Sprezzatura vs Full Disclosure: How Much Do You Disclose About Your Beauty Routine?




    Two scenes from my first days of college, a time where I was stepping out of my tomboy phase and taking my first beauty and style steps:

   We girls were comparing (visible) body hair and noticed that one of us had smooth, hairless forearms. We asked her what she did to remove the hair and she answered that she did nothing, it's naturally hair-free. I mulled about this for several days, tried to figure it out, felt a bit bad about my forearm situation and wondered if it was ok for me to do something about it. After a few days, the friend admitted to me that she shaved her forearms every day, I was a bit upset about being manipulated into thinking that smooth forearms were possible.

  First day in a new class, we don't know each other. I strike up a conversation with a girl, she compliments me on my eyelashes. I tell her I apply castor oil on them every night, it's a great conditioner. We drift off in different directions, and after the class some other girls walk up to me, and without as much as an introducing themselves go: so, you apply castor oil on your lashes? I was uncomfortable and annoyed at the first girl for broadcasting my beauty routine to random people.
 
   These two scenes illustrate the two different approaches towards talking about all the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into our looks. How much of your beauty routine do you keep under wraps? What do you prefer to keep private and what do you openly admit to?

  One one hand I think we owe it to other women to admit that nobody is born perfect and that it took work to look pretty. It's reassuring to know that that girl with the amazing hair has amazing hair because she took an hour to blow dry it this morning, or discovered an amazing product -- and not because she is an übermensch who wakes up with smooth shiny hair. Or that the slim person who just ate three pieces of cake in one sitting will be balancing it out with a workout or smaller meals later on and doesn't have a magical calorie-eraser in her stomach. I liked seeing photos of Leighton Meester hanging around in UGGs between takes of Gossip Girl, -- so I am not the only one who can't walk around in heels all the time. Also, it's empowering -- a friend of mine, when told that she was "lucky to have such an amazing figure" answered "well, I work out at the gym". She had it because she wanted it enough to put in effort to get it; if I want it I can do the same. That was one of the things that inspired me to take up a fitness routine.

   On the other hand there is something to be said for preserving a bit of mystery. This TED talk on glamour discusses how it's built on the illusion of effortlessness or Sprezzatura -- a term coined by Caglione in his Book Of The Courtier -- a 16th century guide to the high life. Sprezzatura is "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it". It is the ability of the courtier to display "an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them".



    Sprezzatura might sound like deviousness and manipulative. But this illusion of effortlessness why we love films, fashion editorials, theatre, concerts. After my theater performances I often get told that the whole thing looked to effortless and all the actors were so cool and relaxed. They don't know that just before I coolly sauntered up the stage I was cursing while changing my costume and hair as fast as I could in the 120 seconds gap between two scenes where I play completely different characters. Before that the whole team practised every word, every step, every glance has been practised over and over for weeks, I have discussed the meaning and emotions behind almost every single sentence with my co-actors; and sometimes the director grills me and makes me work on one sentence or a couple of steps for 40 minutes (gruelling, but I love it). There is a lot of work to make this illusion of effortlessness, and that is the whole beauty of it all. We wouldn't get that "wow" effect if the audience had been coming to our rehearsals and seen out abysmal first efforts.
  Nobody wants to know the tricks behind the magic tricks. We don't see the first drafts of books.We don't watch the "behind the scenes" and "making of" until we have seen and digested the movie first.

  French Chic is all about Sprezzatura. So is the image of the confident sophisticated woman, the one that just arrives totally pulled-together and is super-professional, but never actually talks about her ingrown toenail troubles, how she carefully selects her clothes to flatter her flabby midsection.
    Today, the modern equivalent of Sprezzatural would be cool.

   And how much mystery does the average woman maintain? In the modern times, the internet and social media make it that we know much more details about the beauty life of stars, and all the work that is put into it. Spraying on definition and muscles before red carpet appearances, plastic surgery, gruelling workouts. Kim Kardashian revealing all her contouring secrets. We also get to see photos of stars without any makeup at all, so we know who has acne that they cover up. We know which bloggers wax their upper lip and which just bleach. Old-time movie stars were much more coy about their beauty routines and things they got "done", and maybe that is why they seem so much more mysterious and glamorous.

from this delightful exchange

  Of course the setting, context and motivations play a big role in deciding how much we want to share. Close same-sex friends, a crush, a long-term partner, colleagues at work -- what may be honest sharing in one situation might be TMI in another. Also, which beauty procedure exactly are we talking about -- laser hair removal? Steaming your pores? Covering up grey hair? Tummy tuck? Eyelash extensions? Some things may be ostracised in certain circles.
   Finally, the personal motivations and impulses behind concealing or revealing may be very different. Answering a compliment with "oh, I just got X done" may be honesty, or it may be a defensive strategy of someone who is not comfortable with accepting compliments. Not wanting to talk about whatever you did to get ready for a big party could also be because you prefer to discuss political events instead of comparing manicure techniques, not because you want to seem like you woke up that way.

   So, how about you? What is your personal balance between revealing and mystery?




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