A year ago I decided to work on my relationship with the person in the mirror.
I stopped wearing make-up about a year ago.
A number of factors played a part in the decision:
I read an interesting article on Frugalwoods, a financial blog I follow, about the conflict between beauty products and a more frugal, less consumerist existence.
I resented the extra time it added to my morning routine. I’ve never been terribly proficient at it, so my perfectionist tendencies turned my face into a thirty minute art project every morning.
Make-up supplies took up too much room in my one-quart liquids bag when flying.
I hated sweating it off in little milky droplets and feeling dirty at the end of the day.
It reminded me of a part of my life when love for my own body was stripped away from me piece by piece. At puberty, I started to see my skin, once just an organ on the outside of my body, as sallow and pale and blemished. My hair, formerly just a place for bows, turned into a medusa of frizz. I learned the remedy was to cover it up and plaster it down.
I didn’t want to look at my own unmade face in the mirror anymore.
Read that last sentence again.
I didn’t want to look at my own unmade face in the mirror anymore.
I didn’t want to look at my own face.
Since my early teens, I’ve had hormonal acne. My genes and indoorsy lifestyle give me a distinct Celtic pallor. I have redness and acne scars on my cheeks and chin. The skin under my eyes is darker than the rest of my face. My brows aren’t what you’d call tame. My eyelids are droopy. My eyelashes are understated. There’s a little scar in the middle of my lip from jumping off a playground slide in elementary school.
At the outset of puberty, I started learning all these things about myself.
And I started learning to hate them.
As a child, after getting a bath, I remember dancing in front of the mirror, trying out crazy facial expressions and pretending to give concerts or speeches. I’d wrap my towel around me like a ball gown and accept Oscars. I’d imagine the me in the mirror was a completely different person, in some Star Trek mirror dimension.
As I grew older, that last fantasy came true.
I was lucky enough to have a mother who did not pressure me to wear makeup. But my peers were not so lucky, and these were the people I spent the entire school day with. I have memories of flipping through their brightly-colored teen beauty magazines and seeing no one who looked like me. Taking quizzes to determine whether I should use a winter or autumn palette. Cutting out and collaging airbrushed celebrities onto construction paper.
Tensions multiplied in my relationship with my reflection. Our meetings grew more perfunctory. We stopped making eye contact.
I viewed my face as a battleground, where various lotions and serums engaged my acne and dry spots in combat. When I couldn’t find a shade to match my cave-fish skin, I slathered on more foundation, so at least everything would be the same yellowish shade. I spent fifteen minutes trying to apply blush with the delicate shading of a Renoir painting. Mascara irritated my eyelids to the point of styes swelling up underneath them. I never managed to apply eyeliner in a straight line.
But I watched shows like What Not to Wear, which told women over and over again that they weren’t living up to their true potential unless they had rosy cheeks and eyes that popped. They just “weren’t taking care of themselves.”
Calling a make-up regime self-care is a lie.
The reasons listed above add up to the opposite of taking care of myself. I was systematically rejecting the part of me built to perceive and interact with the world.
And I was paying for the privilege.
The idea of makeup itself isn’t evil or wrong. I can understand it as an opportunity for creative expression or putting your identity forward. What bothers me is the idea that if a woman would rather put her natural face forward, she’s letting society down. She’s letting her employer down. She’s letting her partner down.
What harm are a few zits on my face causing anyone? Why should the amount of money I spend on my appearance reflect my personality or potential work performance? Why should a significant other allow a change in their partner’s superficial appearance to affect their relationship?
One of the things that made me hesitate most, when I was toying with the idea of giving up make-up, was the shame I might feel when people started noticing and commenting on my choice. In reality, no one really mentioned it at all. Maybe one person asked me if I was feeling okay on the first day. Then it was back to business as usual.
Rather than being ostracized, as society threatened, I got to go on with my daily life as a more comfortable version of myself.
I’m even comfortable enough now to occasionally bring it up in conversation. It usually becomes an opportunity to find common ground with the women in my life. Many of them share my frustration with the time-consuming nature of beauty routines. A lot of them have found that other aspects of their life are more important to them than their face looking a certain way. Jobs, kids, creative pursuits, balancing their budget.
I, for one, felt positively liberated when I travelled to Wales last summer and packed nothing but shampoo, soap, toothpaste and sunscreen.
(I also shaved my head and didn’t have to pack a hairdryer, but that’s another post.)
It hasn’t affected my relationship with my husband in the least. We know that while we enjoy each other’s appearances, we aren’t objects that exist for the other’s admiration. I told him that it makes me happier to go without makeup…and he’s happy that I’m happy! That’s really all that mattered to him. That I was doing what made me happy. What made me feel like myself. Because he loves me, not some impressionist painting version of myself.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that attention to appearance can affect your success in the workplace. It’s true that employers can discriminate against one for lacking a “polished image” at a job interview, whatever that means. But I can report that not wearing makeup has had no effect on my work performance or effectiveness. And I do work in the service industry. No client or colleague has doubted my ability to perform a task because of my face. No one treated me differently in my working relationships. Literally, no one cared.
I’ve also learned a few things about what I like, in this process of sloughing off my manufactured skin.
I like that I have faint freckles across my nose.
I like the brownish shade of my eyelashes.
I enjoy wearing crazy Korean face masks with snail mucous in them.
I love that cocoa butter makes my skin feel soft AND smell like hot chocolate.
I like not treating every acne break-out like a battle to be won. I barely pay them any mind anymore.
Most of all, I like looking at myself in the mirror again.
Finding meaning consists
all the things
we do not need.
the dross, so it will shine.
the chaff, so it will nourish.
the ocean, so it will taste.
the sheep, so it will wear.
I am not to be
I am to grow old
excavating the meaning
at my middle.
Brushing dust from bones to find
my own face at the bottom of a tar pit.
I will burn away my elements
and via carbon dating discover
I am the meaning.