Something inside of me understood I was contributing to something incredibly destructive.
Not long ago, while in the midst of an impromptu reconnection with a friend whom I had lost touch with, I was struck with an epiphany so life-altering it nearly transported me from the coffee shop we were seated in. It occurred somewhere in between a latte sip and a muffin bite. Our brief encounter that day seemed so unsuspecting at the time, yet I’ve never been able to eject it from my mind.
After half an hour of updating one another on the most current happenings in our lives, our flow of conversation began to lag. My friend resorted to compulsively checking her phone and had developed a distant, detached gaze. It became clear she was no longer present in the coffee shop with me.
“Where is your mind?” I asked her. Her reply was haunting: “Oh, just thinking of ways to make myself look better,” she whispered before immediately proceeding to go on a seemingly endless rant discussing her delusions over a guy who clearly had no intention of seeing her again. She concluded her rant with an attempt to make a case for how her physical potential was clearly superior to his other alleged conquests.
It was clear she was on a mission to achieve a higher level of physical beauty for she felt it would make her more desirable. In that moment, I had an epiphany: Countless women, young and old, are plagued with a dangerous epidemic.
It is oftentimes the ultimate roadblock to their attainment of happiness. They believe beauty — physical beauty — is the key to a better life. They believe it determines their worth. Some are even deluded enough to believe it makes up the totality of their value.
They are wasting their life away because the truth is, it never will be. It will only render them to an even more devastating level of empty. I know, for I was once that woman.
A few years prior to my encounter with my friend that day, I had experienced somewhat of an inner transformation. Such a transformation began when I participated in a mission trip to Belize.
Prior to the trip, I had been working as a regional makeup artist for a well-known cosmetic company while finishing college. Although I had met countless fun and inspiring individuals throughout my time doing so, I had also experienced countless encounters of its terrifying opposite.
The opportunity to participate in the mission trip was presented to me at the most opportune time because I had been growing increasingly hungry for something no superficial encounter ever seemed to pacify.
During a period of eight days in Belize, an irreversible shift took place within me. The experience was nothing short of crossing over. A seed was planted during my time there, and my desire to experience true beauty — something no cosmetic product or procedure could ever provide — began to take on a life of its own.
My eyes were forced open, and I felt as though I had been knocked over the head with the truth. It left me nearly breathless. The love and gratitude flowing from the people I encountered — people who had nothing to offer me but human interaction and relationship — was simply majestic.
I was humbled to tears each day. Their appreciation for the most basic life necessities stunned me, stripped me of my grandest delusions and ultimately exposed me to myself.
I realized I had often been a seeker of things which would only produce emptiness in my life. Ironically, upon returning from the trip, I was scheduled to immediately return to work for a demanding makeup event, which came with a high sales goal attached to it.
The most uncomfortable aspect of all was that I felt as though I had departed a place of such immense, healing beauty, only to be thrust back into a place of superficial ugliness. Even writing about it now, I feel a lump forming in my throat as I long to once again swim in that place of love and joy in its purest form.
There is nothing more beautiful than raw, organic love for another person who has nothing to offer you except human relationship. In giving me the opportunity to learn that, the people I encountered in Belize gave me everything.
I recall sitting in my car for what seemed to be an eternity on my first morning returning to work. Coaxing myself to pull my makeup brushes from hibernation and convince my two feet to walk toward the door was no simple task. I just didn’t want to.
I adored my co-workers and many aspects of my job but on that day, still existing in a cloud from the beauty I had so mournfully departed, I didn’t care about my stupid eyeliner. I didn’t care about some overly fragranced and insignificant potion I was being paid to sell.
It almost felt as though I was attempting to convince myself to approach the belly of Hell after having been given a glimpse of Heaven. I was searching for the tiniest shred of desire, but it was nowhere to be found.
I contemplated the irony of my surroundings. The purpose of my returning to this place was to help people become more “beautiful,” yet I seemed to repeatedly encounter little more than an ugly state of desperation for superficial perfection. What a paradox, I thought.
I had just been immersed in the epitome of beauty, and I felt the environment I had returned to demonstrated little evidence of such. I also knew that I had been just as guilty as the next person.
I searched for words to explain to my co-workers the metamorphic significance of what I had just departed from. Any justifiable explanation eluded me so I worked quietly for most of the morning simply existing in my inner cloud of transformation, as well as occasionally blinking back tears.
My first day at work upon returning from the mission trip proved to be quite interesting. I recall being assigned to a middle-aged woman who, while being escorted to my makeup station, was anxiously looking in every possible direction.
She reminded me of a child, nervous about being caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She reeked of misery and poor self-esteem. Her posture was bad. She was literally curling into herself, as though she wanted to make herself appear as small as possible.
I worked overtime to ensure my customer felt at ease; however, something inside of me understood I was contributing to something incredibly destructive.
In the duration of our hour together, I learned of her arguments with her husband over her vanity-related expenses, her “maxed out” credit cards, her list of scheduled cosmetic procedures, and was questioned repeatedly on the degree of satisfaction and pride I had with the work I had performed on her face. I knew I could never fix her face to her satisfaction or sell her enough products until she fixed what was going on inside of her.
The entire encounter was nerve-wrecking and blood-sucking. It was such a grossly stark contrast to the encompassing and healing beauty I had encountered in the most destitute villages of Belize.
I had never encountered such a depth of ugliness until I observed others on a quest for superficial beauty. I was beginning to feel as though I was witnessing zombies walking straight into the mouth of a giant, black hole.
It wasn’t the fault of the makeup artists or the beauty advisors in the store. Many of them had the purest of intentions with their work. Rather, it was the fault of a mindset born from our culture. I decided I wanted to have a role, no matter how small, in reshaping such mindset.
The seed planted within me during my time in Belize soon became a blazing furnace I could no longer smother with the layers of covers I wore to still pretend to be who I once was. It wasn’t working. I had encountered truth and I had been transformed by it.
I now believe the quest for beauty — even physical beauty — should be more of a celebration of self versus a labor of any kind. The quest for beauty should be from a perspective in the realm of “I am valuable, therefore I will take the utmost care of myself,” versus “I’m too fat, too ugly and less attractive than her, therefore I need to be different,” or “I’m nobody until I’m somebody’s Woman Crush Wednesday.”
It should never be painful, nor should it ever create feelings of desperation or inadequacy.
The mental shift within me inspired me, in part, to create The Daily Doll. I want my readers to be a more developed version of themselves than they were the day before, as I am working to be a more developed version of myself than I was the day before.
We should celebrate ourselves. By all means, buy a lipstick in every color of the spectrum and take a million pouty face selfies if you so enjoy. Do all the squats and crunches until your heart is content. Just don’t be a slave to it.
Taking care of your body and your appearance shouldn’t be a life-draining or laborious effort ever. It should be something you do because you value yourself already, not because you are trying to earn your worth.
Please join me on a quest for beauty. It may not be what you always thought it was.
This article was originally published at HuffPost Women. Reprinted with permission from the author.