Goodbye June, Hello July!

June has come and gone, which means that I will be finishing the No Makeup challenge and moving on to next month’s adventure! Before I tell you about next month’s challenge, I would like to wrap-up June with some final lessons and my makeup plan for the future.

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Overall, the no makeup challenge was much easier than I thought it would be. Going into the challenge, I really thought I would hate it. I felt so sure that there would be days that I didn’t even want to look in the mirror for fear of what I would see. But, delightfully, those dreaded days never came to pass. On any given day, my feelings towards my appearance might be happiness, pleasant acceptance, beaming confidence, general plainness, or indifference. My feelings never dipped below indifference – or if they did, it was for such a tiny flash of time that I didn’t register it consciously. I didn’t feel ugly. I didn’t feel flawed. I did feel imperfect, but blissfully so. Overwhelmingly, I felt gratitude. I felt closer to myself, and I repeatedly enjoyed showing that pure, unaltered side of myself to the world. And, dare I say it, I think I finally believe that though I’m not perfect, I really am beautiful.

I think this challenge has taught me some general lessons that I would like to share, because I think they really can apply to everyone. You don’t need to deprive yourself of makeup for a month to learn these lessons, but that’s what it took for me. I hope my experience can remind you of some general truths that you can use, even if only for a moment, to brighten your day.

You’re stronger than you think.

Throughout the challenge, I had people commenting that “they could never do that” or “wow, I would never make it a whole month.” People would also say things like, “you can get away with it, but I need makeup” (which is exactly what I would say before I started the challenge). To everyone who thinks they couldn’t do this challenge, or to anyone who has ever had a voice in the back of their head saying “You can’t,” I want to remind you that YOU CAN. You absolutely can. You are beautiful enough. You are smart enough. You are strong enough. You are disciplined enough. You are enough.

You are your own worst critic.

This one is pretty self explanatory. I can say, with certainty, that no one is scrutinizing you to the same degree that you are scrutinizing yourself. And if they are, ditch that pit of negative energy from your life. No one sees your flaws in the same way you do. That pimple on your forehead? It is not as big as you think it is. Those gray hairs? They are not as noticeable as you think they are. The wrinkles or brown spots? They do not age to as much as you think they do. This brings me to my next point…

No one else can take care of you like you can

You’re the best person to take care of yourself. You are with yourself all the time. You have spent your entire life getting to know yourself. You know how you think, what you want, what you’re afraid of, what you love, how you feel. You have the power to catch your own thoughts as they are happening. You have the power to challenge yourself. You have the power to validate yourself. Taking care of yourself starts with you. For a while now, I have been trying to get in the habit of taking care of myself. One of the habits I have been trying to practice is stopping negative thoughts. Whenever I have a negative thought about myself, I stop the thought and ask myself, “Would I say that to my best friend?” If the answer is no, and the answer almost always no, I do away with that thought and try to replace it with a friendlier version. Think about it – if you wouldn’t say something to someone you care about, why would you say it to yourself? During the no makeup challenge, this habit of self-care was invaluable.

Like most things, beauty is a feeling – and you can’t buy it.

I think we are often told that with the right product, we can become more beautiful. We buy makeup to highlight and cover up. But the make up itself is not the thing that makes us beautiful. We feel beautiful due to the feeling we get after we’ve put it on. We feel not beautiful because of the feelings we have when we go without it. But we’ve convinced ourselves of a reality that is confusing the cause and effect of makeup. Feelings (and habit) are what drive us to put on makeup in the first place. And in the process of putting on makeup (which is so much fun!), we transform those feelings. After our makeup is on, we feel beautiful. But makeup did not make us beautiful. It made us feel beautiful. In other words, make up is only a tool for transforming negative feelings into positive ones. You can buy makeup – but you’re not buying beauty. Beauty is a feeling. So you’re buying a tool, a way to access a feeling. And there are many ways to access a feeling; makeup is just one of them. Going without makeup forced me to find other tools, other ways to access the feeling of beauty. After a month, I didn’t need a tool, I just felt it.

The personal is political

Once again, the old feminist mantra rings true. In giving up makeup, I was giving up on a social practice that costs me hundreds of dollars, countless hours, and a ton of physical and mental energy every year. I also forewent participating in an industry that profits from cultivating then ‘solving’ women’s insecurities. I withdrew from a ritual that is taxing on the environment, unhealthy for my skin, and perpetuating of unattainable beauty standards. I disrupted the gendered, biased expectation that a woman needs makeup in order to look professional or competent. I rejected commonly held beliefs about what a woman needs or how a woman should feel. Our personal lives are entrenched within a web of social, political, cultural, and economic causes and consequences. This is something I’ve always known, but going without make up has strengthened my resolve.

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Sooo…….

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Going forward, I think my makeup routine will look a lot different. I’m not exactly sure about the details, but I’m fairly certain that my daily makeup will consist of a BB cream and some mascara. This will be a dramatic departure from the tinted moisturizer/concealer/foundation/tinted eye cream/pressed powder/bronzer/blush/eyeliner/mascara routine I had before. I’ll only go all out like that when I’m going somewhere nice for the evening. For one, I don’t want all that crap on my face for hours on end! And all that makeup starts looking cakey and gross after a few hours anyway. So no more!

In concluding June’s challenge, I just want to say thank you to all of you who have followed along and supported me this month. Your support means the world to me!

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Who’s ready for next month’s challenge?!?!

Next month’s challenge is going to disrupt my daily habits and technologically transport me back in time. For the month of July, I’ll have to go without something that has almost become biologically attached to my body. I use it for hours every day. I communicate with it. I procrastinate with it. I go to bed with it, and wake up with it. It is always with me, and I can’t imagine my life without it. You guessed it, next month I’ll be giving up my iPhone for Not-So-Smartphone July. Stay tuned for more details!!

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Plain-Jane and Professionalism

Hello everyone! Well, I’m 19 days into June’s ‘No Makeup’ challenge. The first two weeks of this challenge filled me with positive energy, but that momentum has started to slow this week. For the first time since starting the challenge, I’m actually starting to miss makeup. This past week I have started to feel plain, and I wanted to put on makeup to make that feeling go away. Now, I know what you’re thinking – makeup can’t fix bad feelings. And that is so true! But when your bad feelings are connected to not wearing makeup, putting on makeup seems like the most direct remedy. But I know that the more long-term, lasting remedy is to explore why I feel plain in the first place. So, here it goes.

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I suppose a more elaborate, and accurate, way to describe what I feel is “unremarkable,” which I take to mean ‘not particularly interesting or note-worthy’. There could be A LOT of reasons why I feel unremarkable that have nothing to do with my lack of makeup. I’m currently single and not really looking to get back on the dating scene – so I don’t really notice men and (I assume) they don’t really notice me either. My dissertation research has reached a hiccup and I feel stalled with that. And generally (this might sound silly), my life feels relatively stable right now. I’m not sure how ‘stable’ translates into ‘uninteresting’, but who knows! I’m a complicated creature!!

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So, what happens when you throw into this mix the ‘No Makeup Challenge’ and take away something that I use, as a tool, to feel more remarkable? I start to feel plain. Perhaps it is because makeup has been a crutch, a mask I can put on to make myself feel, if nothing else, not plain. One way that I do this is by playing up some features that I like. For example, I have long eyelashes so I like to wear a lot of mascara to really get some ‘oomph’ into them. I get compliments on my lashes, too! But even if no one notices, notice, and somehow that makes me feel better. Without makeup on, I don’t get that added ‘oomph’ and somehow that makes me feel plain. Now, I do want to acknowledge that feeling plain is A LOT better than what I anticipated I would feel during June. When starting this challenge, I was worried that I would feel ugly or disgraceful. I’m happy to report that I have not felt ugly, not even once, during this challenge. But, starting this week, I have felt plain.

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Once I started paying attention, I realized that I may have started doing the inverse of what I did when I first started the challenge. Do you remember how, at the beginning of the challenge, I was dressing down in order to have a look that was more consistent with no makeup? Well, I ditched that in the second week and felt much better. However, I noticed this week that I have been wearing my hair down, and curly, every day this week. It takes a fair amount of time to get my hair to do this – about 20 minutes. Most days, I can’t be bothered with drying or curling my hair, so I’ll throw it up into a cute, bo-ho braided updo. I like doing these updos, and I get a lot of compliments on my ‘cool’ hair. But this week, I realized I was avoiding wearing my hair up and fully exposing my bare face because it felt like too much. It’s like I needed to have my long, wavy locks in order to feel not plain, to feel more remarkable.  In other words, my post-makeup hair took the place of my during-makeup eyelashes – it gave me an oomph. So today, I decided to just go for it. I pulled my hair back into some french braids and a bun and decided that whether or not I felt plain, I needed to push myself to be challenged. I felt plain for a while, and I still feel plain to an extent, but the feeling has diminished throughout the day, probably since I’ve decided to stop obsessing about it.

And in the end, what is plain anyway? I just ran into a friend of mine, and she told me she really liked my braided updo hair and the top I’m wearing today. And there I was, feeling all plain! I guess plain is a relative concept. We feel plain compared to other people, compared to ourselves on other days or at another time, and by comparing one part of ourselves to another part of ourselves. At the end of the day, maybe we all feel a little plain.

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Me throughout the week…

What’s Mascara Got to do with Professionalism, anyway?

Okay, keeping in mind today’s challenge to just ’embrace the plain’ and go with my hair pulled back, today I faced a situation where I felt I might not make a good impression without makeup. I had a meeting with the Chief Operations Officer of a local nonprofit organization to discuss my research. I had never met him before and I wanted to make a good first impression. As I was getting ready for the meeting, I felt VERY uncomfortable with the idea of going into this professional setting without any makeup on. Now, here was the internal dialogue that happened in my head:

“Uuuuugh. I can’t believe I’m not wearing makeup to this meeting.”

“Why? Why is that bothersome?”

“Because, I want to make a good impression, so I want to look nice.”

“Well, you do look nice. You’re wearing that nice top and your hair is pulled back, very professional.”

“Yes, BUT MY FACE!!”

“What’s wrong with your face?”

“He won’t take me seriously if I don’t have makeup on. I want to look put-together.”

“If you want to be taken seriously, then speak intelligently and with confidence. Don’t just look put-together, act like it.”

“Uuuuugh. :(“

I knew my more rational self was right. If you want to be taken seriously, then act seriously. Command attention and respect through your actions, your speech, and your body language, not just with your looks. But despite knowing that I am competent and perfectly capable of making a strong impression based on my merits, I still felt like having makeup would give me an added boost. As I drove to and from my meeting (which went great, by the way), I started to dissect this notion that in order to look professional, we need to look put-together – and in order for WOMEN to look put-together, we need to be wearing makeup. Think of any makeover show you’ve ever seen, can you imagine any of those stylists recommending that a woman not wear any makeup to a job interview?

Our society has constructed a strange connection between makeup and professionalism for women, and this construction puts them in a double-bind: if you wear too much makeup  you won’t look professional, and if you wear too little makeup  you won’t look professional. To be sure, this double-bind doesn’t just exist in women’s minds – there are data that show how a woman’s appearance affects her professional evaluations. So women are left negotiating this Goldilocks approach to makeup – not too much, not too little, just the right amount – in order to put forth a professional persona. But at the end of the day, shouldn’t professionalism be more about behavior than appearances? This is not to say that men do not face social pressure when it comes to their appearance, but that tireless negotiation between too much/too little, too young/too old, too bright/too drab when it comes to makeup and professionalism is a burden unique to women, and it is most certainly the product of patriarchy. Despite feeling uncomfortable initially in my meeting, by the end I felt like my normal, intelligent self. And in that moment, that tiny and fleeting moment, I declared my independence from the makeup double-bind in the workplace.

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Till next time, thank you all, again, for your continued support! I means the world to me!

Feelin’ Good!

I’m nearing the end of my second full week without makeup. I have to say, I feel so supported and happy with this challenge. I was unsure if the positive momentum from the first week would last, but it has, and here’s how:

Unsolicited Positive Feedback: This is the biggest, best, most impactful part of this experience. It is so uplifting to hear the overwhelming amount of support that has been coming in, but this week took it up a notch. I actually started getting complimented on my appearance this week. My best friend told me I looked younger, another grad student said I looked more refreshed, my faculty advisor said I looked better but couldn’t figure out why, an undergrad student I advise told me I should make the look permanent, one of my oldest friends reminded me that I have a timeless beauty, and even the lady at the grocery store told me I looked ‘light and airy’.

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GUYS! SERIOUSLY. I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE IT.

I am so grateful. I don’t know if people are paying extra close attention or being extra supportive because they know about the challenge. But either way, it doesn’t matter. I am taking in all of this positive energy and I keep feeling better and better. I had written at the beginning of the month that one of the reasons why I wore make up, other than habit, was because I didn’t think I was one of those girls who could get away with not wearing makeup. After two weeks, I’m starting to see that that whole mentality is crap. Your face IS beautiful. My face is beautiful. And no one gets to tell us otherwise. I’m lookin’ at you, Cover Girl!

Cue Christina Aguilera…

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Self-Care: In addition to the support of others, one of the things that is keeping me happy is the degree to which I have been taking care of myself, both physically and psychologically, for the past couple of weeks. I’ve had to pay attention to myself and my propensity to fill my thoughts with negative self-talk. I have a tendency to criticize myself, overemphasize my shortcomings, and underemphasize (and ignore) my strengths. But in the context of a challenge where I would be disrupting a habit so close to my sense of self and beauty, I knew that I would have to manage those self-criticisms. Making a change is hard enough without that critical voice in your head. So in continuing this challenge, I think one of my biggest strengths has been recognizing  negative thoughts when they come up, challenging them, and replacing them with positive ones. Rather than obsessing on a ‘flaw’, I turn my attention to something that makes me feel better about myself, not worse. Many times, those positive distractions have been other physical features that I feel confident about. I also put attention into my non-physical characteristics that I appreciate about myself, like compassion, thoughtfulness, or intelligence. Either way, I’m choosing to re-frame or recast negative thoughts into positive ones. And in the end, that positivity almost always wins out.

I’ve also taken better physical care of myself in the last couple weeks. This one I can’t quite figure out, and there may be other reasons beyond the makeup challenge that are making this happen. But in general, I’ve been sleeping more, drinking more water, eating balanced meals more regularly, and exercise more frequently. The timing of this is still a bit mysterious, but I don’t think its a coincidence that at the same time I take away something I had relied on to feel beautiful, I started doing other things that make me feel strong and healthy.

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 The confidence continues: Do you remember last week how I said that I was going to stop ‘dressing down’ because I didn’t have makeup on? Well I have, and I love it. I’ve been my normal, fancier-dressing self this week. Also, last weekend I went out to dinner then to a couple clubs without ANY makeup on! I couldn’t help but feel a bit out of place, but by the end of the night I felt empowered and even more confident than I would have predicted. On one hand, I was grateful to not have to deal with my makeup getting all nasty after a night of dancing. On the other, I had just as amazing a time without makeup, if not an even better time. Because, again, I was just putting myself out there. I’m glad the confidence carried through onto that setting. However, I did notice that I found myself talking about the challenge to people, partly because I wanted them to check out my blog and also because, more-or-less consciously, I wanted to ‘explain’ my lack of makeup. One goal I have for the next week is to stop talking about the challenge, and to live my life as if makeup had never really been a part of it. Wish me luck!

And one more thing: By far one of the biggest perks of the challenge has been how quickly I can get ready in the mornings because I don’t have to take the time to put makeup on. But what I noticed this week was that I also love how quickly I can get ready for bed because I don’t have to take the time to take makeup offSeriously, that was my least favorite part of the day. I love that I can quickly wash my face and hit the sheets! What liberation!

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Here are some pictures of me from this past week (no filters!). Thank you so much for your continued support. We’re almost halfway through the challenge, and I’m loving it so far!

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Day 7: Getting to Know Myself

It’s been a week of no makeup, and I’ve been through a ringer of emotions. Luckily they’ve been mostly positive.  So let’s break down the week.

Monday

I had to go to campus for a workshop and a couple meetings, which was then followed by dinner out with friends. Now, typically I would wear a full face of make-up for both occasions. The workshop was with other graduate students as well as visiting alumni of our program. I also had meetings with faculty and some of my students. I was a little nervous because none of the people I was interacting with had ever seen me without makeup. As I got to campus, I felt strangely naked. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve showed up to my department without makeup. I remember because on two of those occasions someone has said to me, “Are you okay? You look tired? Are you sick?” Which is really just a nicer way of saying “You look uglier than usual and I don’t know why.” So of all the (five) previous times I’ve gone to my department without makeup, it was because I was so rushed to get out of the house in the morning that I didn’t have time to put it on OR I was utterly exhausted from a late night of writing/reading/grading and, due to my delirium, simply didn’t give a shit.

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So when I showed up to my department on Monday, bare-faced and fully rested, things felt a little off. I was sure that I must have looked as if I was rushed or tired. I just tried to ignore it and get on with my day, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. After the workshop, I mentioned to one of the other grad students that I wasn’t wearing any makeup and that I felt weird about it. He leaned back a bit and looked me over, then said “Huh. I’ve never seen you without makeup.” I waited in dread to hear him utter that stupid candy-coated insult ‘you look tired’. But he didn’t. He just said, “Well I didn’t notice until you said something just now.” And with that simple, negligible sentence that he has probably forgotten all about, I was set. It made me remember that no one is actively scrutinizing my face as much as I am. For the most part, everyone is just kinda doing their own thing. And most of them are probably too worried about themselves to notice my lack of blush and mascara. And, for the record, if anyone out there is scrutinizing my face more than I am, I probably wouldn’t like them anyway.

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I eventually went to dinner with my friends and I felt slightly better about the whole thing. I still felt a little naked, like something was missing, but it didn’t feature as prominently in my thoughts. It was something to acknowledge and then move on, like realizing its cloudy outside or that your socks don’t match after you’ve left the house. What are you gonna do? Plus, on the way to and from dinner I put on some ABBA and rocked out to “Dancing Queen,” which shook off a fair amount of my negative thoughts. Seriously, if you’re ever feeling down just thrown on “Dancing Queen” and allow yourself to NERD OUT in awkward dancing.

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Tuesday – Thursday

With the initial difficulty of facing my students and colleagues without makeup over, it felt much more comfortable for me to go without makeup for the rest of the week. I absolutely relished in how much FREE TIME I had in the mornings. It normally takes me about an hour to get ready, and now it took me only 30 minutes. The only discernible departure from my ‘normal’ life was that I noticed that I was dressing and wearing my hair more casually during these days. Normally I wear my hair either down or in some kind of braided updo. I’ll wear dresses and long earrings too. But on these days I realized that I was dressing much more casually – wearing work-out pants  and throwing my hair into a bun or a simple braid. It wasn’t necessarily conscious at the time. However, once I noticed what was happening I started to reflect on it. I was feeling so proud of myself for getting over the challenge on Monday that I hadn’t realized that I was simply addressing the same issue in a different way. On Monday I kept feeling like something was missing, something was off. Once that feeling went away, I thought I had mastered it. But I soon realized that I simply adjusted my overall look to be consistent with a make-up free face. I normally like to look a little fancy, but something about having a bare face made me feel like being fancy just didn’t fit. This is, of course, ridiculous. You can dress as fancy as you want and still not have to wear makeup and, chances are, no one is even going to notice anyway. The idea that a woman needs make up to go along with the rest of her body is just silly.

All this is to say that, when I go out for dinner and drinks tonight, I’m gonna get fancy.

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Friday

Yesterday was full of revelations! My roommate and I were having a small party and, as I was getting ready, I desperately wanted to put on makeup. How do you have a party without putting any makeup on?!?!?! The idea was completely foreign. It just felt wrong. But of course, no makeup was the only way it was going to be. And, as you could probably guess…

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Eventually, in the company of friends and a few vodka sodas, I forgot that I had a bare face. A couple of people who knew about the blog asked me how it was going and how I was feeling. They were so encouraging. Eventually the strange feelings fell away and I found myself having pure, unadulterated fun while being makeup-free. And I never really felt ugly. I felt, oddly, free.

And that feeling continued as I went for a (very) late-night dinner with a friend. Maybe it was the encouragement from friends, maybe it was the vodka sodas, but I came to realize that, somehow, not wearing makeup had made me feel more confident.

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Now I know what you’re thinking – Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?? If you have ever seen any cosmetic commercial or watched any make-over show on television or basically existed in the American consumer society, you’ve heard the same message again and again – the right makeup can make a girl feel unstoppable. Well I’m here to say that the opposite is starting to occur for me. It’s puzzling to deconstruct, because I do have moments of feeling insecure. But in general, here’s what I think is happening – without makeup I am literally just putting myself out there. No mask, no enhancers, all (perceived) flaws on full display. It’s like I’m communicating to the world, ‘This is me’, and there’s something about that that makes me feel empowered. I don’t have to worry about if they’ll see my flaws or if I don’t look perfect, because I was never perfect nor flawless in the first place. And instead of covering them up and only exposing that side of me to people I trust, I’m letting everyone see that I am absolutely not perfect. And somehow, in that moment, it’s like I have nothing to lose. Suddenly I feel confident and capable. And those pesky ‘flaws’ start to lose their power. My blemishes seem less menacing. My oily skin seems more ‘glistening’. My uneven skin tone feels like it blurs. And as I realize this, I am also realizing that I am putting out into society an alternate narrative – ditching her makeup can make a girl feel unstoppable.

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Other Tid-bits Worth Sharing

1. People have come out of the woodwork to support me and send me articles about going make-up free. That is awesome!

2. Friends and family have confided that my challenge is making them reflect on their own relationship with makeup. I’m humbled by that. If my challenge can help others reflect and become self-aware, I’m ALL about it. I’m grateful for their support and I’m happy to support them too.

3. Ladies, if you’ve ever worn makeup while at the gym then you know the feeling of having to ‘pat’ or ‘blot’ your face with your towel when you get a little sweaty. If you wipe too hard you’ll smear that shit all over your face. Well with out makeup, I thoroughly wipe down my face with that towel and it feels GLORIOUS. Which is good because, without my makeup soaking up all that sweat and caking up, I’m sweating more and somehow still don’t feel gross about it.

4. No more being dainty about touching my face or my face touching other things. I watched The Normal Heart and bawled my eyes out without having to daintily wipe my tears so as to not mess up my mascara. I hugged a male friend wearing a black shirt without worrying that I would get foundation on his shoulder. I got something in my eye in the middle of the afternoon and could flush my eyes with water freely. I don’t have to worry about smearing or smudging.

5. I’m anxious to see what happens next week as I go even further into the challenge. I am excited but a little fearful that this positive momentum may die off a bit. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, I’m enjoying myself and learning a lot!

Week 1 is down, bring on Week 2!

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Day 1: A Make-Up Memoir

Before I launch myself into June’s “No Make-Up” challenge, I think it’s a good idea to reflect on the role make-up has played in my life so far. Putting on make-up has been part of my daily routine for almost half of my life, so going without it will be quite a change. Let’s start from the beginning…

At some point in 1999, my grandmother decided it was high time for my sister and I to have some education on lady-like behavior. My sister, a year older than me, was in junior high and I was about to start the 7th grade. We were not a particularly rowdy pair of girls, so we didn’t need etiquette training to tame us in any way. Our grandmother has always been a woman who exudes beauty and confidence, probably from the day she was born. She is strong, opinionated, and loud, and she moves through the world with a most-certain grace and elegance. As my sister and I were beginning to come of age, she saw an opportunity to pass down the lessons of etiquette that she had used all her life. We went over to grandma’s every week for a new lesson. (If you’re picturing a scene from My Fair Lady in your head right now, you’re on the right track.)

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“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”

We learned all the basics: keeping good posture, how to cross your legs, walking elegantly (a tough one for me because I had the tendency to bumble awkwardly), table manners, curling and styling your hair, and (you guessed it) applying makeup. The makeup lessons were my favorite. I had been fascinated by makeup for all of my conscious young life. When I was very young I would watch my mom sit at her vanity in the morning and long for the day when I could put on my own makeup. In fact, when I was five or six, I was constantly getting in trouble for sneaking into my mom’s makeup drawer and putting on her makeup. In the afternoons after school, I’d try out her face powders and blush and make a mess of my eyelashes with her mascara. I always got caught, though. Like an idiot, I would leave it on after my mom got home thinking she wouldn’t notice. (Seriously, who does that?)

Fast forward to 1999, and I was more than prepared for a make-up tutorial. My mom had given us her blessing that we could start wearing makeup regularly, within reason, and I was totally on board. Wearing makeup signaled growing up into womanhood, but it was also more than that. Makeup, as I understood it, was how women became beautiful. I didn’t think that women without makeup were not beautiful, but something about the process of putting on makeup was transformative – a beautiful woman could become EVEN MORE beautiful. As a chubby, awkward girl with thick glasses and next-to-zero confidence in her face and body, I was grateful to finally have a tool to make myself beautiful.

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Me in 7th grade, the beginning of my new makeup-wearing reality

From that point forward, make up was part of my daily life. As I grew out of my awkward phase, I gained more self-confidence in myself with and without makeup. After I had started high-school, I was just another teenage girl going to school, dating boys, going to football games, etc. But because I had made makeup part of my daily routine early on, I was constantly wearing it. It became as normal to me as getting dressed or taking a shower. Makeup was a simple, taken-for-granted, part of my life.

16yrs(2)

Yes, I was in a scholarship (read: beauty) pageant. NBD, moving on…

After high school came college, where I became more and more secure in myself and my identity. I had a strong sense of who I was and what I wanted to accomplish. I also had an amazing social support system. It was during this time that I started to wear less makeup – but I never did away with it entirely. I still had a hard time going to class or to study in the library without makeup on. While it had become a less prominent feature of my daily look and daily routine, it was still very much part of how I wanted to see myself.

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This is the face of a confident soon-to-be college grad

In the past five years since graduating college, a lot has happened in my life. I moved to China for a while, moved to San Diego, started grad school, started and ended relationships, made new friends, started teaching, and generally settled nicely into adulthood. I feel more secure and positive about myself now than at any other point I can remember. My life is not without its problems, pain, dilemmas, and anxieties. But I do feel like I have grown tremendously as a person in the last five years.

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Awesome!

Well, except for one thing: I still wear make-up, uncritically and with necessity, almost every day. Now, to be fair, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wearing make-up everyday. Makeup is a useful tool for feeling beautiful and enhancing your natural beauty. However, I think the way wear makeup everyday is problematic. I wear makeup everyday simply because I wear makeup everyday. It’s a habit. Something I do uncritically without thinking about why or what it does for me. But over the past few weeks, I’ve had to think about it…

Aside from the habit, I think I wear makeup for a number of reasons. I wear it to accentuate the features I am most confident in. For example, I like my eye color and eyelashes, so I’ll wear makeup that enhances those two things. I also wear makeup as an accessory, something to match with an outfit for a complete look. But I think the most prominent reason I wear makeup, and the most problematic, is because I don’t feel like one of those girls who can get away with not wearing makeup. I feel like I have too many flaws that need to be smoothed over if I am to be considered passably pretty. I have __________ (insert perceived flaw here): too many blemishes, uneven skin tone, under-eye circles, asymmetrical eye shape, pale lips, and the list goes on and on…

I can’t entirely blame myself for feeling like I have so many flaws etched onto my face. We live in a society that is constantly telling women to buy a product “specifically targeted” for _________ (insert perceived flaw here). A society with air-brushed models and celebrities so caked in makeup they look unreal. I know this is true, and yet I somehow feel that my flaws are real. They’re not figments of my imagination fed to me by a sexist society – they are real. Or so I tell myself, anyway.

So yesterday, as I put on make-up for the last time before June, I took a couple before and after pictures to see, with a camera that doesn’t lie, just how different I look with and without makeup. I pulled back my hair so not to have any other aesthetic distractions. I took the pictures without any filters and in the natural light of my apartment. And when I viewed them both side-by-side, I was amazed at the difference. Not the difference between how I actually look with and without makeup, but the difference between how different I felt with makeup and the reality that I didn’t actually look very different at all. I always feel so different, so much prettier, with make-up on. And while makeup certainly is enhancing, it is not transformative. After makeup, my face is still my face.

MakeupBnA

 

So, as I begin to go into June, where I won’t be wearing any makeup, at all, for the entire month, I’m nervous and excited all at once. I’m excited to have the change of pace in my life, disrupting a habit that may or may not be helpful for me. I’m excited to learn to appreciate the natural beauty I have without makeup, and to stop looking at my face and seeing all the flaws that I believe (and have been told to believe) are real. But I’m nervous too. I’m not sure how many negative feelings are going to come up in this process, and I’m not looking forward to feeling insecure or ugly. I’m nervous about how I might be perceived by others, especially people who have never seen me without a full face of makeup. I’m a bundle of emotions. But overall, the emotion I feel most is hopeful.

This morning, I handed over my entire makeup collection to Elisa, as per the rules discussed here. Before handing it over, Elisa suggested I take a picture of all my makeup. I laid it all out on the table, and was surprised at how little makeup I owned. But when Elisa came in the room to see (as someone who doesn’t wear makeup), her reaction was “Whoa!”  I guess everything depends on your perspective.

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So here’s looking forward to June – a month without makeup. 

Going Bare in June

June’s challenge is going to be tricky for me. I’m not going to wear any makeup for an entire month. I know that for many this might not seem like a big deal, but for me IT IS. I wear makeup nearly every day. I certainly wear it whenever I do anything in public beyond going to the gym or grocery store. On any given day, here is what I’m most likely wearing on my face (yes, ALL of them):

Tinted moisturizer
Liquid foundation
Under-eye concealer
Spot/Blemish concealer
Pressed powder
Bronzer
Blush
Eyeshadow
Eyeliner
Mascara

Makeup is part of my routine and part of my identity, but not necessarily for the best reasons (stay tuned for my personal history with makeup in a future post).

My roommate, Elisa, dreamed up this month’s challenge. To understand her reasons for deciding on this challenge, and what exactly it would entail, I sat her down for a little interview. Here’s what she had to say:

 

Erica: So what I’ve learned from the No Coffee challenge is that the rules need to be specific and the motivations behind each challenge need to be clear. So let’s start with motivations. You chose the No Makeup challenge, why?

Elisa: I chose this challenge because I’ve lived with you for five months now; I see your habits, you see my habits, and as you know I don’t wear makeup. The world of makeup is fascinating to me. I didn’t grow up exposed to it, I don’t know how to apply it, what the rules are, I don’t really know much about it. I’m fascinated by it and in a lot of ways I reject it for myself. I pay a lot of attention to beauty standards and how they are unfair for women. I buy into some of them and don’t buy into others. Obviously it’s easier to reject the ones I didn’t grow up with. I’ve seen you without makeup, and… are you wearing makeup right now?

Erica: No

Elisa: See I had to ask you. You look beautiful, nobody would look at you and think, “Wow, she needs apply makeup.” Makeup is an enhancer. I guess people wear makeup for different reasons. As your friend I would want you to have the confidence to feel beautiful without it. I guess this challenge is a unique way for me to rebel too, kind of vicariously. But I think this is also to help you focus on the feelings that you have without makeup. You already know the feelings you have with it on – its part of your routine, it’s a standard you’ve set for how you look.  I think you’ll find what makeup may be masking for you. There might not be much to that, there might be a lot. We don’t know.

Erica: So what are the rules for the challenge?

Elisa: Well you have to agree to them. But I guess the rules are everyday you can put on sunscreen or moisturizer. I don’t want to wreck your skin through this. But not the tinted moisturizer that you have. No tinted lip stuff. Chapstick, Burt’s Bees, lip balm are okay.

Erica: What about lipgloss?

Elisa: Nope. And if you want to make an exception to wear makeup I was thinking we could have a pre-set number of times you could wear makeup so that if you have something important… But I don’t know though. Because is there anything so important that you have to wear makeup? I would rather talk about it and see why you feel like you needed makeup in that situation. So you’d have to dissect why you want that and have a reflection.

Erica: Okay so no makeup at all for the month.

Elisa: Yeah. And if you feel like there’s something dire where you absolutely need makeup I want you to sit with those feelings and I want you to discuss them and we’ll come up with a solution.

Erica: So last question, at the end of June what are you hoping I’ll learn from this experience?

Elisa: At the very least a higher awareness of your own motivations for wearing makeup. You’re already pretty aware of unfair beauty standards, so I don’t think you’re going to have epiphanies on how unfair it is that women are compelled to wear makeup. That will probably be confirmed in a more experiential way. But maybe this will allow you to not have to wear makeup every day. And maybe more faith in the beauty that you have without it. To feel beautiful and confident without makeup and not feel nasty or incomplete.

 

There was more to our conversation. To keep me accountable, I am going to hand over my makeup to Elisa on June 1 and she is going to take it away and return it to me on June 3o.  Like anything, if I falter I will have to reflect on it. Some of the things that Elisa and I would both like to see me reflect on in the next month are:

  • My personal history with makeup and my own motivations for wearing it.
  • The change in my routine (time now gained by not spending it applying makeup)
  • How I feel being makeup-free in different settings and situations
  • How much money I spend maintaining my makeup collection
  • Reflections on beauty, both inner and outer

So stay tuned, friends. If I thought May’s No-Coffee challenge was tricky, June is going to be a doozy.