Staying at home during the pandemic has enabled me to experiment with makeup in new ways. While I may have nowhere to go, I love testing new ideas and pushing the boundary between looks that help me embrace my features and ones that might feel too much like a mask I’m hiding behind. Since I don’t have to leave the house, I’ve been trying out different techniques and throwing out what isn’t working, without anyone ever having the see something I might deem a disaster. On the contrary, this time has also allowed for more makeup-free days, giving way to the opportunity for embracing my features as they are without any makeup at all, a welcome reprieve from the pressures of the outside world.
We’ve all experienced for ourselves or seen others experience an exchange where someone saw says something like “but, your face is so pretty,” usually after making a negative comment about someone’s physical appearance. As a small fat woman, I spent most of my life using makeup to keep my face “pretty” so that no one would notice the size of my body. Rather than embracing my curves and my full face, I embraced bold, winged eyeliner, smokey eye looks, and glossy lips. I held tightly to the idea of bringing out my eyes, one of my favorite features, in order to distract from anyone noticing my plump cheeks or double chin. While I’ve come a long way, there are still lots of techniques and tools that I often think I should use in order to keep my face looking a certain level of “slim.”
Among other things, mainstream makeup tutorials and the overuse of contouring have equipped us with the tools we need to achieve a “snatched” face and/or other often unattainable beauty standards that so many of us try to reach. The idea that using light and shadow, highlight and contour, can give our face an entirely new shape is one that has unfortunately made it easier to see certain features as flaws instead of gifts. Don’t get me wrong—many of these tutorials offer great insight into makeup application and serve as a way for folks to transform into the most authentic version of themselves. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between using makeup as a tool and using makeup as a mask.
For many, the walking of that fine line starts with the idea that wearing makeup is good and not wearing makeup is bad. Have you ever walked into a room and had someone ask if you were doing okay? You might feel like a million bucks, but you didn’t have time to put on makeup that morning. Now, ingrained in your mind is the fact that others notice when you don’t wear makeup and because of this seemingly benign comment, you believe that you look better with makeup than without. These feelings are reinforced by beauty standards that we see day in and day out in the media. It becomes seemingly impossible to imagine a life without using makeup to create the illusion of high cheekbones, hide our double chins and look wide awake and glowing at all times. Makeup becomes a disguise instead of an enhancer to the person wearing it, regardless of how the world sees them. In fact, I’d argue that we sometimes forget what contouring and other “slimming” techniques are actually for.
“I do use highlighting and ‘contouring’ techniques, but it’s less about the idea of slimming, and more so for brightening up and highlighting certain parts of our face,” says Payal Patel, a Philadelphia-based makeup artist. “It’s so interesting because if you actually think about it, contouring doesn’t slim anything at all. When you’re contouring, you’re bringing out the areas of your face that you want to ‘brighten’… simply giving more attention to those areas of your face.”
So why aren’t we more interested in highlighting our chins or chubby cheeks? Conventional beauty standards give us the impression that we can’t be flawed in order to be loved or worthy. Many of the times when we notice our perceived flaws, we are looking at photographs of ourselves. Body-positive photographer and body image activist Teri Hofford reiterates the negative impact. “Clients come in with their own body image issues about round faces and what not, so I advise them on our Body – and Face! – Liberation policy: regardless of your shape, size, etc. you are doing this cool experience with it—no matter if we contour the shit out of it—your face is still there, your body is still there, helping you do this really cool and brave thing! I’d rather help you correlate that you can do this cool thing AND you have a round face, stretch marks, a tum, cellulite…”
If you’re like me and still under stay-at-home orders, body-positive and fat-positive boudoir photographer Cheyenne Gil says that when you look in the mirror, “it’s really important to constantly enforce the fact that traditional and conventional beauty standards aren’t real and to purposefully go full throttle against those ideals by embracing our double chins, our big round faces…The reality is that letting go of the desire to fit into a certain beauty standard will just leave room—so, so, so much room—for more love, joy, and most importantly: FREEDOM.”
The point here isn’t that makeup is the enemy, but that we should challenge ourselves to use it as an aid for highlighting the features we don’t believe are beautiful. And what better time to do that than now, when the majority of your time is (hopefully) being spent at home? Personally, I’ve embraced this revolutionary point-of-view with a new routine and have already made some amazing discoveries.
Today, I’m far more comfortable with my body than I was a few years ago. While I still love wearing my bold Stila liner, Milk Makeup mascara, and Glossier gloss, my regime has come a long way. Along with the love and acceptance I’ve cultivated for my body, I’ve fallen in love with piling on tarte’s Amazonian clay blush to bring attention to my cheeks, using Anastasia Beverly Hills shadows to add a pop of joy to my eyes, and applying bright Maybelline lip colors as a way to push myself out of a usually beige-colored comfort zone. I have intentionally brought more focus to the parts of my face that I used to be uncomfortable highlighting, and little by little, it’s helped me embrace those pieces of myself.
With the downtime many of us have at the moment, I recommend test-driving a trend you love but have never attempted, like bold orange blush or deep, dark lips. Now may also be an incredible time to embrace your bare face with no makeup at all. In the past, I spent a lot of time hustling from place to place, project to project, wearing makeup and clothing that didn’t push the boundaries or express who I am. Today, my home has become a safe place for experimentation and exploration of my own beauty in a way that it hasn’t been before.
Because I’ve been quarantined with my partner during this time, I enjoy solo moments in front of the mirror with no rush and no interruption. Quarantine has allowed me to take my time when it comes to makeup and getting dressed for the day, even if it’s just in sweats and some brow gel. I’ve taken the time to really look at myself in the mirror, say loving affirmations out loud, including “I am beautiful with or without makeup,” and journal about how I’ve changed throughout this time—mind, body, and spirit.
I’ve also had time to compile ideas of techniques, trends, and products I want to try in the future, all of which are outside of my former day-to-day routine. By doing something as simple as rearranging the steps you usually take in your makeup routine, you might find new ways to use it to enhance your beauty, not hide it. Or perhaps you choose to to go makeup-free and consider which features you’ll be most excited to highlight when it’s time to return to wearing makeup more regularly. No matter which you choose, the next time you sit down to glam up, consider showing off those gorgeous cheeks or your chins. You may just discover that highlighting your “flaws” will make you feel more beautiful than ever.
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