I didn’t want him to see my face.
My dirty-blonde eyelashes are invisible without black mascara defining them. My rosy acne is all too noticeable jutting from my pale, white skin. And my eyebrows—oh, my eyebrows—suffering from the same color fate as my lashes, these misshapen arches are pathetic without the help of a fill-in pencil.
So I never let him see.
I’m not a makeup fiend. I don’t obsess over designer beauty products. I don’t even use a highlighter. But until about eight months ago, I have never been seen sans makeup.
My first flirtation with makeup was in middle school, much like most American girls growing up in public school. I piled on the eyeliner, smacked my lips as I applied sticky gloss, and straightened my hair until it put pins to shame. I was striving towards the beauty standards of 2004, which was a time when, if you remember, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and Paris Hilton were hitting their strides as role models.
Much like my uncapped lip gloss oozing into the lining of my silver metallic purse, middle school, in general, was a very messy time. Remember when I talked about growing up as a tomboy? Awkwardness and discomfort are understatements.
I was excited to go to high school. I left the heavy eyeliner in my preteen days and opted for a more natural look as I entered ninth grade. But natural, for me, is not going barefaced. Natural, for me, is applying enough makeup to look flawless, but not enough where you can tell I’m wearing any—at least, not a lot. Many women today are criticized online for achieving the “natural” look with multiple beauty products—mostly by cowardly trolls who understand nothing about society, culture, and the pressures of being a woman. But I digress. This is not about trolls. This is about our own perceptions of ourselves… outside perspectives be damned.
I just wanted to like what I saw in the mirror.
Anyone who’s been through middle and high school can tell you that insecurity is at an all-time high during these transformative years. Especially when you have acne and your friends don’t. It makes you feel lesser. It makes you angry. It’s one of those first times you understand the meaning of “life isn’t fair.”
Life is not fair. I’d scold myself for the way I looked—why is your nose so wide, your forehead so big, your eyes so small, your face so oily? Nobody else has to deal with this. It’s not fair my face is like this.
In high school, I straddled two worlds: being part of the popular crowd and being an athlete. Though those worlds often overlapped, they still left me struggling to find an identity. Am I a pretty girl or am I an athletic girl? Can I be both? My appearance was far too important to me to play high school sports without makeup on, despite it probably making my acne worse. So I would cover up blemishes, reapply powder, tie a bow in my hair, and step onto the volleyball court, soccer field, or the track, ready to compete. My friends and crushes would be at these sporting events, and the most horrifying thought for me was not messing up during the game—it was being in the spotlight without looking presentable.
So I put on my “natural” face.
Fast-forward through college, then my first office job—not a day went by that I didn’t put on some semblance of makeup before going out into the world. Sometimes, admittedly, I’d judge a colleague if she arrived to work with her natural face. Her real, natural face, not my version of natural. I didn’t judge because I thought she looked bad, I judged because I was jealous.
I wish I could do that.
I met my boyfriend just a couple months after leaving that office job and moving to Charlotte. We were inseparable after our first date. We saw each other every day we could—he’d drive down into the city to hang out after work, and I’d trek up to the lake. We made it official in the wee Sunday hours of Superbowl 50, which happened to be the same year the Carolina Panthers made it to the championship. That was almost two years ago.
Brad is one of the people I treasure most in this world. He’s patient with me, smarter than me (a fate I’ve accepted), and most importantly, he makes me feel loved. But no matter how special he made me feel during our first year of dating, I was still terrified for him to see my “real” face.
Without mascara, I look like a boy. Without cover-up, my acne is distracting. And without those things, I felt naked, ugly, and plain. But there came a turning point.
I started spending the night at his apartment often. Because I work from home, it didn’t matter where I woke up. And I wanted to wake up next to him. Scared he’d turn over to see a monster in the morning light, I went to sleep with my makeup on. It was this way for months. Then, I had to move into his apartment for a couple months between the end of my Uptown apartment lease and the beginning of our new adventure. We were moving into a house together once his lease at the lake was up.
As I write this, I’m currently sitting in my office in that house—barefaced, unkempt, and unashamed.
It took me months of waking up with smudges surrounding my eyes to finally get the confidence to stop wearing makeup when I didn’t need to. Once I realized my boyfriend would be seeing me every night and every day, I knew I couldn’t hide anymore. And I knew sleeping with my makeup on was only making my skin worse.
The jig was up.
I wish I could remember the exact time and place I sat down next to him without makeup on. I thought it would be so monumental. I thought he would gasp, make a comment, or, at the very least, stare. But none of that happened. In fact, I’m not even sure if he noticed. Almost annoyed that there was no reaction, I mentioned it: “Did you notice I’m not wearing any makeup?”
Because this moment was so anti-climactic, I can’t even recall what he said. I just remember him brushing it off as, like, ‘duh’, as if he wasn’t phased at all. Could he have known that I looked like this the whole time? Why is he not shocked?
Brad is objectively the best. He has never made me feel like I need makeup—it’s my own struggle to overcome. And his non-reaction to my bare face just confirmed that it was a non-issue. I knew it was my internal problem, but I assumed there was some sort of validity to it. I’m vain, so I expect others to be vain. But, spoiler alert: The people who matter don’t think makeup matters.
Eight-or-so months later, I’m a makeup-free queen. I rarely wear it during weekdays thanks to my work-from-home situation, which has boosted my confidence a lot. I often wonder if I got another office job whether or not I’d go back to my old ways of wearing makeup every day, but I don’t think I would. All of this may sound silly to people who never relied on makeup, but for those of us who don’t have perfect complexions or naturally dark lashes and brows, makeup is more of a crutch. But every day I go to lunch, the store, or anywhere else in public without makeup, the more comfortable I get with how I look without it.
I’m certainly not pulling an Alicia Keys, writing off ALL makeup, but I can honestly say I wear much less and need much less than I ever used to (unless I’m getting glammed up for an event or photoshoot). And for me, that’s a huge win. Oh, and my skin has thanked me for it, too: way fewer breakouts, a healthier complexion, and much better oil control. That reason alone is enough for me to think twice before piling on the products.
For those curious what types of face products I do wear, here are my two go-to’s. I’ve linked them on Amazon below as well.
- Supergoop CC Cream
- Why I love it: This has become an almost-everyday product for me. It provides very light coverage, but more importantly, it has 35 SPF, doesn’t smell like sunscreen, and doesn’t make me break out while moisturizing my skin. Could not recommend this product enough, and a little bit goes a long way.
- Dr. Brandt Pores No More Cleanser
- Why I love it: I’ve always used cleansers for acne (I’ve had prescription stuff, Proactiv, St. Ives scrubs, etc.) but they never seemed to work. This cleanser is so gentle but effective, and it smells super refreshing. It has totally balanced my oily skin. I use it once or twice a day—once if I don’t wear makeup.
- Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse
- Why I love it: When getting ready for a special event, I’ll brush on a bit of this for a more flawless look. I don’t use much. The mousse texture works well for me since liquid foundations are often too oily for my skin and powdered options just don’t provide enough coverage.
Hopefully sharing my story might inspire some other women to love their makeup-free faces. It has been a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, especially when going on trips with friends or going camping—when there are moments you’re not all made-up and aren’t expected to be.
Sending light and love.