It was just a little chat between friends: Kids, new slow cooker recipes, books we were plowing through, and the omnipresent Florida heat were the usual topics of conversation. Oh. And the little detail that I was garage-selling most of my household items, packing up the leftovers with husband and aforementioned kids, and moving to a third world country to do some missions work.
That's about the point where the awkward silences occurred, or the suddenly-remembered appointment popped up. That was the dividing line: Either my friends thought I was slightly across the border into Crazyville or they immediately set me up upon the dreaded Missionary Pedestal. Which of course could not be carved out of marble. Please. What a waste of funding. Let's use some leftover VBS cardboard props.
This particular conversation had a new twist, however. My friend's eyes skeptically roamed down the length of my long, expensively-highlighted blonde hair and she remarked, "Well. I know something you'll have to change. Missionaries don't care about their hair."
I probably gave the fakest of polite laughs and threw out a supporting Scripture or two about the lack of hair love. I mean, surely there are some. I know I must have steered a wide path around that hair-loving sinner, Samson, but we all know he didn't really love Jesus. So vain.
But later, in the quietness of my minivan (and by quietness, I mean the blank brain space where all 90s moms went when VeggieTales was on a loop), I confronted the vanity of my heart:
The thing was, I didn't think I would stop caring about my hair. I liked a fresh blowout, which gave me the option of not washing for days. I loved the feeling of newly-shorn locks and the way the blonde streaks in my ever-darkening strands matched my hair to that of the little towhead I used to be. I cherished the only quiet moments I could find: Reading a new book while floating in a sudsy bathtub, some sort of Amazon-ordered unicorn oil combed through my hair, and emerging with new fortitude for what the day required of me.
But if I wanted those things, did that mean I was shallow, less cerebral, less spiritual, less-missionary-able than my friends who just didn't care so much about clothes and hair? Did my happiness about a new mascara take away brain space I should have been putting toward the Big Things?
Why did my choosing to swipe a peachy color on my cheekbones mean, as someone recently told me, that I gave the appearance of someone who did not know what it was like to feel alone or in pain? That I couldn't relate. A swath of sparkly color on my skin has never provided armor for the shattering my own heart has experienced.
Why did my shopping at Sephora mean that a friend's husband could point a barbed jest my direction, his jokes revealing a preconceived notion about me, implying that my shopping there meant that I might give my friend shallow advice on a completely unrelated situation?
Caring how my hair or eyelids look does not make me less than. Not giving a fig about your hair doesn't make you less than either. It makes us different. And in the name of all things peroxide, we need some differences. We need some creativity, because it doesn't just bring us art and beauty, it brings us beautifully useful ways of problem-solving when we offer our differences to each other. It brings us together instead of apart.
Opening our eyes to the palette before us and wielding a makeup brush as an artist would her tools does not mean we can't use those same eyes to understand deeply the innocent victims around us, the children whose legs are blown off their bodies as bombs scream around them, their cries for their daddies lost in the dust and blood and booms.
Taking a quiet moment to enjoy newly-lacquered nails in the brightest colors we can find does not mean we cannot use those same hands to write an email to our Congressperson, to type out a text to a brokenhearted mom, to hand out some cash to a stranger in need.
Choosing to place hair color upon the strands atop our heads does not mean we don't use those same heads to worry about our devastated friend, to create new and effective ways of helping our neighbors, to educate ourselves on the most effective way to help the refugees.
Painting green or purple or whatever shade we desire upon our eyelids does not mean we don't keep those eyes open to the pain, keep looking for the vulnerable among us, the ones who might need a kind word, a sweet note, a moment to sit quietly together in the loud inner agony of their pain.
Let's stop putting each other in boxes and set each other free to embrace whatever woman we choose to be: One who walks into the world fresh-faced and lovely and one who walks into the world with the shades and scents upon her that make her path its own journey, no less lovely, no less aware of the planet around her.
Let's stop making assumptions and start applauding for art in whatever form we find it expressed: On a gorgeously-painted face, on a computer, on a page. Your canvas won't be the same as mine. Your art is the beauty of your soul shared with the world, and we need that brave sharing now more than ever.
”I love makeup, and its wonderful possibilities for temporary transformation. And I also love my face after I wash it all off....There is something exquisitely enjoyable about seeing yourself with a self-made new look. And for me that look is deeply personal.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author, feminist, makeup-wearer
My daughter's canvas and my mother's canvas: