Make Up, My Mask and Me

This year I went on a meditation retreat which I took as an opportunity to go make up free for a whole week- something I have not actually done for a very long time. The last occasion I remember doing this was over a decade ago. This confession is something I’m embarrassed about. Not just embarrassed, sad too.

It is something that my fellow ‘sufferers’ will relate to and flippantly make remarks like ‘Yeah, I NEVER go to the shop without make up on’. We laugh but I wonder, do they feel the same sadness too? I presume so.

Let me explain what I mean.

I started wearing make up when I was 13. Writing this today I am 29 so I have been wearing make up for more than half of my life. I have looked like a different version of myself for 16 years and rightly or wrongly I perceive this person to be a better version of me. Over the years compliments I’ve received- ‘you’re pretty’ or occassionally even ‘you’re beautiful’- are directed to this person. The ‘real’ me only remembers the occasions when it’s been confirmed to me that I need make up ( I choose the word need deliberately)- ‘ooh, you look rough today, big night?’ or ‘oh dear, you don’t look well’. Of course it is only natural for someone to react like this when they have never seen me without make up before. I will look slightly worse- that’s the point of the make up! But the reality is that a boyfriend has never run for the hills when I have taken off my make up at night. They didn’t run straight for the door shouting ‘It’s all a lie!’.

*I should note here, I wear a fair amount of make up- eyeliner, mascara, foundation and blusher and I love lipstick- but I’m far from ridiculous and often people don’t notice that I wear much at all.

The fact is though that many people don’t know what I really look like and I often think, neither do I. Nearly every photo of me except those taken on a beach or in the sea has me with make up on. As a dancer I get many comments about how pretty I look when I’m in my professional get up- stage make up and all. Nearly every boy or man that has had a crush on me post-age 13 has met me wearing make up. This is what makes me feel sad. I don’t like my own face. I am an otherwise confident, outgoing and sensible woman but some days when I look in the mirror I want to cry. Painting my face back on each morning, sometimes with joy and sometimes with sadness, turns me back into the me that I present to the world. The one who has received compliments on my appearance and has been told I ‘look well’, who has been approached by men in bars or has sweet talked a free ride on a bus.

This meditation retreat has caused me to confront this far more harshly than I’d anticipated. I have chosen to do this, this is not a rule of the retreat, but I didn’t expect it to be so hard. I not only see the face I don’t like when I brush my teeth in the morning but every time I go to the bathroom or walk past a window. Yes this is vanity but it comes from a place of self loathing and not of self love and through my meditation practice I have appreciated more than ever the need to show myself the sort of loving kindness I will willingly show others. So, I decided that every time I see myself in the mirror while I’m on retreat I will think ‘I accept myself’. Not ‘I am beautiful’ because I won’t believe that but ‘despite thinking I am ugly, I accept myself.’

Over the years I have often heard it said by men ‘ I don’t like women who wear too much make up, I think they look better without it’. While this sounds like a compliment, please don’t say this to me. All I think is ‘that’s because you’ve never seen me without make up’, ‘if only it were that simple’ or ‘what would you know anyway’.

You see, if I could go back to being 13 again and put down that mascara, I would do so in an instant. I would delay finding out that make up made me look better and would have grown in confidence without it first. I would have bypassed all those cross-country runs and hockey matches hoping that my mascara doesn’t run. I would be one of those girls who puts make up on to dress up and then goes back to their fresh-faced normal self afterwards. Instead, I take off my face each day and see a less good version of myself in the mirror. One that people occasionally mistake for tired or ill- not ‘fresh-faced’.

So…if you’re one of those people who feels critical, perhaps even pitying, of those of us who apply make up each morning, spare a thought for what it must be like to see your own face each morning and want to hide it. To feel that the you that most people know isn’t the real you but a dressed up version.

If you, like me, sometimes look at your make up free face and feel a sadness, well, I understand. I accept you. And I accept myself despite my disappointment in my reflection. Who knows? In time maybe I’ll look at that reflection and be able to say honestly ‘I am beautiful’ and I hope you can too.


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