Dear Makeup, it’s Not You, it’s Me

woman applying makeup in the mirror

I love makeup. I have boxes and boxes of the stuff. If I get a bonus at work, or a gift certificate–it goes on makeup. But makeup and I–well our relationship has changed. I love you makeup, but I just don’t need you any more.

I always have loved slathering my face. My mum loves makeup, and she used to let me borrow hers. She had no qualms with me wearing it to school. I hit an emo phase in my teens that sparked a love for eyeliner that’s never truly faded.

In the days of MySpace, my About Me section boasted my love for my signature look–purple eyeshadow.

For a while I even worked as a makeup artist, lugging my huge pink case from wedding to prom each weekend.

And I’m f*cking good at it. I can draw an elaborate cat-flick in liquid eyeliner in a moving car. I can blend contour to that sweet spot between stripey and invisible. My eyebrow knack has developed to a point where  I won’t let another person touch them.

But my relationship with makeup, like it is with a lot of women, is complicated. Aged 18, I wouldn’t have left the house without it. I had an aesthetic, I had a look, and it involved heavy eyeliner and an even heavier fringe.

If I were to leave the house without makeup in my college and university days, I would hide under hats and hoodies, and avoid going anywhere I might see someone.

“I have friends who, to this day, say they can’t go out without ‘their face’.”

When I first moved into the working world, I insisted on wearing makeup every single day. I’d do it on the train if I had to, but there was no way I was strolling into a meeting where my colleagues could see me actual face. No way.

“Let’s go to the shops,” friends would say.

“Sure, just let me put on my face.”

It’s only recently that it’s occurred to me how bizarre that phrase is. I’ve seen makeup bags adorned with the phrase “this contains my face.”

I have friends who, to this day, say they can’t go out without “their face.”

Well no, you probably can’t. But what’s in the bag is not your face. What’s on your…well, face. That’s your face.

And slowly, it dawned on me. We’re told we must wear makeup. In movies, in articles, by older relatives. We’re made to think that our faces, bare and exposed, are not adequate for the real world. We can’t go anywhere without painting ourselves into a portrait of what the media says we must look like.

There are YouTube tutorials on how to get a ‘natural’ look that looks nothing like a real human skin face.

Well do you know what? I like my Real Human Skin Face. It’s the only face I have. It goes with me everywhere. It emotes for me, and it keeps germs out of my skull (IDK, I figure that’s what it’s for?).

And so, around a year ago, I stopped. Once or twice a week, I’d take my Real Human Skin Face out with me, unplugged. Initially, people asked if I was ill. They’d become used to my elaborate stylings, my eyeliner flicks.

“Men don’t need £50 of products on to look like professionals.”

Soon they settled down, and continued as normal–but it continued to nag at me. Like an itch inside my psyche. You look awful, my inner voice would say. Tired. Ill. Pale. Spotty. Greasy. Awful.

And still, if we were to go to the pub after work or somewhere we’d see strangers, I’d nip to the loo and pop my safety face on. I was still carrying it with me, like a safety blanket. Like at a moments notice my Real Human Skin Face might not be appropriate anymore.

So I continued. I evaluated why it was I was putting the makeup on. I told myself I needed to look professional in the work place. What a pile of sh*t.

Men don’t need £50 of products on to look like professionals. Hell, they don’t even need to shave if they don’t want to.

So I took the bag out of my handbag. I left it at home. And I went out. I thought I would feel empowered, like a feminist goddess, with a F*ck You attitude and a hard stare.

But I felt ugly. I avoided my reflection. When I did see it, I would remind myself that it was just my Real Human Skin Face and not my actual Face. But I kept on. I knew it wasn’t right – and by this point I was really enjoying the extra 30 minutes sleep I was getting in the morning by not getting up early to paint myself.

“My Real Human Skin Face looked nice.”

Then, last month, I got to work. I got into the lift with my coffee, and hit the button. I flicked my hair and caught sight of myself in the lift’s mirror. And I gasped. (I’m told I have a flair for the dramatic.)

I looked…no, surely not. But I did! I looked pretty. My Real Human Skin Face looked nice.

I felt liberated. Like I no longer needed to change myself to feel comfortable in public. It’s a stupid and vain story, I’m aware. And I know some people still aren’t comfortable without makeup (particularly trans women who can feel like they’re in danger if they don’t ‘pass’). But for me, in that moment, I felt unstoppable.

Now, I wear makeup maybe once a week, if I fancy it. And I’m still f*cking good at it, and I still love it, and I still spend far too much money on it.

But I don’t need it anymore.

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