Last week I walked into Target and did something I haven’t done in almost two years.
I bought makeup.
I used to love makeup.
It started in high school as my skin changed and breakout ensued. Magazines and peers told me I was better off when I didn’t look like myself, discolorations and imperfections neutralized, creating a blank palette for the colors in appropriate places.
In college, I watched hours of YouTube tutorials, spent all my disposable income on contour palettes, eyeshadows, mascaras, and blushes. There was nothing better than the ritual of getting ready with my friends, music blasting and drinks cold as we meticulously applied the layers.
I was decent at it; I struggled to blend my eyeshadows and forget about applying my own false lashes. But I could carve cheekbones with contour, bring warmth to my face with blush and play with light through the careful application of highlighter. It was fun and I loved to look good.
When I started working at an office, makeup was the longest part of my morning routine (or what passed then for a semblance of a routine.) I remember being shocked that my boss and one of my coworkers didn’t wear makeup, a fact I commiserated with another coworker when she expressed that she longed to rub her eyes freely during the day.
There weren’t many places I didn’t go without makeup, save my for living room and my boyfriend’s living room. But it was work; every morning and every night, packing all the materials and skin care necessary to put it on and take it off.
After we moved in together, I found myself fully resenting the routine and the time it took me to put on makeup each morning, time I could spend snuggled under the covers with him. And there was a darker feeling too, a dangerous undertone running through my mind all these years. I avoided looking in the mirror without makeup on. I refused to pose for pictures.
It came down to this: I didn’t like the way that I looked without makeup.
I didn’t like that the face I saw in the mirror at home was so different from the one I saw at work; no matter that this was my face regardless. I didn’t like my appearance unless I was wearing makeup and that is a heavy and uncomfortable feeling.
I was becoming disenfranchised with the industry as a whole. Once I spent hours and hundreds on the latest products, but my agency income didn’t leave me with much fun money, and watching videos of products I couldn’t afford quickly lost its appeal. My face felt itchy and uncomfortable under the mask of product, and though I washed and washed I was prone to nasty breakouts.
And yet I was stuck. Wearing makeup was professional and expected (no matter that the agency owner didn’t wear it). I stopped wearing mascara first, annoyed with the black streaks on my glasses and itchy eyes at the end of the day.
But still, I was unhappy. I wanted to love myself, but found myself faced with the challenge that all women encounter; how do you love your natural look when the world has conditioned you to believe it isn’t enough?
And then I watched a video with Kimora Lee Simmons, where she professed that she hadn’t worn foundations in years. She preferred a light BB cream as the base of her daily makeup, and something clicked in my head. I didn’t have to wear foundation to wear makeup.
Foundation was expensive and uncomfortable, but it had never occurred to me that I didn’t need it, that I could wear something else or nothing at all. And so I ditched my heavy Urban Decay foundations for a light BB cream and concealer. But weeks went by, and slowly I found myself more and more reluctant to wear makeup of any kind.
It was the start of 2020 when I finally stopped wearing makeup all together. No one at the office said anything, though I’m sure they noticed as women always do. And then we hit quarantine, and I was done with that job, and renovating a house full time, and makeup fell off my radar entirely.
I bothered with it little throughout the year, opting for concealer and highlighter when I did. But for over a year now, I have remained bare faced, operating under the exposure theory that being around someone or something enough times conditions you to like it.
And you know what? It worked.
Seeing my face the way nature intended day after day, in photo after photo, at home and around my loved ones forced me to be comfortable with it. Slowly, slowly but surely, I stopped avoiding my own gaze in the mirror. I forced myself to think kind thoughts instead of negative ones. I stopped fixating on the dark circles under my eyes and my stick straight eyelashes and unruly eyebrows and focused on the way my dimple flashed when I smiled and the light in my eyes when I was truly happy. I used less filters on Snapchat and found natural lighting instead. (And not unimportantly, I lived with someone who was more than happy to tell me day in and day out how beautiful I was).
When I stopped wearing makeup, it was one part laziness and two parts self-preservation. I refused to go on with this, to carry the burden of dislike into my late 20s. This is my face, the only one I have and the one I will be stuck with for the rest of my life. It will continue to change, but it will never look like this again. I didn’t want to look back and wish I had appreciated what I looked like now, when I looked like this. I don’t want to spend my entire life chasing some version of perfect that is always another product or procedure away.
2020 was a crash course in many things, but worrying about blending my foundation into my neck or smearing my eyeliner was not on my radar. I spent the better part of the year with my hair up, skin bare, and clothes covered in dust and paint. It was, in many ways, a welcome respite from the formalities of office life and corporate policies. I never had to worry about looking unprofessional, because what does that even mean when you’re finishing floors or painting trim?
This house is done with renovations, and we have yet to move onto the next. I find myself in virtual meeting after meeting, and recently I’ve felt the tug to reinvest in my appearance. To me, that means cleaning out my closet, getting an expensive haircut, and yes, investing in some new makeup.
But foundation will not find its way back to my shelves and I no longer feel the urge to bury my pores beneath a mountain of liquid. Instead, I opt for multi-purpose products that offer light coverage and skin protection. Currently, I use Best Skin Day from Iris and Romeo (I saw Melissa Urban using Best Skin Days, so I bought Best Skin Days)
I still find my plagued from time to time with the worries I imagine every woman has as she ages, but there is no longer the undercurrent of distaste that I fought for the better part of the last 10 years.