For most of my adult life, I didn’t really wear makeup, nor did I ever feel confident on how to apply it. Getting ready for a night out in college often included me napping while roommates got gussied up and simply running my fingers through my hair before we headed out the door. Cover up? Foundation? Brushes? Who needs it? I generally just mushed tinted sunscreen (or BB cream once that became a thing) onto my face and called it good. All my mascara, eyeshadow, and lipstick were free “gift with purchases” I received from Clinique (I use to be really into their tinted City Block—a predecessor to the BB cream craze). This wasn’t always the case: once in junior high, while visiting my aunt in Seattle, I went to Nordstom and I had my makeup professionally done at the Stile counter. I loved it and wore blue eyeshadow all through my young teenage years. But somehow the confidence I had wearing blue eyeshadow as an 8th grader wore off by the time I became an adult. I felt self-conscience in bold lip colors. I’d apply mascara but eyeshadow and liner became for special events only (and even then, very lightly or I’d feel like a “whore”) and powder was only applied on top of BB cream as last ditch effort to cover up acne if I was having a break out. When ever I’d ask if my makeup looked ok, people would scrunch up their faces, look real close at me through squinted eyes, and reply, “you’re wearing makeup?”
But why??? If makeup is meant to make you feel pretty, why did I feel so much like a clown in it? I don’t know. Maybe I just wasn’t use to seeing myself with makeup on? Maybe I was putting it on wrong? Or maybe, it had something to do with the fact that I never really developed a personal style with it. I never explored the world of makeup enough to see what colors I like on me because I really only wore what I was given for free. Or maybe still it was because I honestly really liked that I didn’t look any different with or without makeup on. My “makeup” routine was low maintenance. I could (and often did) roll out of bed and was ready and on my way in only 5 minutes. I also just didn’t care so much. If I felt weird after applying makeup, I’d wash off the parts I felt were too much, shrug it off as me being me, and head out the door. I didn’t think about my relationship with makeup all that much. Well, all up until suddenly I did. It started when friends would do my eye makeup for me at music festivals and I noticed how much more my eyes popped in photographs. (In China, I started using the super popular Beauty Cam app with all my selfies—it magically applies makeup on my face after the selfie is taken.) I attempted to wear eye liner, but never more than a small black line right along my eyelid. I started watching YouTube videos on how to apply contour and do that swooshy cat eye thing with liquid liner. I decided I needed to know how to wear makeup so when I felt like applying it, I wouldn’t feel so goofy.
I started small. In January, I tossed all my expired makeup (which was most of my eyeshadow and lipstick because I stopped wearing Clinique years ago but still hadn’t bought myself anything new) and bought a brush and the Anastasia contour kit (I’d seen someone use it in a YouTube video and decided I could too). I decided I was going to ask a professional to help me learn to apply my contour, but chickened out when asked if I needed any help at Sephora. Instead, I used my fancy new brush to apply my BB cream and occasionally used my contour kit, but always with trepidation and never in a way that created any noticeable difference to my face. I continued to watch YouTube videos and tell myself that I would learn how to wear makeup. Someday…
By the end of July, after finally deciding on a makeup look I really liked (bold neutrals), I forced myself to walk back into Sephora and wonder around with a “deer in the headlights” expression until someone asked me if I needed help: “Yes! Yes I do need help. I have no idea how to do anything with this,” (gestures towards face). The nicest guy helped me match a foundation to my skin tone, taught me how to apply it properly, helped me pick out a lip color, and sat with me for like an hour as I practiced using liquid liner over and over in the mirror (practice makes perfect). I didn’t ask about the contour because, you know, baby steps. I also didn’t want to take up his entire day. I made a point of putting makeup on daily for about a month and then reassessed how I was feeling about it. (I’m a big believing that you should wear makeup for you and because it brings you joy.)
So did I feel pretty yet? Or am I still feeling like a total goofy clown with all that makeup on? A little of both but mostly the former. I feel like I’ve gotten a good routine down for wearing foundation, highlights (and even some contour) without looking like I’m wearing a big thick layer of makeup. I’m creating a nice even skin tone but still look like me. Most days I still pull off the “oh me? I’m not wearing makeup (wink wink)” aesthetic, even when wearing foundation. I’m getting better at applying my eye makeup but tend to not wear the full-on cat eye swoosh as part of my “everyday” look. I still don’t wear much eyeshadow but discovered that those bold, neutral nudes or pink shades of lip color are totally my jam. And while I still don’t really feel like I know what I’m doing with my contour kit, I did discover that I am much more likely to apply a bit of contour when I have it in stick form (thank you Rihanna and your Fenty makeup line). I’ve even invested in a second makeup brush. Some days, wearing makeup makes me feel pretty. Mostly I’m just having fun learning and discovering new products and brands I like. (I still have a lot to learn before I’m anywhere near pro status.) Overall, I’m happy that I feel more confident when I do want to wear it. I’m also happy that all that makeup I bought didn’t end up being a total waste.
Update: I recently published a video on YouTube taking a look at just how cruelty free my makeup bag really is. If you’re interested in knowing more about animal testing in the beauty industry or want to go cruelty free yourself, click through to my YouTube channel for a list of resources and some recommended videos on the subject. Enjoy!
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.