Makeup exists as an oxymoron; it is self-expression and art but can also be a mask and a symbol of conformity. Throughout history women have been told to wear makeup or else they run the risk of being seen as unprofessional or unkempt. Yet wearing too much makes you hideous or high maintenance. Beauty exists in the eye of the beholder but is always manipulated by the society surrounding them.
Do makeup badly and you have ‘cake face’ and so are ridiculed but spending time to learn how to apply it well conversely makes you too self absorbed. This is not excluding the journey those who identify as male struggle with as those who wear even a hint of concealer are immediately categorised as queer or effeminate and treated as such by the less progressive in our society.
As far back as the Ancient Egyptians, makeup has been part of every day life with no obvious reasoning other than the aim of looking nice. The trends of makeup change constantly to reflect ideals of the time. Often perpetuating the predominant idealised version of women’s beauty in conjunction with the fashion industry. The most common look of the moment is one of a contoured chiselled face; accentuating the angular features whilst detracting and distracting from the rounder aspects.
Personally my journey with makeup started when I was around 13 years old, I discovered the power of coating my face in the wrong shade of Maybelline’s Dream Matte Mousse to disguise the two spots I had. This developed into a 16 year old who wore a full face, including a flawless red lip and perfectly winged eyeliner, as armour every day to sixth form because I felt naked without it. Finally into the 22 year old who just wants to feel normal but cannot without her makeup mask on.
I got so used to contouring my face every day that without it I began to feel I looked ugly or heaven forbid had a double chin. My ‘normal’ face was not bare skin but natural looking makeup that tricked everyone, including myself, into believing I woke up like that.
Even within my lifetime the makeup and the beauty industry has developed tenfold. It is no longer just part and parcel of womanhood but a massive industry with tentacles reaching all aspects of social media.
The term ‘Beauty Guru’ is commonplace and the community surrounding those gurus is incredibly toxic. The pressure to be the most beautiful, the most popular, the most subscribed can be felt the second you step foot into this glittery world. Constant drama aside, the nature of the beauty industry is a perpetuating cycle as creators are challenged to come up with new and exciting looks almost daily or risk becoming irrelevant, or worse ‘cancelled’.
Once they do the ‘standard’ that is expected for a look is reset and others must scramble to match them. The impact is felt in throughout the community including unwitting followers who’s once praised look becomes basic when in the shadow of the art on their favourite guru’s face.
Instagram and Youtube is undoubtedly full of phenomenal makeup artists, however, when you enter into this community your sense of normality becomes warped. Everyone is living in an age where if you are not flawless in your execution there is no value in what you have done. Makeup suddenly had two categories; flawless, glowy skinned ‘natural’ look or Instagram MUA blown out colourful eye shadow and a ‘full beat’.
I am no good at a cut-crease, I am terrible at applying false lashes, and I cannot for the life of me draw an entire painting on my eyelid, so I stopped trying. Cutting myself from the ‘fun’ makeup and trying new things out for fear of being shunned for even daring to try.
However, the lure of a perfectly contoured face and flawless skin was not so easy to dismiss.
Any imperfection was failure, how could I let people see me as human when the new normal is a porcelain doll. The idealistic world of the media has always pointed out women’s flaws but now we are all our own media perpetuating the ideals of a misogynistic world view. We are all guilty of feeding into the myth that the ultimate sin is looking less than perfect.
That is, until the COVID-19 lockdown hit. Suddenly I had nowhere to go, nobody to see, and therefore no need to wear makeup. My usual routine of putting on my armour before work had vanished. This could be seen across social media too; people everywhere stripped back their face and began embracing the lockdown looks as their hair grew out and their acrylics broke off.
Once the nonstop pressure of looking perfect constantly had almost completely disappeared I adjusted to my actual face again. I began noticing things I liked about my face like the freckles across my nose and my strong natural brows and then something wonderful happened — I remembered how to play with makeup.
With no time constraints and nobody who was going to see me I started to play around with colours and products I hadn’t used before. I fell back in love with the artistry of it all. Not wearing it allowed me to look at the toxic reasons I was wearing it in the first place. After nearly 4 months of only painting my face when I wanted to, I made peace with myself and readjusted expectations.
The other surprisingly freeing factor was the physical mask I was about to have to wear in public. There was no longer any point in putting a full face of makeup on because it would just be rubbed off; this led to explorations in how I could wear makeup without ‘wasting’ it when I covered half my face. Added to this was the fact my most self conscious areas were covered up by said mask.
This forced an even deeper look at why I was wearing the makeup in the first place, however, my aforementioned eyebrows are still on show. I could highlight my newly discovered favourite parts of my face without worrying about the bits I didn’t like. Ironically putting on a real mask liberated me from my self imposed foundation mask.
Makeup is not inherently bad but the pressure we place on ourselves and others to look flawless at all times is. I wish it hadn’t taken a global pandemic to break free from this vicious cycle but here we are. My personal breakthrough is mirrored in a reclamation that is happening all over with people creating actual art on their faces but we must remember that the majority of us wear makeup simply to feel ‘normal’. Recognising hidden motives is one step to breaking free of unattainable body image ideals and rediscovering the joy of makeup.
I hope that as we all emerge from our lockdown cocoon we go forward with a new found appreciation for who we actually are and put less importance on how other perceive us. Makeup is supposed to be fun and freeing, let’s reclaim that idea and build healthier relationships with our faces … double chins and all.
Words by Danni Scott