There are a lot of things about my appearance that I would change if I could. I have about five short eyelashes total. My skin has mysteriously aged much more quickly than the simple passing of time. Four year ago when I lost a bunch of weight, my hair started coming out by the handfuls, and it hasn't recovered even to this day. Don't even get me started on my actual body (saddle bags, chunky calves, droopy chest).
There are some things I can do to improve my appearance. I color my hair to hide my grays. I try to style my hair in a way that covers the thinnest spots. I combined a sale and a big coupon to buy Crest White Strips for my teeth, but they didn't actually seem to make a difference. I buy concealers, foundations, powders, blushes, bronzers, primers, anti-aging moisturizers, and under-eye creams. I'm not sure that any of these products actually help any of my "problems," but they at least mask them so I can try not to think about them when I'm with other people.
A friend of mine recently opened my eyes to an entirely new realm of possibilities. She has contraptions and products I hadn't even heard of before. She uses some sort of light-up device to instantly whiten her teeth. She uses a needle roller on her face and stomach before applying special skin-tightening serums. She uses a boar hair brush on her body and an expensive rotating brush on her face. She has special beauty masks and hair products. I always admire her abundantly long eye lashes, and she recently told me that she uses Latisse to make them grow. She has had the one surgical procedure I would actually consider to improve my body. She has even tried Botox. She has special nutritional drinks that give her energy for her daily workouts.
When I found out the full extent of what this friend does to enhance her appearance, I started wrestling with something in my own mind. Then I went to a hair appointment last week. My stylist was baffled as to why my hair will not stop thinning and barely grows. She strongly encouraged me to try a particular line of hair care products. They cost $99 for a set of shampoo, conditioner, and hair mask.
I've been looking over all these newfound options and wondering what could be beneficial to me. Some of these products, gadgets, and procedures could actually make me look better. Looking better could make me feel better about myself.
But I've really been wrestling with this question: Where is the line between self-improvement and vanity?
I think it's okay to wear makeup to hide flaws and accentuate features. I think every woman should find hair products that work with her natural hair type. There are ways to dress any body shape to accentuate the good and downplay the not-so-good. I protect my skin from UV damage and try to slow the formation of wrinkles (apparently unsuccessfully). Freshly painted nails make me happy, so I get a cheap thrill from a new polish (at home, not even at a salon).
So where are my boundaries? How much of this new stuff can I try before I have officially moved into the land of vanity. What will help me focus less on my flaws and what will make me focus too much on my appearance?
I don't think there's a clear answer to any of these questions. But I needed an answer so I came up with a couple of new questions to aid in my decisions.
1. What is my budget?
This is fairly simple. I shouldn't buy anything that I don't have money for. It was only a few years ago that we struggled to buy basic necessities for our kids. We very rarely ever bought anything for ourselves. As Jared has been promoted, and we have done our best to make smart financial decisions, we finally have a little extra to spend on wants rather than needs. So we are still learning how to manage our wants.
I buy concealer from Ulta but powder from Walmart. I alternate between expensive salon-brand shampoo/conditioner and inexpensive shampoo/conditioner from the drug store. I can buy new jeans when my old ones are worn (or are too tight...ugh), but I can't just pick up a new pair of shoes because they are cute.
So the very first test of whether a new item fits into my beauty routine is whether or not there is room in our budget to pay the price.
2. What is my motivation?
Even if I can buy something, that doesn't necessarily mean that I should. I need to look at why I want the item.
When I lost all that weight four years ago, I wasn't trying to look good. I didn't want attention for my new body. I actually wanted the opposite. I was so consumed by feeling unhappy with my overweight body that it overshadowed everything that I did all day long. I felt fat as I volunteered at the school. I was heavy playing with my kids. I was chubby whenever I had to speak in front of a group. I decided to lose weight so I could STOP thinking about my size. I wanted to be able to focus on life again, rather than constantly focusing on my body image.
So, do I want my skin to look better so people will admire it or so I will actually look my age (and not my mother's)? Do I want my hair to fill back in so I'll get compliments or so I can stop vacuuming stray hairs daily and feeling like I should join Hair Club for Men?
I can honestly say that I have a couple of insecurities that probably just need to be released. I need to embrace some of my imperfections as just how I'm made. But there are also a couple things that really could be improved in order to free up some mental space and allow me to focus on more important things.
For me, the Botox is outside the line. I don't know that I'll be rolling needles over my face anytime soon. But I just may try that expensive shampoo and conditioner just in case they'll keep me from having my grandpa's hairline. And I still can't shake the desire I've had since high school to have one particular surgery (hint: puberty hit me early and hard, and I nursed three babies, and now I have a lot of back and shoulder pain).
I think each person has to find their own boundaries. I really don't think many people have the exact same lists of what's acceptable and what's ridiculous. I keep thinking of 1 Corinthians 10:23, which says, "'Everything is permissible,' but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible,' but not everything is constructive.'"
Using fancy contraptions and products is not forbidden, but it might not be the best use of time, money, energy, and focus. So each of us must look at our own motivations and budgets and decide where our line is.