I Went to a Trendy L.A. Bar Without Makeup on and Have Some Thoughts

I learned a lot.

Byrdie editor Erin Jahns makeup free

Erin Jahns

When it comes to my makeup routine, let’s just say I have a very all-or-nothing approach. I’ve never mastered the "no makeup" makeup look (though as someone who works in the beauty industry, I realize that’s rather absurd), and on any given day (usually Saturday and Sunday), you’ll find me completely barefaced: under-eye circles, freckles, and the inevitable blemish on full, unapologetic display.

Conversely, Monday through Friday (and an infrequent Saturday night), I’m completely made-up: foundation, blush, highlight, and roughly four coats of mascara—nothing short of the whole shebang. It’s a complicated relationship we have, makeup and I. And while I feel entirely myself when I go makeup-free, I also feel 100 percent at peace with my layers of foundation and lipstick. Interesting, then, how I struggle with the in-between.

Read on for more about my personal experiences with makeup and what it's like to brave the world wearing no makeup at all.

Makeup vs. No Makeup

Perhaps it’s distorted, but without makeup, I feel like I can fade into the world without anyone bothering to assess my appearance. In my (admittedly hardened) view, who cares about the girl with dark circles and a pimple skulking around the farmers market or typing away at Starbucks? If I’m not trying, how can I feel rejected?

Maddening as it is, in my mind, it’s as if I’m saying uncle, willingly pulling out of the race to be perceived as beautiful, desirable, and effortlessly put-together—a cut-throat competition that haunts the female species. (One point for eye contact, two points for conversation, bull's-eye if you get their number or the promise of a date.) It’s almost as if by looking like I don’t care (i.e., not wearing a stitch of makeup), I actually don’t care. And it’s on days like this I find myself feeling lighter, happier, and significantly more spontaneous.

Makeup-free, I’m not hurt or surprised if the cute guy at the grocery store doesn’t give me a side-eye or ask my opinion on two different peanut butters. But if I’m fully made up, I can’t lie: I’d be disappointed and feel as if in some way my appearance failed me—negating any previously secured points on my beauty scorecard.

Now, I completely realize this is a warped, twisted, and less-than-empowered line of thinking. And as much as I wish I could sit here and tell you I don’t care what new friends, coworkers, and swoon-worthy guys at the gym think of my appearance, I can’t. I’m fully willing to ignore my collection of concealers and bronzers for errands, trips to the coffee shop, vacations home to my family, and a weekend run. But as soon as I venture into a situation where something feels at stake—a potential romantic connection or the progression of a new friendship—I crave a superficial shell of protection.

What’s more, I know I’m not alone. From telling conversations I’ve had with co-workers, friends, and family over the years, there’s an unanimous, resounding sense of pressure—and even a certain degree of fear. On one hand, there’s a feeling that by conforming to these idealized standards of beauty (i.e., getting fully made-up for a something as objectively mundane as a night out), we’re somehow betraying our right as women to do, say, dress, and wear or not wear makeup in whichever way we please.

Yet breaking free from those expectations can feel like a frustrating game of pulling teeth. It’s not easy to shake a security blanket on which you’ve come to rely—despite the potential of flammability. Try as I might, I can’t seem to make a compromise: a fun night out with friends combined with the inherent freedom that comes effortlessly when I’m not worrying about lipstick on my teeth or concealer in my creases. However, in my defense, it hasn’t always been this way.

Two glasses of white wine
Erin Jahns

My Makeup History

Aside from dance competitions and recitals, in middle school, I didn’t wear much—if any—makeup. And, suffice to say, boys were never in the picture (despite the many other burgeoning middle school relationships forming around me). So when I entered high school, started wearing makeup, and began receiving attention from the likes of the football team, the connection computed like a math equation: Makeup led to attention, which then equated to a greater sense of self-worth. Shallow as it might seem, I was in high school and incredibly impressionable. What’s disturbing is that this initial realization from 2008 is still so deeply ingrained all these years later. Let's call it lesson one.

Then, after years of dressing to impress and spending hours primping my hair and makeup to perfection in high school, I approached college in a new light: one that utilized no makeup. It lasted about one semester and after receiving some not-so-nice comments from an ex via social media, I changed my ways. The second semester I was back to my old made-up self, and I had an influx of dates and male interest to show for it—lesson two.

Although I love the freedom I feel with a face free of makeup, when engaging in social situations, I’ve become unwilling to subject myself to the feelings of rejection I’ve learned to associate with a bare face over time. On the other hand, the reliance on makeup feels somewhat suffocating. And so, inspired to challenge myself, I decided to go to drinks with a completely bare face. Yes, I realize some people do this all the time, but for me, it was an intimidating first step.

Byrdie editor Erin Jahns without makeup
Erin Jahns

What It's Like To Go Without Makeup

Much to my surprise, it was infinitely less painful than I had initially expected. A new work friend and I chose a spot in Santa Monica that is always busy, no matter the day of the week (we chose Tuesday, but it has a perpetual Friday-night ambiance). Thus, as I wrapped up my EOD deadlines, I slowly began my mental preparation. I had worn my typical makeup to work that day, and as I headed to the bathroom to wipe it all off, the reflexive doubts and worries slowly began to creep their way in.

Not only would I be heading bare-faced to a locale teaming with L.A.’s most beautiful (outfitted in flowing extensions, bandage dresses, and heels, no doubt), but even my friend (hi, Kaitlyn!) had never seen me without a completely made-up face. Yes, I’m aware that I’m still very much the same person whether or not I’m wearing foundation, and though I knew deep down she wouldn’t care, (because she’s amazing), like so many women I know, I have 10-plus years of behind-the-back comments, insecurities, and so forth to contend with. In short, I felt vulnerable without being able to articulate exactly what I was so scared of.

However, after we arrived and as the night wore on, I realized I felt surprisingly comfortable. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had been out and felt so weightless. Initially, I did feel (facially) underdressed, slightly insecure, and even a tad embarrassed but gradually an amazing sensation began to take hold as I realized Kaitlyn was still laughing at my jokes (bless her), and I remained at ease surrounded by my fellow drinkers and diners.

I didn’t have to worry about mid-meal touch-ups, a smudged lip post-tequila shot (not something I’d typically advise on a Tuesday night), or even frizzy strands (I had slicked my hair up into a simple topknot.) Relieved and refreshed, I went home that night with a full, happy sensation of satisfaction. No, nothing earth-shattering happened, but I did take a baby step in a healing, healthy direction.

The Final Takeaway

I still plan to wear makeup when I go out, but now it doesn’t feel like an all-or-nothing necessity. While before I might have turned down a social invitation if I didn’t feel up to the prep itself, I can now use this experiment as a tool in my ever-increasing repertoire.

The goal: fewer moments of worry and insecurity, and more moments of unabashed freedom. I love makeup (it’s part of my livelihood, after all), but whether or not I’m wearing it surely shouldn’t decide how significant or worthwhile I feel as a person. A work in progress? Maybe. But that's something I can accept.

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