Saturday, September 28, 2013

Making Beautiful

I recently joined Pinterest out of curiosity. Pinterest is a site where you can "pin" pictures of things you're interested in onto personal online corkboards (like this one!). It's the sort of place you go for decorating inspiration, DIY tips, craft projects, wardrobe ideas, silly quotes...just about anything. I'm so glad I joined; I have gotten loads of ideas on everything from ways to re-combine clothes I already have, do pretty make-up without owning much of it, and organize our home.

The reason I joined in the first place was due to an assignment from the book, The No-Brainer Wardrobe by Hayley Morgan. While the whole premise is how to get dressed without fuss or indecision (with things like how to create a capsule wardrobe: a few items that make a lot of options), it's really about how we women are not only permitted by God to make things beautiful in the world, we're commissioned to. This includes our bodies as well as our home and the work that we do.

I read it because I needed community in that conviction: that God is glorified when I make things beautiful. I don't think God wants us to just make the outside look good while neglecting the heart of things--then we're just a "white-washed tomb," like Jesus said. But I believe that God wants us to do what we do well, and that includes making our homes pretty, happy, and homey, and dressing ourselves in a way that acknowledges that our bodies were designed by God just as they are beautifully.

I'm not very good with fashion. I always hated shopping, and clothes were always about comfort and function rather than appearance. I don't know how to use make-up, either. I know that's embarrassing to say as a woman, but about all I knew was that mascara goes on your eyelashes and eyeliner lines your eye somewhere. I didn't know how to pick or balance colors; where to put eye-shadow; or how to put on lipstick so that it looks nice and stays put instead of jumping onto the nearest water glass. I taught myself how to braid my hair but didn't know anything about up-dos, top-knots, or different types of buns. I have never used a curler or straightener (and only had them used on me 3 times), and I don't own a hair-dryer. I didn't even get the point of mousse or hairspray until a few years ago.

Some of this is due to my mom. She raised me to believe that I'm beautiful as I am and that I don't need to put products in my hair or on my skin. She doesn't do a lot to herself and she always looks pretty, and so I never did either. I'm glad she raised me that way. Probably if she had tried to show me more of what I could do with make-up or my hair, I wouldn't have been interested; I would rather have been up trees or inventing languages.

Living with girls my age changed some of that. I saw different ways to do hair that were cool--not prettier, nor less pretty, just different and cool. My roommate taught me how to do a big Audrey-Hepburn top bun and another friend showed me different ways of tying my hair back and introduced me to bobby pins.

It took a lot of experimentation. I spent an hour one morning learning how to properly pin bobby pins (hint: each pin should overlap with at least one other pin so they form a coherent mass). Another long morning of experimentation and I can now create that mod style of "bumped up" hair. I still haven't found any use for a hair dryer, but I use mousse and understand now that the purpose is to get rid of frizz.

I used to think it would be tedious to spend so much time on my appearance. It's certainly not something I would want to feel bound to do every day. Most days I tie my hair in a bun, put on eyeliner, and I'm done. In fact, the only real requirements to my morning routine are showering and getting dressed. I think I look beautiful without the make-up and the hair.

But still it's nice to know. It's nice to be able to dress up the day by adding frill to my appearance. It's nice to have Pinterest guiding my experimentation (did you know you can use eyeliner as eye-shadow? Cross-hatch and blend). I did a 50s day last week where I just had fun looking the part. The time I spent dressing up was not a waste. Creating beautiful things in the world is a part of my commission, and I made a lot of the little ladies at the grocery store smile. There's something in me that enjoys dressing up for no reason. It makes me feel like the royalty God says I am.

I'm not going to spend all my money on it. I'm not going to spend all my time. Renewing my spirit and reminding myself of the all the potential beauty out there is a part of getting a good start on a day where most of my time is spent in service to others. I remember one point during my super-minimalist phase where I was denying myself almost any fun at all because it all needed to be about working to free those who are in bondage. I realized one day that if everyone were to become like me and deny themselves life's enjoyments, then amusement parks would close, beauty salons would go out of business, movie theatres would become a relic of the past--and the people we'd be freeing from slavery would look around and say, "What am I supposed to do now?" And we'd tell them, "Put your nose to the grindstone." We'd be no better than slaves ourselves. If we want to free people from evil social systems, there has to be something for them to be freed to.

Life is meant to be enjoyed. Beauty is meant to be created. Beauty and truth often go hand-in-hand. I don't mean because beauty makes truth more palatable, but because truth is often beautiful when you see it for what it is. The truth of God's love for us is the most beautiful thing in the world. My job is beauty and truth. I write to point out the true beauty of things. It's what I do for a living.

So I set out to stop denying myself whenever I wanted to make things beautiful and instead create beauty for the glory of God--including in how I dress. Beauty for God's glory means not showing what shouldn't be shown and showing what should. I wanted to learn how to dress in a way that complements my beauty and that makes me happy.

Somewhere during college, my distaste for shopping began to wane as I discovered the joy of thrifting. It all started with my roommate driving us to the Thrift Store Outlet, basically a giant closet with every type of clothing you can possible imagine. The only thing over $10 were the wedding dresses. This meant I could buy a couple blouses and not feel guilty about it. If they got stained, shrank in the wash, were lost, or got a hole, it didn't matter because I only paid $3 for it.

Thrift stores are like a treasure box: you never know what you'll find. And then you never know how much it's actually worth to you. Thankfully my roommate suffered from as much indecision as I did, so neither of us felt any pressure as we spent 5 or 10 minutes deciding over one article at a time. As my wardrobe began to slowly grow with things that I actually liked to wear, I found that getting dressed in the morning wasn't just rote; it was fun!

We also had the fun of passing clothes around; someone got tired of one thing and someone else would claim it. In one apartment with 6 girls, we had a constant "Goodwill donation" pile (it only went to Goodwill when we were all moving out) that was always being added to and raided by various people. Some clothing items made the rounds that year, being claimed by one person then discarded a few months later and claimed by someone else. I got to try things from very diverse styles and see what felt like "me." I learned new things, like how I look good in yellow and don't look good in an empire waist.

All of this piqued my interest in style and gave me an enthusiasm for dressing not just comfortably but well. But I still knew nothing about fashion or how to figure out my style. Typical Elizabeth the Student, I went straight to find reading material on the subject. I found a surprising wealth. Starting with the Small Notebook blog by Rachel Meeks, I came upon a whole community of women bloggers whose style I liked and whose tips were practical. After reading all of Rachel's posts on the subject, I got a hold of The No-Brainer Wardrobe e-book and whizzed through it doing all the assignments (including joining Pinterest; making a list of 15 blouses I own that I love; and identifying what it is about those blouses that I love) and putting her tips for dealing with your body as you age in my memory for later.

And what then? I figured out what I wanted to dress like. I got rid of any remaining clothes in my wardrobe that didn't fit that model. Now every day when I get dressed, I'm faced with a small but more than satisfactory selection of only things that I like to wear (most of them from the thrift store!). When I go throughout my day I feel comfortable being myself and happy with how I look. I'm the same person, but now I'm dressed in things that express who I am--from the cheerful colors of my apparel to the way my style says, "I know I am beautiful and I'm not trying to hide it."

So many women are insecure about how they look. It's always the same story. There's too much fat in my hips and my tummy, and my abs and thighs aren't toned, and my skin is embarrassingly pale, and my feet are flaky and gnarled, and...I don't like everything about my body either. I never will. Stop trying to hide what is beautiful. The way you dress informs how you feel and informs others how you think of yourself. We're not ignorant of what your wardrobe says about you. When you dress like you're beautiful and confident, we can tell, and it makes you look and feel all the more beautiful and confident.