Almost two years ago while abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland, I made it my New Year’s resolution to stop wearing make-up regularly. Previous to this, I wore a full face of makeup every day, often accompanied by colorful eye shadow or bright lipstick. Make-up had become part of my identity, both in how I was perceived by the world and myself.
When I wore make-up every day I had no concept of my natural appearance, and by extension, when I was forced to wear my natural face, I was more self-conscious and uncomfortable. Going out without make-up felt akin to forgetting shoes, and it didn’t help that make-up is part of professionalism for women. Unlike men, women in the workplace and academic environment are often told that without make-up they’re not presentable and that proper feminine attire is an aspect of the way they should present themselves to the corporate world. This problem is again compounded by comments such as “You look sick” or “You look tired”, which indicates to women not wearing make-up that without it, we look terrible.
For the first few weeks of not wearing make-up, I remember feeling self-conscious constantly, especially when I had a breakout. Acne has always been a problem for my skin, and my constant breakouts were the original reason I started to wear makeup in middle school. However, as time progressed, one of the first things I noticed was that the acne that had been plaguing me for years was finally going away. My skin finally had a break from all of the foundations, concealers, and powders and it was able to heal. This doesn’t mean that make-up is the cause of acne, I still experience hormonal acne and stress-based acne-like anyone, but I do believe the heavy make-up I wore every day (and sometimes forgot to clean off) was a factor.
Besides the physical results, I felt an extreme change in how I perceived myself as time went on. Slowly, I became used to my face without make-up on, and today I can confidently say I find myself attractive without make-up. Eye-bags and acne became normal things I wasn’t ashamed of because they are natural things everyone deals with and I learned to not expect myself to be at a standard, not even nature can achieve.
Media tells us that a very specific type of woman is beautiful and it leads us to believe this woman is the norm, though she is just overrepresented in entertainment. Average women have eye bags, acne, visible pores, and a multitude of skin conditions that society has deemed unattractive, so we cover them up. In the age of the internet, this is even more possible as filters blur features, making skin seem more perfect on apps such as Instagram. These images are damaging to women and girls because no one actually looks like photoshopped perfection, and yet it is what is expected of us. In addition, we cannot ignore that the celebrity women we compare ourselves to have access to the best skincare and make-up products in the world, so it is no wonder they fit this model better than any of us ever could. All of these factors have contributed to the toxic culture of cosmetics, an industry that profits off of female insecurity.
Despite make-up’s negative impact on women and how they perceive their own appearances, it is also possible for it to be something that brings women joy. Many women use make-up as a part of their self-expression, or they use it as an art form. Personally, I enjoy wearing make-up on a night out because it’s part of dressing up for me and it makes the evening feel more special. Or, I’ve started using colorful eye shadow around my eyes for a casual look because it’s a fun addition to my appearance.
In wearing make-up like this, I have found empowerment because I’m using it as an accessory, not a necessity. When using make-up like a necessity, it came out of wanting to look more like what society expected from me, a feeling I compare with how women are expected to dress femininely. Using make-up as an accessory has allowed me to recognize my natural form as beautiful, while also acknowledging that make-up can be a fun way to accentuate this beauty. In short, not wearing make-up has boosted my confidence, and it has taught me how to healthily use make-up to supplement my beauty, and not cover it up.
To other women who have considered not wearing make-up, either as a permanent or temporary venture, I encourage you to try. Even if it is only for a week, the change is refreshing, and above all, it allows you to become comfortable with your own face. Within our society, we are constantly told how to look, and not wearing make-up in the traditional way helps to diminish the power of these beauty standards that only the chosen few of us can reach. Make-up is a tool, not a necessity, and it is up to us to decide how we use it and how it affects us.