I Stopped Wearing Makeup & Here's What Happened

Written by Chau Le

Photo by Stocksy

Makeup and I have parted ways, and for the first time in years, I feel like myself. A lot more than I did my freshman year. That also means that I care less about how I look, which translates to less time spent in front of the mirror. It took a lot of wrestling with my confidence and self-esteem, but after several years of experimentation in college, then several more years wasted trying to achieve a "polished, professional look" for my first job, I finally decided to bin my box of goodies and start leaving the house barefaced.

I believe that most of the time (not all the time) makeup is applied in compliance with social pressure. While most women might respond that we are doing it for ourselves (and some really are), my personal experience is that makeup comes as a subtle suggestion as a way to "improve myself" in society's eyes. When I feel the urge to cover up with foundation, it is when I am feeling insecure; when I want someone's attention or feel the need to stand out, I want to put on lipstick; when I feel like I need to appear bright and fresh for work, I wake up 30 minutes early to apply foundation, eye shadow, mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick.

Early years

Unlike most girls in high school, I had no interest in makeup or fashion, was raised on a commune, where organic veggies was the main concern of the day; therefore, it made sense that upon entering high school, thrifted baggy jeans and long, untrimmed hair was not a fashion statement—it was a lifestyle. Makeup made no sense to me, and I didn't believe I needed it. But upon entering college, where one expects to find self-expression and an escape from the repressive confines of high school and its herd mentality—the opposite became true. I realized that people were nicer to me (even if it was for shallow reasons) and gave me more attention when I was made up.

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Being accepted is a strong pull for all human beings, as much as we might deny it and believe ourselves to be above and immune to social pressures. We say we don't do it for anyone, and sometimes it isn't—sometimes it is for ourselves, like taking a warm bath after a long day—but if you find that you are coercing yourself into it, if you feel naked without it, if you feel embarrassed when you don't have it on, if you feel like you need to put it on just because you're going out—stop, pause, and ask yourself why do I feel this way?

I told my boyfriend that I needed it because I wanted to look pretty. He asked me why, I was already pretty—I said that I wanted to be impressive—he asked me why I needed to look impressive, I already was. Just like collecting stamps, sewing, styling clothes, baking cookies, if the act of using makeup is inspiring and is your creative outlet, don't stop. Makeup, like art, is a medium of expression. But if the reasons for putting on eye shadow is to appear seductive—why can't we be seductive through our personalities? Or is to "hide dark shadows"? What is wrong with dark shadows? Does it diminish your worth as a person? The fact of the matter was, I was tied to the idea that I had to cover or enhance my face in order to be my best. It is this kind of reasoning that was inherently unhealthy, not the makeup itself.

A-ha moment

All of this hit one day when I headed straight to the gym after work and didn't clean my face. As I sweated, mascara streamed into my eyes, stinging as I tried to wipe it off, making my eyes red from the smear of germs. Then something snapped, and I realized that all this was not worth it. What was I doing? Why was I doing it? I was wearing makeup because I wanted to look "nice": Was I not nice enough already? I had conflated the idea of beauty with products. So when I got home, I packed it all up and gave everything away to a friend.

Today, instead of covering up, I take care of my skin; I eat fruits and vegetables, exfoliate once a week with a sugar-lemon scrub, and watch my skin shine. When I have pimples—hormones and stress—I keep doing exactly what I'm doing, with a few extra veggies here and there. I don't shy away, because with good care, I know that everything will shine through, just like a well-cultivated personality or sense of humor.

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