I can’t recall a singular moment of when I was first introduced to makeup, but I do remember often watching my mother apply her signature brown- or berry-colored Clinique and Lancôme lipsticks that she no doubt picked up in bulk gift sets from Macy’s counters.
I only recently convinced her to throw out those same tubes she’d held onto for years (ew).
Collecting and applying makeup has been a hobby of mine since high school, and I think I picked up my affinity for all things beauty from my mom. Her parents never allowed her to wear makeup, so she’d discreetly apply it after she got to school and she was always down for impromptu glamour photo shoots at the mall.
I wouldn’t say it’s exactly akin to therapy, but there is something inherently relaxing about taking time to solely focus on and pamper myself. Unsurprisingly enough, my number of makeup-wearing days has seriously dwindled since the pandemic started and I’ve been working from home, but I do still maintain a multistep day and night skincare routine.
I first started wearing makeup semi-regularly when I was in eighth grade when I began using some old powder foundation I swiped from my mom’s bathroom counter. I tried to cover my acne spots, but seeing as my mom’s skin tone is lighter than mine, the difference probably drew even more attention to my face, and not in a good way (hello, Ghostface!).
As my makeup skills improved — namely I didn’t have constant racoon eyes from smeared eyeliner and I learned how to naturally fill in my eyebrows — I started to get bolder with my looks. It wasn’t unusual for me to wear a smokey eye to a morning lecture or go to my dining hall job sporting bright purple lipstick.
I used to draw a lot when I was younger, so I think that background also helped translate my ideas and love for color onto a new canvas i.e. my face.
Over the years, though, I’ve tried to think a bit more critically of why I put on makeup in the first place. It truly does make me happy to pick up a new product and create vibrant and dramatic looks. Now I can confidently say that I don’t put on makeup for anyone but myself, not even my boyfriend, but I can’t say that was always the case.
As a young girl, I constantly saw ads for products that promised to make someone look younger, brighter, tighter, et cetera. All the women in my life also wore makeup regularly, so it was just something I thought was normal and expected.
Sadly, society as a whole does still push this narrative that women have to alter themselves in some way to be perceived as “acceptable.” Studies have even shown that people perceive women wearing makeup in the workplace as more competent and trustworthy than those who don’t wear any at all. Granted, Proctor & Gamble, an umbrella company for several large beauty brands, helped fund that study so take that conclusion with a grain of salt.
Nowadays, however, people have been trying to reclaim makeup and beauty as a movement of empowerment. I can definitely see where that’s coming from, and I enjoy seeing people subvert the usual Eurocentric beauty standards and don dramatic, artsy looks straight out of magazines on the regular. Makeup also is not exclusively for women anymore and arguably, it never has been when you look at, for example, the history of drag performances and the prominence of kohl liner in ancient Egypt.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to beautify yourself, but I also think it’s worth thinking about the “why?”. For many, it is as simple as feeling good about yourself, which is a completely valid reason. But the beauty industry does have roots in, and continues to perpetuate, narrow beauty ideals, thoughtless consumerism and playing on insecurities, just to name a few issues.
I think some of the things I can do now is thoroughly research a product before deciding whether to buy it and coming to terms with who I am at my core, bare-faced and all.
Maybe I am vain for liking makeup and posting selfies, and if it is, I’ll own that unapologetically. However, makeup also is an outlet for me to express myself creatively, and that’s something I don’t see myself giving up on anytime soon.