I've always loved makeup. On my tenth birthday, my sister gave me a MAC Lipglass and eyeshadow (in "Wedge") and there was no going back. By high school, I was wearing makeup daily—always natural, but always there. One summer in college, while working as a counselor at a summer camp—where we lived in teepees and showered once a week—I gave up makeup altogether. For ten weeks, sunscreen and aloe were the only things to grace my face. But instead of feeling liberated, I missed playing with products and having makeup as part of my routine.
Throughout adulthood, I've worn makeup almost daily. While my love of makeup hadn't changed (on most days it still feels like a choice), there have been times when an application feels obligatory. On the occasional days when I'd skip makeup altogether, it was inevitable that I'd receive comments like, "you look tired," "what's wrong?" or "are you sick?" I quickly learned that my makeup-free face was only acceptable if I was working out, wearing sweatpants, or under the weather.
The year I graduated from college, The New York Times ran a story about a study that concluded that makeup (but not too much makeup) makes women appear more competent. Perhaps it was knowledge of this factoid—or the fact that for most of my twenties I'd be confused for a teenager if I stepped out fresh-faced—but it always seemed that this impression rang true in the workplace. It felt like society had decided there was something unprofessional about going to work sans makeup, like leaving the house half dressed or forgetting to brush your teeth. Makeup may be one of the most impactful ways to look put together, but does that mean we're inherently sloppy without it?
Outside of work, I would notice a perceptible decline in how much attention I received if I wasn't wearing makeup. On days when I happened to go makeup-free, by choice or otherwise, I felt like I had removed myself from the dating pool. Sometimes it was liberating—other times it was less so. It wasn't until just a few months ago that I ever went out to a bar without makeup.
I used to describe myself as having a face that needs makeup. First, to look my age (and possibly competent—or at least awake and ready to work), and second, to be "worth looking at." I've never considered my skin to be a candidate for the no-makeup look. I deemed that my visible pores and pockmarks from a stint with acne in middle school were much more agreeable when covered up by a skin-perfecting foundation. While I love a natural beauty, I simply didn't have the features to pull it off. My wide-set eyes seemed to be more balanced with the help of eyeliner and my long eyelashes demanded mascara to appear less droopy and more awake. My cheeks all but begged for bronzer to bring out a glow I felt I naturally lacked.
I can't pinpoint exactly what changed, but it could be a fortuitous combination of working from home and turning thirty. While making my own hours from various rooms and seated positions in my apartment, I had no need to wear makeup. A full year of freelancing later, perhaps I've become so accustomed to my makeup-free face that's it's no longer the thing that greets me in the mirror first thing in the morning (when I'm exhausted) and at the end of the day (when I'm exhausted), but instead it represents the most natural me.
I used to always wear eyeshadow, eyeliner, and a full face of foundation for my everyday face. Call it laziness or a newfound devil-may-care attitude that's been unleashed since turning thirty, but I simply can't be bothered to do it all daily. I still enjoy applying makeup when I have a special outing or I'm feeling creative, but my day-to-day no longer demands that I defend myself from questions about the state of my health or sleep deprivation because my actual face skin is showing or I haven't curled my eyelashes.
I realize now that thinking I have the kind of face that only looks good with makeup might have been a projection of my own former feelings of undesirability when makeup-free. My priorities have shifted and I'd rather focus on my health (and how it shows in my skin sans makeup) than cover up and package myself for public view. Now makeup is something I want to enjoy on my own terms. My new pared-back approach to makeup (which typically consists of brow gel, luminizer, a swipe of mascara, and maybe a tinted lip conditioner) allows me to give my skin a breather and encourages me to embrace my face in its natural state—accepting I can look healthy, glowy, awake, and attractive without eye makeup or "flawless" skin.
Next up, nine celebrities share their advice for how to feel confident.
Etcoff NL, Stock S, Haley LE, Vickery SA, House DM. Cosmetics as a feature of the extended human phenotype: modulation of the perception of biologically important facial signals. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(10):e25656. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025656