From September of last year onwards, I decided to cut out one key habit from my daily routine: I no longer wear makeup. Although I would've thought of this as an impossibility a few years ago, or rather, something I could only contemplate with a discomfort akin to that of someone about to head to her very first bikini waxing session, it has now become a way of life that has made me grow to love and appreciate myself even more.
Despite this, going makeup free hasn't been easy. Sometimes, it means that you'll avoid looking in the mirror (and if you do you might not always love what you see). There will probably be times you'll feel a little self-conscious in front of other people. It goes up and down, and only after a while of getting used to it (say, a few months) will you finally throw in the towel and think, “Hey, everyone I know has seen my real face now, so what the heck.” When you reach that point, you might start feeling uncomfortable when someone tries to paint your face for a party because it actually feels weird to have makeup on. Oh, and there's the downside of having to wait while everybody around you takes twice as long to get ready.
I stopped wearing makeup on my year abroad, first during four months in Seville, and then six in Luxembourg. This then continued into the rest of the year because by then, I felt completely comfortable with a makeup-free face and recognized it as something that was a healthy, happy habit, one that greatly benefited me.
I initially stopped wearing makeup for a practical reason: because I had forgotten to take very much of it with me. My mascaras, the only remnants of my makeup collection, were starting to smell questionable, and the climate was so beautiful in Seville that the idea of having anything chemical-based clinging to my face in the blistering heat was pretty unappealing. This habit continued into the Sevillian winter (the equivalent of our summer at its peak) by which point I had also decided to take up running. Once you've seen your face melt off with sweat in front of passing strangers, moments when you aren't wearing makeup are no longer so daunting.
In Seville, not wearing makeup wasn't so hard, because it was a clean slate. I was on my year abroad, so the people I met hadn't seen me with makeup—I had no 'front' to keep up, no thoughts of “Once they know what my real face looks like they won't want to know me.” People knew and liked me, people even told me I was beautiful, having seen my blank, un-made-up face on hot, sunny days when I had thought I might scare away every passing infant.
My lack of makeup continued through to Luxembourg, where I started working at a digital communications agency. This was a bit trickier, as many of the people around me were wearing makeup and were beautiful, slim, stylish French women. Between having gained a bit of Christmas weight and keeping to my decision to not wear makeup, I inevitably felt like a clunky blob. This continued for a few months, and was exacerbated by my feeling a bit “other” in this extremely monolingual company culture (if you're feeling left out and are going into the office bare-faced, it does make you feel a bit unwanted). However, once the initial period of adjustment passed, I again knew what it was like to feel liberated by a choice that at times felt a bit questionable.
I had kept to my decision to not wear makeup, and despite some more city running, hadn't suddenly turned into a tiny French person overnight, but at the same time people were not treating me like I was an ogre in their closet. I went on countless nights out bare-faced, danced like a hooligan and felt ecstatic. I met people, had fun, and felt appreciated based on who I was as a person, and not on how I looked.
I've found that in many ways, the fear behind not wearing makeup is really just a mental barrier. It's an obstacle we make up (quite literally), all based on our irrational fears. Of course you don't look gross and disgusting with nothing on your face. Of course you won't freak out everyone in the vicinity and become unappealing overnight. The reason it's so scary is because you've built up an expectation of what you should look like. Your family, friends, the boys and girls in your life all expect you to look a certain way (or, at least, that's what you think), and you think that if, one day, you suddenly present them with your real face, they'll be let down, put out, disgusted, horrified.
You will also have to learn to love the real you—and as much as we all hate to admit it, that isn't always the easiest task. After all, we've been inundated with messages of how to "fix" our "flaws" which isn't the best for self-esteem. Despite this, not wearing makeup has now become a habit that I treasure. Here's what I learned from my year without makeup:
- People will not run from you in fright. If you've kept up your makeup routine because you're worried people will notice 'what you really look like,' don't. People are far too bothered with themselves and are a lot less judgmental than we think. They will most likely celebrate and be proud of you for not wearing make up.
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- You don't need makeup to feel beautiful. When I stopped wearing makeup, against all my expectations, I still managed to feel beautiful. I still felt entitled to think of myself as an attractive and special human being. You don't need makeup to make you feel special. You are special.
- Boys (and girls) will still like you. It's so easy to wear makeup every day and then get really freaked out about taking it off in front of your crush, but in reality, the people that matter don't mind and the people that mind don't matter.
- Not wearing makeup cuts down the time it takes to get ready. You'll probably save at least 20 minutes each day. That's either 20 minutes more of sleep, of serious Instagramming, or of good Her Campus reading.
- There will be difficult moments. Once, a guy shouted “you are f***ing ugly” at me in a club. It's hard to take that as anything other than a literal attack on your face, and you may feel that exposing your real face is what led to that situation, but the truth is, that people can be idiots whether you're wearing makeup or not. Don't take it personally, and accept that you won't always feel 100 percent amazing—and keep in mind that makeup won't fix that.
Not wearing makeup, just like wearing makeup, isn't for everyone. Some people genuinely just love putting on a bit of war paint and experimenting with different looks, and there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever. But if you do feel scared to walk out into the world without makeup, that's when I would suggest trying a no-makeup week just to see how it feels. You may surprise yourself!