gail song bantum

blog on identity, leadership, worship

the fast from hell – a lenten reflection

i don’t know about you, but i think fasting make-up for lent this year has been one of the most difficult fasts i’ve ever experienced, and i’ve done a LOT of fasts over the course of my faith journey. no food fasts are hard no doubt, having done a few water only fasts for several days at a time myself. it’s definitely hard on the body, mind, and spirit.

but, make-up…it’s been messing with my identity! scraping at the very core of who i am. i’m on day 6 today and i’ve found myself feeling all of these emotions at various moments over the course of the past several days: anxious, self-conscious, unkept, not cute, not confident, embarrassed, liberated, free, angry, and sad.

first of all, i want to acknowledge that it’s taken me 39 years to even fathom fasting make-up as an option, which is a huge step forward in general. for some women, you might be reading this and thinking, “what’s the big deal?” know that i celebrate that space of freedom with you 100% and wish i could be there with you.

over the past 6 days, in addition to the everyday outings like trips to the store and the kids schools, i’ve had to be in front of large groups of people – 2 ash wednesday services, and 2 sunday morning services. it was my first time EVER going to church without make-up. like, ever. and, of course, yesterday was mega baby dedication sunday at church which means there were cameras galore snapping eternal pictures of my face!! (i mean, the babies)

but honestly, why is this such a big deal for me? why has it been so difficult? why do i see men now and get kinda angry that their standard of beauty doesn’t have to involve facial enhancements on a day to day basis?! why have i been told that i look better with make-up on? why do my kids tell me i look more asian without make-up and i question what that means? why did i think twice about saying yes to preaching on good friday when i realized i would be preaching make-upless and video recorded at the same time? why do i even care what people think about how i look? why am i even writing this post? WHY?!!

though it’s only been 6 days, i think i know why…

my identity has been so wrapped up in how i look, based on the particular things that people have affirmed or not affirmed in me over the course of my life – even from a young age. i remember adults always talking about my looks before they ever spoke of my talents. even as adults, women in general have the tendency to greet one another with affirmations of how each other appears/looks? why do we do that?! as well, i remember my mother always telling me to present myself respectably, aka “look your best. if make-up helps, then use it.” as an adult, i still lean that way and often hear those words reverberating when i stand in front of the mirror. it’s been a part of my formation in various ways: from my mother’s words, to performing in concerts/competitions in front of hundreds of people since i was 7, to the african american church culture, and to being a ministry leader from a young age. i know what it means to present myself respectably. but i realize now that until recently, it’s rarely ever been a choice. a “respectable presentation” is who i’ve become. selah.

all of that said, without spending any time on my face except some lotion and some vaseline on my lips the past week, i feel rather unkept. so much so that on days 1-3 of this fast, i think i spent more time on my hair to somehow counter balance the lack of attention i was giving my face. after my husband pointed this behavior out, i was embarrassed. but more truthfully, i was sad. sad that i couldn’t just be. sad at the realization that my identity is so rooted in this facade instead of what god sees in me. sad that i’d fallen into the same lie of the devil that i thought i was so far beyond and resisted so passionately, while for many years having encouraged other young women to embrace their identities. sad that so many women have to battle this mess in general – whether it’s make-up or body image or whatever!

needless to say, it has been a journey and we’re only on day 6. i’ve been reading many scriptures on identity these days…it’s been a tough road for sure. but at times, i sense a liberating power emerging within me each new day. as i walk the journey of lent toward resurrection sunday, and as i celebrate national women’s history month, i’m grateful for women whose strength was/is known by their talents and in their relentless pursuit of overcoming seeming impossibilities. and, more than anything, i’m grateful for the gift and promise of freedom/liberation that’s found in the person of jesus christ.

god is, therefore i am. i want to rest in that.

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7 thoughts on “the fast from hell – a lenten reflection

  1. Thanks for this, PG. When I saw that you were fasting from make-up, I was secretly hoping that Jason wouldn’t see your post and possibly encourage me to do it! I didn’t even want to talk about the possibility. Just didn’t want to go there.

    Your fast has made me think, though. WHY wouldn’t I do it? And why don’t I even want to talk about it? I keep thinking of the words I’ve heard my WHOLE life growing up… “If the house needs painting, paint it.” Which was apparently my family’s version of “if makeup helps.” I’ve always assumed that my house NEEDS painting.

    Your bravery is inspiring and I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts as Lent continues.

    • gailsongbantum on said:

      I hear you. As I’m in it, I’m slowly beginning to acknowledge the bondage that it is… however, I know I would reach sainthood if I ever fasted hair products!!! ha! If you EVER hear me say that I’m fasting that, just slap me.

  2. mellocello on said:

    you weren’t wearing makeup yesterday? i know that i talked to you and looked you right in the eyes. honestly, you always look gorgeous… i’m not just saying that cuz you’re my pastor. and i know that this post isn’t a fishing line for compliments, but you’ve always been so authentic and your heart is so vibrant that i think that’s where your beauty comes from. but yeah, your hair looked great! thanks for the post and the honest reflection. i’m definitely inspired and i think i’ll try this someday. just to be clear… does eyeliner count as makeup?? =)

  3. Adrienne Brenner on said:

    I agree with La V! My first thought when I saw this was, “she wasn’t wearing make-up yesterday?” I even spoke to you at the baby dedication and had no idea. (And my second thought was similar to Nancy’s, in that fasting make-up would definitely be hard and not something I’d even want to consider taking on…)

    It’s a very thought-provoking fast, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts as you go through the Lenton season. Sometimes I think make-up is more for my confidence level than for actually altering my appearance that much. I definitely FEEL more put together with make-up on. Though I honestly think Jon doesn’t really notice a difference; he has randomly made comments that I look beautiful at times when I haven’t yet put on any make-up that day (which, frankly, took me quite off guard the first few times because I wasn’t feeling particularly attractive without make-up). I’ve actually found his lack of noticing my make-up a little freeing though: some rare days, I don’t wear any, and I don’t really worry that he will view as me less attractive, and on some rarer days still, I have made quick errands out in public without make-up. Anyway, this will be an fascinating topic to hear you explore, and for what it’s worth, you looked beautiful yesterday, as you always do.

    • Gail the first question that comes to mind for me after reading your blog, is why did you give it up? Now this question comes from some one who has never worn make-up. I looked it up and women in this country spends 8 billion dollars on make-up, and that just in the US.
      In my way of thinking I am not giving up anything for Lent I am taking on something that I don’t have to stop doing after Lent. Which is huge for me. Water Aerobics.

  4. Pingback: A Little Late to the Game, but… | musings of a mellocello

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