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Monday, September 7, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 36 - She's got the looks

"If tomorrow women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business." (Dr. Gail Dines)

I just came back from what was probably the last camping trip of the year. Campgrounds are always a great place to reflect on minimalism. One morning, I found myself brushing my teeth next to a woman who used not one, not two, but three different electrical appliances to do her hair. She was getting started when I walked by on my way to the shower, was still busy perfecting her hair when I got out of the shower and stopped by the sinks, and was still working at it when I left. I was perplexed. Why would anyone want to spend so much time on their looks while camping in the woods?

I had had the same reflection while backpacking throughout Europe, some 15 years ago. I never understood why my fellow female backpackers spent so much time in front of the mirror each morning. Personally the only "cosmetics" I carried had to do with basic hygiene (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shampoo, soap), plus some sunscreen. On most days, I would detangle my hair then let it air dry until it was ready to put in a quick pony tail. I was preparing to visit museums and national parks, not for a walk on the runway!

I do not want to sound judgmental. In each of those instances, I mostly wondered what those women would do with their time and money if they knew that they actually look great "as is", and that they have the right to use their precious energy for more rewarding pursuits than a perfect complexion and hairdo. Most women complain that they are tired and lack time (including time to actually have fun). What would they do if they simplified their beauty routine?

But it's not my place to comment on individual choices and priorities. Freedom makes the fabric of a healthy society. This is a free country, and we all make our own, unique, informed choices on what we use our time and money on.

Or do we? When we choose to spend as much time and energy as most women (and an increasing number of men) spend on their looks, are we basing that choice on individual preferences? Or have we been pressured into it? Pressured into thinking we need certain things (and "interventions")?

A couple times in my life when I put on more makeup than usual, and asked my partner about the result, I was told that "it does not make a huge difference". If several dollars and several minutes do not make me significantly prettier, you can bet I won't waste any more of my time and money!

I just wish I had known earlier. In my teens, influenced like many of my peers by the "female audience media", I had come to think that 1) my looks were deeply inadequate (compared to photo shopped supermodels, which were the reference), and 2) I needed a full cupboard of products to even hope looking good enough. Which is preposterous. I looked absolutely fine! And most products failed to deliver anyway. E.g. if you have fine hair (my case), nothing will give you a thick mane. You can pretend but it won't be the same. Just embrace what nature gave you. 

Marketing orients our choices more than we think. Do we use free will when we take out our wallet? Think again. We are manipulated like puppets by advertisement, and that is when lobbying efforts don't stop the products we might have wanted from becoming widespread. Here is one recent example (click here).  

We need to open our eyes, put on our critical thinking glasses, and realize that "what you see is not what you need". During that same camping weekend, for example, our friend S commented on other campers packing too much stuff: "There's no way someone can eat all that, wear all that, and use all that". Words of wisdom.

Another problem is that when you downgrade based on your true needs and values, there comes a point when you fall out of the "mainstream", and potentially end up feeling marginalized. Sometimes it will just be an imprecise feeling of "being different". For the longest time I was the only one of my friends who did not even wear a smidgen of mascara. Nowadays we are the only family in one big neighborhood to own "only" one car, "only" one TV set (which I personally barely use), and no garage

Sometimes, others will openly underline your weirdness: in his latest post, Rob Greenfield recommends getting rid of 10 things (that most people probably don't feel they can live without), to which a commenter responded that he's beginning to sound like a Hare Krishna. (Admittedly, it could be a compliment.)

As Anne Wilson Schaef put it wisely: 

"I have constantly been told that I am crazy by my society when I put forth my clearest, sanest, most precious perceptions. Now I accept that I am "crazy" in the eyes of an insane society, and I feel very "sane" with my "craziness". Watch out for who is defining "crazy". Maybe it's time for us to give up trying to be as crazy as our surroundings and be the clear, sane [people] we are."


I am beginning to wonder if I will need a new challenge for the last 4 months of the year. Getting rid of stuff and not buying has become an automatism and I am getting slightly bored. I still want to write about minimalism, but maybe I could try and apply it to something else than stuff? Any ideas?

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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  1. I think it's pretty impressive that you have been able to write such interesting articles on the general topic of minimalism for all this time!

    Don't be too quick to go the Krishna way. Their tenets do not sound like much fun to me :-)

    1. There is a lot to say about minimalism! But Krishna will have to wait. :-)

  2. I don't know if you've discussed this/are doing it already but maybe another month could be devoted to buying your necessities based on their packaging. For example, when my husband and I buy meat from the store, we pick something that's not wrapped in styrofoam and we buy in bulk to make single-serving snack packages in reusable containers rather than prepackaged packets. Or for those items that unavoidably come in sturdy packaging (liquids, dairy products), finding a way to re-purpose them.

    and yet I wonder if we will ever get there.