When I was nine years old, my mom allowed me to wear eyeliner for my First Communion. That’s the first time I remember wearing make up to look prettier. Not to dress up for Halloween or to portray a character in a play but to look better. I didn’t feel ugly without makeup but what woman doesn’t need that something extra to feel more attractive and therefore more loved? Somehow, I had already learned all of that at the age of nine.
Fast forward to when I was twenty-five, I had been wearing makeup every single day since I was thirteen. And by makeup I don’t mean a full face but simply eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara. But even this minimal amount of makeup made me feel… like ME! Like my true self. With no makeup I felt uglier than I thought I was.
I’ve always envied girls who were naturally beautiful and didn’t need any makeup. Whenever I skipped my daily routine of applying eye makeup, people asked me whether I was tired or perhaps sick. While the concern was understandable and greatly appreciated, I felt judged. Somehow, instead of hearing “you look different today,” which was a fact, I heard “you look ugly today.”
Feeling unattractive and receiving “confirmation” even if it wasn’t real, stirred up something deep down inside of me that I preferred to leave untouched… and if possible cover up with some makeup. I was afraid that being unattractive meant people wouldn’t want to be around me. Logically, I knew that true friendships and deep connections had nothing to do with my appearance. However, emotionally I feared that those friendships and connections would come harder to me if I didn’t put my best foot – or face for that matter – forward.
This internal pressure and my fear of being socially disconnected left me constantly feeling exhausted and I wanted to change that. So, when my husband and I moved to Michigan, I decided to start my journey of showing and accepting my real self. My rationale was that nobody knew me with makeup anyways, so people weren’t going to comment when seeing me barefaced. Not being confronted with other people’s comments helped me focus on just my internal struggle. For a year and a half, I mostly wore makeup on special occasions only.
I’d like to think I was “cured” by then but while it may have appeared that I had made major progress, the change was all about discipline, staying strong and not giving in to my insecurities. While discipline works to some degree, I was eventually bound to fail and revert back to my old habits and beliefs. Inevitably, when I started business school and then my corporate job, the pressure to look my best in order to not miss out on friendships and opportunities was at an all time high. For the following three years, I was a prisoner of my own belief system once again. I hated it but I couldn’t help it.
Again, my exhaustion was at a point where I wanted to do something about it but it wasn’t until I started doing some self reflection and peeling back the layers that it dawned on me that makeup wasn’t the real issue. I never realized it back then but I had been struggling with feeling different, not good enough, unloved, and unwanted my entire life. I slowly started to understand that I had to learn to love and accept myself regardless of what I looked like and I had to learn that I didn’t have to perform (i.e. look good, be good, achieve great results) to be of value.
What gave me the ultimate push that I needed was seeing Alicia Keys not wearing any makeup on NBC’s The Voice. I know that her “no makeup” look may not be completely no makeup when on television but that wasn’t the point. The fact that someone of her status was willing to show up authentically as herself no matter what others thought was truly inspiring to me. Plus, I actually thought she was so much prettier with no makeup and I longed to feel the same way about myself.
On the outside, it may have looked like a radical step of ditching my makeup completely the next day but in reality it’s been a series of baby steps on the inside. At first, I felt ugly and was very aware of it every time I interacted with people. I analyzed the way they looked at me to determine what they were possibly thinking of me. Eventually, not applying any makeup in the morning became routine and I forgot that I wasn’t wearing any until I looked in the mirror. Then one day, my husband and I went on a trip out of town and I realized I hadn’t packed my makeup bag. That’s when I knew I was on the right path.
It’s now been almost three years that I stopped wearing makeup. I still have a long ways to go when it comes to loving and accepting myself. I truly wish that one day I will look at myself in the mirror and think I am pretty. But making that my goal is just going to leave me frustrated every day that it’s not the case. I keep reminding myself that it’s not about the destination but the journey. Maybe my goal should be to be ok with whatever I see in the mirror. Whether I think I look tired, ugly, or anything else… can I have compassion for myself? Can I still show my raw self without shaming myself? That’s real freedom to me. When I reframe my thinking this way, I realize that I have achieved this on many days in the past three years and I am beyond grateful for this progress.
My intention with this post is to bring awareness to something that may seem insignificant but is very real for many women. For those women going to the grocery store barefaced is unimaginable. I know because that was me a few years ago. For everyone out there working hard on loving themselves – I’m proud of you. And for those who wish they could show their real face but aren’t able to overcome their anxiety – I see you.. the real you.. and I am equally proud of you!! After reading this post I ask you to NOT comment on my looks by saying that I am “so pretty”. I didn’t write this to fish for compliments but to share my heart and my journey with you.
Previously Published on Love Over Fear — Always