I recently stopped by to see a friend of mine, the New York Times best selling author, Laura Kaye. It was an unexpected visit, and when her husband ushered me in, Laura was sitting on the floor of her living room, in shorts and a t-shirt, wrapping gifts for her daughter’s birthday. Her hair was scraped back from her face in a clip and she didn’t have a speck of makeup on. And she looked amazing—a natural beauty. And I thought to myself, wow, I wish I looked like that with no enhancements or embellishments. But I don’t. I need help to look merely acceptable. And I wondered—to myself—at what point during the process of using artifice to appear more aesthetically pleasing do we cross the line from making the most of what we’ve got to projecting a completely false face (and body) to the world, undermining our efforts to be authentic and to live authentically?
As I contemplated these questions, I thought of one of my all-time favorite characters, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse. Over the course of the series, Sookie is repeatedly given the opportunity to ingest vampire blood, which acts, among other things, to enhance physical beauty, including adding luster and body to hair, brightening skin, teeth and eyes, and generally serving to make humans look better. In the end, Sookie rejects these enhancements, feeling that they made her into someone she wasn’t.
I remember being struck by Sookie’s choices and thinking—gee, if I could look like I’d been to the most exclusive hairdresser in town, and then to the best spa and the most exclusive cosmetic dentist and plastic surgeon in the world just by drinking a little vampire blood—straight from the vein of a gorgeous vampire who has the hots for me–I’d be all over that action like Bobby Flay on a grill.
Without giving away all my secrets, I will admit to partaking of many of the services the beauty industry offers in this country. I certainly wear makeup more often than not if I’m going out of the house. And I wouldn’t want anyone to see me at the beauty salon with foil all over my head, doing an excellent imitation of someone trying to channel radio signals from outer space.
I haven’t done it yet, but neither have I ruled out plastic surgery down the road if my neck becomes saggy and my jowls start to head south. I’m honestly not sure how far I would go to preserve my looks—not that I want to look 25 again, but I’m also not sure, when I get there, that I want to look like I’m a typical 50-year old, either. I don’t think I want to walk gently into that good night of looking old when I certainly don’t feel old.
So what about Sookie’s decision to accept the inevitable ravages of the years to live life as an authentic human? If we choose to fight the tide of time, are we choosing to live less than authentically? As you know, living authentically is my purpose in life and exploring ways to do that and sharing my insights is my current life’s work. If I want to inspire others to live authentically, how far can I go with respect to physical improvements that aren’t “natural” and still make a claim to authenticity?
How much artificial enhancement is too much? When do we become like fem-bots—plastic, perfect people without a hair out of place or a wrinkle on our foreheads? If you look at most celebrities these days, they all seem to look the same—identically symmetrical faces with absolutely no affect because all of their emotive expressions have been Botoxed out of existence. How much of a slippery slope is it from hair dye and facial moisturizers to lasers and scalpels and vacuum cleaners sucking the fat from our thighs and our abdomens?
Maybe we should all make like Sookie and just say no. Maybe we should allow ourselves to grow old gracefully, even if grace isn’t always as pretty as holding back the onslaught of time across our faces and our bodies. That seems like such a leap of faith, though, to accept ourselves as we really are, and to eschew smoothing out the rough edges of our physical imperfections.
I wish I could take that leap. But I don’t look as pretty as Laura Kaye without my makeup on and my hair done. So, I may have to allow this bit of inauthenticity to slip by the barricades that normally serve to weed out dishonesty and prevarication in my life—the boundaries that help me live a life of integrity. At least for a while—just until I can accept myself as being beautiful with no adornments at all. I’m working on it. Really. But I won’t hold my breath just yet. I might turn blue.