What’s the point of the pursuit of beauty?
Many will answer that there is none, that because beauty is a superficial attribute, it means nothing, and therefore the pursuit of it is pointless. I think both you and I would disagree. I’m a beauty blogger and beauty writer. Beauty is literally my job. You, meanwhile, are reading this on a beauty site. So clearly, there’s a point to it for us. But reflecting on why is important, and we often forget to do so in our quest for the latest or greatest new beauty thing.
For the vast majority of people, looks matter. How we choose to present ourselves to others can be a potent form of communication, and how we feel about our appearance informs the way we present ourselves. There’s a powerful feedback loop here. The things we do to our outside can affect the way we feel inside, and the way we feel inside—both in terms of physical and mental health—can affect how we look on the outside. Looks and beauty really are more than skin deep. Recognizing that can help us find more effective ways to improve both our inner health and outer appearance. That’s why we’re here today.
The things we do to our outside can affect the way we feel inside, and the way we feel inside—both in terms of physical and mental health—can affect how we look on the outside.
Before we go any further, though, I want to make one thing clear. When I talk about beauty, I’m not talking about any particular physical ideal from any particular culture or community or social class. I’m not referring to any specific configuration of facial features or body parts. Nor am I talking about any fixed set of physical traits currently deemed most attractive to potential romantic partners.
When I talk about beauty, I simply mean whatever it is that you personally find most aesthetically pleasing and strive to achieve for yourself.
With that in mind, let’s look at some ways to take care of ourselves from the outside in, so that we don’t just like what we see in the mirror but also who we see. This is me-care: taking care of yourself holistically, in a way that will bring you maximum benefits in both beauty and mind.
Skin care: Surface treatments with potentially deep effects
Your skin is your largest organ and also your most visually prominent one. If you wear makeup, it’s your canvas. If you don’t, it’s out there in the open for all to see.
It stands to reason, therefore, that humans have been trying to achieve clear and healthy-looking skin for a very long time. There are references to acne treatments for cosmetic purposes in texts dating back to the first century AD, as my friend and fellow beauty enthusiast Tracy Robey pointed out in a look at acne treatments through history. Honey as acne treatment goes back to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Mercury, thankfully, has fallen out of favor.
The modern cosmetics industry offers a nearly endless selection of sometimes honey-infused but always mercury-free products for clearing up acne, fading discoloration, and smoothing out wrinkles. Skin care these days can be highly targeted and highly customized. And while there’s plenty of debate about the superiority of a lengthy, K-beauty inspired regimen versus a more minimal approach, it’s hard to argue that improving one’s skin can deliver a huge confidence boost.
Personal anecdotes abound about the misery of suffering through severe acne in particular. A quick look at the #acneawareness tag on Instagram brings up this post, in which actress @chessiphillips writes that worsening acne “started to destroy my life. I didn’t want to be seen, and I didn’t want to see myself.” But acne isn’t the only cause of skin insecurity. Dullness, hyperpigmentation, and the visible signs of skin aging can all drag down our moods.
The self-esteem boost of improved skin isn’t the only benefit of good skin care practices, though. A skin care routine can serve as a calming and grounding morning and evening ritual. There’s also an aesthetic and sensory pleasure in products that not only perform well but also look, smell, and feel beautiful. And the act of researching products and engaging in online skin care communities can be mentally beneficial. Years ago, I wrote about how my skin care practices have become a powerful tool for me to manage my depression and anxiety. The products in my routine have changed since that essay went live, but the benefits remain the same.
Skin care basics
I’ll cover the ins and outs of building your own skin care routine in future articles. As a starting point here, however, I’ll boil them down into a few actionable steps:
- Make sure you’re using a gentle cleanser that doesn’t strip away your skin’s natural moisture and leave it sensitive and more vulnerable to irritation and infection. If your skin feels squeaky or tight immediately after cleansing, it’s time to look for a milder option.
- Don’t add or change more than one product at a time. Give yourself at least a week with each new product so that if anything causes a reaction, you can quickly identify the cause and remove it from your routine.
Even if you don’t feel the need to add any new products to your existing routine, give yourself the time and space to do your routine consistently. Mindful appreciation of each step and what it does for your complexion can turn a routine hygiene chore into an act of care for the self, a daily reminder that your self is worth caring for. That alone can brighten your morning or calm and soothe you in the evening.
Of course, skin care is just one facet of the beauty-oriented self-care system that I’m calling me-care. In the second part of this series, we’ll go below the surface to explore how taking care of our health can benefit us not just internally, but externally as well.