I will never forget the day my mom took me to buy “real” makeup for the very first time. I went to the department store with her with a fresh face and eager eyes, anxiously awaiting my moment. The lady behind the makeup counter sat me down in a leather-cushioned, metal bar stool, and she began to work her magic on me. With each stroke of the eye shadow brush and coat of dark brown mascara, I could feel myself transforming. When she finished, she showed me my reflection.
I. Was. Beautiful.
I was twelve and in 7th grade. A lot of other girls (most of the other girls) already wore makeup, so I was late to the party. It didn’t matter though- it was my time. Maybe now, that blue-eyed boy I had a crush on since I was in the 4th grade would finally ask me out. I’d be invited to more parties with the “cool group” that I only hung out with during athletics and basketball, and my circle of friends would expand drastically. Yes, now that I wore makeup, everything was about to change.
Except, it didn’t. I was still awkward and clumsy, embarrassed by my two gawky front teeth, and discouraged by my extremely flat chest. My confidence level was non-existent, and I lived my life vicariously through Degrassi characters, hoping some day for a life just like theirs.
Thankfully, my social skills grew a little bit as time went on, my awkwardness was able to hide for a while, and braces worked wonders on my pearly whites. I had gained a little bit of confidence, but I still went with the flow to fit in as much as I could.
I was just never comfortable in my own skin.
When I went to a residential treatment center in 2010, I was the most uncomfortable in my skin I had ever been. I couldn’t bare to look at the person staring back at me in the mirror. I was disgusted with myself, my choices, my appearance. I did things I can’t imagine doing today just to feel okay, loved, pretty, enough. To put it bluntly, I hated who I had become. I didn’t like my inside, but I could control what you saw on the outside.
A friend of mine prior to going to the treatment center noticed how uncomfortable I was with myself. He explained that I was relying on the mask of makeup and outward actions and appearances to tolerate myself, and that wasn’t okay. Of course I denied all of this, but on the inside, I knew how right he was. His words cut me to the core and rang truth through every fiber of my being.
In one of our group sessions in treatment, my case worker identified that I wore makeup as a tool to hide behind. She put me on a “no makeup contract” for a week as part of my therapy and treatment plan.
I went to my room after our session ended, washed my face, and cried. I took a tube of mascara and concealer to hide under my mattress so I could sneak a little make up each day. I had absolutely no desire to step out of my bedroom door and face my peers. My mask was removed and I was vulnerable.
I didn’t make it the full seven days, but I started becoming just a little more comfortable as I was. After I got out of treatment, however, I went right back to wearing a full face. Although I’ve gotten better, even to this day, I still sport a face behind a mask to some extent.
I hear about people all the time who wear makeup because they “like it”, not because they feel they need it. For me, the problem rested in the fact that I wasn’t wearing make up to “enhance” any features. I wasn’t putting it on because it was fun and I liked how it looked. I was wearing makeup to feel okay about myself.
Recently I posted a picture of myself where the lighting was just right and I had worked hard to look “pretty”. I posted it on my social media sites and received a lot of feedback. Of course, it made my ego swell, but in turn, I recognized that I still search for my beauty and my validation from the outside. Even though I felt pretty, I didn’t feel like myself. That picture IS me- a dolled up version of me. It’s not the me you get when you have a deep conversation with me or are face-to-face with me by any means, and something about that fact bothered me. I washed off my “mask” after taking that picture and spent the rest of the night reflecting on my feelings about inner beauty, outer beauty, and loving oneself. I remembered that the kind of beauty I want people to see in me has to come from within to radiate outward.
It’s still a struggle, but it’s all about that balance. It ebbs and flows. I have moments of acceptance, and moments where I’m just not as secure in myself. Today, I’m able to recognize these moments and shift my thinking. I hope one day I can look at makeup as a fun accessory, and not a necessity. I’m getting there, s-l-o-w-l-y.
Learning to love myself started with forgiving myself. It involves being okay with the awkwardness, and clumsiness, and awful inability to do a wing with my eyeliner. Loving myself is loving that I cry when I’m angry and laugh when I’m sad. It’s being totally okay that I’m obsessed with Pretty Little Liars and still trying to solve the mystery of “A” at the age of 25. There are so many things I’m finding out about who I am these days, and I’m loving the process. Sure, it’s messy sometimes. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.