As a child of the (local and mediocre) theatre, I first started wearing makeup when I was about six. Not every day, and not always glamorous makeup (lest I ever forget the approximately 53 times I was in Annie, and had to cover my face in "dirt"), but pretty early on in my life I learned how blush can liven your face, or how eyeliner can intensify your eye color.
I wasn't allowed to wear makeup until high school, but I spent all of middle school borrowing my friends' makeup and scrubbing it off before my mom picked me up at 3. Once I got to the ninth grade, I was allowed to wear makeup whenever I wanted, and I decided I wanted to wear it every single day, even if that meant waking up at 5 A.M.
At 14, I was deeply insecure. Unlike my siblings, I didn't have "a thing." I'm not remotely good at sports, I stopped being good at math sometime around Pre-Algebra, and I can't sing, except for in my head, where it apparently doesn't matter. I wasn't sure where to get a sense of efficacy from. It hadn't yet occurred to me that scribbling in my journal for hours and hours at night (and, okay, sometimes in class) could count as something. Instead, I derived my sense of self-worth from eyeliner so thick it melted down my cheeks, overly glossy lips, and caked on foundation. Like many of the other girls with whom I went to high school, I spent the five minutes between class reapplying my makeup, and would have rather been late than bronzer-free.
I remember one day during which I had forgotten my makeup bag at home. I begged my mom to turn around the car, but, because she's not insane, she refused. Of course, no one at school noticed that I didn't reapply my eyeliner nine times. It was high school, which meant no one noticed anything that wasn't about him or her, yet I felt even more insecure than usual.
I wish I could say that day was a wake up call, that it made me see how silly and vain I was being, and was the slap in the face that I needed. But it wasn't. I was already so deep into the teenage girl forest of self-doubt and anxiety that I couldn't see how clearly I was using makeup as a bandaid for larger issues of insecurity.
It wasn't until I became editor-in-chief of my high school's newspaper senior year that I started putting non-physical attributes into my bag of self-worth—and started to make daily primping lower priority. Sure, my responsibilities included juggling stories about the new parking lot on campus and the spring production of Into the Woods, but I had to take ownership of a project for the first time. I felt effective and confident.
I still love makeup, and I still wear it most days. I love experimenting with new products, or loitering in Sephora, or trying YouTube tutorials. There's one problem I see, however, now that I'm pulled back from being chained to a compact every waking minute: the cultural expectation that women must wear makeup in order to be their best selves. There's a difference between self-worth and self-confidence. If red lipstick makes or winged eyeliner makes you feel more confident, more sexy, more badass, then that's totally fine. But if it makes you feel more worthwhile, well, maybe you need to dig a bit deeper.
Like most things in life, it all goes back to the motivations that underpin the actions. Wearing makeup—whether crazy false eyelashes or more natural looking brown mascara—should be fun. It should never feel mandatory.