Repairing my relationship with makeup and more importantly, my confidence.
I was 14 when my father first told me I needed to start wearing makeup.
"You start high school tomorrow," he had said. "You need to start taking care of yourself and making yourself look good."
The now 24-year-old me realizes how ridiculous this is. At 14, I wish I'd focused a little more on self-improvement and trying to love myself. To a self-conscious, acne-ridden Sarah, it stung.
Puberty's a bitch, huh?
I told my mom about this years later, when I finally realized that my ability to apply concealer that matches my actual skin tone doesn't determine my worth. She laughed it off and told me I was beautiful no matter what; you know, the typical mom thing. What I didn't tell her was that I had spent hours in the bathroom the next day, practicing the elusive smoky eye (an art form I haven’t mastered to this day) with the cheapest eyeshadow palette I could find at Walgreen’s.
From then on, I did my best to create the most natural-looking-but-somehow-flawless look I could every morning with my limited selection of makeup. I grew more and more self-conscious of my bare face, especially my breakouts. It got to a point where I wouldn’t allow anyone in my family to see me without makeup; I applied my concealer and foundation within minutes of waking up in the morning. Those cheap drugstore products under the sink controlled me. If I wasn’t wearing makeup, then I wasn’t doing anything outside of my bedroom that day. I wasn’t living.
I finally grew out of this in college. Call it apathy, laziness, or depression, but I didn’t have the motivation or energy to smear on a full face every morning. Spoiler: nobody cared, not even me. Applying eyeliner in the morning didn’t make me feel better or cure my depression. If I remembered to brush some powder on before leaving in the morning, it didn’t make my day any better. At the time, I don’t think it would have mattered if I had professional makeup artists paint Dior on my face every morning- I still felt nothing. Items that had once controlled my entire existence were now worthless to me. In some sort of twisted way, I found this freeing. Not caring about anything, while awful 99% of the time, had allowed me to break this toxic cycle of linking my confidence to my makeup application.
Years of therapy later, I’m (mostly) over the darkest days of my depression and anxiety. I now work in a male-dominated field where it’s odd to see a woman in a position responsibility, let alone contouring done correctly. I’ve come to enjoy catching men off guard when they’re expecting another man, only to find me boasting my newest highlighter. But as I’ve grown up, matured, and become a feminist, I’m furious that I allowed my self-esteem to be shaken by some offhand comment from a middle-aged man three Jack and Coke’s in. Who was he to tell me what made me beautiful or what taking care of myself looked like?
The point of this isn’t to share my sob story about how I was an angsty teenager or depressed student. It’s to remind everyone that makeup, if you choose to wear it, can be a weapon in building confidence, or destroying it if you let it. While I don’t wear makeup everyday like I used to, taking time to put together a look has become my way of rebelling and reminding myself that this is my choice. It’s me reclaiming my appearance, face, and self-confidence. And though I’ll never be creating YouTube tutorials or advising shoppers at Ulta, I can paint my face every morning knowing that it’s because I wanted to, not because I feel pressured to.