I can’t be the only one who has struggled with makeup and the role it has in my life. I have both loved and hated it and felt pressured towards it and pressured away from it. I grew up a dancer and know how to make my eyes visible from the back row of a major auditorium. I’ve been comfortable with the tools from elementary school onward. But what it’s meant for me has changed so much over time.
In middle school, I finally got an inkling that I wanted to look “pretty.” But I wasn’t sure how a girl like me could do that. My mom was never really into makeup, and I’d intentionally avoided things that I was told were “girly” (ultimately afraid that I wouldn’t be seen as pretty even if I tried) so I wasn’t really sure what I could pull off.
In eighth grade, when we visited family in India, I saw how I could wear kajal on my eyes every day, and while it was makeup, it only made me look more like how I saw myself. It felt like my face, just sharper, more pronounced. I was in love with this new look. But I was scared that now I had revealed how much I cared about what I looked like to the rest of the world.
From then on, I have fluctuated how much makeup I wear and how often, sometimes worrying about what others think, but always thrilled to transform myself. At some of my lowest points, I have always returned to makeup, whether I wear it out in public or not.
At some of my lowest points, I have always returned to makeup, whether I wear it out in public or not.
In the middle of navigating a breakdown in 2019, I fell back in love with makeup. At a time when it seems like you should be letting go of everything, I found myself focusing on makeup tutorials. It started out as a mindless exercise in scrolling until I found myself repeatedly stopping to find out just how to do a cat-eye. I wasn’t yet ready to begin practicing again, but I loved to watch the transformation. It somehow kept reminding me everything in life is just a moment… this too shall pass.
When I finally started to leave my house again, I would armor up with makeup. I found myself practicing new techniques, longing for some new colors and products to try to transform myself.
At the beginning of 2020 I was invited to the Sundance Film Festival for the first time in my career. I gave myself the gift of buying new makeup, even buying myself my first purple lipstick. The trip was really hard in a lot of ways, but the makeup gave me a routine and built-in confidence that I could perform.
And then the lockdown hit. I stubbornly kept doing full makeup looks in March, but looking back through my camera roll, it petered out about mid-April. My industry (film and theater) essentially came to a halt for a while, and even now, things are few and far between. I hit a deep bout of anxiety and depression.
I finally got the opportunity to start working again in the fall. At first, I forgot the rules of society and wasn’t sure how I wanted to be showing up in this virtual space. Did I have to have my camera on every time? Should I be doing a full makeup look? Do I let everyone know how much I rotate through pajamas paired with sweaters? Is anyone else trying? Does it feel like hell for them, too?
Did I have to have my camera on every time? Should I be doing a full makeup look? Do I let everyone know how much I rotate through pajamas paired with sweaters? Is anyone else trying? Does it feel like hell for them, too?
After a few months of this, though, I caught myself building in time for myself to stop and do something with my hair and makeup. During all this time indoors I had forgotten that I had easy routines I had created over the years. The effort didn’t have to be momentous, just that I was loving on myself a little bit.
Every once in a while, I pull out a full face of makeup. Contour, highlighter, setting spray—the works. It’s usually on the weekend, when I have a little more time on my hands. I pick out my favorite music, make sure I have fresh and clean brushes, and I take my time. Sometimes I find myself experimenting like I used to, or sometimes I just want to look like a brighter version of myself—Like myself when I’m happiest. I do only as much as feels good.
A pandemic might seem like a funny time to recommit to a bold use of makeup, but I keep coming back to how makeup is for me and not for anyone else. There’s been a million Instagram folks and TikTokers reminding us that makeup isn’t about attracting someone, but about revealing ourselves. It can make me feel brave, it can make me feel bold, it can make me be happy for the little time that I am wearing it. It doesn’t have to be covering up, just needs to uncover the part of myself that I had buried.