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