Sometimes preparing my meat prison for public consumption feels delightful and satisfying but other times it feels like filing paperwork in the dark with scissors for hands. In fact, I’d most often characterize my mornings by a mess of sluggish indecision and dispassionate effort. Long skin regimen. Boring makeup routine. Outfit pandemonium. Shoe and Sock Debate 2016. Existential crisis. Bag exchange. Key search. Outfit questioning. Hair confusion.
It’s quite the conundrum because, on the one scissorhand, I appreciate how makeup and clothing make me feel but, on the other scissorhand, maybe they could die in a fire and I’d be happier, you know? Maybe starting my every day off with a maze of decisions centered around my appearance exerts valuable energy and sets the wrong tone for my day.
The research says it’s possible. Psychologists call it “decision fatigue.” According to Roy F. Baumeister in his book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, “Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex.” That is to say: our stores are limited and therefore we ought to use them wisely. It’s why Obama told Vanity Fair in 2012 that he only wears one of two suits: black or blue. Any more options and he’d be wasting a precious resource.
Would skipping my litany of early morning micro-decisions give me more energy for other stuff? Or, tangentially, might the saved energy quell latent anxieties and further enable me to let loose and relax? Be more at peace with my appearance and life in general? I wasn’t sure, so I put myself on a “No Effort” diet.
The rules were simple: I was to put no time or effort into my physical appearance for one week of work. I had to wear the same no-frills outfit every day and leave my face and hair as it was when I woke up. The week was a short one — we’d just celebrated the 4th of July — but if any part of me was worried four days wasn’t enough, it spontaneously combusted around Day Three.
The first day, I felt pretty excited about my little uniform. It consisted of a pair of Levi’s, an old white t-shirt and some flat black sandals. It was so very much lacking in frills that just looking at the photos makes my eyelids heavy. Con: boring. Pro: napable. I put it on with pride, like a kid on the first day of school. I washed my face because THAT SHIT IS CLINICAL, but that was it. Not putting on any makeup felt like skipping my chores. I was ready in five minutes and did my commute extra early feeling like an overachiever.
Day Two realizations were as follows: I already know what I’m going to wear again?! This is heaven. Why do I even wear makeup? What a waste of time! Nothing in my life is remotely affected by whether or not I put it on. Having a quick and painless morning routine is the stuff of enlightenment. I’m doing this forever!
I was at the self-righteous peak of the diet rollercoaster. You know the one.
And then Day Three felt a little different. I’d stayed up late to wash my uniform only to discover the dryer in our building didn’t work. Which is worse: being sad or pulling on damp jeans? Trick question! They’re the same thing. But if I was feeling a little bored and disenchanted by my outfit, I was still riding high on skipping makeup. I don’t have a particularly long routine, but not even opening the drawer felt like cheating or something. I started getting used to my bare face and wondered why I felt the need to cover it (even my acne!).
Day Four was when my unaware coworkers began to delicately ask me if I was doing a story. I assured them I was, but in hindsight I wish I’d said: “What do you mean?????” Lost shaming opportunity aside, I was firmly planted in the “over it” camp with regards to my uniform. I was bored. Listless. Much to my surprise and despite earlier suspicions, I am not always in a jeans and t-shirt mood.
By the end of the week, I was both ready to light my outfit on fire and ready to embrace a much looser beauty routine. I realized getting dressed, as long as I’m doing it from a place of self-expression rather than conformity, does not feel like a chore for me in the same way that makeup does. And, actually, the prospect of continuing to accept my face as-is (the diet) and getting to wear what I feel (not the diet) rang of freedom.
The “No Effort” diet came at a perfect time — one where I’m renegotiating my relationship with my appearance. One where I’m being hyper-vigilant about from where I draw my sense of self and worth and identity. Freeing myself from a set of arbitrary rules about how I needed to prepare myself for others helped me see them for what they were: arbitrary.
Sure, I’d introduced a different set of rules by way of this diet, but changing them up enabled me to better understand my relationship with them. Which is that putting on makeup doesn’t particularly make me feel like myself and changing my clothes does! At least for now. But those should never be treated as rules or truths for anyone else, because this diet taught me that no part of self-care is fun unless it feels voluntary and uninformed by what we think others need from us.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis; collage by Lily Ross.