As I shared last week, April is the NINTH anniversary of Frugalwoods! To celebrate, I’m typing down memory lane with reflections on some of my most influential old posts. Nine years is a long time to do anything and I’m curious to see if I agree with my old self or if my thoughts have changed in the intervening years.
Old Me vs. Current Me: A Showdown
The first post I want to reflect on was a real zinger when it came out and generated quite a bit of controversy and discussion (288 comments!). Published July 27, 2015, it’s my oft-cited “Less Makeup, More Confidence: My Frugal Beauty Manifesto.“
When I wrote this, I was 31 and didn’t have any kids. Re-reading it now–at 39 with two young children–my thoughts have changed. First of all, the writing is bad. It’s painful to look at something you thought was AMAZING 8 years ago and realize it is MEDIOCRE AT BEST. I was still finding my voice, I hadn’t yet read “The Art of Memoir” and it shows. Moving on…
I opened this piece with:
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
True or False in 2023?
Mostly true. Since adopting a pixie cut in 2021 (with no plans to return to long hair), I find myself putting on eye make-up (liner, shadow and mascara) for out-of-the-house and video call excursions. Without eye make-up and hair products, I look like a young Justin Bieber. Not in a hot way.
I still don’t wear any on-the-face makeup because I can’t stand the way it feels on my skin and it always makes me break out. I wore some on-the-face makeup for the wedding I went to in February and it was itchy. It did look nice with my fire-engine red lipstick from Walgreens, but not something I’m going to do on the regular.
Result: mostly true, with me actually wearing more eye make-up now than in 2015.
Next I wrote:
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.
I mostly agree with myself here. I was/am insecure and our culture is indeed merciless to women in just about every way possible (and seems to find new ways everyday!).
→However, I disagree with myself that physical appearance is “insignificant.”
Unfortunately, I think it’s pretty darn significant for most people when they’re trying to get a job, keep a job, find a partner, command respect, not be harassed/bullied for their identity or appearance and… ya know, be a person in the world. I think it’s supremely privileged to deign physical appearance as insignificant because for many people, it’s a crucial determinant of their ability to move up in socioeconomic class/status, advance in their careers, find a partner, express their gender identity, etc.
I’d like for physical appearance to be “insignificant,” but that’s something only a conventionally attractive person can say. It’s kind of like when a rich person tells you that money doesn’t matter. If you’re scrambling to pay rent and feed your kids, then YEAH money matters.
I can, however, relate to my old self and my nascent subjugation of my appearance. I’d spent close to 15 years at that point hyper-focused on my appearance and I remember at the time feeling that I needed to do a complete detox. Just like the “lean Frugalwoods years” I outlined in this post, I needed to go back to zero before I could find tenable middle ground.
Result: I agree that I wasted a lot of time worrying about my appearance, I agree that beauty standards are unattainable and serve to make people insecure. I disagree that appearance is insignificant. I think the nuance here is that it’s significant in many cultural contexts; but on a daily basis, each individual can choose to relegate or amplify its importance depending on what they’re doing that day.
The Privilege Of Conventional Attractiveness
Another thing I missed in 2015 was the fact that by not wearing makeup, I was putting myself only one standard deviation away from society’s conventional beauty standards of: white, thin, tall, cisgender, and heterosexual. I was still all of those other things. Me not wearing makeup wasn’t going to start a revolution. But again, it was revolutionary for me as an individual and my conception of my self-worth.
→It’s interesting now–with the benefit of hindsight–to nestle my personal experience within the broader societal context of beauty expectations.
Next We Enjoy Five Paragraphs on Acne:
I’d say this is more paragraphs than anyone wants to read about acne. Expect maybe dermatologists. Shout out to my dermatologist readers–this one’s for you!!! The acne situation cleared up once I stopped wearing on-the-face makeup and went through the hormones of birthing and breastfeeding two children. Pro tip: if you suffer from acne, clear it up through the one weird trick of pregnancy and breastfeeding! Side effects include: you now have children. Congratulations!
In all seriousness, I’m happy my acne’s gone as it did plague me from age 13 to age 34, which seems like an excessively long time for acne to plague a person…
Result: I agree, acne stinks! It’s interesting to look at old photos of my acne-covered skin and realize how lucky I am to no longer have it. It’s funny how quickly I forgot how much I hated that acne.
→As soon my acne disappeared, I started focusing on a different issue: burgeoning wrinkles… If I allow myself to go down that road, I’ll never be content with my appearance. I will always find something else to worry about or dislike.
Then I Said:
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.
Ok yeah, I mostly agree with this. In terms of decreasing my getting-ready time, I think it would be more accurate to say I’ve done a U graph of getting ready. A lopsided U, which quite closely follows the outline of:
Pre-Frugalwoods Hedonistic heyday→Lean Frugalwoods→Maintenance Phase Frugalwoods
Hedonistic Heyday (the spendy years): included an extensive beauty/getting ready regimen. Everything was done. All the makeup. Nails, hairspray, perfume. Name a chemical; I was putting it on myself.
Lean Frugalwoods (the uber frugal years): nothing at all, expect maybe some mascara. No nails, no hair products, hair cuts done by my husband, no new clothes, not showering daily in order to save water and soap.
Current Frugalwoods Maintenance Phase: happy middle ground! I feel like I’ve settled at a sustainable middle spot, but I’m also not deluded into thinking this’ll never change. That’s what being almost 40 has taught me: whenever I think something’s set for life, it changes. I’m a lot more comfortable with uncertainty now that I’ve proven my ability to adapt and flex.
Here’s my current beauty regimen:
- Haircuts at an expensive salon every 3-5 months to maintain my pixie:
- I have my stylist cut it pretty short to allow more time between cuts.
- I did, however, go too far last year when I had her shave the back of my head. While this enabled me to go 7 months before my next cut, I didn’t like the buzz–it looks so cute on other people, but just wasn’t for me.
- Nice hair products used daily (unless we’re skiing):
- Benefit of short hair: I use very little each day!
- Eye makeup: if I’m going to see people on screen or in real life (unless we’re skiing):
- To combat my Justin Bieber look
- Weekly: tweeze and trim wild eyebrows myself
- Clothes: jewelry, a dress, a cardigan and leggings (unless we’re skiing):
- Makes me feel confident and put together.
- Of course, I am still me so the stuff’s not expensive and most of it is second-hand.
- Here’s my recent write-up on what I wear: The Clothes I Wear For Comfort and Confidence
- Paint my own nails (maybe quarterly?)
- Wear on-the-face makeup (maybe twice a year)
- Buy new clothes (varies; I’d say probably quarterly)
And Now, A Section on Criticizing One’s Own Self
Back in 2015 I wrote:
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.
This remains one of the best interventions by my husband to date. If other people can hear you, you’re not just criticizing yourself or “talking to yourself.” You’re amplifying society’s objectifications and judgements for everyone around you. I am super proud of myself that I’ve stopped criticizing my body, my appearance, my clothes. Out loud, at least. The internal monologue could always use more work. But at the very least, I’m grateful I’m able to project and model confidence for my daughters.
The Next Section is titled: “Focus on Health, Not Superficiality”
I can see what I was trying to do in this section but it comes across kinda preachy:
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.
This tone rubs me the wrong way. Yes, I agree that exercise/movement is good, but I seem to be implying that you have to give up worrying about your external appearance in order to be healthier, which I don’t agree with. A person can love to wear make-up AND enjoy doing nourishing things. I think I oversimplified the complicated relationship we all have with our bodies and our appearances. But, it’s hard to unpack and metabolize all of that nuance when you’re in the middle of figuring it out for yourself. I don’t think I could’ve written this any differently eight years ago. I was in the early stages of this life transformation and I had to swing from one extreme to the other. I was a pendulum waiting to find its center.
Sadly, I think I was 100% correct in the section titled: “Marketers Want Women To Feel Badly About Themselves”
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.
My edit now would be to add “women and women-identifying people and also just all people everywhere.” I don’t disagree with this and it’s still something I think about a lot.
But then I ruined it by saying:
I don’t need to spend money in order to feel good about myself or to be beautiful.
I understand the root of what I was trying to say, but I think this is an oversimplification. I appreciate that I was divorcing myself from the consumer carousel of beauty products, but again, there was a middle ground I hadn’t yet explored.
Do I need to spend $1,000 a month on skincare products to feel beautiful? No. Do I choose to spend $82 on a haircut several times a year to feel beautiful? Absolutely.
Ok actually, I said it pretty well a few paragraphs later:
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.
Ok, not bad, old me. That’s pretty good!
Isn’t this, like, a super frivolous thing to write about?
Yes and also no. Like it or not (I mostly not like it), we’re all swimming in culture-infested waters. We’re all subject to a pursuit of perfection sold to us every day. And despite thinking about it, writing about it and re-writing about it, I still get caught obsessing about my appearance. I recently bought a ring light so I’d look better on video calls. I’m not immune to these societal expectations and pressures. I don’t think it’ll ever be possible for me to completely ignore “beauty” in all its forms, but I don’t think I want to, either.
Acknowledging that I can’t ever fully “solve” this is probably the best, most honest thing I can do for myself. I seemed to think I had to completely resolve my feelings around it back in 2015; as evidenced by my writing:
I’m a much happier and more secure person now that I’ve dismissed the almighty import of outward appearance in my life.
I think I’ve decreased its importance in my life. But dismissed? I don’t think that’ll ever be possible for me. Then I doubled down and said:
I think it’d be more accurate to say “I don’t care as much when people judge me. Although it still hurts because I have feelings am not, in fact, an automaton or a boulder.”
Present Day: What I Struggle With Now
I would like to tell you that I’ve never thought about getting botox, but that would be a lie. I haven’t gotten it and I likely won’t, but every time I hear from a contemporary that they’re getting it (most recently Nora McInerny from Terrible, Thanks For Asking who is exactly the same age as me), I’m like, “damn, is that what we’re all doing as we glide into our 40s???” It’s hard to not wonder if I’m missing out by not doing it.
I’ve also entered a perpetual tug of war between my retinol wrinkle-prevention cream and my generic walmart moisturizer. If I use the retinol stuff too much, my skin gets dry and red. Then I declare I’m never using it again and I go back to my moisturizer. A week later, I notice all the wrinkles around my eyes and dig the retinol cream out of the back of the cabinet. Sooooo, yeah…
Is there anything WRONG with my wrinkles? Do they make me a BAD person? Do they make me UNATTRACTIVE? I’d say no to all of those, but then again, I am a woman in this society and I do think about what other people think about me and my wrinkles. Probably they don’t even think about my wrinkles at all. But maybe they do???????? Probably you’re now all thinking about them.
As I noted above, I used to follow this same obsessive process around my acne. So I’ve swapped acne for wrinkles.
The difference is in how I feel about it. I don’t intensely worry about my wrinkles the way I did my acne.
Perhaps what I’ve done is turn down the volume on my inner beauty critic. That voice is still there, but I’m a lot better at shutting it up. I don’t have the bandwidth to care as much as I used to and that feels like progress.
→Over the years, I’ve tried to focus more on what I’m doing as opposed to what I look like.
Appearance will always be a thought bubble in my life, but I feel more confident and content at 39 than I did at 31.
This nine-year retrospective project won’t neatly resolve the issues I wrote about in the past, but it does help me interrogate my beliefs and how they’ve–hopefully–evolved over the years. After all, if we don’t change our minds about stuff over time, we’re probably not expanding our experiences, thoughts and perceptions.