When I was in transition year, the school organised two workshops for us; one for the boys and one for the girls. So the boys went off to some unknown location for their mental health talk, and I was herded into the Home Economics room with the rest of the girls for a lengthy lesson in makeup. This, I thought, was a skyscraper of an insult. I begged to go talk mental health with the boys but my teachers told me lighten up and have some fun. So for today, because we can, let’s talk about both.
Makeup and I go a long way back, and it’s been a complicated relationship. At first we were estranged, and the fault belongs to me; I judged makeup a little too quickly and quite a bit too harshly.
Over the years, though, makeup and I have grown closer. We spend most of our days and many late nights together, and on special occasions we become inseparable. We are not exclusive, however.
Makeup has another mistress, WordPress’ own Shameless Sparkles, who I am proud to call one of my best friends for over five years now. I also call her Michelle.
Michelle, as well being incredibly caring, dependable and smart (she’s a scientist, I’ll have you know) is also wickedly talented when it comes to wielding a makeup brush. She has been thoroughly self-educated in the art of makeup and now she’s sharing what she knows through her lifestyle/beauty blog and Twitter account, where fashionistas and style enthusiasts can always find useful tips, tricks and product reviews.
Michelle’s affair with makeup has been a long-term one, outlasting mine by a long-shot. They’re in a more committed relationship, while makeup and I have always been more casual; a recurring fling. So as I began to craft a makeup look for my dad’s upcoming October wedding, it naturally made sense to enlist Michelle’s help. Fortunately for me, she offered her services with the utmost enthusiasm (which, by the way, is exactly how she does most things in life).
Not only did I get a full makeup lesson and a makeup bag critique (turns out I desperately need to replace my concealer), I also got to spend an evening reviewing products, drinking tea and chatting with Michelle about the role that makeup has played in both our lives up to this point.
It turns out our experiences have been quite different from start to finish, but nevertheless, we now find ourselves in exactly the same place: fallen completely in love with makeup. Who ever said that love triangles aren’t realistic?!
Over the course of the evening Michelle supervised my application of 9 of her go-to makeup products, none of which I have ever used before, but all of which stirred up the ghosts of makeup past.
Unsurprisingly, we started with foundation.
This initial step is one that I am thoroughly familiar with now that I am in my mid-twenties, but I missed the boat back in my secondary school days when all of the other girls were in the baby stages of learning the theory and application of foundation. Michelle remembers those days too, having been sprung from the same school as me, just a year later.
“I think I was a late bloomer,” Michelle recalled. Well, you and me both, Michelle. “…Because most of the other girls in school wore the real cakey foundation, like they didn’t really know what they were doing.”
It’s true, the Oompa Loompa look was big when we were fifteen-year-olds, a trend which Michelle and I both abstained from, but for very different reasons.
“I didn’t feel the need,” Michelle explained to me as I blended the foundation into my skin with my fingertips, “I wasn’t really into it, but I was curious.”
So it wasn’t love at first sight when Michelle, a girl naturally gifted with good looks, first laid eyes on makeup but, her interest piqued, she gave makeup a chance to impress her. Now, six years and one beauty blog later, I think it’s safe to say that she has never looked back.
My ‘meet cute’ with makeup, however, was not quite so cute.
I had been taught that makeup belonged with the vain and insecure and no one in between, so when the Oompa Loompas invaded I was full of silent judgments. Makeup seemed like a lie that my friends wore on their skin; a lie that offended me, utterly unreasonably.
What really should have offended me was the chorus of my female friends saying, “But you could be so pretty, if you would only wear some makeup!” That snub should have been what irked me. But no, instead I was pleased. I was a proud non-makeup-wearer. Despite not being particularly pretty, I would not falsify my looks. I was honest, if not beautiful.
This was where I had caved, all those years ago.
Michelle visibly recoiled when I revealed to her the same brand of concealer stick that I had been using since my late teens. It was a product which was first picked out for me by my mother to hide some of the big red blemishes on my oily teenage face, and it was a product that I never bothered to substitute. Enter Michelle.
She taught me how to apply her liquid alternative, and as I did so it became clear to me that if I was going to secretly compromise my entire stance on makeup all those years ago, I should have at least shopped around for a product that would get the job done!
It was my every day secret, that tiny concealer stick. I would not confess to any of my peers that I had joined the makeup club; although, it doesn’t really seem fair to say that I joined. Michelle joined. She partied with the club, braided their hair and brought cookies. I went in undercover and anonymously.
Admitting my membership would have felt like a public declaration of my insecurities; a tattoo on my forehead that read UGLY. I wasn’t prepared for the tattoo just yet, so I went incognito instead. Ultimately, I weighed up the shame of wearing the concealer versus the shame of not wearing it, and I came out concealed.
Sipping our tea and chatting away, Michelle and I moved onto my eyes. Eyeshadow. Eyeliner. Mascara.
These three and I have quite the history – one which does not at all resemble the natural/glam look that Michelle created for me. By the time she was through with me, I was wearing my first ever successful ‘smokey eye’ look created by my own hand. With a few simple instructions and a carefully selected colour palette, Michelle worked her magic and beautified me.
That was never my intention when I first encountered eye makeup.
Upon graduating secondary school and dropping out of college, I fell tremendously, stupendously depressed and that was the first time I thought that makeup may have something to offer me. Makeup, I believed, was for people who deemed themselves ugly, and at that point I felt truly hideous; inside, outside, all over. So I used makeup, not to pretty myself up, but to embrace that ugliness.
I picked up a cheap black pencil eyeliner and applied it crudely every day, knowing that smudging was imminent and not caring a bit. I used grey, black and darker black eyeshadows in my attempts to turn myself into an unskillful Avril Lavigne and I applied black mascara in the hopes that it would make me less inclined to cry in public. My skin was pale (paler, even, than my natural state) and my hair was dark, making me look sickly; a clear reflection of my state of mind.
It was obvious to all that I had no makeup skills and no intention of developing them; my makeup was a mess, just like me. Just how I wanted it. Mercifully, makeup said what I would not verbalise.
At that time, Michelle’s makeup was saying something else entirely.
By this stage she was well on her way to becoming the beauty guru that I have come to know and love; she was teaching herself the ins and outs of all things style while I was rebelling against whatever natural prettiness I may have had. It’s no wonder she and makeup have a stronger bond than makeup and I!
For Michelle, the relationship had escalated from flirtations to dependency; what was once a peer-inspired experiment had now become a perfected craft and an everyday affair.
“At that time I couldn’t go without it, you know? I had to do it every day, so at that point I think it was definitely an image thing,” she told me in between tips on eyeshadow blending and the application of mascara. “It’s kind of like a comfort blanket, so it’s definitely to do with confidence. Because I just felt better when I had makeup on. It’s like an extra reassurance, and everyone should feel confident.”
She was right; everyone should feel confident. But I didn’t. So while Michelle was using makeup to enhance her looks and build up her confidence, I was just a short while away, using it to diminish my looks and parade my insecurities for all to see. Somehow, though, it didn’t matter that we were fighting different fights; makeup was there for both of us, comforting us in whatever way we needed. Could anyone blame us for going back for more?
“I think once you step foot in the door it’s an addiction, you know? And you just keep going and hence the table,” she laughed, gesturing to her kitchen table which had reached full capacity, heroically bearing the weight of our collective makeup supply.
The experiment was over; Michelle was committed to makeup. And strangely enough, I was getting there too.
My year with smudgy black eye makeup in mental health hell dragged on, and my makeup never really changed until I did.
The depression worsened, the anchor embedded in my chest, but then it got better. Slowly, I began to feel like myself again, until one day I realised that I was free; the anchor had dislodged and been reeled in. The broken pieces of me had mended and I was happy to leave loose shards behind.
Having served my sentence and gone through a renaissance of self, my look evolved once more. I dyed my hair back to what was once my natural colour and got it chopped, cutting out all the damage. I got five new piercings to keep my earrings company and I started to wear colour again.
This is the version of myself that I have come to live with; the one that I feel is truly me. My hair colour changes like traffic lights and my piercings have closed up, but I’m still that girl; bold, brave, shiny and new, free from depression and celebrating it every day with my look.
Amidst the daily celebrations, there is one symptom of my mental health woes that I intentionally held onto. You guessed it: makeup.
Suddenly my makeup didn’t feel like a stamp of insecurity. Instead, it felt like a mark of bravery; a battle-scar that I took pride in. After all, makeup is expression, and what could be braver than expressing your true self in this judgmental world?
Makeup stuck with me when I was hardly even myself, and what had I ever done for makeup? I had silently mocked it and its wearers; I was the judgmental one.
I was right, though, in thinking that makeup is for the insecure. I just didn’t realise that it’s also for the brave. And it’s for the vain and the daring and the quirky and the weird. It’s for anyone, because makeup doesn’t discriminate. It was there for me even when I was its harshest critic; I owed makeup one heck of an apology!
Now, in attempts to make amends, I spend my leisure hours educating myself in the art of makeup, and my education is far from over. I still have no idea what products I should be using or which brush is which; I’m just a girl who likes to do drawings on her face. I have a good time but few skills, and this is where Michelle comes in once more.
To say that my knowledge of these products is limited would be a generous overstatement and I could not reiterate Michelle’s instructions if I was being threatened with third degree GHD burns. But, lost though I may have been, there was no turning back now. We were already passed the point of no return.
The makeup lesson continued and with Michelle’s guidance my blank canvas of a face was contoured, lined, highlighted and coloured. I was myself, only more polished, like the glossy print of a camera-phone photograph. I looked great. But what’s more important than how I looked is how we both felt.
It was our ideal evening; tea, chats, friendship, makeup. We’d both had fun.
Ultimately, this is what makeup does for us. It’s a skill and an art, but it’s also recreation. We get thrills from putting it on as well as wearing it; we get a high from exploring what we can do with it and who we can be in it. It enhances who we are as well as how we look.
Just like me, Michelle’s relationship with makeup is constantly evolving. “I think it just changes as life goes on; it depends where I am personally,” she told me as we drained the dregs of our tea and began to pack away our gear (there was so much of it that perhaps we should have re-boiled the kettle). She continued with a laugh, “It’s been very multifaceted, my relationship with makeup.”
Michelle no longer relies on makeup to feel confident, as her late teen/early twenties counterpart may have done. Now she is confident in her own right, as she well deserves to be; makeup is her leisure, not her security.
“Now that I’m older, and hindsight is a beautiful thing, I feel like I’m perfectly fine going with no makeup. At the same time I really enjoy it, though! I enjoy the creativity, I love all the products, I work in it; that’s how much I love it. But it’s been a process, definitely.”