The One Where Anne Wears Makeup
"This new makeup routine will change your life," the beautician assures me as I resist the urge to swirl round and round in the plush leather chair; which is facing a mirror surrounded by tiny light-bulbs. I won't be sarcastic; it was actually a really lovely experience. I have just spent the past 45 minutes with her, applying, removing, and then reapplying lipstick until we found the shade and texture that made it look and feel like I had no lipstick on at all. After all that she also covers my eye lashes in some mascara that will not only separate and lengthen my lashes, but apparently also change my life.
I am a latecomer to makeup. My mother hardly wears makeup - I don't think she ever used any product on her skin, yet even now, in her 50s, her face is plump and smooth and rosy like a peach. When I was a young girl she once received a round case of eyeliners from a magazine. She had no use for them so she gave them to me, but of course I had no idea what to do with them. But I remember the black, transparent case and the silver pencils bunched together with tiny dots at their ends showing blues and greens and greys.
I suffered from severe eczema my entire childhood and my skin only tolerated prescription moisturisers. Any attempt at applying mascara or foundation ended with watery eyes and itchy, scaly skin. So for the first time in what feels like forever; I voluntarily wore makeup on my face for my brother's wedding. Even though my eczema has abated by now, wearing makeup for the big day never occurred to me until my hair stylist asked about it. Maybe it was the resentment I built up towards makeup and other skincare products during my eczema years that made me question the necessity of makeup. I mean, who wears makeup? Only people who have something to hide, or who are so horribly insecure that they must turn to blush and eye shadow to gain confidence behind their mask. Right?
But on the morning of the wedding I- to the slight horror the photographer- enlisted the help of the bride- now my beautiful sister in law- and applied just the right amount of cc cream, blush, eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick. When I was done I turned to face the mirror and I was hooked. I looked so... beautiful. I still looked like me - only with brighter eyes, glowing cheeks, flushed lips. I looked like I imagine myself looking without makeup, but now I saw that without makeup I was mousy and grey and not bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked like I felt.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being mousy and grey. Life goes on and whether there is light behind your eyes does not depend on the amount of makeup you apply. I know that, and even after this wedding makeup revelation I know I won't wear makeup every day. Somehow without the occasion and the pretty bridesmaid dress I feel silly with my face painted. Where am I going that requires makeup? I'm also still pretty lost when it comes to what and how to apply where, what looks good on me, and the sheer number of choices when it comes to colours and tools is still just too overwhelming to someone who for years thought of Chapstick as makeup.
It was on a whim that I tried makeup again yesterday for the wedding. I can't really explain why, but after all these years of trial and error, this time I immediately craved the orderliness of tiny bottles and compacts and brushes; the ritual, the time - those five minutes when I have to look in the mirror and pay special attention to the freckles and spots, gently addressing each one, applying colour and shimmer and powder. I finally don't feel like I am covering up anything; instead it feels like I am acknowledging and appreciating my skin, the shape of my eyes, the slant of my cheekbones, the soft lines of my lips, the curve of my eyebrows.
Maybe it's all those years without makeup that make me feel like wearing it now is no betrayal of any kind of principle about beauty or authenticity. I know the person under the powder and blush - all of her imperfections, her strengths, her secret lives, and her hopes. I know what I look like without concealer and foundation and I am OK with all of it. I know that I am wearing makeup not to hide or improve or change who I am or what I look like. I don't want to label it, qualify it, or attach more meaning to it, nor do I think that it will make me happier. I did it to enjoy and appreciate a small ritual that marks the beginning of each day, to celebrate being a woman, to express my mood in colour, to add a touch of shimmer to what might be an ordinary day.
I do know that as much as the beautician and all the glossy advertisements want me to believe it, makeup is not going to change my life. But it is hard to refuse even the possibility of change that comes in sleek bottles and I am tempted to believe that if I wanted to change my life this would be a good way of doing it: a small adjustment of my daily routine, with a longer look in the mirror each morning and seeing who is truly there, who has been there all along.