Why I Don't Wear Makeup

I’m turning twenty this weekend, and as I enter adulthood, I’ve really noticed my cultural impact. Not the I-could-be-President-someday kind, but the kind where little girls are looking at me.

As a kid, I remember observing older women around me, taking note, digesting the image. For a long time, I couldn’t distinguish the woman I wanted to be from the one I should be. I didn’t know which one began and which one ended. Now that I’m slowly figuring it out, I know the choices I make let young women know they also have those choices.

I was 13 years old in this picture. It’s one of the few pictures of my smiling at that age. I wasn’t introduced to makeup just yet, but I was not unfamiliar with not being satisfied with my image.

I was 13 years old in this picture. It’s one of the few pictures of my smiling at that age. I wasn’t introduced to makeup just yet, but I was not unfamiliar with not being satisfied with my image.

Is Makeup a Choice?

Growing up, there were some things about womanhood that I thought was inevitable. Heartbreak, never being allowed to go out alone, self-image issues, pepper spray, bras, an awkward relationship with food, shaving, you know, all of it. Most of those things inherited a certain kind of a shame.

I tried avoiding all those things as long as I could. Yet, there has been a time in my life where that changed.

Thirteen was a rough year for me. I didn’t have many friends, home was chaotic, and I hated everything about myself. All of these really complex problems were easily written off as moody teenage girl angst, so that’s what I thought it was too. It would pass (I would neglect dealing with it), like every thing else did (I would never reconcile it).

Somehow I thought my life would get better when I would start high school and finally be allowed to wear makeup. Maybe not drastically improve, but at least I’d finally get the attention I thought I deserved and fulfill some caricature of myself I desperately wanted to be.

Freshman year was exciting. I experimented with lots of different looks and genuinely felt the “freedom” associated with makeup. But by junior year, I had the no-makeup-makeup look down to a T. I didn’t go over the top with my makeup anymore, but I also didn’t go anywhere beneath it. I found my face.

I think I was 16 here. This was around the time when I couldn’t leave the house without my makeup.

I think I was 16 here. This was around the time when I couldn’t leave the house without my makeup.

At that point I couldn’t leave the house without that face unless I wanted to hear the empty sympathetic “you look tired” or “are you sick?” inquiries from everyone. Or even from myself. I couldn’t avoid making jokes about looking and feeling dead to excuse my appearance.

While in front of the mirror every morning, I didn’t know I was lying to myself. Lying that I loved doing it. I felt empowered with every inch of my face I was concealing. Because I didn’t believe I was concealing it, I was enhancing what was already there, my natural beauty. When in reality, it was anything but.

I always felt bad for buying drugstore makeup because I couldn’t afford the bigger brands. I spent lots of time trying to “tame” my eyebrows and making the arch in my nose a little less prominent. Whether I knew it or not, I was comparing myself to images of women who were nothing like me; white, thin, wealthy, and photoshopped. I knew the images I was comparing myself to were literally too beautiful to exist, but I was too young and too obsessed with my own image to realize any of it.

Somehow in some way, I thought I was making a feminist statement. I truly believed I was wearing makeup for no one but myself. With putting on my makeup the way I wanted, I was taking charge of my own body and my own femininity. With this tool, I was defining myself and the woman I wanted to be. Every dollar I spent and every minute I gave was another step toward the freedom every young girl craves.

Yet, the moment I couldn’t leave the house without makeup, could I really embrace it as a choice? Much less an “empowering” one? So I had to question, when it comes to makeup, how much of a choice are we really afforded?

“Women should be allowed to do whatever they want.”

I didn’t want to question my relationship with makeup because I’ve always believed that women should be allowed to make their own choices free from ridicule. That served as the basis for my defense of wearing makeup. I believed that to critique makeup culture, I would be simultaneously be ridiculing other women. I was too obsessed with being a “good-feminist” to realize what was actually being done.

By looking at myself and the women around me, I started to realize how detrimental some of the things we’ve internalized about makeup truly was. To hate our ethnic features, to feel bad about not being able to afford expensive brands, the ridicule from “wearing the wrong color” or not having perfectly crisped winged eyeliner.

Despite all these things, my ultimate justification for wearing makeup was that I wasn’t wearing it for men’s attention or to make myself more marketable. I was wearing it for me and my own “empowerment.” I’ve noticed this enthusiastic belief I had has been trendy in the makeup industry for a while now (CoverGirl’s #GirlsCan movement, for instance).

It’s especially hard for me to buy the feminist “empowerment” notion when most makeup companies CEO’s are men. Revlon, Mary Kay, Maybelline, Chanel, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder; they don’t care about your intentions for wearing makeup, but if your ideology can sell, they’ll listen. But that doesn't change anything. The only difference is they used to profit from exploiting insecurities, and now they profit from “confidence.” Even while independent, female led makeup businesses exists, they inherently cater to the same beauty standards that have already been established.

Empowerment literally means being granted power, it’s not a fleeting feeling that gets washed away with mango-scented wipes. We need to evaluate the institutions that ultimately rely on us in order to make sure that none of us are being disenfranchised

Ask yourself:

  • Are you not as beautiful of a person without makeup?

  • Do you look in the mirror without makeup and have self-deprecating thoughts?

  • Mentally or verbally, have you ever sneered at a woman for not wearing makeup or doing makeup poorly?

  • Have you ever said to yourself “I’m not the type of woman that can pull off no makeup”?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, maybe you’re not as empowered by makeup as you thought. We should no longer tolerate makeup companies to package it as a “feminist” tool ever again. We also need to stop thinking that its “anti-feminist” to criticize any industry that relies on women, because it’s actually quite the opposite.

Allowing Yourself To Just Be

I’ve spent some of my childhood and all of my teen years being obsessed with beauty. I’ve spent so much money and wasted so much time when I could have been investing in other hobbies. But at the moment, I couldn’t recognize anything outside of my hyper-fixation on my own image. I’m resentful and angry but most of all I pity the young girl who unwittingly did that to herself.

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I cannot imagine what it’s like for young girls today growing up with Instagram “full-beat face” culture, and how advertised that unattainable lifestyle is. Makeup has created a wedge between women of different social and personal statuses and it will continue to thrive until we collectively realize its impact on us individually. A woman’s relationship with makeup is a very personal one regardless of everything that has been internalized from the media and the women around us. That is where our choice actually begins.

The more comfortable I am with my bare face, the more I realize there’s nothing empowering, glamorous, healthy, or feminist about makeup and makeup culture.

I’m not trying to make myself or anyone believe my acne, scars, dark spots—my flaws to be beautiful, but that they’re as allowed to exist as I am. I’m not brave for not wearing makeup either. I’m not trying to be anything. I’m just trying to be.

I’ll never be supportive of makeup culture ever again, but to all the women and young girls still stuck in it, your bare face is worth seeing. The most empowering thing I’ve experienced is self-preservation. Allowing yourself to simply exist, unapologetically, can be the biggest weapon you have. I can splash cold water on my face on a sunny day and not have to worry. I can rub my eyes when I’m tired. I can hug my family without worrying about getting my foundation on their shirt. I can look in the mirror and recognize my face and know that it is normal and good. I hope you'll get to experience that too.

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