A few days ago, I got my senior portraits back, and I shared this picture on my Facebook page:
I threw up the picture with a quick caption that read, “Yoga bun, tan lines, no makeup. Authentic?” The post was met with comments that were not only incredibly sweet and complimentary (it really helps to be friends with your mom’s friends on Facebook!), but also comments about how the idea of authenticity resonated with them.
One person said, “Authenticity needs to make a comeback!”
Another said, “Gettin’ real is the new cool.”
When I was done being flattered by the sweetness of the comments on the post, I started to get a little nervous about how my quick caption could be interpreted. It almost sounded like I was implying that wearing makeup, covering your tan lines, or doing your hair nicely for a picture meant you weren’t authentic- something I would never say.
The day I went to get my pictures taken, I swung by the photographer after teaching class. The woman who helped me shrug my way into the fake half-shirt you wear for portraits asked me, “Did you want to do your hair? Did you need to borrow some makeup?”
And I considered it for a moment. All my friends had had a lot of fun with their pictures- curling their hair, picking out nice earrings, or even getting their makeup professionally done. I hadn’t done any of that. Was I not taking this seriously enough? Would I regret not getting dolled up for my last yearbook photo ever?
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that doing those things wouldn’t be true to who I am. If I made myself look nothing like I ever have before- I’ve never worn makeup, not even to special events like my junior prom – would be silly. Many people choose to wear makeup for special events or photos, because it makes them feel like a different version of themselves. If I did the same, I’d feel like a complete stranger. I’ve never seen myself all dolled up, nor has anyone in my life, and to have that person suddenly appear in my senior pictures simply wouldn’t make sense.
The messy hair, the plain face, the sun lines- those are all true aspects of who I am. Sure, the picture would look just like I ran straight from class to the photo booth, but that’s because that’s really what happened. And chances are, if you meet me in real life, I’m going to look exactly like that. These pictures reveal the authentic me, and being as authentic as possible something that’s truly important in my life.
But that doesn’t mean that looking that way in your senior photos (or wedding photos, or prom pictures, or holiday cards, or Instagram…) means that you’re necessarily being authentic.
If doing your hair a certain way makes you feel more like yourself, then that’s authenticity. If putting on some brightly colored eyeshadow and cleverly applied eyeliner speaks to your creativity, then that’s authenticity (and I admire your patience and skill to figure out the puzzle that is makeup to me). If asking the photographer to cover your tan lines makes you feel more comfortable with the way your pictures turn out, then that’s authenticity.
Authenticity doesn’t look the same in every person, and that’s exactly the point. Authenticity is being true to who you are, which will look completely different from who someone else is. My authentic self is looking like someone who loves yoga and feels most comfortable without makeup and my hair tied back. But if a passionate makeup artist and hair-styler were to go without their makeup and hairdo for the pictures that are supposed to represent them, then they wouldn’t be expressing who they are.
Choosing to wear makeup or not is a choice each person makes on their own. For some people, it’s a creative outlet. For other people, it gives them confidence. The absence of it does not necessarily make you “more authentic” or “more realistic” than anyone else, because, come on, putting on some mascara doesn’t automatically make you a whole new person who’s practically wearing a mask.
I’d never want a girl who loves makeup to stop wearing it just because they feel judged as “insecure” or “pretentious” when they do. But I would encourage people to take a deeper look at why they’re wearing makeup. Is it because you feel better when you wear it, or is it really because you can’t feel good without it? I’ve heard some of my friends actually say that they feel compelled to wear makeup because once you start wearing it, people expect you to look a certain way that you can only achieve with makeup.
To me, this isn’t authenticity. This is letting the opinion of others (whether it be perceived or real), dictate your actions and sense of self.
In the end, I agree that authenticity needs to make a comeback. But that doesn’t mean everyone should boycott makeup and hair curlers. It means that people should take the time to evaluate their actions and ask if it coincides with their core values. Being who you really are looks different for everyone, because we are all different- physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Our appearance is just one way to reflect who we are.
I’m happy with my senior portrait, and I’m glad that it’s how I’ll be represented in the yearbook- looking exactly like I do everyday. That’s my version of authenticity, but it doesn’t negate the authentic value of anyone else’s.