This is Emma. I met her a couple years back when she and her boyfriend Nick starting attending my yoga classes. She is my vegan-minimalist-artsy-yogi friend (a rare find in these parts!). Emma stopped wearing makeup not too long after we met, and today she is sharing the story behind that choice.
How old were you when you started wearing makeup?
Oh gosh, I was at least in early middle school. I would say around seventh grade was when I felt like I had to wear it everyday to school. Though, I remember first trying nail polish and mascara much younger, about in second grade.
How would you describe your old makeup routine?
I would wash my face with some walmart-horrible-for-your-skin cleanser and apply moisturizer. Then I would conceal my under eye area, because I had been told that women show age there first, and as a middle schooler, I felt that covering this area would just hold onto my youth, I guess. I also concealed all my acne areas and dark spots, which were plenty considering I bombarded my face with powder or liquid foundation and brushed on this Maybelline blush stuff I used that lasted, I kid you not, from the time I started wearing blush to the time I threw it away in college. That stuff lasted forrrreeever. I also always wore a winged black eyeliner no matter what. Not too thick, not too thin, but with a slight winged tip at the end to really echo past Egyptian culture, which, of course, is not what I was going for at the time. For a period I also dabbled in highlighting and bronzing to get a “sunkissed” glow. It took me about an hour to get ready.
Were/are you the kind of person who loves different beauty products and application techniques? Almost like makeup as a hobby? Or were you just interested in the basics?
It was something I thought, and was told, was necessary in order to go to school. Sure, if I saw a new product in the makeup aisle at CVS, I would probably stop to consider buying it if I thought it would make me prettier, but it was never a hardcore hobby. I do remember watching YouTube tutorials, but this was more to see what other people were using on their skin as I had plenty of problems with mine and saw all of these flawless skin women who put on makeup and I felt that if I had their same products, maybe my skin would also be like theirs. I never got into types of brushes or even cleaned mine regularly.
How often did you go without makeup before you stopped wearing it?
I would always wear makeup if I left the house. So before I stopped completely, I only allowed my skin to be bare on the weekends or any day I stayed home.
What made you stop wearing makeup? Did you do it cold turkey or gradually?
I think it was really all up to the social context of it all. In high school I was told by my crushes throughout the years that I looked pale, or my skin wasn’t clear, or that I just wasn’t as pretty as so and so, and of course when you’re trying to impress your crush you do what you can to “better” your appearance. So makeup was reinforced to me by what these people were saying. Looking back, there was definitely a culture of the boys seeing us girls as objects and opportunities rather than as equal individuals, even at this young age. When I was younger and living with my guardian, she had mountains of makeup and had a whole set of drawers just for the stuff—it was intense. I remember her telling me that it’s just what a woman does and that I was a “fine canvas, but a canvas in need of paint.” In other words, I wasn’t naturally pretty and so, again, this reinforced makeup further.
I moved to college and met Nick, my current boyfriend of almost four years now, and when we first started dating and I would get ready for a date by applying foundation and mascara, he would always, always say to me, “You know, you don’t really need that. You’re so beautiful on your own.” Now, I had never been told these words before, and it was quite flattering and very sweet. And he never tried to stop me from putting on makeup, but slowly over that semester I found that I really didn’t need makeup, and I never really liked it, either. I wore it to appease and hopefully seem more appealing to my crushes growing up—which weren’t worth it, but, you know—and to gather respect from an adult woman who only saw her worth in huge vanity mirrors and Bobby Brown cosmetics. I had accepted it as a normal part of life that every girl did, and I never got the chance to question that “normality” until I was out of that environment. Once I met a great guy who actually respected women, it was easy to see that I went through so much hassle for nothing. I know that there are women out there who say they don’t wear makeup to impress or look better to anyone, that they do it for themselves because it makes them feel good. But, see, that really has me wonder because I wore it just to impress, and if I impressed someone or looked good to someone else then I felt better. To those women, I must ask, is there anything else you could do for your own self-esteem other than manipulate and change how your face looks? It just seems counterintuitive. Sure, I thought I looked better with the same shade of warm ivory from forehead to neck, but when I wiped it all off at night I didn’t like what was in the mirror because it wasn’t clear anymore, it wasn’t flawless. It was smudged and spotted and flaky and porous. So, if you put makeup on because the act of it or the sight of it on you has you feel good, then do you really, honestly still love how your skin actually looks? Can you?
Why did you throw all of it out?
I was covering up and preferring this face that was not really mine. Since middle school I have gained this inner code that I try to live by now, and in this code is one simple idea: Be honest with yourself. This means, entirely and brutally honest. If I feel a certain way about something, I follow that intuition. I try to listen as honestly as I can, without making up excuses or hearing what I want to hear, and likewise, I try to speak to myself as honestly as I can about what is happening or what I feel. I gathered this mindset about near the end of high school and around the same time as meeting Nick and starting college. And when it came down to it, wearing makeup wasn’t really being honest with myself. I simply didn’t like the idea of preferring a face that wasn’t really my face. I need to see what I look like and enjoy it for what it is, appreciate it for what it is, and deal with my skin’s problems from the roots rather than just covering up and dealing with the symptoms. I guess I would think of myself as a thoughtful person; I like my thoughts and I enjoy thinking into things and myself. I saw this dealing with my face by covering it up as a metaphor for how I dealt with most things in me. I ignored the actual problems and tried to put on a pretty smile in the meantime. I had some pretty heavy things to deal with in middle school and high school and putting on makeup seemed an easy way to appear to myself that I had it all under control, that I was fine and my situation was fine because I had my eyeliner. The solution is to clear your skin and have a healthier diet and drink more water. The solution is to realize you’re not anyone’s plaything that should feel the need to get dressed up to feel like you’re worth something. I wore makeup for others and I threw it all out for me.
What do you like most about not wearing it?
I enjoy looking in the mirror and not seeing that cakey effect a lot of people who wear foundation get. I really did not like that growing up and considered it gross to see the pores clogged with makeup, and I still cringe inside if I see that effect on someone’s face. I just enjoy waking up, and it’s a new normal to splash warm water, spritz my fave facial mist, and walk out the door. I enjoy that it’s normal for me now to have bare skin and that I never think about it as my face is without makeup, it’s just my face. I forget sometimes that makeup is still a thing because I just never see it and don’t walk down those aisles anymore. It’s nice to have come this far and to have changed what was so normal to me.
What’s the hardest part about not wearing it?
It’s all about being honest. Now if I break out, I can’t cover it up, can’t lie to the world that I have perfect skin yet again. I have to look at my activity, what not so healthy food I’ve been eating, and I have to treat the source of what’s causing my skin to freak out. At first I would get worried to leave the house if I had a pimple or two with bare skin, but looking back, even with makeup it was still obvious if you had a pimple so I guess I thought that if I applied makeup maybe it would suggest to the world that I at least tried to hide a natural and normal process of skin, as if one needs to, but now I live life a little bit more carelessly.
Was it hard for you to stop? If so, do you find it’s gotten easier with time? Or do you still have days when you want to wear it?
Not really, but there was a month that I continued to wear blush and bronzer so as to give the illusion of a slimmer face, but I really didn’t care to keep that up once I researched into the chemicals within them. Once I cared more about what I put on my skin and how it affected my skin, it really wasn’t hard to let go of the harmful stuff. Again, actually wanting to take care of my body and love who I was made it easier to let go of the things that actually were self harming, to the mind and body, as makeup can easily affect someone self esteem wise and also with the rise in cancer risk some products give. I considered more natural makeup, but I had gotten so used to bare skin that it seemed a pain to try to do anything else. I just like my face now so why cover it up? I do still curl my lashes some days, which Nick still says I don’t need, and maybe one day I’ll stop this as well, but after cutting out everything else, it’s the one thing I just like to do.
Has not wearing makeup produced any unexpected affects/feelings in your life?
It has helped me to stand apart from the ideals of those I used to adhere to. Once I saw self worth in my own skin, I stopped trying to justify my guardian’s hurtful words and those from influences I had growing up, such as the crush I mentioned earlier, who was a close friend of mine till I understood that he also was essentially just a bully. It has helped me to think more on my own as I don’t follow a societal standard of what it is to be a perfect woman, and I am allowing myself to be comfortable as an outsider apart from this norm. It’s good to be comfortable outside of the norm, and I didn’t know that’s what I was getting into when I stopped. It’s like how Alicia Keys started this controversy when she stopped wearing makeup while being a judge on The Voice. A young girl may not think of makeup as an expected societal standard of her to look “pretty” and “together” all of the time—as if appearing without makeup means she’s not pretty or does not have her life all together—but just by seeing how angry people got with Alicia just because she didn’t conceal under her eyes…man…it’s just so hard to not see that women are expected to be this ideal version of what others want all the time. I didn’t expect this discarding of makeup would turn into a feminist expression for me, but I guess it has.
Any words of advice or encouragement to those thinking about not wearing makeup?
Women have been societally and culturally taught from a young age to not love ourselves, and I really don’t know the origin behind all of this and why it’s such a big deal for women to have empowerment or to love who we are, but it is. So make a big deal out of it—take all the love you put on yourself for others, and give it back to your heart and soul. Learn to appreciate who you are and what you have that no one else does in the entire world and in all of history of mankind because once you realize you’re worth everything, no one is going to be able to tell you that you’re not good enough. From what I’ve experienced in this life so far, there are so many people who would love the opportunity to take everything from you, including your self worth, so don’t even give them the chance. If you adorn your worth in your mind and thoughts, it can’t be as easily wiped away as adorning something so temporary and fleeting as how you look right now. Love yourself so much that you could be without your favorite t-shirt, favorite perfume, favorite jewelry, favorite anything that has you feel better about yourself and still be a-ok, and by slowly dwindling the amount of products we use to cover our already beautiful faces is a start.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Time and time again through my younger adult life I was told I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t good enough to get a date for Homecoming, that I wasn’t good enough to go far in life, and that I wasn’t good enough to ever be loved. So I wore makeup because I thought being prettier would make me good enough. As if having a smokey eye is any true indication of beauty. As if manipulating any part of me at all could be any more beautiful than the way Emma sees things through her glasses or enjoys the smell of rain, or how Emma sits and reads a good book, or just in the way Emma just wakes up every morning. What’s beautiful is that you’re here now, just like I am. What’s beautiful is getting this chance to walk this Earth and be of the same dust as space and stars around us. You are the Milky Way and the grass beneath your feet. Expand your narrative to see a bigger reality and you’ll see that trying to be anything else than you, or act as if you could improve how you look, is a shame to all the beauty you’ve come from. So I ask you, if you do wear makeup, why do you really wear it? Once you can be honest with yourself here, you’ve only got the rest of the world to be honest to.
Thank you, Emma, for your candor and vulnerability. You are beautiful.