I still remember feeling disappointed when my then-boyfriend had his dentist fill in the gap between his two front teeth. To most people, he had “fixed” his smile but I missed the gap, almost a bit too achingly. It wasn’t just adorable, but somehow, it also went well with his easygoing, charming personality. This memory sprang to mind when I learned about a new wellness trend taking over Pinterest, wabi-sabi, which speaks to the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of embracing imperfections, simplicity, and the transience of life.
Most intimately connected with Zen Buddhism and Japanese tea ceremonies, wabi-sabi is often connected to a story about Sen no Rikyu, who’s considered the greatest tea master in history for perfecting the art of the custom.
Word has it, as a stance opposing the growing extravagance and lavishness in society, Rikyu reimagined and overhauled the tea ceremony—the lengthy ritual still practiced today. Rather than hosting the ceremonies in an elaborate setting, he modeled the tea-ceremony site after a tiny farmer’s hut with a thatched roof which, it is said, was built with a low-slung entrance to obliged visitors to humbly bow as they walked in. He also used tea bowls made by potters and crafted his own utensils with unvarnished bamboo.
To this day, Rikyu’s tea ceremonies are closely associated with wabi-sabi, as they represent the humility and appreciation for the imperfect, authentic, and rustic beauty of objects and people as they age and wither.
Wabi-sabi is growing in popularity in the design industry—rough and uneven textures, minimally processed materials and natural colors instead of immaculately glossy surfaces, and furniture without a single chip or crack.
To live a wabi-sabi lifestyle is to see the beauty in something old, natural, or even conventionally considered incomplete or ugly.
The Japanese worldview can also be applied to beauty. You’ve probably already seen extreme versions of it, such as women posting bare-faced selfies revealing their blemishes without makeup. Wabi-sabi can also mean loving your newly formed sunspots as a reminder of your sun-soaked Hawaiian vacation, accepting the nascent fine lines on your forehead, and feeling beautiful even if your eyebrows aren’t impeccably symmetrical.
There is loveliness in the manifestation of aging on our faces and bodies as we live an impermanent life made up of fleeting moments.
Note that wabi-sabi is not anti-makeup. It’s a way of living, a way to look at things, a mindset. It’s a reminder that although we can take care of ourselves and enhance our features, when things don’t look Photoshopped or filtered, relax and watch for the beauty in it. Next time you see a gray hair or notice a new wrinkle, remember wabi-sabi to ease your impending panic attack. You’ll quickly realize there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, it’s beautiful.
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