September 20-27 is No Make Up Week on the Internet. Its home base is over at Rabbit Write, and Ms. White is doing an amazing job of keeping the vibe alive with post after post of thought-provoking material. I thoroughly enjoyed every update she’s made so far, and I would heartily recommend it.
The purpose of No Make Up Week is to encourage women to explore their relationship with makeup on all levels. I know that I am among those numbers who plaster my face within minutes of waking and would never think of leaving my house without it. But why? When did this obsession begin and does it ever end? Is it healthy for my skin, or for my psyche? Learning to be comfortable bare-faced is something a lot of women need to learn, natural as it may seem. And while many people are taking this week as an exercise in self-love, leaving their faces bare for the week, I am not. I cannot.
I can, however, try to figure out why. Obviously, I was born with a bare face. I can take off my makeup at the end of the night without erasing my features entirely, revealing myself to be an Invisible Woman. But leaving my face bare for an entire day and still being a productive human being is beyond me. The closest I have come in recent years to leaving my house au-natural are the mornings I find myself walking out at an ungodly hour and quickly hurrying through my 5-Minute-Face. Even then, I find myself returning later for my full cosmetic regalia.
I really did drag the camera into my bathroom one morning, thinking I’d snap a peek at my face before makeup. I washed and dried and toned and moisturized and then thought, “well maybe I’ll just put on my primer.” So I primed. I love the way the pearlescence of the primer makes my skin seem to glow after I brush it on, and I thought maybe the camera would catch the rainbow sparkle on my cheeks. But then I thought, “no one will probably know the difference if I put on a light coat of foundation.” So I brushed and stippled and buffed and before I knew it, I had a full face of makeup, and no picture to prove that I had a face underneath.
Where did my dependency on makeup stem from? When did it start? –and stranger yet, why do I love it so much? With these questions in mind, I thought back on my long, sordid history with makeup and our relationship together.
Thinking about my first encounters with makeup is like thinking back on a childhood crush. The fact that it was somewhat forbidden made it even more attractive, and just like that boy in elementary school, I had no idea what to do once I got my hands on it. The compacts of perfumed powder and mirrored tubes of lipstick would catch my magpie eye–I would often try to pilfer them from relatives’ bathroom drawers and cabinets, but to no avail. I had too guilty a conscience. When I was about nine, I went to a friend’s birthday party and received a small bag of cosmetics as a party favor. Among the things inside was a tube of Wet ‘n’ Wild lipstick in a sheer, pearly white that her mother had deemed subtle enough for a gaggle of little girls–it was the first lipstick I ever owned. I remember holing myself up in my room, getting dressed in a “nice” pair of jeans and a “nice” fleece sweatshirt and digging out that lipstick thinking I could wearing it that day like a pair of lace panties: no one would know I had it on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I had never worn anything on my lips before, and I couldn’t get used to the texture of it. It was chalkier than lip balm, and I felt kind of dried up and flaky all day. It took my mother maybe five minutes to realize I was walking through the world with my lips pushed out like a duck. To her, this story is still very funny and I’m sure it comes up in conversation every time I apply lipstick publicly.
Still, it was my first real encounter with makeup. At twelve, I convinced my mother to buy me an eyeshadow quad from the drugstore. It wasn’t just any quad, either: it contained a stark white, a pitch black, and two varied greys, which must have appealed to the gothling in me even then. I waited for a “special occasion,” which came one Sunday when we went to visit my grandparents. I was easily excited. That morning, I emerged from the bathroom with my eyes caked in grey shadow, heavily lined with black, with white smears in the corner of my eyes. The concept of blending was foreign to me. Needless to say, I was told to wash it off before we could leave the house.
My Makeup Face at 15
It would be another two years before I really started to explore makeup. I had the same L’Oreal quad from the years before when I decided I simply couldn’t go to high school without learning how to properly wear makeup. When I was a freshman, I was being aggressively treated for a chronic illness, so I was tutored at home for the majority of my subjects and only needed to appear in school for the last two classes of the day. This gave me plenty of time to get dressed and apply my makeup before leaving the house, and I managed a very simple smokey eye, lightly lined with a black pencil, though I don’t think I ventured into lipstuffs for years down the line.
Years wore on, I became home schooled, and I had more time to devote to my appearance. It may sound vain, but sick as I was it became a relief to at least feel like I looked good. At sixteen, a boyfriend’s mother took me shopping for discounted designer makeup at a flea market. In retrospect, I wonder if it wasn’t all knockoff stuff, but I fell in love with liquid liner at that time. My daily Baby Bat face consisted of full foundation, tons of powder (sometimes even just talc), dark eyes lined in liquid, and penciled-in brows.
My Makeup Face at 17
At seventeen, the most girl-time I had was when I managed to club Z over the head and drag her to my lair for school vacations, so on New Year’s Eve, I went to the mall. They had just put in a Sephora, and I had never even ventured in. I bought my makeup at the CVS, so why did I need to spend 10x as much for products that did the same thing? Z beelined for the Sugar display, and there I fell in love with glitter. Maybe it was the popular compulsion to decorate one’s self like a disco ball for the New Year, but I knew I couldn’t leave the store without the sweet-smelling, gooey-creamy glitter gel palette in front of me. Somehow, I was also convinced to buy a DuWop Venom Gloss in the brightest red I had never thought of putting on my lips. It was probably the name, “Venom,” that got me. I was utterly obsessed with poison as a teenager. …Some things never change. But that was my first foray into Sephora. In the years following, I swapped all of my CVS makeup for higher-end versions, realizing that I could now blend the colours, and even better, use much brighter shades, and basically not look like a street urchin that had fallen out of someone’s chimeny while wearing makeup. I began to explore my cosmetic influences, spending hours hunched over my mirror trying to replicate the famous faces of silent movie stars, glam rockers, and goth icons. I often left my house looking like a Siouxsie-Clara lesbian lovechild.
When I was eighteen, I went to to school for cosmetology. I loved doing other people’s makeup as well as my own, but my skin had begun to suffer from moderate-to-severe cystic acne. One of my teachers told me, “Some people are addicted to makeup the way a drug addicted to substances. You are a makeup addict. Just quit cold-turkey, or things will never get better.” She was referring of course to my skin, but in the context of No Make Up Week, it really is an interesting statement. Since I hated touching old people’s naked backs and juicing people’s faces, I soon dropped out. I don’t have any pictures from those days, because I fell into a spiral of self-hatred centering on my appearance, and when one of those pops up, the last thing you want to do is shake a camera at it.
My Makeup Face at 21
In my young-adulthood, I began to love color again. Facebook and Myspace profiles show electric blue liner and glitter lashes, neon pink and yellow eyeshadows, giant red-and-black eyes akin to old-school tattooed gypsies and saloon girls. I began to go to the events I had longed for as a teenager, Dances of Vice, Dracula’s Ball, Chiller Theatre… Blush is a new acquisition. Where I used to prefer pale, washed-out looks that often did nothing to hide how sick I was, despite what I might have thought, I started contouring my cheeks and adding color to the vast white wasteland it once was. I still only have about three shades of blush in my cosmetic arsenal, but do I need more than that? …Wait, don’t give me the excuse to spend more money. While today I might tone-down my everyday looks for work, I still take the time on weekends to create what I like to think of as cosmetic works of art on my face. I need every new MAC collection or Urban Decay palette, and I love to support more independent brands on the internet. I probably own every shade of purple lipstick (my favourite), and close to every other lipstick in the world. It’s one of the few things in life I grow visibly animated over in conversation, and am happy to discuss with strangers on trains or acquaintances over drinks.
My Makeup Face from yesterday
So why is it bad that I can’t leave my house without it? I have fun doing my makeup every morning, but there are certainly days I have to wonder whether its a waste of product. Do I need a full face to go to the flea market at 6AM? Do I need even just a coat of foundation before I enter the gym? The answer should really be no. It’s not even that I’m not comfortable without it. The answer is really that I’m afraid to face other people without it. If someone I knew was at that flea market at 6AM, what would they think if I wasn’t wearing makeup? “How lazy is she that she couldn’t get up five minutes earlier to do her makeup,” or “She isn’t nearly as pretty as I thought she was without her makeup…” I am the first person to proclaim a triumphant “fuck ‘em!” when it comes to people’s negative opinions, but for some reason these are the fears that keep me making up my face.
I look at my teenage sister and her friends and watch them frantically slathering themselves with makeup before an occasion and think, “wow. They seem way too young to be starting with this shit.” But are they really? I was their age or younger when I joined the Cosmetic Circus. Maybe I thought my illness and subsequent horrible complexion gave me an excuse to begin dabbling in face-paint at a younger age, but it really seems as if our society begins grooming girls into tiny, made-up women at ages younger still.
And there you have it, internet. The tl;dr of it all: I love makeup, even though I am a slave to it. Also, I miss my DuWop Venom Gloss. Don’t wear makeup this week, or just think about why you wear it: No Make Up Week doesn’t end until Monday, so you still have time to join the conversation.
Feel free to share your personal stories, whether in the comments or on your own space. I love to hear people’s histories, especially when it involves makeup. Tell me how you feel about makeup: do you need it? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Comment!
Happy Friday, Interwebs! Have a fabulous weekend, and enjoy the first of fall weather (unless you live in the NYC area, in which case enjoy the last of summer)!
Love you to the Moon and Back,