I didn’t grow up around makeup—not really. A child of the eighties, I saw my fair share of it. My mom wore her lipstick and blush and eyeliner, so did my aunts. But I don’t recall being “made up.” Even when we played dress up, it was just clothes and hair.
When I became more curious about makeup, the answer was clear and decisive: Not until I was older (maybe sixteen?). By then, I wasn’t really interested anymore. In school, for choir, I had to wear a red lip. Eventually I did try eyeliner, but that didn’t work out thanks to my allergies. Between the watering and the itching, I turned from sleek cat-eye to full-on raccoon in no time.
I did learn to appreciate the impact of a good brow, though. Sans makeup, a good eyebrow will go a long way. I went from blading to threading to shaping my own, which I do to this day. Every so often I let my brows fully grow back in; it can be an irritating process, but the first clean arc after shaping a full, fuzzy brow is just (*chef’s kiss*) worth the wait.
All of that to say, I know and am used to my face. I like my face. So, when I recently had to don a full beat for a work event, I was nervous. What if it was too much? What if I looked ridiculous and didn’t know how to fix it? What if, after the work thing, I bumped into someone I knew—would they recognize me? Would I recognize me?
The makeup artist was kind and very talented; she didn’t even roll her eyes when I asked for a “natural” look. “Do you want me to carve your eyebrows?” She asked. I’m sure the concern and confusion was all over my face. “Or do you want them like mine? They aren’t carved.”
I looked up, thankful for her graciousness, “Yes, please. Like yours.” In the end, I still looked very much like myself.
After the work thing, I couldn’t wait to wash my face, but I felt guilty. A lot of time and effort (and money) went into this look; plus, my makeup artist had been so nice. I didn’t want to be wasteful. So, I kept the face on for the day, but I found myself trying to downplay it. I sent goofy selfies to my sister; I dressed down in a sweater, jeans, and boots. I’d planned to go out but stayed inside instead. I didn’t want folks to look at me and think that I think I’m all that. I wasn’t comfortable being ‘pretty’.
Eventually I did have to go get dinner. While out, someone complimented my skin. I quickly confessed that I was wearing a full face. Later that evening, a friend came to visit. We hadn’t seen each other in years, so we commemorated with a few photos. She commented on how pretty I was. I believe she would have said so anyway because she is a dear friend, but I was very conscious that I’d had help in the ‘beauty’ department. At the end of the night, I finally washed my face (so many times) and went to bed.
The next day I was back to my regular look. I went to visit my cousin, but it took me a little longer to leave the mirror and walk out the door. The blemishes were back, right where I’d left them. Even a few new pimples seemed to have emerged overnight. After just one day of being made up, my natural face felt like a let-down. My cousin didn’t notice, and I’m sure he didn’t care. But I did. We took a few photos to share with my aunt. I couldn’t help but stare at the pics side by side in my phone: made-up me from the night before and bare-faced me from the morning after. I hadn’t looked ridiculous in makeup—I looked good. And now, without the makeup? I still looked good…fine…okay, I guess.
I consider myself a self-accepting, self-aware person. I am Black-woman centered, and I don’t drink the Kool-Aid. But I didn’t even have to drink the Kool-Aid because it’s already in the water. It’s amazing—and embarrassing—how quickly all the ubiquitous and insidious messages about looks resurfaced within me. Despite what I know and believe about beauty standards and self-worth, I still felt more validated and noticed and special in my other face.
I’m not going to start wearing makeup, and I’ve never knocked (and never will) anyone who does. But I do have a bit more empathy and insight now. If just one day in makeup had me feeling some kind of way about myself after I took it off, then I can only imagine what it’s like trying to go without it—even for a day—once you’ve grown so used to the perks of being noticed. Positive reinforcement is a helluva drug.
What’s your relationship to makeup?Leave a Comment
Joann S says
I like make up . It helps cover flaws. We were told growing up blacks didn’t need it and in my small town with ever few of us it was hard to find in the right color. I remember driving nearly two hours to Columbus Ohio to get the right shade. Now at 65 I rarely go out with out it. I have peace with what I deem as natural.
J. Barry says
In my working days, it was six days out of seven. Since retirement it’s only Sunday’s and any rare “special” days.
Amazing story. And just like yourself, I don’t wear any kind of makeup either. I thank the Lord just the way he made me. Because at the end of the day, after washing it all away, you are still you. Beauty comes from within, and shines in the outside. We are all blessed and wonderfully made by God’s own hands.
Cynthia Grant says
Acne and eczema have been with me all my life it seems: so I got into the habit of wearing makeup everyday when I a young adult. Would never go out of the house without it because I was so self-conscious about the spots that acne leaves, and my almost invisible thin eyelashes. And then came COVID! Haven’t had make-up on since. Mascara on my thin eyelashes and my greying eyebrows is about it. Finally free at age 68!
Makeup is just a fun thing to do…that’s all. I do not wear it everyday. For me, it is the same as when I want a little purple, fuschia, cherry, or lime green in my hair. Break away from the same old…same old. Have a little fun.
Cynthia Daniels-Banks says
I enjoyed reading your piece, Mahogany!
It further encouraged me to love the skin I’m in.
Whether my skin glows while made up in Mac makeup or looking nice au natural, I will love me for me.
May my inner beauty be reflected outwardly and make the statement to me and to the world “I look good and I feel good!”😉
Thank you for the inspiration. 🌹
Dora Ann Spencer says
I wear it very seldom. My skin is in great condition, my natural eyebrows need almost no shaping, and my lashes are long and thick. Now that some gray hairs are trying to peek out, I use the tip of a mascara want to cover them.
I finally stopped wearing makeup in my 40s. After anticipating that my occasional breakouts would go away as I matured, I was disappointed that they continued into my middle years. While my pimples healed quickly, each one left behind a dark scar.
Eventually, I explained my situation to a dermatologist. I told him how, at my age, I was still breaking out and I had to wear makeup to cover the scars. His answer was simple. “Have you ever considered that makeup might be the problem?” He suggested that I stop wearing foundation and powder.
I loved the way makeup enhanced my face, but I was tired of the scars. I followed his instructions and it eventually eliminated my breakout problem.