Last week, I had one of those rare experiences where you get to go back and help figure something out for your past-self (and hopefully, somehow, karmically pay it forward to the universe). Last week, we did a hair and makeup shoot on a pony farm (proper photos to be revealed in the future). Now, those of you who were reading Way Back When will remember that one of the things I had a philosophically hard time with during wedding planning was getting my hair and makeup done. You see, I wanted to get professional hair and makeup done (I didn’t get it done, but that’s another story), but I didn’t want to sell out into some wedding industry version of perfection. Because honestly, in the last few months before our wedding, the wedding industry’s version of perfect weddings was freaking me out so much I was breaking into cold sweats, not totally sure if we could have a wedding that was OURS, and not the wedding industry’s.
But it wasn’t just my internal screaming matches with the WIC. Specifically, I was having a hard time fitting together my feminist principles with the wedding industry standards of bridal beauty (because, to be fair, those things totally do not fit together). So I got to thinking that if I participated in any way in bridal beautification rituals, I would be selling myself down the river. That it was all or nothing. (Hint: It’s almost never all or nothing.)
Here is the thing I was failing to pay attention to: I’m Not That Kind of Feminist. The phrase is in all caps, because I use it so often. Basically, there are a bazillon ways to be a feminist (please don’t let anyone tell you differently). And after taking all the Women’s Studies classes in college, and doing tons of reading, I still chose to just as actively and self-fully embrace displays of more-traditional-femininity as I did when I was four and would only leave the house in a skirt. In short: I wear heels (a lot), I wear make up (most days), I wear glittery dresses (whenever I can), and I wear pencil skirts (because they make my ass look excellent). I do all these things in a conscious, constructed way, but I do them because I like them (not, frankly, because I give a shit if anyone else, male or female, likes them). I do them because I’ve always found that more-overtly-feminine expression is intrinsically part of my aesthetics, and deeply empowering when approached properly. Or as I read fifteen years ago in a review for Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and never forgot, “If I can’t wear cowboy boots to the revolution, then I’m not coming.” Or in other words, no one gets to control my looks, patriarchy OR matriarchy.
But all this got really damn confusing to me during wedding planning. I’ve always been a study in duialities. I was a kid with a hippy upbringing, who grew up in a deeply conservative and very poor environment, and went to college with a lot of really wealthy kids. To survive, I learned to pass. Depending on the situation, I can put different parts of myself on display as needed. But wedding planning is this moment where you have to pull all your disperate idenities together to be one person, in front of a room full of people that know you from all different parts of life… at a moment that seems like it has a huge amount of symbolic weight.
And for me, it all came crashing down with the makeup. How could I get my makeup done, but do it my way? How could I wear lipstick at my wedding, and still make it super clear that it was a feminist wedding? Cue. The Meltdown. And it turns out it was Aly Windsor’s wedding pictures (now of Embrace Release) that held the key for me. It was looking at her wedding pictures that I finally was able to ask the question, “Can I do this without buying into something that I don’t believe in?” and found the answer, “I can do whatever feels right for me to do and still stay EXACTLY who I am.”
Which, of course, is exactly what feminism means to me in the first damn place (oh right).
And what I realized, really, is that being whoever I am, exactly how I am, is the only way we can slowly make change in the world. If Aly hadn’t rocked her makeup with her Queer Femme self, I might never have had a model for why wedding and makeup and feminism were going to work for me in one big whole. And that allowed me to pay it forward by being exactly who I was, in all its multiple parts, on my wedding day. And the crazy thing to me is that it was clear, from conversations with our guests, that people got it. That when I walked out with my non-traditional dress, and my makeup, and my husband-crafted hair flower, to have our egalitarian Jewish service, there were people that realized that weddings didn’t have to be this commercially dominated, patriarchal monolith that they’d grown to expect (and the universe makes one tiny shift).
More than anything, all that struggle I had with makeup and my feminist principles, helped me practice finding a balance in my new, now-even-more-adult life. It helped me figure out how I could live my seemingly conflicting values with clarity (which is something I use at least once every few days).
So last week, at the pony farm, I looked around and watched a bunch of women, with styles that ranged from hip, to edgy, to fairly traditional, with body sizes and physical qualities that were all over the map, show each other how to make themselves feel even more awesome about how they look, and have fun while doing it. With ponies.
And I thought, this. This is it.
Photo: Me at the pony farm, by Shana Astrachan on Instagram