For the entire four years of my high school career, I spent an hour and fifteen minutes getting ready every morning. A moderate chunk of this time involved putting on makeup. I definitely enjoyed this routine. It was fun to play around with different colors of eyeshadow and add symmetrical wings to my eyeliner with the precision of a spinal surgeon. As I put on each component of makeup, I felt my true beauty start to take form, and my confidence grew. There were some days when I overslept and had less than 20 minutes to get ready, eat, and catch the bus. But for four years, five days a week, I never let my face go entirely naked.
I am a senior in college now. I haven't put makeup on in weeks. And I've learned a lot about myself, society, and life.
I have no idea how or why, but suddenly, I just started to ask myself why I wore makeup every day. It was time I faced the truth: I definitely wasn't wearing makeup the days I stayed home, so it was clearly primarily for the sake of others. Had makeup become a crutch for me? A result of personal insecurities, or looming social pressures?
I have always had a feeling that society coerces women into wearing makeup (pretty much everywhere, including the workplace), and once we do, it's a trap. Gradually, the woman's dolled-up face becomes intertwined with her identity, both to others and to herself. When a woman who normally wears makeup suddenly shows up without any on, it can feel like showing up to a formal job interview in sweats. Do not get me started on people who will tell a woman she looks tired today for some reason (pro tip: don't do this). Nearly all women in the public sphere, including celebrities, news anchors, and politicians, are seen wearing makeup without fail. Do these women feel the pressure too, and by conceding to it, do they feed the societal demand itself?
Is this some vicious self-fulfilling prophecy?
I wanted to find out what was keeping me in this cosmetics confinement. So when I went to South Africa as a short-term study abroad program, I did the unimaginable... I didn't put makeup on in the morning. At first, I was acutely aware of my naked face. I would look in the mirror and feel nervous that I didn't look like myself anymore. And then after a few days, something strange happened: I began to feel completely normal without makeup on. I pretty much forgot about makeup!
And that's the beauty of it: not wearing makeup simplified my life.
I got to sleep in a little longer, and it took much less time to get ready during our rushed mornings. I didn't have to worry about smudging, fading, or creasing on my face during the long days in the African summer heat. I didn't have to spend extra time making sure I got every little speck of makeup off before falling onto my bed at night. My perspective fundamentally shifted: when you stop wearing makeup on a daily basis, you start to realize you don't need to look photoshoot-ready all the time. You start to realize there are more important things, like appreciating a moment so much that you forget to care about your appearance.
When I got back from the trip, I decided to continue not wearing makeup every day. After a while, I began to notice what I really looked like. Before, when I thought of myself, the image of Sarah With Makeup came to mind. It wasn't until I broke the habit that I realized I had barely left time to live in my real skin, to know and appreciate and love my natural features.
By not wearing makeup, I finally started to feel like my naked face was my true face. It's something I want all girls and women to feel.
Over time, I began to realize other benefits to this new practice. Many makeup products contain unhealthy chemicals, preservatives, additives, and other ingredients that can contribute to premature aging, irritation, and breakouts. I feel good not having that seep into my face on the daily. I initially thought that not wearing makeup would automatically lower my confidence, but the opposite happened. I was proud of my courage, and my normal healthy self-confidence quickly returned. I can look in the mirror in the morning and see myself, not a "before" version of myself. I feel free from the self-imposed fallacy that I have to do more to look and feel good.
That trip to South Africa was exactly one year ago. It's been a truly productive year for me in terms of self-growth, and that's partly because my core identity has shifted to be closer to the real me, #NoFilter.
Of course, there are thousands of girls and women who use makeup as a form of art or a means of self-expression. In many ways and circumstances, makeup can be used as a tool of empowerment. I am in no way saying that makeup is entirely evil and everyone should avoid it at all costs. In fact, I still wear makeup every now and then (parties, concerts, photo shoots, and whenever I feel like it) and that's completely fine. I believe it's important for girls and women to realize that we singlehandedly decide what we should do with our bodies. Whenever we give in to anything that goes against our personal beliefs or desires, we're perpetuating the problem. I don't wear makeup every day because I don't want other girls to think they have to wear makeup every day.
When you put on makeup, I invite you to ask yourself why.
Are you doing this because you want to, or because you feel like you need to? If you love the aesthetic, creativity, makeup community or the pure ritual of it, great! The most important thing is to be honest with yourself and make sure you're giving your natural beauty the respect it deserves.