I’ve never spent more than 10 minutes on make-up or 20 minutes on hair. I don’t use face cream. Not considering myself a “beauty person”, I’ve always felt there was a divide between us sartorially minded fashion beasts and the 16-brush kit, highlighter tutorial girls. Sure, I’ve had my MAC staples, but being reasonably happy with my face, as long as my skin was clear and my under-eye circles weren’t too dark, I have spent the majority of my resources on clothes.
And yet I can’t help but sometimes feel I am missing something - a new way to elevate. The beauty industry is growing at an astonishing rate, even if we don’t factor in the Kardashian/Jenner brands and the blame on social media. And if we accept that the psychology of fashion has an effect on us because of the power of aesthetic to influence how we feel, there’s no reason this rule doesn’t also apply to beauty. Dry hands with gnarly cuticles can make us feel just as bad as an ill-fitting dress. The sight of clean, luminous skin can be just as uplifting as a new top.
I experienced the ability of beauty to change my mindset firsthand last week, ahead of my wedding in Seville. I had a very busy day of planning in the last few days before the wedding, which included cake tasting, and meetings with the DJ, string quartet, my normal workload, editing the vows for two ceremonies, and changing the seating chart for the tenth time. As people kept changing their arrival times, the cake shop was closed every time I went to what I thought was a scheduled appointment, and I was panicking about last-minute work requests, I was a mess by the time I went to see make-up artist and hairstylist Josema Mena at his studio for a test session.
As much as I tried to breathe deeply and tell myself “cheer up, you’re getting married in a few days”, my anxiety was at an all-time high when I first sat down in his chair. While yes, Josema had a very calming energy, I think what started to transform my mood was when he started spraying my roots, and teasing and brushing my hair. Simply the act of having someone care for me when all I felt were demands coming my way was soothing. He took a full hour to do my make-up, using many tiny little brushes and paying attention to details on my face. With every stroke, I felt my anxiety dissipate. Hearing my stomach grumble during the process, he also served me a cold glass of gazpacho. By the time I walked out of the studio, doe-eyed and with hair more voluminous than I have ever had it, I felt more calm, positive, and emotionally transformed.
I know that the benefits of self-care and the idea that girls enjoy getting their hair and make-up done is hardly novel. But it made me wonder, why don’t we take better care of ourselves on a daily basis? Why does it take an audience? An occasion? In my case, it took a wedding to make an honest effort and truly accept the fact that when we feel beautiful, we feel happier. While a lot of us know this on a cerebral level, we hardly put it into practice. Almost every day I work from home, I delay self-care as much as possible. Although my greasy hair, uncleansed skin, and dry hands may be bothering me, I tell myself that sorting it out doesn’t matter as much as answering emails and posting content. Maybe it doesn’t, but I don’t think we actually realize all the ways in which our state of beauty affects us. And after a day of neglect, I’m not in a great mood come evening.
Here are a few distinct ways that the psychology of beauty works.
1. The better you feel about your beauty, the better you treat others. Despite the common notion that “beauty is only skin deep”, there is a strong connection between looking your best and feeling confident, capable, and empowered. Psychologist Nathaniel Branden explains that self-esteem has profound effects on thinking processes, emotions, desires, values and goals. Your physical appearance is closely tied to your self-esteem. Braden states, “There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity.” This one hit home. The worse I feel about myself for whatever reason, the more likely I am to bark at people, and assume the worst about their intentions. Walking around in Seville after my glam session, I smiled at strangers, and was polite and gracious to everyone I encountered.
2. The quality of your interpersonal relationships increases. Your need for validation from others decreases, allowing you to be more self-sufficient. I often accuse my partner of not complimenting me, but I do this less when I feel sure of my own beauty. The more you feel beautiful, the less you need others to tell you.
3. The very act of self-care comforts, calms and reassures. When you stop to invest time into yourself, you reinforce the fact that you, alone, matter, that you’re worth it.
While I won’t have the luxury of getting glam or hair and make-up people at my beck and call everyday for a very long time, if ever, I’m going to make a bit more of an effort on a daily basis. Ten minutes more on hair in attempting a proper blow dry. Ensuring my brows are clean. Lips are exfoliated. It doesn’t need to take a wedding.