Monday, May 3, 2010

Wedding Beauty Realizations

A few weeks ago at Coachella, I had a "well, of course" revelation about current wedding accessory trends as all the kids* swayed to the music around me. The whole festival was like a hipster sparkle costume parade of giant headband flowers, mustaches, tiny skirts, oversized boots and heels (yes, at a desert festival) matched with bikinis, a wide variety of doesn't-help-shield-from-the-sun hats, and general outright costumery. I felt like I was walking through a strange mash up of this year and next year's fashion magazine editorial pages. I finally had a real understanding about where the stupid giant hairflower thing came from in the first place. I mean really, I like a lot of headbands and hair flowers, but I'd just look like a total ass if I tried to wear either a forehead headband or comically oversized flower on my wedding... unless I were 30 pounds skinnier (I don't have 30 pounds to lose), at least seven years younger, worked in a creative field or was supported by my parents, and generally hung out on the east side of town.

via, a store which I actually love quite a bit. Just not this style

Overall, it was a bit of a shock. I stay current with pop culture. I've taken a real interest in fashion-as-art and as-expression over the last few years. I can talk the cool crowd talk, even if I'm not really one of them. But I felt so immediately not-cool here, possibly because it finally hit me that I'm too old and focused on my career and everyday life to ever really aim for this marketable idea of cool ever again. And possibly because I've never been in a place with so many closet-stuffed-with-American-Apparel folks in my entire life (and that's a body type and world I just don't understand.) 

However, even more than the hair flowers and American Apparel, it was their seeming confidence that really hit me, especially the young women. As they wandered through the festival in their swimsuit/bra/barely covered up getups, overly slouchy shirts, super short dresses, strapless romper things, and other barely-there items of clothing, I marveled at their self confidence** and ability to simply be. Because I never had that, at their age. When I was that age, these were the kids I envied from behind my slightly overweight, glasses-wearing, nerdy shell. I couldn't ever marvel then, because I was so eaten up with the wanting and with the simultaneous attempt to justify that false beauty/brains dichotomy by telling myself "well, at least I'm smart."

At this point in my life, I'm lucky enough to have worked through that envy and anger. I even have some of that confidence now. But I realize that my self confidence in my physicality is hard-earned; it's a result of years of therapy, years of health scares and my consequent focus on health over weight, and years of practice. And accordingly, my self confidence is different than theirs. It's more tenuous and prone to crumbling when I miss the gym for a few weeks. It wobbles when I feel like I'm struggling at work. And it's hanging on by a thread now, with all of these darn wedding pressures and "inspiration" getting shoved in my face every darn week. Because my self confidence isn't easy. It isn't the sort where I would ever dance around in a short skirt: I know too much about the way the world perceives my thighs and I've learned enough from What Not to Wear and by studying classic styles and body types to chose something more flattering to my particular body tupe and therefore confidence boosting.

These girls are both setting and consuming popular fashion, but I know enough to know that it doesn't work for me. And yet, they are the same girls somehow setting undertones of wedding fashion trends. And their supposedly easy confidence is the same confidence we're supposed to so effortlessly project on our wedding days, in which the wrong sort of prescribed bridal beauty (to my mind) is held up as our cultural wedding ideal. It's the sort of beauty that requires a certain body and a lot of expense and attention paid to looking Pretty, however you may define that Pretty (romantic, traditional, indie, hippie, whatever). Our celebrated versions of need-a-thousand-products-to-attain-it Pretty leave me cold with respect to the real beauty inherent in a wedding, and yet here I am yearning for something I'm not, all over again. The wedding is forcing me to run smack up against my teenage self and her anxieties about not fitting in. And I want to be effortlessly confident this time around, because damnit, I've earned this life and this sense of self. But I'm smart enough now to know that "effortless beauty" is crap and that I don't look good in giant floral headbands.

But the question of honest beauty is harder to find these days. And it's even harder to hold onto when I catch glimpses of it. In learning to embrace my physicality, I learned to accept those things that are different from the standard definitions of attractive. I'm pale. I have big thighs and a pear-shaped figure. My eyes are small-ish. I know this because I can still remember the junior high taunting and cruelty about those very features, and because I worked my hardest to teach myself to love these previously maligned aspects of my body. And so now, these aren't issues anymore, they're just me. I play up my rosy complexion and forget about tanning. I choose clothing to highlight my upper body and rarely wear short skirts or light-colored pants. I focus on stronger features like my nose and lips. This is unabashedly me, and I've learned that I am beautiful when I own my imperfections and my strengths alike.

And that's what I'm trying to hold onto with the wedding. And that's why all of these questions about Bridal Pretty are so emotionally exhausting. Because I want to be honest - I really do - but I intimately know myself. And I'm going to shell out money for well-done fake eyelashes (individuals, not strips) because my eyes are small and I'm compensating for that. I've come to the conclusion that I'm willing to shell out lots of money for great hair and makeup, because I just don't want to deal with my junior high crap on the wedding day and I'd prefer my beauty routine to actually be effortless on my part and to feel assuredly pretty. And I will choose a makeup artist who doesn't slather it on and instead respects my strong features. I've made my peace with the eyelashes because to me it's the same thing as wearing a belt to emphasize my waist (smaller!) over my thighs (not.) And I've made my peace with finding and paying for a respectful makeup artist, because I just don't want to expend any more emotional effort crashing into previous insecurities. I've drawn my personal lines in the sand about my bridal beauty routines, and I've been surprised to see them closer to expensive and "expected" than I would have anticipated six months ago.  But it has nothing to do with a lack of self confidence or insecurity, because I'm not insecure with who I am today or how she's going to be perceived at my wedding. My self confidence is hard earned and so are my dollars, and putting my dollars towards maintaining a semblance of sanity with this wedding stuff is so worth it to me.  I just don't want to deal with thinking about it anymore or worrying about whether my nearly-there makeup abilities will do justice to the woman I am. Because I have to save my energy for the other, more important, wedding questions and negotiations that affect Us. And towards the next Bridal Pretty battle for authenticity known as wedding dress shopping.  

*obviously, there were adults at the festival too. But you could generally tell us apart by our more sensible sandals, large bags packed with sunscreen and eveningtime sweaters, and the fact that we weren't all silly enough to be drunk/high in the dessert heat by 2pm. D*mn, they made me feel fuddy-duddy old.
**I'm aware that many of these girls may struggle with real intrinsic confidence issues and feel the need to be performative and sexualized in order to garner any attention. But that's not the point of today's post. Let's just assume they all really know how amazing they look and that they hopefully have self-respect built on their personhood and their looks, for the sake of this post. 


  1. Thanks for this! I'm having some of the same issues, and doing the same thing you are--throwing money at it. I've always hated my skin, and have been prone to acne, leaving scars that will never go away. I just want someone else to take care of this on my wedding day so that I don't have to think about it at all. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I love how you talked about maturity and confidence and how weddings put a lot of pressure on them, really testing you, especially if you have any sort of body image issues. Thanks again for a great post!

  2. Wow, this was an amazing post - you presented so many different opinions on which to chew.

    I especially thank you for sharing your inability to get down with the whole "effortlessly beautiful" fantasy that's out there. It was very liberating for me when I realized that this is not an option for me, and if I want to feel particularly beautiful, I need to do a lot of work and occasionally pay a lot of money. And that's okay!

    It's also okay that I wore large head accessories before they were popular and I'll still wear them even now as the backlash has begun against them, and that I'll never be able to wear American Apparel and look decent -even though I love their clothes in theory.

    It's all okay :)

  3. We don't even need to assume they know how amazing they look: their self-confidence is expressed in the willingness to dress as silly as some of them do (because strapless rompers? That takes chutzpah).

  4. I'm glad you're doing what will make you feel gorgeous on your wedding day, but also hanging on to what you want.

    My favorite part about growing up was when the smart people became cool. You, darling, are cool. And don't you forget it.


  5. @Kerry - indeed, it's all okay. And I have no backlash against the big hair flowers in general... just for me, especially if on a forehead-headband. I'm actually planning on a hair flower (never been a veil girl myself.)

    @A Marigold - it takes real chutzpah, but I've learned that a lot of those girls don't truly believe in themselves. They may know they're attractive, yes, but they're also wracked by self-doubt/anxiety if a teeny thing about their looks change, because their attractiveness has defined them (to others) for so long. But yes, the silliness in the costumes was impressive, and required all sorts of self-assurance to pull off.

    @mouse - Thank goodness for college and careers with other smarties. These things helped calm me down a lot.

  6. You know what's weird? I was speaking on a similar topic with a professor when I went to my alma mater to speak. We were sitting outside at a wine bar, watching all the college kids stroll by and chatting about life, days past and above all, fashion. It's why I was there, for goodness sake! Anyway, we were talking about trends and time and how it all plays out and at that moment a young woman walked by in VERY short shorts, a tank top and flip flops. I would say she was about 5'3 and about 140 pounds. Her outfit looked HIDEOUS. Everything was too small and too tight. The shorts were rubbing together and rising up towards her crotch (not that they had to go far) and her boobs were spilling out over her too tight bra and top. She did not look slutty or overweight. Just horribly wrong.
    After she passed, my prof and I talked a lot about what different generations view as "clothes that fit."
    As inappropriate as this woman's ensemble was, I think you hit the nail on the head with the younger crowd in your post. They too are looking for themselves, experimenting with fashion. I forced myself into the wrong outfits to be "cool" for years. No more. I suffer through years of making my own skirts until hemlines come down. God LOVE the maxi-dress! :)
    So anyway, just an interesting similar experience.
    I'm not sure if these women are leading wedding fashion trends or just a result of them! Sometimes - not so fashionable results!
    And you know I'm all for blowing as much cash as possible on looking good. ;)

  7. What a wonderful read! It reminded me of this post by Amanda Hess.

    And also about how grumpy I get about guys saying they don't like women who wear makeup. Because guys, a) you do, you just don't know what makeup looks like and b) you are not the ultimate arbiter of how women should look. Or at least you shouldn't be.

  8. Wonderfully written, as always.
    I think it's about finding your own idea of what is beautiful and your style on your wedding day, and being confident in that. not conforming to anyone else's expectations for what is beautiful, or bridal, or whatever. It sounds like you are doing that, and you are doing that well.

  9. You know, using makeup and hair products just to build our natural confidence to its rightful level seems both sad and ironic -- especially because guys don't have these issues. But the truth of the matter is that I feel best when I feel pretty and presentable. And I *want* to feel pretty and presentable on my wedding day.

    Sorting these matters out is one of the most difficult things I've had to go through. Like you, my self-image and I have had a rough past and we're just starting to get things smoothed over between us. And I'd like to think that my natural, makeup-less self would do justice to the woman I am by virtue of me just being me. But no. There's still a real disconnect there. I still don't feel pretty in my own skin.

    So it's about making choices, as you pointed out so well. It's about acknowledging that beauty, for us, takes effort. And making room for that. And letting that be in our lives without allowing it to impact us negatively, or sparking off our insecurities yet again.

    It will probably always take hard work on my part to be confident, and to be at ease with my body. But at least the process has gotten easier with age. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  10. you're amazing. girl i feel ya. I'm more of a joan holloway than a betty draper. hourglass figures are hard to dress, and it's pretty difficult to adhere to any trends. Loving my body and developing a cohesive personal style has been an on going process and i know it's not over, but I'm feeling a lot better about it these days. And I know what you mean about incorporating this self-knowledge into the wedding. I chose a mermaid cut dress to show off the curves I'm finally proud of, but a vneck with straps because I've never felt comfortable in strapless so why start now? I plan on getting a facial or two, not because the knot adds it to their 12 billion item list, but because I've had terrible skin since middle school and that's one thing I'm comfortable throwing money at so I don't worry about breakouts day of. It's about priorities and knowing thyself.

  11. Thank you for this. :) This post came just at the right time for me!

  12. "When I was that age, these were the kids I envied from behind my slightly overweight, glasses-wearing, nerdy shell."

    Wait a minute... were you me? My biggest comfort in my teen years was a quote from henry V (see above: nerdy). I'm still puzzling over the fact that the wedding is somehow bringing up all of these adolescent insecurities about my looks and whether it's worth it to "fix" the problems I see, or if that's giving in to unrealistic standards, etc.

    (and the quote: "the elder I wax, the better I shall appear. My comfort is that old age, that ill layer-up of beauty, can do no more spoil upon my face. Thou hast me, if thou hast me, at the worst, and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me, better and better.")

  13. Oh what a fantastic post.

    My coworker was one of those girls that you saw. In a little floral print cotton dress that looked almost retro enough to be from a thrift store but was actually Betsy Johnson (which is a whole other conversation).

    But anyway, that's the world that I work in right now, while also approaching my wedding date.

    In the midst of that, and in the midst of all that you described, it has been really hard to sort out who I am, and what my look is, while still wanting to put a more than average effort into my make up, hair etc.

    The biggest symbol for all of this has been my glasses. I wear my glasses day in and day out. Now with the wedding upon me, I went and tried contacts. I've hated wearing contacts in the past. I'm still torn about them now. Because on the one hand, I'm sure I'm unwillingly internalizing all of the comments from my coworkers saying "I think you'll be happier on your wedding day if you wear contacts" (WHAT?). But at the same time, I've been kind of meaning to try contacts again for a while, and this gave me the impetus to do it. And maybe I actually do think I'd look better in contacts that day.

    Anyway, it's hard. And thank you for this post.

  14. wow. thank you so much for this post. "hip" and "sensible" seems to not fit in the same sentence nowadays. i mean, there's a part of me that wants to get married in an alternative apparel t-shirt dress and big pompoms on my head, but we all know that it wouldn't work.
    and trying to become the twig i will never be by starving myself (so that i'd look good in that american apparel dress)? nosirree, shit don't work for this girl.

  15. Yikes, you might be giving me a guilt complex about liking the whole big ass flower thing (and, yes, I know that's not the point of this post but I am reading this at 2am). I didn't even realize this was something hipsters did. I thought I was just a fan of the 70s.

  16. Thanks everyone for sharing. These issues aren't easy, and the answers we're all coming up with are compromises. But, so long as I feel honest enough and know why I'm making my decisions, I think that has to be enough. Particularly because I don't feel like it's a bad thing to want to be presentable and put effort into facing our day or finding self-expression through personal style. So long as I'm true to myself and no one else, okay. It's why I go for a truly sheer/natural look, and give myself about 5 minutes to achieve it.

    @Lyn - I think the popular concept of beauty is time consuming for everyone, men included, though they're differently harmed because popular culture doesn't allow them to really talk about it. Which is a whole other issue. All of our self confidence is fragile, especially because we're all being sold a concept of hot and sexy that we don't meet, so we can be sold the products that help achieve it (axe body spray, anyone?) But I think getting comfortable with HOW our routine fits in our lives and why is the key. At least, that's what it is for me.

    @jessie mae - yes. This. because in figuring out our own particular bodies, you really can start to ignore trends and start shopping for you. Though that's never easy to figure out at 16 (and leads to some awful photos of high school style attempts. Eek.)

    @Olivia - I've actually been using the wedding as a catalyst for a lot of changes I've been wanting to make. Contacts also being one of them. So long as you're genuine in wanting contacts for the right reason (I want them for working out and driving, myself) then it's okay. If not, I need to find Ariel's amazing post on brides with glasses for a bit of real wedding inspiration.

    @Emilia - aw, you know that's not what I meant at all. I'm going to wear a hairflower too. Just not on my forehead. Because that's not my authentic style. I get the sense you can pull off a LOT more than I can in the style department.

  17. I know but it was 2am and I was cranky. :) I read "stupid giant hairflower thing" and got a little offended. I just wonder if there is a way to talk about our own personal style and struggle with self-confidence without knocking other people's personal style.

  18. @Emilia - I think I wrote this at 2am when I was cranky, so maybe I should have been more careful about saying stupid when maybe I'm a little bit envious of that easy confidence and style that allows for giant headflower wearing. My self confidence is too purposeful and practiced to pull it off. It would look oh-so-wrong on my head. Stupid even (yes, that word is 100% correct when applied to me and giant flowers, which is the clarification I should have provided). Whereas it can really look gorgeous if worn with confidence. Instead, my headflower will be smaller.

  19. Try going to art school every day. My academic career is an everyday Coachella concert. Ha.

    I'm glad you are figuring out what beauty choices are best for you. Don't worry about other people (I know, easier said than done). Play up your best features and put your money where you feel most comfortable.

    I know you are going to look beautiful regardless of what you do. You will be happy and will radiate. That's the kind of thing that you can't fake with makeup or hair products.


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