Actually, now that I think about it, I always wear plenty of makeup.
First I apply some coverup, then blush and eye primer. Then I swipe on some sheer gold powder on my eyelids, followed by a heavy coat of chocolate. I rim the borders of my eyelids in kohl, add some black mascara, and spread some pink gloss on my lips. From start to finish, it only takes about fifteen minutes. And then I feel transformed. I feel elegant, beautiful and refined. I feel confident. I think most women do.
The first time my current boyfriend slept over my apartment, I went to bed with my makeup on. When I woke up, I tip-toed into the bathroom, washed my face and applied another round of concealer and eyeshadow. When he finally opened his eyes, I was half asleep and beautiful, my skin perfectly glowing and my eyes fluttering open.
Perhaps I went too far. Perhaps, I realized a couple weeks into this routine, it was time to drop the habit–and the foundation.
I wasn’t always so obsessed with my looks. If my college self had seen me at 25, she would have rolled her eyes. I was 19 and I hated to wear makeup. Looking back, I didn’t hate makeup so much as I hated what it involved. Standing in front of the mirror mindlessly applying lipstick was not my idea of fun. I smoked too much weed in college to care about what I looked like. My eyes were usually too red and bloodshot to stab at with an eyeliner pencil.
I wasn’t a tomboy so much as a hippie. My boyfriend was, too. We attended a liberal arts college in the woods outside Boston, went to Phish shows and spent most of our free time lying on the floor with a baggie of weed reading passages from On the Road. I thought he adored my fresh, carefree ways. He tried, unsuccessfully, to convince me to dred my hair. He liked when I smelled like an opium den. It shocked our friends when we argued, as if a couple of kids who liked to sway to jam bands were too peaceful to fight. I didn’t explain too them what we fought about because I was never really sure what we fought about. He picked out little flaws of mine, like the fact that I bit my nails and my propensity for chain smoking. But when it came to my scrubbed-clean face, nit-picking turned into frustrated animosity.
“And another thing,” he yelled in my poster-adorned room, “you never wear makeup.”
I didn’t understand why he cared. “Neither do you!” I screamed back. “And I don’t mind!”
“Yeah, but I’m a guy. If I was a girl, I would wear eyeliner and mascara and sparkles and stuff. You’re a woman,” he explained, his voice lowering. “If I was a woman, I would wear makeup all the time.”
“So wear makeup. I’m not going to stop you.”
“Fine,” he said, and grabbed my roommate’s makeup bag.
I entertained myself post-fight with a bong and a movie with friends. Later, my boyfriend came stumbling down my hall drunk and looking for me. I could hear shouting. When I opened my door, he leaned against the post and smiled.
His face was covered in makeup. His cheeks were coated in pink rouge and his lids were smeared with silver charcoal paste. Mascara was smudged below his eyes. His mouth had a layer of cherry lipstick.
My jaw dropped. “Are you wearing my roommate’s glitter?”
“You bet your pale ass I am.”
I swallowed a giggle. He stank of booze and his sparkly eyes were narrowed at me angrily. My friends watched, shocked and amused, as he raised his finger and rubbed his left eye, wiping the mess across the side of his face. I couldn’t take it and burst out laughing. He ran off.
We didn’t break up that night. We pretended it never happened and broke up a few months later as we unceremoniously agreed we’d be better off as friends who attended jam band concerts together than lovers. He stopped wearing my roommate’s mascara, at least as far as I knew. By the time college was over, I was wearing a little makeup. I stopped smoking pot and started doing smoky eyes. Most of my tie dye tee shirts were thrown away and replaced with respectable dresses. I didn’t really like Phish anymore.
I grew up, but somehow equated maturity with coverup. The more confidence I gained, the more foundation I applied.
I was trapped in a cycle of Revlon and Avon. My cheeks needed to breathe and, more importantly, I felt like I needed to be honest. I missed that 19 year old hippie who didn’t care what she looked like. I missed that clean, bright look my skin had.
After dating for a month, a decided to scrub my face clean and lie in bed with my boyfriend. Without the cosmetics, my skin looked super pale and my blond eyelashes and brows practically disappeared. My boyfriend didn’t care. “You look cute,” he murmured in bed, kissing my soft cheek. “You know, you don’t always have to wear so much makeup.”
“I know,” I agreed. “You’re right. I don’t have to wear it all the time.”
“You can do whatever you want,” my boyfriend said. “You look beautiful either way.”
“So do you,” I said. I kissed his eyes. “You really don’t need to wear makeup, either.”
“I’m serious. I look way better in sparkles and lipstick than you would. Trust me.”