Both of my parents grew up with severe acne, and my older brother struggled with it throughout his teen years. I was surprised that by the time I graduated high school I’d had no huge problems. I figured I’d missed the acne boat.
Then I went to college and broke out aggressively with what a dermatologist described as severe, non-cystic acne.
I tried drugstore creams, Retin-A, prescription topicals, antibiotics, birth control--pretty much everything short of Accutane. Some things helped but nothing made a significant impact. I was plagued by inflamed, red skin at a time in my life when it couldn’t have been less welcome.
Concealing, Healing & Dealing With Rude Comments
Concealer was a semi-magical discovery, even though I didn’t really know how to apply it correctly and I was very self-conscious about looking like I was wearing a ton of makeup. What didn’t help was when I was sitting on a boy’s bed my freshman year and he looked at me and said, “Wow, do you think you’re wearing enough makeup?” I was devastated.
It was a total Catch-22: I hated looking like I had acne, but I also hated looking like I was caking on makeup to cover it up. I just wanted even, smooth skin--and I didn’t want to have to work for it. So I looked for the most natural way possible to conceal my acne. About a year later, I finally reached a point where I was happy with my makeup routine.
As time went on and I became more adept at concealing my issues in a way that looked natural, something odd started to happen: I felt like a fraud. I was spending around 30 minutes every morning making my skin look like I’d spent no time at all on it.
I became paranoid about cultivating the illusion that I had clear skin. Other than my family and roommates, no one saw me without makeup. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling--alone or with others--and my stress about my acne meant that I would wake up earlier than my companions to sneak over to the bathroom and do my makeup.
Sometimes I slept in my makeup if I was sharing a room with someone, because I was worried they’d see my naked face.
When I’d go online and see before and after pictures of acne cover-ups, there would be numerous supportive comments, as well as others that said things like, “She’s faking it” or “This is false advertising,” as if concealing acne was tantamount to lying.
Objectively, I could recognize this as a misguided and hurtful thought. Was wearing a push-up bra false advertising? What about shaving away hair? Or wearing clothing that accentuates or minimizes different features?
My gut reaction to anyone who believes that makeup is lying was, “Shove it!” And yet every morning, as I meticulously concealed my blemishes, I could not help but feel like I was, in a sense, cheating.
I Wear Makeup For Myself
Slowly, my acne started to improve. I found a skincare routine that worked, and now (hopefully) I’ve just started to age out of it. But while I’m continually grateful that my skin has gotten better, it’s still an issue and it still makes me incredibly self-conscious.
The time and effort I spend on my concealing hasn’t really changed. But gradually, I’ve come to a place where I approach my routine with a more positive mindset. I strongly believe that makeup is a positive, transformative influence for women and men, as well as a joyful form of artistic expression. I also know that the idea that women are only wearing makeup (and dressing, and living) “for men” is a pervasive, insidious, and entirely false notion that’s responsible for a disturbing amount of sexist crap.
But it took a really long time for me to get to this place. Even though I adamantly believe that all women deserve to feel confident and strong and beautiful and “enough”--regardless of their appearance--it’s still, as the saying goes, easier to be kind to a stranger than to ourselves.
I would be lying if I said that I’ve come to a place of acceptance and confidence about my skin. I’m still self-conscious about my blemishes, as well as about my skin looking heavily made up. I’ve just started to acknowledge the incredibly positive role makeup has played in my life: it has transformed my self confidence and allowed me to move through the world feeling happy with what my face looks like.
Makeup has helped me to feel beautiful.
While I don’t disagree that it would be great to feel beautiful with or without makeup, the reality is that I’m not there yet. There is a very real sense in which makeup is a crutch. But if it’s a crutch that helps me feel happy and pretty and likeable, what’s wrong with that?
I apply makeup every morning--even when I have no reason to leave the house. Somewhere along the way I’ve realized the reason that I do that: so I can feel good when I catch myself in the mirror. I like seeing my face this way. I wear makeup for me.
I love beauty, and I genuinely love makeup for both the artistry it makes possible and the confidence it lends me. I used to view the time I spent on makeup as a bit of a hassle, but now it just makes me happy.
I’m not saying I don’t wish I could just roll out of bed and go charging out into the world, but my morning makeup ritual bolsters my confidence and gets my day going in the best way possible. It’s calming, almost meditative, to take brushes to my face every morning.
Most of all, I feel grateful. Wearing makeup and concealing my acne means that I get to show the world my most confident, relaxed self. Anyone who thinks that’s "false advertising" is welcome to be offended.
How do you feel when you put on your makeup? Do you feel different with it than you do without it?