How Makeup Got Me Through A Breakup

Photographed by Winnie Au.

I say this knowing full well how ridiculous it may sound: Makeup helped me get through my breakup. Lipstick helped me pick my broken heart off the floor and sew it back together. Black eyeliner, flicked out just so, frothing bath bombs, and an exorbitantly expensive fragrance that I’d usually never allow myself to splurge on, helped me return my heart to my chest, full and ready to love again. 

I broke up with my boyfriend of three years this past December. We were arguing too frequently about too many stupid things to carry on. At first, I felt relieved (an instinct that I would remember in the coming months whenever I had my doubts about ending it), but as anyone who has gone through a serious breakup knows, it’s not the day it happens that makes you feel terrible — it’s the mornings after when you first open your eyes and it all comes rushing back. Sheer terror.

But, I wasn’t just afraid. When I finally gathered the energy to roll out of bed and look in the mirror, I realized that, for the first time in my life, I hated myself. My ex was a drummer, and as his band picked up speed, he left to tour more and more frequently. While I was proud of him for chasing his dreams, I became living proof that absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Instead, with each unanswered phone call, each night I had no clue where he was sleeping, and each moment I realized our dreams were taking us in totally different directions geographically and mentally, I grew to resent him. I questioned if he was distancing himself on purpose — I felt ugly, uninteresting, and unlovable.

After a few days of sobbing into friends’ chests and trashing all the junk that reminded me of him, I remembered the obnoxious fact that in my small college town, I could run into him at any moment. I vowed to look insanely sexy when it happened. The next morning, I applied my trademark thick, black cat-eye for the first time in days, contoured the living hell out of my cheekbones, and even swiped on a matte red lipstick. Instantly, I felt like myself again. With each passing day, I became more and more excited to experiment with my look like I used to before my relationship made my heart feel like stone.

About a month later, on New Year’s Eve no less, it happened — and I looked good (which he quite satisfyingly texted to let me know). But, by that point, carrying on my beauty routine was no longer about him or even about looking pretty. It had evolved and taken on new forms. I splurged on bath bombs from Lush, soaking in rose-scented water while reading books I had always wanted to read, but couldn’t find time for in the midst of a serious relationship. I stopped wearing the Dolce & Gabbana The One perfume that reminded me of romantic times with him, instead picking up Tom Ford Oud Wood, a pricier, more badass scent. I got my first facial because I deserved to be pampered. I wore a different shade of lipstick every single day because, well, why not? I could be any woman I wanted to be. At some point, my indulgent new routine transformed into a means of self-care, which ultimately led to a newfound, powerful sense of self-love.

It’s been four months, and I’m no longer looking back, I’m eyeing the future. In May, I’m moving to New York City to chase the writing dreams I’ve had since I was nine years old. As I write this, I’m waiting to hang out with the new guy in my life, who’s also a writer and much more in tune with my needs and lifestyle. But, when he gets here, I won’t be ashamed of the fact that I’m not wearing a stitch of makeup. Thanks to lipstick and other means of achieving beauty, I know I don’t need them to feel totally like myself — inside and out.

Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page!

More from Makeup

R29 Original Series