As a young and insecure human in middle school, I often dreamed of the day I'd be blessed with a flawless complexion. But living with various chronic skin conditions including acne and eczema forced me to be more realistic about my expectations. Maybe I couldn't have a flawless complexion, but I could pretend otherwise with the help of foundation and concealer.
I would carry my skin conditions into adulthood, with symptoms that remained persistent if a little toned down. No amount of salicylic acid or hydrocortisone could fully suppress my breakouts, though. Rather, they'd often have the opposite effect thanks to my hypersensitive skin. The only way I could achieve perfection was through artificial, cosmetic, or temporary means. But my younger self was somewhat misguided regarding the definitions of "perfection" and "beauty."
Before I started using foundation, I thought that "perfect skin" meant skin without bumps, rashes, and blemishes. It must be smooth and even all over. I'd get goosebumps imagining the face I could have if I wore my mother's drugstore foundation like a mask, hiding the ugly truth beneath it. So I asked my mom to do my makeup for my first school dance in the hopes of impressing the boy I liked with my brand new skin.
As my mother spread her liquid foundation all over my cheeks, however, I didn't feel as alive as I thought I would. I felt... a little dead, actually, as the cold slick sponge covered every mark, line, and freckle. The heaviness of the foundation wasn't comfortable on my skin, and grew worse as I felt certain parts of my face become itchier and drier. It didn't help that my mother's foundation, like her skin, was a shade lighter than my own. I was wearing a mask, that was for sure. But it didn't feel like a mask of beauty.
That night, my crush asked me to dance with him (my first slow dance with a boy, mind you). I was thrilled, and couldn't help but wonder whether he had noticed me because my pimply complexion was finally made invisible.
But when I got home, I scratched my face raw well into the morning because of the irritation the makeup caused, and sprouted considerably more pimples. The next day at school, the boy I had danced with laughed at me with his friends, and I assumed it was because of my skin. Today I know it was just because they were cruel kids.
After that day, I would try foundation again and again. Liquids, powders, mineral formulas, BB creams — anything I could get my hands on. The heavier formulas still felt gross on my skin and clogged my pores. Gentler ones like mineral foundation and BB cream were better, but didn't provide enough coverage to conceal my imperfections. While I was committed to looking beautiful, I became increasingly more discouraged as my itchy and acne-prone skin grew more irritated with each application and removal. With numerous facial products clogging my pores on the daily, my acne and eczema were at an all-time high. The things I thought would offer a solution were honestly just making the problem worse.
It wasn't until college that I started ditching the foundation altogether. During a month-long study abroad trip to India, I just couldn't be bothered — and my face never felt more rejuvenated. My experiences are mine alone, of course, and full faces of makeup can be empowering and non-irritable for a lot of people. But as I gave up on foundation, all of the vicious acne and intensely itchy patches began to lessen and, by the end of that summer, disappear. For the first time in years, I was being reacquainted with my actual skin. And, despite its so-called flaws, I was happy to see it.
It occurred to me that foundation had acted as a barrier between myself and my body positivity, covering the realities of my body before I could get a chance to love them. With these body positive thoughts in mind, I felt sad that I had forced myself to simultaneously hide and hurt my very sensitive skin just so it could look a certain way. I know now that there's nothing ugly about my acne or my eczema. There is, however, profound beauty in being lovingly gentle with myself. Not only allowing my skin to be healthy in a way that's right for me, but also to let it exist as it is without feeling the need to shamefully conceal it.
Personally, I don't like foundation. I hate how it feels, I dislike how it makes me look, and I only really wore it out of some damaging notion rooted in "suffering for beauty" rhetoric. But I don't have to suffer for beauty if I don't want to. My skin, with all its imperfections, is beautiful and worthy of my love.
The other day, my partner saw my senior photo from high school for the first time and almost didn't believe it was me. Besides my hyper-feminine presentation, my skin looked unreal. Like porcelain, but not in a way that felt right being paired with the rest of my face. Even though that person in the picture was adhering so strictly to beauty rules that they didn't even believe in, I looked at the photo lovingly. I wish I could've told 18-year-old Meg that they were allowed to stop doing beauty for everyone else, and start doing all things for themselves only.
Images: Meg Zulch