I was 11 when I bought my first cosmetic item. It was 1997, and my best friend and I were ~hanging~ at the mall while my Dad went to the library. As we browsed the crowded aisle of a no-name discount store, I found it: the lipstick of all my tween dreams. It was a deep maroon shade, with chunks of craft-sized silver glitter in it. Instantly, I fell in love, and forked over my pocket money for the tube of aesthetic greatness.
Obviously, a low-quality tube of dark lipstick with giant chunks of silver glitter mixed through it was not necessarily a great look for me, but this was only the beginning of makeup missteps I took over the next few years. Other mistakes include: wearing opaque silver lipgloss to emulate S.O.A.P's look in the music video for "This Is How We Party", spending a stupid amount of money on Lancome's insanely sticky Juicy Tubes, only to spend my days picking wayward strands of hair off of my lips, following any trend that included the word "frost" in it, listening to Sarah Michelle Gellar when she told me to buy Maybelline's Full N Soft mascara, and listening to Sarah Michelle Gellar when she told me to buy Maybelline's Express 3-in-1 grease stick:
The list goes on but I think that's enough of an embarrassing walk down memory lane, don't you?
The point is, from an early age, I loved make-up. I loved trying out trends, from the late '90s goth vibes of a dark lip, to the bubblegum shimmer of the early '00s, and everything in between and beyond. As I grew older, I loved the way make-up allowed me to express myself, the way I could compliment my look with a bold lip colour or reflect my mood with the right combination of eyeshadows, but it wasn't until I got sick that I realised the true depth of my relationship with makeup.
In 2010 I had an appendectomy that led me on a more-than-five-year journey of chronic pain, doctors appointments, specialists, and tests as I search for answers, which you can read about here, if you are so inclined:
If you've ever had to deal with chronic illness, you'll know that it's no walk in the park. It's stressful, it's frustrating, it's depressing, and often the emotional toll that it can take on you can be just as difficult to deal with as the physical symptoms.
In 2013, I was three and a half years into my battle with chronic pain. I'd been getting handballed from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, tried every medication under the sun, done every test out there, and essentially had nothing to show for it but a huge dent in my bank account. But despite the fact that my weeks were filled with new doctors and new treatments, I was coming up empty on answers and solutions. I was doing everything in my power to fix my situation, but it was wearing me down emotionally. Aside from the fact that being in pain every day will really take it out of you, every setback made me feel the rapidly accumulating weight of my situation, which I could no longer see a way out of. With every treatment I tried that didn't work, I became more convinced that I would never find a solution that worked for me. Needless to say, it was a dark time for me emotionally.
With each layer I would add; foundation, concealer, blush, bronzer, highlighter, powder, and more, I would be placing a buffer between my mood and the face I was putting on display for the world.
The thing with going through a bad period is that no matter how shitty you feel, you probably still have commitments; a job, friends, family, other obligations. None of that stuff stops just because you're in a bad place. This is where my relationship with makeup evolved from being a fun way to express myself and play with trends, to helping me cope with day-to-day life as I dealt with the emotional fallout of chronic illness.
Every morning, when I was at my lowest, I would go through the motions of applying my makeup, a process that takes half an hour on a good day because I like a full contour and winged eyeliner, and like all good art, that takes time. With each layer I would add; foundation, concealer, blush, bronzer, highlighter, powder, and more, I would be placing a buffer between my mood and the face I was putting on display for the world.
Without makeup, I felt exposed, like people would be able to see that I was falling apart on the inside and barely making it through the day. With makeup, I felt protected, like no one would be able to see that I was hanging on the edge of a full breakdown. This insulation was often the only thing that allowed me to leave the house.
Wearing my mask, I could make it through the day.
I relate to this GIF on a level that is basically spiritual. At my lowest, as I was doing my makeup I would tell myself that as soon as my face was done, I had to suck it up and go about my day the with the confidence and ease. It didn't always work, but there were many occasions at my lowest points when I could stop a midday breakdown by reminding myself that I didn't want to ruin my makeup, that no one else would be able to see how bad things were unless I broke the mask with my tears.
This isn't to say that makeup cured my depression, and breaking down isn't a sign of weakness, because obviously it's important to feel those emotions and process them fully. But when you work in retail and have to serve customers for 8 hours a day, it's really not ideal if you're sobbing while you do that, and for me, makeup gave me the tools to pull myself together and do that as I went to therapy and processed everything that was going on outside of work.
Makeup can mean as little or as much as you want it to. For me, it's a way to reflect my mood, to be creative, and when things are bad, it's a way to hide the raw nerves of my struggles from the public eye while I cope. Let's get one thing straight, though. The one thing makeup has never been for me is a way to impress or attract men, and I have never met a makeup enthusiast whose love for makeup comes from a desire to do so. Sorry, guys. It's just... honestly not about you.