I was the girl who woke up a whole hour before I had to leave forschool so I’d have plenty of time in front of the mirror. Boxes filled with tubes andbrushes, many used daily, crowded my bathroom. It took me a good 15 minutes every morning to choosewhat outfit I would put together from my color-coded wardrobe. Basically, I was a typical teen, onewith several friends exactly like me, who focused solely on what others thought of me.
ThenI went to High Mountain Institute, a school in Colorado that concentrates on living in a communityfocused on nature. Three times during the four-month program, the whole school goes into thewilderness for two-week periods. I was brought up in the outdoors, constantly going on canoeingtrips and hiking adventures, but when I reached high school, this part of my life was almostcompletely abandoned. So, I embarked on this Colorado adventure aware of my past, yet alsopainfully conscious of my present. I was scared of many things: that my friends would forget me,home would be different when I returned, and I would change.
Those four months turned out tobe the best. Most of my fears were unfounded - my friends remembered me, of course, and home wasexactly the way I left it, but I did change. Not for the worse, though, at least not in my opinion.And it wasn’t really HMI that changed me, I changed myself.
At HMI there are fourshowers, two for the 20 girls, and two for the 10 boys. That equals ten girls per shower! We hadtwo hours of free time each day, which meant plenty of time for everyone to shower. Instead ofshowering, though, I spent my free time doing more productive things like playing games outside,listening to live guitar music, and forming bonds with others - things that, at home, I never wouldhave traded for a shower. Other tasks like cooking dinner, washing dishes, making a fire, orcleaning the same room every morning brought the other concerns of my life into perspective. Themost important part of my day was no longer the time I spent in front of the mirror or when peoplepraised me for my appearance, but instead I felt pride in completing a task and knowing that I hadhelped my peers stay comfortable and safe.
Then there were the expeditions - two weeks withno mirrors, no makeup, not even a sink. Well, that’s a lie, on the first expedition I didactually bring a mirror, but after not using it, I left it behind for the next two. During theseadventures, I never thought about my appearance, mostly because I was too busy doing things tosurvive in the wilderness. Fixing my hair didn’t exactly fit into that category. During theseexpeditions I was around boys all the time, which previously would have pressured me to look good,but surprisingly, I didn’t even think about what they’d see when they looked at me.Probably because I knew that they’d see a resourceful, self-reliant girl, someone who couldcook meals over a camp stove and hike for miles with a 60-pound pack; someone who could performjobs much more important than applying mascara.
When I returned to HMI after the firstexpedition, I ran to the bathroom and excitedly plastered my face with every product I could find.Progressively, however, I began to become less dependent on my makeup bag. After the secondexpedition, a cold one where I decidedly looked the worst I have ever looked in my life, I barelyused any makeup at all, and after the third one, I didn’t even look at my forlorn cosmeticbag.
My experience in Colorado weaned me from my addiction to appearance. I realized thatwhen you are involved in experiences outside of yourself that take your mind off yourself, you tendto forget the useless obsessions inside, or in my case, outside.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.