about the projects I’m working on, the books I’m writing, and the ideas I have–not about the way I look.
Focus on Health, Not Superficiality
Rather than wasting time on efforts that yield no intrinsic dividends (like wearing makeup or blow drying my hair), my focus has shifted to substantive, nourishing, and enriching activities. The quest of health became my outlet for how I think about my body and how I perceive myself.
So much of my self-worth was wrapped up in the frivolity of my appearance and once I set that aside, I had a wealth of energy to pour into more fulfilling and meaningful pursuits. Hence, I’m not advocating total disavowal of caring for oneself, rather, I now concentrate on things that make me feel good–not just on things that make me look good.
I invested this displaced energy into eating healthy foods and exercising. I added muscle, I lost fat. I take my vitamins. Funny how that works–as soon as I stopped exerting my attention towards the superficial, I started doing better things for my body.
For me, yoga is a crucial basis for how I rejuvenate and exercise. It enables me to workout while meditating. As a born multi-tasker, this is the finest combination of activities ever! I’ve continued on with my yoga practice during pregnancy and at 5.5 months, I’m still able to do almost everything I could pre-pregnancy. Mr. Frugalwoods and I also hike regularly, which I’ve kept up throughout pregnancy. On Saturday we scaled another 4,000-footer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire–Mt. Liberty.
And the best part about both of these exercise methods is that they’re completely free. I receive free yoga classes in exchange for working at the studio’s front desk for 30 minutes a week and then taking out their trash on Monday nights. The synchronization of free entertainment with exercise is an ideal marriage for me–I enjoy the exercise I do, it doesn’t cost me money, and my body thanks me.
I’ve heard of women who stop exercising in pregnancy and I can’t think of a worse decision (unless a doctor specifically directs the cessation or it’s otherwise unsafe to exercise). I’m committed to keeping myself as healthy as possible for my baby, for her birth, and for myself postpartum. I can’t think of a greater gift to give myself during this time of tumult for my body.
It strikes me that many of the so-called “health and beauty” items hawked for women aren’t really all that healthy for us. Plastering our faces with artificial makeup, dying our hair with chemicals, painting our nails with other chemicals, using still other chemicals to remove “unsightly” hair is all pretty harsh on our constitutions. I’ve done every single one of these things (and, full disclosure, I still wear makeup and nail polish for special occasions), and its been nothing short of liberating for me to stop. The irony of these products is that they don’t in fact make us better or healthier–they merely gloss over our external shells. I’m a much happier and more secure person now that I’ve dismissed the almighty import of outward appearance in my life.
Marketers Want Women To Feel Badly About Themselves
Frankly, it’s how they make money. The more they can convince us we’re riddled with flaws, the more they’ll sell to us. Almost every ad for beauty paraphernalia starts from the premise that there’s something wrong with how we appear naturally. We’re told we have undesirable wrinkles, spots, flab, grey hair, too much hair, too little hair, oily hair, dry hair, brittle hair, the wrong color hair… and that there’s a solution–for the right price.
Of course these ads tell us we look bad! No one who thinks their hair is inherently awesome would shell out $30 for a bottle of shampoo! Thus, we’re taught to fear our natural state, to hate our natural bodies, and to incessantly seek out our defects. And this fear-mongering haunts women their entire lives.
It begins in adolescence with acne and migrates all the way to wrinkles and grey hair. In this way, manufacturers keep women as rapt consumers for their entire adults lives. Think about it. That’s thousands of dollars spent per woman over the course of her lifetime all in service of the notion that there’s something wrong with us.
I think there’s a frightening feedback loop associated with obsessing over appearances and buying into what cosmetics ads tell us. The more we believe we need to “fix” ourselves, the more we reinforce our insecurity about our bodies. Perfection–physical or otherwise–is a false idol we’ll never reach. If we internalize what marketers tell us, we’ll spend into oblivion in its useless pursuit. We’re told that the key to becoming beautiful is to buy and use a plethora of supplies. But I don’t need to spend money in order to feel good about myself or to be beautiful.
My Beauty Regime
For me, this journey to appreciating my body and reducing the number of products I spend money on is about simplification and elimination. Just for fun, here’s a list of things I don’t do anymore, all of which are considered fairly standard practice in the care and maintenance of a lady:
- Wear makeup. My daily routine is mascara, sunscreen, and lip gloss. I do wear makeup for rare special occasions, such as weddings.
- Paint my fingernails and toenails. I rock bare nails 99% of the time. I do paint my nails for special events, because it’s fun to do every once in awhile. And it goes without saying that I’d never pay for a manicure or pedicure.
Get a fancy haircut. Mr. FW cuts my hair for $0 at home. He does a fantastic job too!
- Dye my hair. My hair is its natural color: mouse brown. Hey, there’s even some grey sprinkled in there!
- Wax any part of my body. I employ my razor for, uh, any hair that I’d prefer wasn’t there. Works like a charm and is super cheap.
- Buy expensive or fancy supplies. Here’s what I use to clean and groom my frugal self: shampoo, conditioner, a bar of soap, face wash, a razor, sunscreen, mascara, chap stick, deodorant, toothpaste, floss, and fragrance-free gentle lotion for my face/hands/growing pregnant belly.
- Blow dry my hair. I let it dry of its own accord (except in the wintertime when I could be in danger of freezing myself). I’ve frittered away too much time and electricity with a blow dryer in hand.
- Curl my hair. My hair does its own thing. I do curl it for special occasions, but not on a regular basis.
- Have my eyebrows done. It’s just me, a tweezers, and a pair of scissors. And you know what? I think they look fabulous.
- Treat myself with cosmetics or clothes. I dislike this concept as it seems to me like teaching oneself that buying something new automatically makes you more confident. No, actually, it just makes you automatically have less money at the end of the month.
What you might’ve noticed throughout this list is how much money I’m saving by not doing these things. In fact, I spend so little on “beauty care” that it doesn’t even merit its own line item on our monthly expense reports–I lump it in with the likes of dish detergent and dog food under “household supplies.” This is yet another instance where frugality has facilitated positive changes in my life as a whole, beyond merely saving me money. Now that’s some frugal weirdo action.
I Like To Look Good! And I Do!
Often when I broach the sacrilegious topic of “not wearing makeup,” women reflexively recoil and assume I’m implying we should all wear burlap sacks, toss out our mirrors, cease combing our hair, and start slouching around like slobs. Far from it. What I’m talking about is taking back ownership of our bodies and our self-worth. I’m talking about concentrating on what matters in our appearances: our health and our well-being. Not what clever marketing tell us we should be correcting in our images.
I like to look nice, but it’s in the same way that I like to be clean, well-rested, happy, eating healthy foods, and enjoying my life. It’s not an obsession and it’s not an all-encompassing endeavor. I wear clothes that suit my figure, but I don’t fret over the latest fashions. The fact that I haven’t purchased any clothing in over 17 months certainly helps on that front. I wear dresses and skirts most of the time and I have fun accessorizing with funky, second-hand jewelry.
I’m required to look presentable for my job every weekday, and I do. I twist my hair up into buns or braids and coordinate my shoes. And I regularly tweeze my furry, Italian eyebrows (and unibrow) into manageable lines, but it’s not something I spend money on, nor something I view as a defect in myself. In other words, none of this takes over my life. I think it’s possible to strike a balance between disavowing our consumer culture’s constant stream of negativity towards women’s bodies and a complete absence of caring for one’s appearance.
I Also Really Don’t Care
Another aspect of freeing myself from the shackles of our culture’s restrictive view of how women “should” look is my determination that I live for myself, my goals, and my family. I really don’t care if people judge me. Pursuing a lifestyle of extreme frugality to enable our dream of retiring at age 33 to a homestead in the woods is fairly counter-culture, and so is not following the beauty product herd.
And in both instances, I’m adhering to what I value. Also, let’s be honest, if someone judges me harshly for not wearing makeup, it’s pretty unlikely we’d be lifelong friends. My time and my money are my own–I don’t use them in ways that other people dictate (except for the nagging fact that I still have a 9-5 job… but that’ll be gone soon enough 😉 ).
Just Say No
Rather than search for tips on “frugal beauty care” or strategies for getting discounts on makeup, I say we collectively screw it and ask the question, “what’s wrong with how we look naturally?!” And the answer is, absolutely nothing. Let’s target the root of this issue and stop the spending at its source: how we’re taught by the consumer machine to perceive ourselves. If you’re struggling to maintain a regimen of “expected” beauty practices, I encourage you to just say no and join me in feeling confident, secure, and at peace with our bodies.
7/31/15 update: After putting it all out there in this post, I wanted to illustrate that I practice what I preach. And so, I shared this photo of my blemished, makeup-free face and untreated natural hair on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you too feel that confidence is the best beauty product out there, I encourage you to join me in posting your own awesome, genuine selfie.
I’ve heard that the latest trend is to heavily edit, re-touch, and otherwise falsify one’s selfie, so I thought it would be fun to fight the norm in typical frugal weirdo fashion and instead celebrate our real faces. Mention me in your tweet/post so that I can join in the fun, and if you want, you can use this hashtag: