A few months ago, I wrote an article about makeup and feminism. It has been by far my most controversial piece, and I maintain my position that makeup can be a form of self-expression for people of any gender. Under no circumstances should it be assumed that a woman who wears makeup is insecure or somehow lacking in self-worth. However, having debated the topic repeatedly since publishing the piece, I’ve come to the realisation that it was written from a place of dishonesty. The argument still stands, and for many women makeup is as expressive an art as poetry or painting. But when I wrote ‘I already know that who I am without makeup is worth just as much as me in mascara…I know my value, and I also know it has nothing to do with what I wear on my face’, I was writing from a perspective that was not my own.
I do sometimes wear makeup because I like the artistry; when I use glitter and shimmery lip balm it is a result of my love for sparkles, not some deeply ingrained insecurity. But the truth is, most of the time I wear makeup to draw attention to my appearance so that I can feel validated when and if the onlookers approve of what they see. I encourage my own objectification because most of the time I do not know my value beyond the body and face I present to the world. I know this perspective is wrong and I am working very hard to change the way I think. But the idealistic stance in my previous article underestimated the impact that makeup and advertising can (and does) have on young women, and overestimated the ability of all women to escape this cycle.
Last week, I realised the extent to which I built my confidence on my appearance. Those who know me know that I am open about my struggles with anorexia and binge eating, and last week after a particularly bad binge, I looked in the mirror and burst into tears. This is the danger of using the mirror (or selfies or the opinions of others or any other external reflection) to build oneself up; you can feel like the sexiest woman on earth one day, and the next feel like you are worth nothing. In the past, I have used makeup like a crutch. Even if one day I woke up and didn’t like what I saw, I could cover it up and make myself beautiful and still feel like I had some value. It is a toxic cycle that leads to a fragile and entirely dependent self.
In an ideal world, confidence and self-worth would develop slowly and steadily. It would come as a result of Pinterest quotes and inspiring Instagram accounts. But no matter how many times I was told (and told others) to ‘love what is on the inside’, it never sank in. So last week, I took a drastic measure. I turned every mirror in my flat around. On the first day, I refused to even glimpse at my reflection. The second day I let myself comb my hair, but nothing more than that. It was difficult, to say the least. No mirror means no makeup, and it was hard for me to let go of my contour stick and cover up. But the results of my drastic experiment were equally enormous. I didn’t realise just how much brain power I devoted to thinking about how I looked until it suddenly didn’t matter. If I couldn’t see what I looked like, there was no point in thinking about how to fix any flaws that might have been there. I was forced to confront the girl on the inside, and act completely based on her thoughts and feelings. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I like who she is.
I haven’t uncovered the mirrors yet, and I don’t plan to any time soon. The transition from valuing the external to the internal will not be overnight; I will have to fight a decade of insecurities that in an ideal world I would have grown out of. But someday, I will wear makeup again, and it will be for my art. I still don’t need a man to tell me I look better without it—his validation of my beauty is as worthless to me as my own. I do not need his well-intentioned but poorly thought out attempt to reduce my insecurity. There are no doubt women who are at the place I aspire to reach, and it is for them that the first article was written. Wearing makeup can be empowering and fun, but it is crucial to understand why you are wearing it. I used my feminist ideology to defend my relationship with makeup without ever really taking a moment to dissect what that relationship was. The thesis is the same: makeup is not the enemy. But if you are a person like me, it is part of the problem. So to all the women and men out there who love to paint their faces, I encourage you to question why, and from there make a choice: carry on owning your look and loving the inside too, or maybe take a moment to turn the mirrors around.