Over the years, I’ve heard many other writers discuss how they don’t like to write about themselves. I had friends in college who could churn out sharply observed pieces of cultural criticism in two hours, but when tasked with writing a personal essay on their childhoods in one of our workshops, they’d struggle for days or weeks trying to come up with a topic. For some reason, I’ve always been the opposite; it’s much easier for me to write about things I can (appropriately) filter through the lens of my own experience. This site is filled with my writing on my savings goals, my relationship, cooking — I find it not only fun to write about my own life, but also immensely easier than trying to accurately represent someone else’s. But there is one area that I’ve always avoided discussing when writing about myself: my appearance.
Writing about the way you look is hard. At least for me. It’s an extremely personal thing, a culmination of choices you make and genetic factors you can’t control, and yet it’s also quite public — something any other sighted person can have access to. I tell myself the reason I’ve never written about my body, clothing, makeup, or skincare choices is that I’m not an expert in any of those things. But this excuse makes precisely zero sense; I’m also decidedly not an expert in personal finance, yet I write about that almost every day. The likely more accurate reason is that I’ve always struggled with self-confidence in some respects. I don’t necessarily fear the judgment I might receive for the way I look if I were to ever acknowledge it, but I’ve always felt a little anxious about how people would receive the way I feel about the way I look, which isn’t even definite. I love clothes, but I don’t have any hard-and-fast rules for what I buy, so what do I really have to say about them? Can I be body-positive if I admit to casually counting calories while also having a “normal” BMI? Do I really have a place to talk about skincare when I’ve never personally experienced a dire skin condition? What if writing about these things is just going to show people that I’m doing everything wrong?
But one of my goals in the coming months is to write more about these topics, because whether or not I always want to admit it, my appearance is important to me. I love writing about my personal life, not only because I find it a more honest way to write, but also because writing about it (and discussing it with a larger community) helps me come more to terms with what I want — as well as how I can achieve what I want. The way I look, including what I can control and what I can’t, is one of the most personal topics of all, and something I’ve felt for a long time I needed to tackle a bit more.
Recently, I adopted a skincare routine for the first time in my life. I guess that’s not true — I’ve washed and moisturized my face on a basically daily basis since high school. But as a person who cannot seem to escape being cyber-bombarded with Glossier ads, “routine” feels like too substantial a word to apply to how I’ve always treated my skin. I’d never had a severe skin issue (aside from an unfortunate cystic back-acne situation during my teenaged dance competition days), but I felt that I’d been hearing so much about skincare from so many corners of my universe that there must be something to it. Plus, I actually started taking stock of my own relationship to my skin — mine has always been fairly dry and sensitive, but only recently did I realize that there is more I can do about it than simply moisturizing.
What really motivated me to adopt an “actual” skincare regimen was this article highlighting inexpensive products from the brand The Ordinary. I have heard of different types of products like serums and toners throughout my life, but never thought about what they really did or how I could benefit from using them. After reading that article and a few Reddit threads, and asking for advice from a close friend who is a hardcore Skincare Enthusiast, I settled on a few products to add to my morning and nighttime routine. It’s now just over six weeks since I started using them and actively taking 10-15 minutes every morning and evening to take care of my face. I decided to select just a few products to help with evening skin tone, under-eye circles, and, of course, dryness. This is what my complete skincare routine looks like now:
- Aveeno Ultra Calming Cleanser ($5.99) (I’ve been using this for a while, and it doesn’t dry out or irritate my face)
- The Ordinary Ascorbyl Glucoside Solution 12% ($12.90) (to even skin tone and brighten)
- The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG ($6.70) (for my under-eye circles)
- The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 ($6.80) (hydration)
- Cerave Moisturizing Cream ($18.80)
- NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($45) (I recently started using this for foundation, and I count it as skincare thanks to the SPF — I use the lightest shade they have and it is literally called Finland, which I feel weird about)
That all adds up to $96.19 total, but of course, most of these products last a while. At the rate I’ve been using them, I’ll have to purchase each about three times a year, meaning a yearly total of $288.57 and a monthly average of $24.05. While this is more than I’ve ever spent on my skin at any point in my life, I’m lucky that it feels worth it — and that my budget can incorporate it with minimal effort. Full disclosure: I am basically a novice when it comes to skincare and makeup, and since this is the first time in my life I’ve ever actively started trying to take care of my skin, I’m not married to any of these products, nor am I even necessarily endorsing any of them. I have also since learned about how some people are boycotting Deciem/The Ordinary products for pretty good reasons having to do with their CEO, so I can’t say I’d feel great about buying from them again, especially if I can find the same basic products for as much or less money elsewhere. (Recommendations welcome!)
What I can say is that I have felt a difference in how my skin looks and feels. I used to dread having to get ready before bed (flossing/brushing my teeth has never felt like anything more than a chore), but now, I actually look forward to it. A few weeks ago, I was tired and went to bed after simply taking off my eye makeup and nothing else — only to get up and go through my whole skin routine 15 minutes later, because I felt weird and incomplete going to sleep without doing it. I also feel like my skin has been much less dry and a bit more glowy, so for the most part, the products seem to be working for me. (The one exception is the caffeine solution — I haven’t noticed my semi-dark eye circles become any less pronounced, though I also didn’t think to take before and after photos.)
I have also noticed an interesting uptick in my everyday confidence levels since starting to implement this routine. It’s not just because I think my skin looks a bit better — I know I’m lucky to not have hugely noticeable skin issues, and I can’t say the changes are even noticeable to anyone else. But knowing that I’m taking that extra, if insubstantial, bit of time to take care of my face every morning and evening means something: I’m trying. There are things about my body and appearance that I can’t control, but trying to be the best I can is something that I can. When it comes to my skin, I may not be able to make my pores smaller or stop my chin from getting those annoying little time-of-the-month pimples, but I can do my best to make sure it looks and feels as healthy as possible on a daily basis.
I’ve noticed the same is true for pretty much anything that makes me feel the best about myself. Anything that makes me feel good (and I’m not talking about “oh god this chocolate mousse tastes amazing” good) takes effort. I’ve gone to probably hundreds of yoga classes in my life, yet not one of those times have I left the house with the utmost ease or not momentarily dreaded the act of squeezing into a sports bra, but I know from experience how great I feel after a lesson. It’s hard for me to choose a simple pan-seared fish and vegetable dish when there’s also fried fish and chips on the menu, and yet that has proved to be the more energizing, rejuvenating choice every time. The effort of making a good choice is almost more rewarding to me than the good choice itself — the good choices will (hopefully) accumulate into results I’m happy with over time, but acknowledging my own effort in making them feels immediately gratifying.
My appearance is never going to be effortless — and that’s okay. I want to look the best I can in many aspects, but none of those will come without me having to try. Besides, it’s the trying that helps me continue to recognize that I’m a person who deserves to care for herself. And if it takes buying a few more skincare products to feel that way, you know what? I think that’s wonderful.
Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Image via Unsplash