Who is the Beholder?

April 22, 2018
A hand-drawn photo of three open lipsticks.
Art by Kirsten Hemrich

There are a only a few things I can think of that I absolutely hate: possums, green beans, waiting on someone who is late, and people I don’t know seeing me without makeup.

This last one is beyond superficial, I realize that, but I have been wearing makeup for close to a decade. It’s become so ingrained in my everyday routine that I almost feel like I’m missing a part of myself without it.

Every morning I wake up and spend 20-25 minutes “putting on my face” as I like to call it. I usually wear everything: foundation, concealer, eyeliner, mascara, blush, bronzer. I take 5 minutes to fill in my eyebrows because I was not blessed with the same bold eyebrows as my older sister. I carefully set everything with a powder, and then I can comfortably leave my house for the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I love putting on makeup. I don’t see it as a chore and I really enjoy being able to try new products. My favorite store is Ulta, and I have spent hours there walking through the aisles examining what products would look best with my complexion and coloring. I know that I’ll never be bold enough to wear blue eyeliner, and I can’t wear berry-toned lipstick because it makes my teeth look disturbingly yellow. I can, however, pull off a killer smokey-eye and wear lavender blush. I look at my face every day. I know what I’m working with and how I can play up my face for any occasion. People have even asked me if I would do their makeup for them, which is always incredibly flattering.

Although I say I wear makeup for myself, I know I’m only saying this to convince myself that wearing makeup is my own “power move”. It’s not. Yes, I have control of what goes on my face, and I can decide how much or how little I want to put on each day, but it’s really not that simple. I know I wear it so I can hide what I don’t want people to see. I don’t want anyone to notice the acne that still covers my face even at 21 years old. I don’t want people to see that my eyebrows have absolutely no shape, or that I have dark circles under my eyes that I definitely inherited from my mom’s side of the family. I’m envious of my friends who are comfortable enough to leave the house with absolutely no makeup on their faces whatsoever. Of course, they don’t have the same insecurities I do. And why should they? I would never wish for one of my girlfriends to feel like they need to conceal themselves from other people because society has taught them to hate their imperfections. I realize how hypocritical this statement is, but it really is hard to take my own advice sometimes.

I take pride in being a confident young woman. I can talk to any stranger without issue, and I make friends pretty easily. I can usually pull myself out of a slump without needing to find someone else to be my cheerleader. But when it comes to outward appearances, I have always been insecure. I get anxiety thinking about times when I might have to meet someone without putting on makeup first. I make apologies for how I look when I see people first thing in the morning. I’m embarrassed by this anxiety.

My mother never instilled in me a need to please other people with the way I looked. In fact, she hardly wore makeup when I was growing up. I think the most makeup she ever wore was a Covergirl lipstick that was in a very nude shade and maybe some mascara if she had to be in a meeting that day.

It wasn’t until I was 12 or so that I started to see my skin was not like the other girls in my grade. I had really bad acne, and I remember watching the actress Emma Roberts in a commercial where she was selling some kind of makeup that was “clinically proven to clear breakouts”. It was then that my obsession with concealing my face began. I could put on a mask every day and shield a part of myself that I really had nothing to be ashamed of.

I took it to the next level in middle school and high scool when I discovered products like blush and bronzer. YouTube became my gospel, as I spent hours watching makeup tutorials and how-to videos. I wanted to have a “no makeup’’ makeup look that was really subtle, but I always went overboard with the eyeliner. Makeup was really fun for me, but I also found myself becoming dependent on it to feel comfortable in front of my classmates or people I barely knew. It was a security blanket, something that assured me people wouldn’t judge me for how my skin looked or any other part of my face.

At 21, I still have some of the same concerns I did when I was in middle school. I spend a good portion of the morning staring at the mirror, examining what I should conceal and what I should highlight. I think far too much about what other people see and forget that I begin the day and end the day with the same person: me. I could easily finish writing this with a promise that I will be less critical of myself and that I will wear less makeup, but that is a lot easier said than done.

If I could take one thing away from this, it would be that I really can’t remember the last time I met someone and remembered them for how his or her makeup looked or didn’t look. I don’t think about how someone wasn’t wearing the right shade of foundation or how someone’s eyebrows were drawn on too thickly. I think about whether or not that person seemed like a genuine, kind, and intellectual human.

A lot of my insecurities stem from the presumptions I make about other people. But no one cares what makeup brands I use or if I put on mascara. We have to eliminate the way we project our own self-doubt on the opinions of other people. As women, we criticize ourselves so much because we have always been told that we aren’t good enough unless we are the constructed ideal that is flashed in front of us on TV and magazines. But what it really comes down to for these huge beauty corporations is being able to sell the ideal in a little bottle of lip gloss in order to make a profit.

My own beauty is what I make of it. So, for now, if this means wearing makeup every day and  beginning to understand that my insecurities should not define me, then that is where I will start. If I can wake up and go to bed with myself every day, proud of the person I am for accepting myself despite my imperfections, then that is real beauty.

Letter From the Editor