I remember looking approvingly at my reflection in the bathroom mirror at school. I had "borrowed" my older sister's eyeliner, and I probably looked more like a raccoon than a seventh-grade girl. But at the time, I felt absolutely beautiful. My mom eventually yielded in our battle about wearing makeup, predicting that I would learn moderation in my own time.
In junior high, I was horrified at the thought of someone seeing any sign of a blemish or acne on my face, so I covered up with foundation and powder. And if I happened to spot a friend on a Saturday at the library or the grocery store, I would often duck into a random aisle just to avoid being seen without makeup.
By the time I reached high school, I had figured out the "less is more" strategy of makeup application. But I grew increasingly uncomfortable with my continued dependence on cosmetics for a feeling of beauty.
I mentioned this unhappiness to my Sunday School teacher. She pointed me to a passage in the book Science and Health: "The recipe for beauty is to have less illusion and more Soul, . . ." (p. 247). I liked the idea of a "recipe" for beauty, but the rest of the line stumped me. Less of what "illusion"? And how could I express God as Soul?
Soon I realized that the "illusion" was the idea that beauty could be found only in my face and body. If I wanted to seem more beautiful to myself and to others, I was going to have to change how I thought about beauty. So I began to focus on expressing a few spiritual qualities I associated with the beauty of divine Soul—creativity, individuality, and originality. This was based on the growing realization that what made me beautiful was not my complexion. My beauty, given to me by God, was in the joy and peace that I expressed freely. As I kept up this spiritual regimen, my self-confidence improved.
By the end of high school, the acne on my face had almost completely disappeared. I feel that this was the result both of my progress in understanding beauty as a spiritual concept and of using wisdom when applying makeup, allowing my skin to function normally. And yet, while I was grateful for this progress, I didn't yet fully believe I could be beautiful without wearing makeup.
As I continued to consider beauty prayerfully, I began to notice that many women of all ages were covered up by thick layers of foundation and powder, which sometimes pointed to an insecurity. But despite these outward signs of self-consciousness, I still agreed wholeheartedly with Mary Baker Eddy's observation, "One marvels that a friend can ever seem less than beautiful" (Science and Health, p. 248). What made the women I knew beautiful had nothing to do with their physical characteristics. Their joy and selflessness, their patience and their kindness, made them attractive to me as friends.
I was well on my way to freedom from the whole makeup issue, but there was still more to learn. During my freshman year of college, I continued to feel self-conscious without eye makeup because I thought I looked bug-eyed. I struggled to view myself in the same loving way I saw my friends. But since what I found most beautiful in others were their qualities, I began to apply this to myself, too, endeavoring to think less and less about my appearance and more about how I expressed myself. I focused on living qualities like grace and orderliness. When I stopped thinking so much about physical beauty, it felt like jumping off a mental treadmill. And I was free to be beautiful in whichever direction I chose, without so much effort.
I reminded myself daily that a smile was the prettiest thing I could wear, and was grateful to be pursuing a sense of happiness that was not rooted in things physical and changeable. Not long after my freshman year of college, I finally overcame the need to wear makeup to feel beautiful. I'd learned to identify my beauty as a pure, spiritual quality instead of a physical one. And now, when I do wear makeup, I wear it to accentuate certain features or to feel dressed up. But on days when it seems impractical or unnecessary, I walk out the door makeup-less and confident.
A few days ago, a good friend of mine explained that she thinks of makeup as a creative, daily art project. I've learned that using makeup can be a fun form of self-expression. But focusing on one's spiritual makeup—the qualities of God that make each person unique and lovely—is what brings a lasting sense of beauty.
Hillary Moser is currently an intern for the Sentinel, The Christian Science Journal, and spirituality.com.