I’m sure the casual observer initially scoffs at the fact that I wear eyebrow pencil and eyeliner when I’m camping and backpacking. They don’t know me. They don’t understand. They probably assume that I’m doing so from a high-maintenance place of vanity.
Yes, it is a bit of vanity, but not in the way they think. Without it I would look like a chemo patient, so I deal with the extra hassle of bringing a bit of cosmetic aid and a small plastic mirror into the back country. If they actually asked, perhaps I would tell them. I would explain what trichotillomania is – an uncontrollable impulse to pull hair from the body – because most people have no idea. If we had time, maybe I would go into a little backstory about how this affliction has plagued me for twenty-five years and yet I still can’t kick it.
I’ve been plucking out my eyebrows and eyelashes for so long that even if I stop, they hardly grow back in anymore. My brows are a lost cause – I’m considering just microblading them in if I can scrape up the cash. My lashes are in better shape, or I think they would be if I could stop pulling long enough to find out. Yes, it’s discouraging and disheartening, but I’m grateful that I don’t tug the hair from my scalp as well. It’s bad, but it could always be worse.
Every time I plan an extended trip into the mountains or desert, I tell myself that things will be different. By the day of departure, I will have let my lashes grow in enough that I finally don’t have to wear eyeliner. In reality, this never happens. I have no desire to pluck while I’m out in the wilderness, at least, but once I’m back to my normal life I quickly eliminate any progress I have made.
I absolutely hate worrying about my appearance while I’m doing what I love most – exploring the outdoors. I try to feel carefree and secure, but the cosmetic state of my face is always in the back of my mind. Has my eyebrow pencil smudged or worn off? Is my eyeliner melting all over the place? Are people looking at me funny? It’s exhausting. I can’t very well check on it every twenty minutes in the midst of a long and challenging trek. I’m lucky if I get to pull out my handy little camping mirror once a day and by then, if something has gone amiss, I’ve been walking around like that for a long time.
I try to cope by keeping my hands away from my face and avoiding any inadvertent interference with my makeup. I pull my hat down low over my eyes if I think I may have smudged off part of an eyebrow. I even forget to think about it … for a little while here and there. I’m so happy when I’m adventuring that I can almost get by without stressing that I look weird.
I know that because I’m happy and peaceful in the back country, I’m less inclined to pull. I’d love to think that I could just stay out there forever and let my lashes and brows grow in and never have to worry about it anymore, but that’s not realistic or feasible. I may go out into the woods but I always have to return sometime. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop pulling, or let my lashes grow in to the point that I no longer feel the need to stow makeup in my pack.
The person I am inside longs to run about barefaced and confident. I’m not vain by any means. There is such irony in the fact that I actually would prefer to go entirely makeup-free. With my condition, it’s simply not worth the stares, questions, and awkwardness. I don’t even like to look at my own naked face in the mirror. I’ve come to terms with it somewhat, but I need a little help to feel confident in public.
This is my reality. I struggle with it on a daily basis, and perhaps even more so in the woods. Not being able to look at my face frequently should be freeing. Instead it’s a great cause of internal stress in a place where I generally feel nothing but joy. I constantly have to remind myself not to let it get to me. Maybe someday I’ll teach myself to let go of the stress and simply be.
For now, I try to push it to the back of my mind, keep from smudging my face, and focus on the reason I’m out there in the first place – the immense, incomparable bliss I feel when surrounded by the splendor of natural beauty. The back country doesn’t judge what I look like. Hopefully someday I won’t either.