It’s a controversial question. I imagine in some cases, women in particular reading this may be protesting at the very suggestion. Maybe a better question is “What’s the opposite of authentic?” Is it artifice? Superficiality? Maybe. And if that’s the case, is focusing on image a small part of that? I admit: I am skeptical about those who seem overly concerned with their appearances. Is there a connection between image and authenticity?
I get that as women we are expected to pay attention to how we look. In many cases, we’re encouraged to look for deficiencies–and to cover them up. Men struggle with this, too, but they haven’t experienced the same societal pressures as women. In either case, one reason we might be image-conscious, regardless of gender, is we’re trying to “make up” for something we think is wrong, instead of allowing ourselves to accept what’s there naturally. For me, it’s about the reasons (and thoughts!) behind the actions.
Makeup, nail polish, styling products–all potential signals we might be more concerned with image than substance. Does that mean I’ll never use them? No. Does it mean it I’ll be mindful about how and WHY I use them? Yes. I think it is important that people know when they see me it’s all about how I’m feeling in the moment. When I do use makeup, it’s minimally. More importantly, I’m not looking at flaws or covering up. There’s far more important work to do than sitting in front of a mirror! (I don’t even sit down usually if I’m going to put on makeup!)
What matters to me is the intent behind the grooming. Not everyone who has a French manicure or a perfectly trimmed beard is obtuse. For me, the impression that someone might be “overly concerned” with image creates a lack of trust. This may just be a personal bias, but when I sense that someone is too invested in how they look–they have signs of the perfectionist with respect to “image”–I have doubts about their ability to be authentic. To accept themselves as they are.
All this said, no matter what someone’s reasons are for showing up as they do, we can’t truly know why. We can only pay attention to our own instincts, while striving for acceptance (aka non-judgment) and staying mindful.
How do we create and maintain a healthy balance between self-image and authenticity? I think awareness is key. Let’s not spend too much time trying to appear other than we are. Maybe we could work to accept ourselves and others, instead? I’m not saying everyone needs to shirk makeup or fire their barber. But, I do think we should give more care and attention to our insides and others’. It is definitely a better use of our time, money, and energy. I’m definitely a work in progress with respect to self-care but I think that’s where it needs to start.
Am I alone here? Share your thoughts in the comments below.