I’m absolutely thrilled that my second guest blogger is my friend Amy Veltman, who has been a huge cheerleader of Finding Lagom ever since I started it.  She and I share a mutual love of makeup, and when she told me that she had gone on a “makeup fast” in 2013, I asked her if she might be willing to tell her story here.  Lucky for us, she said yes!  Even if you aren’t into makeup, I think many will identify with what she has to say about feeling like we need “stuff” to be our best selves.  Enjoy!

Be Your Best Self in the New Year!

My beloved sister-in-law has been giving me Oprah magazine annually for about three years for my birthday. And every month, Oprah has a new thing to focus on to get me to my best me. The model of Oprah’s empire necessitates that your best you is always at least one issue or talk show or favorite thing or book club 2.0 selection out of reach.

The message I’m getting from all of this is that I am never there. I will always need one more product. One more issue. One more gratitude journal. One more Dr. Phil-set boundary. One more quinoa recipe. And one more handbag to tie it all together—but don’t worry, because she found one for under $100!

I think about what I want to tell my girls, now 7 and 10. Here’s a message I don’t want to give them: “You are never perfect, but if you buy this [magazine/ product/ serum/ juice cleanse/ brand of shoe/ size of home/ handbag that’s cute even though it’s under $100!] you will feel/ look/ be a hell of a lot closer.”

Here’s what I do want to tell them: Life is nuts. Sometimes it’s good-nuts. Sometimes it’s bad-nuts. I want you to be happy with the person you are, no matter your external circumstances. The surest way to be unhappy is to compare yourself to someone else or some false external ideal of “enough.”  More stuff will not make you more happy. It might be fun for a few minutes, but then you have to figure out where to put it. Not fun in our NYC apartment. Experiences, memories, friends and family are all fun that you can keep with you and that never go out of fashion.

There was something that was making me unfit to deliver this message, though: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with make-up, cosmetics, and products.

Intellectually, I know these potions offer almost nothing that they promise. I will not be beautiful in the leading lady sense, no matter how many hours I spend in application. I know the same time and money I spend buying and applying cosmetics is the time someone else is spending reading, working, working out, cleaning their home, volunteering, investing in the stock market, learning about birds, or any number of other ostensibly productive pursuits. I’m even blessed with a husband who seems to dish out most of the compliments on my looks when my face is bare of everything but moisturizer.

Laura’s blog, Finding Lagom, helped underscore the inconsistency in my worldview that my product jones was causing.  After an unsatisfying purchase of two expensive products in late February (“But on sale!” I justified), one of which disappointed by making me look grey-faced and tired, I was honest enough to say to myself, “I don’t need any more makeup.  So what would happen if I canceled my Birchbox subscription and went on a makeup fast for the rest of 2013?” I didn’t quite know why I was doing it, but I decided to try it anyway.

My girls cheered me on. We’d walk past a Duane Reade drugstore on the streets of NYC where we live, the sidewalk-facing cosmetic displays beguiling, and the girls would yell at me, “Don’t look, Mom! Don’t look!” wanting to spare me the agony of temptation.

I was surprised by how much I missed the pleasant, numbed-out excitement I felt cruising the aisles at Target, making a choice of the “best” new thing to try (or, oh, heck, why not two things!). I missed the mini-rush of a new product high—ripping the promise open, trying it on, looking at myself in the mirror, and asking, “Am I different yet?” (Spoiler alert: Never.)

For our anniversary, knowing about my resolution, my thoughtful husband bought me a $75 gift certificate to Sephora. Do gift certificates count when you’re on a makeup fast? If you’re on the fast to save money, a gift certificate is a certain reprieve! But I wasn’t quite sure why I was on this fast, so, nine months into my experiment, I skulked down to Sephora with some rules in mind: I was not to exceed the amount of the gift certificate by a penny, and I had to really want everything I was getting.

While I got a few great products, I felt like the purity of my make-up fast experiment had been sullied by the purchases (though my dwindling lip product selection had certainly been helped). I still didn’t know what it all meant or why I was persisting with this experiment, but I persevered.

As 2013 wound to a close, I found myself counting the weeks remaining until my fast would be over. With months of pent-up product desire, it was going to be a thrilling and colorful early January in my vanity, so look out!

At last, 2014 arrived. About a week in, I re-entered the aisles of Sephora, knowing that nothing was off limits, and, thanks to some well-preserved gift certificates, almost whatever I wanted would even be free. So what, you may wonder, did I do with this newfound bounty?

Nothing.

I didn’t buy any makeup. I just didn’t need any. I used half of a gift certificate to get a perfume atomizer to transport my daily scent with me when I travel, but those of you who love products the way I do realize that such a utilitarian purchase holds minimal promise of transformation, fun, or experimentation.

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The atomizer in question: At least it looks exciting…

And while wandering the aisles of Sephora, perhaps helped by the eardrum-shredding DJ at the in-store event when I visited, I didn’t get lost in a vague fantasy of some ideal woman I might be if only I selected the right combination of products. My 10-month fast, mixed with the blaring music, had a Clockwork Orange-like effect on my make-up numb-out, neutralizing it, and making me impatient to get out of that store and get on with my life.

Maybe it’s sad that I’ve lost some of the pleasure in something that used to give me joy and a welcome zap of novelty. However, I’ve regained some of the moral high-ground to tell my daughters that more stuff doesn’t make you happier. And, by getting a bit more self-aware and by not buying one more thing, the woman I see in the mirror may just be my very best self right now.

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Hair and makeup by Amy’s daughters, then 6 and 9.

At various times, Amy Veltman has been a writer, filmmaker, actor, musician, editor, parent, and facilitator with the consultancy, On Your Feet. She plans to continue in all of those roles.

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