Makeup, for me, is not a mask; it's not a crutch, not something I need in order to feel more confident or necessarily more beautiful. As someone who suffered from raging acne as a teen, for many years I never left the house without a thick layer of foundation and a liberal application of excessively shimmery bronzer. Now aged 28, armed with more self-belief and less preoccupation with what other people think, I'm okay going out barefaced with the stubborn traces of my acne scarring unconcealed, my brows ungroomed and my lashes undefined. In fact, most mornings I leave for work with no makeup on and my hair quickly scraped back in a tidy-ish bun. But now as the year draws to a close and I reflect on my successes, shortcomings, and the way I present myself to the world each day, I've decided I desperately want to get my makeup mojo back.
Of course, I'm fully aware that I'm entirely the same person with or without makeup, that I'm just as good at my job with my bare face revealed, and (hopefully) just as attractive to my boyfriend, but having given up my fastidious makeup routine in the past couple of years, I've realized that subconsciously it has made me feel slightly differently about myself.
In November 2015, I started a new job at Refinery29; a few weeks later, I met my now-boyfriend and around the same time I stopped putting in as much of an effort with my appearance as I had for the past decade. Maybe it was because I was finally off the single market (after years of dressing up regularly for disastrous dates, countless Tinder nightmares, and trying to hide a very bruised ego behind a polished veneer) or maybe it was because after landing my dream job at a company I'd admired for years, I felt most confident professionally and didn't feel I needed to project a certain image as my work spoke for itself.
Whether or not it's because I finally met someone who loves me just the way I am (yuck) or because I'm (all too) comfortable in front of my colleagues, how I presented myself each day became much less of a priority. But today, in the last week of December 2017, after two years of shunning my old beauty routine, I've committed to make more of an effort and take at least 20 minutes each morning to spend more time on myself in 2018. I'm not saying I was dedicated to Kylie Jenner levels of grooming previously, but every day before work I would blow-dry or straighten my hair, meticulously apply foundation, contour and add highlighter, pencil in my brows, and then apply eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, and sometimes even a set of corner lashes. It may sound like a lot, but it was still an overall natural look – just an enhanced version of my natural self that helped me feel put-together and ready to take on the day. Not that I should have to justify the amount of makeup I used to wear, but there is an unfair judgement of women who spend time and money on their appearance. Women's intelligence is often questioned if they take pride in their looks and we are regularly dismissed as superficial and vacuous for caring about a bouncy blowout and a perfect manicure. Hamlet condemned Ophelia for wearing makeup, announcing: "I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God has given you one face and you make yourselves another. You jig and amble, and you lisp, you nickname God’s creatures and make your wantonness your ignorance." And still today, we're inundated with endless articles revealing just how much money [insert celeb/royal/female politician] has spent on her wardrobe, makeup or salon visits as opposed to acknowledging their far more remarkable achievements.
It's a catch-22 that an interest in beauty and makeup is often deemed vain and frivolous yet at the same time we're often taken more seriously when we are more 'presentable', preened and polished. As a fashion and beauty director, I know I am scrutinized daily on my appearance, and personally feel a little more composed and powerful when armed with my favorite eyeshadow or an assertive winged liner, and a healthy glow radiating from my skin.
One of my favorite makeup artists in the business, Kay Montano, told me: "Makeup, like everything else ‘worn’ on our bodies, is a very personal choice. I don’t believe that anyone must feel as though they ‘should’ wear it. It can say a lot about you, and can reflect how you see yourself. For some it is used to mask something, for some to accentuate. For some it can be a wanting to be someone else. Makeup isn’t good or bad, right or wrong, and there are fewer ‘rules’ than media makes out. I see it as a useful tool to cover my undereye circles and blemishes, correct my lip line, make my eyes look minx-y when I go out. What I like about makeup is the choice to turn attention on or off myself. I love the transformation – I feel fine without makeup, but I have more fun with it on and interestingly, when I’m sad, I can’t be bothered with it; I wear more when I’m happy."
Like Kay, I love the transformation and the way makeup makes me feel every time I wear it but it's actually the enjoyment I get from the ritual of putting it on in the morning that I've missed the most. I'm sure many of you will agree that often, getting ready before a night out is actually more fun than the night itself. (Maybe I'm just old...) In the same vein, those precious 20 minutes all to myself in the morning, when I can indulge in some revitalizing me-time, is a moment of self-care that shouldn't be underestimated.
The media regularly celebrates women who don't wear makeup, such as Alicia Keys or the rare occasion when Kim Kardashian steps out without a full face but that doesn't mean I'm ready to give it up for good any time soon. I don’t depend on makeup, nor do I wear it for men or to hide my insecurities. I wear it because I relish the way the process makes me feel, I love the art of experimentation and the excitement of discovering a new product. There's no shame or vanity in confessing to loving makeup and recognizing that a part of me felt lacking without it. Of course, I will still go days without, but I'm really looking forward to rebuilding my relationship with my trusty beauty bag, devoting more time to myself each morning, and getting my makeup mojo back after far too long. And if you see me on the bus or Tube in early Jan, with a face dripping with more products than RuPaul would know what to do with, know that I'm on a journey of self-discovery after a boring two-year beauty hiatus.