I remember vividly the first time I really became self-conscious about my skin. I was 13 years old, and I was at my dad's house and my whole family was over for one of the many pool parties we used to have. I had barricaded myself in the bathroom as my cousin threatened to piss on the floor if I didn’t come out, but I didn’t care. I stood, my tummy jutting out in my Speedo two-piece, and stared at my reflection in the mirror, zeroed in on one thing: a huge pimple right between my eyebrows. Big and red and painful. I squeezed the ever-loving shit out of that thing, but to no avail: I had only angered the beast.
Finally, my aunt calmed her child and told him to pee outside and I let her in and cried to her about the mountain that had taken over my face. She soothed me - everyone has acne, she said, even adults sometimes. Nobody will even notice. She assured me it was not as bad as I was thinking and, naively, I trusted her.
So I braved the pool party. I gave everyone hugs. When I gave my uncle a hug, he pulled back, laughing, and looked down at me, Hey kiddo, you’ve got a tumor in the middle of your forehead.
Yep. This is the story of how I died.
Kidding. But I did immediately go running off the deck, bursting into tears when I was safely in the confines of my bathroom. That weekend, I forced my mother to let me upgrade my makeup collection from clear mascara (yes, you heard me right, clear mascara) to concealer that could cover a country. And so began my makeup obsession.
Trust me, at first, I was terrible at it. I didn’t wash my face enough and I was a greasy mess.
I practiced. I collected more and more makeup. I added more layers. I learned to contour my face like nobody’s business. I could cover up my acne like there was none there, to begin with - and with the amount of makeup I was wearing, my acne was terrible.
I carried around loose powder, always, so I could touch up at a moments notice. I never let anyone see me without it - not even my roommate from my freshman year of college. I filled in my eyebrows, no matter what. Eyeliner? Not even a question. Mascara? Puh-lease. No doubt about it. Foundation? Probably multiple layers. I would shower and immediately put it back on, often sleeping with it still on.
This past summer, though, I got a summer job at a produce stand where I spent nine-hour days in the hot sun. The first day I showed up with a full face of makeup, as I did for everything, and realized very quickly that that was not an option. I felt like my face was melting off. Nasty. Eventually, I was forced to say fuck it. No makeup.
That’s how this summer, I spent almost every day bare-faced. It was the first time since I had started wearing makeup where I had gone more than a weekend without it. At first, I was so self-conscious of the spots where my face was redder and my pores huge. My acne was terrible. I couldn’t see past any of the imperfections, so I stopped looking. I stopped thinking about it. I made myself ignore it, taking comfort in the fact that I was only seeing people I didn’t know all day, every day.
Slowly, something shifted as the summer drudged on. I started to realize how much I loved the feeling of sweat dripping down my neck under the sun. I loved, even more, when I cooled off with ice cold water and didn’t have to worry about half my face coming off. I loved getting out of bed, washing my face and brushing my teeth, and heading straight out the door. I loved the simplicity of not wearing makeup.
I started to notice that the red patches on my face weren’t as drastic as I thought they were and the freckles on my nose were actually kind of cute. I wasn’t radiant, but I was comfortable in my bare skin, and that confidence showed. I started to like how I felt not wearing makeup so much that I began to like how I looked without it.
After over a month of this, I was going to a concert with my sister and I knew I wanted to wear makeup, as I always had before. I went into my routine with an excitement I hadn’t felt about makeup in years. It was like playtime now. I knew I didn’t have to wear makeup. I didn’t have to cover up. I didn’t have anything I wanted to cover up. My bare face was me: pure, soft, young, unfiltered, plain, me. And like wearing fancy clothes, I was just dressing it up.
When I did my makeup that night and put on foundation for the first time in weeks, I found myself uncomfortable and greasy. I realized I had always hated foundation - the feel of it, the way it came off on my clothes, the sticky feeling when I was warm. All of it. So I took it off. I still did my eye makeup and all the other goodies, and I felt good. Fancy but not uncomfortable.
Makeup is such a fun thing. It’s art on your face. I realized that was how I always wanted to view makeup: fun, beautiful, artistic, and, at the end of the day, a luxury and not a necessity.
My entire relationship with makeup has changed. I love it more than I ever have but I wear it less than ever. For most of my life I’ve worn makeup to cover up, but now I wear it to show off.
What about you? Why do you wear makeup? Have you embraced your natural beauty? Consider whether you are wearing makeup because you want to or are you trying to hide something. Makeup can be an act of self-love, but only if you embrace your natural beauty as well.