The way the 49 billion dollar a year beauty industry has convinced millions of women that they need to mask up to be deemed worthy of public consumption blows my freaking mind.
So I gave them the middle finger by committing to walk through the world as my whole, natural, authentic self. I decided to redefine beautiful by radically accepting and loving my perfectly imperfect face and body. Instead of wasting time and money on the daily application of uncomfortable and toxic chemicals, I choose to show up with my raw and naked face, smiling, speaking, and laughing with a joy and confidence that I hope carves out a little more space for other women to exist as their true selves. I am enough, just as I am, and you are too.
I can count the number of times I saw my mother’s actual face on my hands. She was beautiful, but her beauty was always hidden beneath layers of distracting war paint that shielded her vulnerable sense of self in the battle to meet conventional beauty standards. And she was pretty normal where I grew up in Southern California. She gave me a set of makeup in sixth grade and made clear the expectation that I now uphold her legacy of beauty standards. I politely yet assertively declined.
I agreed to play the game at specific times when I felt the ends justified the means. I believed in my mission and message enough to don the facade for media work and such, when the platform wearing makeup granted me access to extended my reach enough to make a difference. But in those moments I always felt I was wearing someone else’s shoes—uncomfortable, ill-fitting, and restrictive. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. It felt like I was pretending to be someone I was not and failing at it.
Pretty was not my space to occupy. It was the space owned by my mother and the mean girls who hiked around town in heels with bleach blond hair and breast implants. Beautiful, yes, that was my word. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (including my own). It radiates out from the inside in a warm glow. Pretty, no, that was not my word. Pretty is fancy. It is achieved through the judgment of others when they deem you conventionally attractive. I’m not suggesting these are objective definitions of these words, just my very loaded interpretations based on my personal lived experiences.
I wouldn’t say I was avoiding doing the work of making peace within myself in this area but I was intentionally choosing to allow my mother to take up this space. While this choice harbored a lot of actual and perceived criticism, it also harbored care and love in the way she chose makeup for me and bought make up for me and showed how to apply makeup on me. It was an unspoken agreement: “I consent to not growing in this area so that you may continue mothering me in this space in the way that you know how.”
And then my mother died. Well over a year of dark, heavy grief passed before I had an occasion to wear makeup and when I opened my makeup bag an hour before the arrival of a professional photographer, I found my stash completely unusable: hardened, dried out, rancid, empty. With even an ounce of forethought I could have anticipated this and prepared for it. But this was my mom’s space and I’m sure on a subconscious level, I didn’t want to face that new reality. And so, I scrambled to make the best of it. I ran to my teenage daughter’s stash, which consisted of products she inherited from her grandmother and gifts she received from friends as a pre-teen. Looking in the mirror, I saw a stranger. A teenage grandma stranger. A stranger who all the bullies were right about. A stranger who betrayed all my principles. A stranger who could not live up to her mother’s standards. It’s a miracle I didn’t dissolve into a puddle of grief laden tears. (I saved that for the following day.)
This experience, though hard, was an invitation that presented me with an opportunity for growth that I hadn’t been able to access while my mother was with me. And if you know me at all, you know I am all about bravely doing. the. work.
So I watched all the YouTube videos and read all the online tutorials for natural makeup and learned all the tools and techniques I had compassionately ignored. Concealer for under eyes and blemishes. Got it. Bronzer in a C shape around my forehead, temple, below cheek bone, below jaw, and nose. Okay. Highlighter on top of cheeks, inside corner of eyes, below outer brow, nose, and Cupid’s bow. Check. Eye shadow: one color on upper lid and below lower lid. Nice—easily doable.
Next I chose one brand of makeup for simplicity. Just like I’ve talked about in choosing clothing brands for your minimalist wardrobe, I asked myself what my favorite piece of makeup was and leaned into that brand. My mother first introduced me to bareMinerals years ago because she knew that I was a hippy who cared about the health and well-being of people and the planet and that I would only wear makeup if it looked and felt light and natural. BareMinerals produces clean and green makeup (that is paraben -free, cruelty-free, vegan, talc-free, gluten-free, synthetic fragrance-free, PEG-free, tree nut-free, phthalate-free, formaldehyde-free, chemical sunscreen-free, triclosan-free, triclocarban-free, propylene glycol-free, mineral oil-free, coal tar-free, microbead-free, and SLS-free), has a reward program for recycling used make up containers, and boasts inclusive shades to serve a broad spectrum of skin tones. It’s not as pure as being makeup free to be obviously sure. But in an industry plagued by toxins, it’s a brand I feel good about.
So I went to their website, browsed their offerings, and made a list of the specific products I needed to achieve my desired look. Absent from my list that you might like would be a brow pencil, eye liner, and blush, but they aren’t my jam.
- Concealer (medium 1)
- Foundation (matte, medium beige)
- Bronzer (free)
- Eye Shadow (celestine)
- Finishing Powder (mineral veil)
- Lipstick (grace)
- Lip Gloss (beautimus)
- Foundation Brush
- Bronzer Brush
- Highlighter Brush
- Eye Shadow Brush
- Finishing Powder Brush
- Eyelash Curler
I knew my first time in a makeup store without my mama would be hard (a good rule of thumb in life in general: anticipate the challenges and proactively build in support to address them), so I elicited the supportive yet playful camaraderie of my bestie. Working from my list we moved through the experience relatively quickly and followed it up with a walk through a lakeside park. I prepared myself for the likely possibility that I would need to exchange some things after trying them at home (no testing during the pandemic), which was perfectly fine with the 90 day return policy (I’m largely food motivated, so I promised myself a mall snack if any exchanges were warranted).
Once home I applied all the makeup that I had chosen for myself, per the techniques I had acquired, and nearly cried tears of happiness. I felt like me but sparklier. A new sense of peace washed over me and filled in some newly vacant corners that my mother’s absence had created—dark corners now filled with light.
I ended up choosing to swap out a couple of pieces (free highlighter instead of whimsy and medium concealer instead of light), but that was okay too. A little fine tuning goes down nicely with a buttery, salty soft pretzel (nacho and cream cheese dip, thank you very much).
I won’t be wearing makeup as part of my everyday uniform. Everything I said at the start of this post still holds true for me. If I ever feel a need to wear makeup out of a sense of obligation or insecurity, I’ll know I’ve swung out of alignment with my values. But it feels so good to have everything I need to be me for the special occasions when I do choose to enhance the glow and sparkle—to claim my own version of pretty.
I’m sorry I ignored and villainized you. Let’s be the kind of friends who hang out a few times a year and have a blast.