I remember the first time I started wearing makeup — nervously, in middle school, I purchased a tube of mascara (that I had no idea how to apply) and then rushed home to apply it with quivering hands. I was both excited for someone at school to notice that my eyelashes had gotten longer and deathly terrified that someone would point out that I was wearing makeup.
A lot of time has passed since then, and in that time, I’ve worn makeup semi-regularly. Before meeting up with friends, going to a party or even running to the grocery store, I’d pencil in my eyebrows, hide my dark circles under layers of concealer and brush coppery glitter across my eyelids so I looked more excited and bright-eyed.
Like so many others who like wearing makeup, I put makeup on due to the way it makes me feel: energetic, pretty and powerful.
But the truth is, most of the time, I was putting on makeup due to how I would feel without it. I couldn’t let people see how tired I was, the dryness of my skin, or, worst of all —how plain I look without makeup. If I wasn’t wearing makeup to cover all my imperfections, I was hiding under a baseball cap pulled low.
But after all, we are human beings, and that means that our “imperfections” are just as much a part of us as our most desirable features.
Women are conditioned to hold themselves to unrealistic standards of beauty: Age spots, discoloration, acne, wrinkles, dark circles — all the most natural parts of our bodies and who we are — have become unacceptable. Makeup advertisement after makeup advertisement have convinced us that women aren’t allowed to have even pores on their face!
I always knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that the makeup and skincare industry had a lot to gain by making me feel that there are a laundry list of things about my appearance that need to be fixed — acne scars, undereye bags, stubborn pimples that unfailingly announce an oncoming period every month — but it never struck me just how absurd it all was until quarantine, when so many of us have locked ourselves away and only see each other through glowing screens.
Between the constant anxiety about the pandemic, mounting death toll, social unrest and just trying to make it through all my classes, it felt silly to care so much about how I looked, especially if people were only going to see me in a tiny rectangle on their computers.
At some point in the months of quarantine, I had the greatest epiphany of all: I looked at the woman sitting inside my rectangle and realized that I was still beautiful, without an ounce of concealer and with all my flaws on display for everyone else to see. That is me, as much as the same girl with full brows and two layers of setting powder is.
As someone who’s always been extremely self-confident, I have to admit that it hurt my ego when I realized how much I was hiding behind makeup — that despite all my proclamations of how women should be allowed to do and wear what they want, I myself had succumbed to an exploitative industry that profits off of making us all insecure about the way we look.
My relationship with makeup became so much less toxic when I realized that — get this — women are actually allowed to not look gorgeous all the time. With all the collective shit we’re going through, it’s absolutely ridiculous to expect us to constantly look like we walked right out of a Maybelline commercial.
While I personally believe that we’re beautiful no matter what, I think we’re also allowed to take a breather and look plain, tired and pissed off — aka like actual human beings, not photoshopped influencer posts.
Don’t get me wrong — I still love to get dressed up and draw bold, sharp lines along my eyelids for fun (running errands has become a mini red carpet event in my household, after all).
But somewhere along the line, makeup became less of an artistic expression or fun experiment and more of an exhausting reminder that I, as a woman, had to deal with the burden of always looking impeccably put together, even in the midst of a global pandemic that is literally tearing everyone’s lives apart.
Now that more and more people are getting the vaccine, and the potential for safe, in-person events draws nearer and nearer, I’ll have to start actively thinking about my appearance again — looking professional, wearing my favorite outfits, actually brushing my hair instead of hiding the mess behind my favorite headband.
But there is still one nugget of wisdom quarantine’s left me with that I’m excited to bring into the new post-pandemic world: The confidence that my bare-faced, plain-looking self (acne scars, dark circles, imperfections and all) is just as powerful as the girl who is perfectly dressed up from head to toe.