After two weeks of not wearing a stitch of makeup, I started to feel like I didn't need it anymore. But also? I really missed it.
Early last summer, I challenged myself to something radical: What if I didn't wear makeup for awhile?
My decision was motivated by a few factors: I'd read a disturbing book about all the chemicals in cosmetics; I felt like my obsession with beauty products was getting a little out of hand (as evidenced by my overflowing bathroom cabinets); and I was starting to feel like a willing cog in the machine that convinces women they're not enough without a layer of paint plastered on their faces. The cosmetics industry, after all, makes $56 billion a year in part by telling women they won't be desirable unless they spend money to "enhance" their beauty.
My identity as a strong, confident feminist came into question every time I succumbed to this social conditioning by looking in the mirror and thinking "Ugh"—before applying copious amounts of concealer, mascara, and hot pink lipstick.
I wanted to prove to myself that I could break my reliance on makeup. And so, I stopped. No blush, no lipstick, no foundation. Nothing.
Soon, I stopped feeling "undone" without makeup and got more comfortable with my bare face. In pictures of me from that time, I look happy and healthy and natural. Not prettier or less pretty than I do wearing makeup, just slightly less colorful.
After two weeks of not wearing a stitch of makeup, I even started to feel like I didn't need it anymore. I didn't feel incomplete without it.
But also? I really missed it—and for different reasons than I anticipated.
I missed listening to music and gazing at myself in the mirror for half an hour every morning as I studiously applied my black-winged eyeliner and creamy blush. I missed rifling through my makeup bag for the exact color of lipstick that matched my mood that day. I missed dusting my face with my favorite powder that's filled with tiny flecks of glitter and makes me feel like an elf queen.
True, I didn't feel like I needed to wear makeup anymore, which was unbelievably freeing, but I still wanted to. And I suddenly found myself trying to reconcile these two realities.
Makeup was a creative outlet, a form of self-expression, a fun hobby, and an almost sacred form of "me time." What if my makeup obsession wasn't driven by weak will and pressure from fashion magazines? What if I just really liked makeup?
And so, I made another choice: I'd start wearing makeup again. And this time, I wouldn't take it for granted.
Making peace with my love of beauty products allowed me to find a comfortable middle ground between total obsession and full-stop resistance. I looked for natural products when possible, and streamlined my collection to fit into a single bag. I was choosy about new products and savored the fun process of shopping for them. I wore makeup when I felt like it and skipped it when I didn't. No feminist hand-wringing necessary.
If I feel the compulsive need to wear makeup creeping in for insecurity reasons these days, I try to take time to reflect on where I'm at and what factors in my life are making me feel "less than." But I also don't get down on myself for needing a little psychic armor from the beauty counter.
In a perfect world, we'd all feel 100% confident all the time. In the real world, I'm grateful for the swipe of mascara and dash of red lipstick that makes me feel ready to face the day.
Is that really such a bad thing?