My makeup routine has come a long way since I grudgingly began dabbing concealer onto newly appearing red spots, those dreaded hormonal punctuation marks, at age 13. I now have a ritual that does the job most days: patting powdery foundation onto my cheeks, around my nose, and under my eyes; skimming my top eyelid with a grey pencil, painting mascara onto my eyelashes with a well-practiced twist of the wrist.
Lipstick has always been the final frontier—bold, fully color-transforming lipstick, the kind that pops from across the room, making smiles flash like cameras. The kind that implies confidence, poise, bold femininity. Lately I’ve been experimenting with different colors—corals, bright reds, mauves—to find the right fit for my skin tone and self-esteem level. It continues to be a revealing search: to find a hue and accompanying mindset that feels comfortable and authentic, yet nudges me towards the person I’d like to be.
When I take a final glance in the mirror after putting on lipstick, I’m often surprised at how foreign that person—that woman—looks. Depending on my mood, this is either thrilling or disarming. After leaving my apartment and strutting down the street with an easy self-assurance, sometimes I’ll falter and wipe some of the color off with my thumb, insecure about being able to live up to the promises it makes; to myself, and to others.
Putting on makeup is a paradoxically public and intimate act. Concealer, lipstick, and eyeshadow are as much armor as costume; protective as they are playful. Every time we wield them, in a small way we craft ourselves—physically, emotionally. These products help us feel more whole, more in control, free to explore new sides of our personality. They also allow us to hide from our insecurities; to project an inner contentment we do not always feel.
Today I walked to pick up my weekly groceries in gym clothes, with two quite spectacular red volcanoes on my right cheek. (Though I did dab some concealer onto them, in vain, before leaving the house.) It was interesting to observe how raw I felt without my usual prepping routines, including makeup. Like a layer of skin has been peeled away, making the eyes of others seem more harsh, more judgmental.
I’m fascinated by how daily image-focused rituals—makeup, fashion—influence our self-perception and confidence. And the degree to which depending on them is wise, or healthy. How important is it that you feel equally confident in those moments when it all gets stripped away at the end of the day? When you truly face yourself; naked, vulnerable, blemished?
To some extent, makeup is just one routine among many others; predictable, stable. But it also touches on questions of whether we should view some versions of ourselves as better or more authentic than others. Should me sitting here in my hoodie with a slightly greasy ponytail, be any less lovable, or worthy of respect, than me after I’m freshly showered and have just put the finishing touches on my eyeliner?
Surely not—but that I feel the tug of this intuition is revealing. There’s always something to be learned from the discomfort you feel in your own skin.