“I didn’t recognize you at first.”
I had just walked into my first period when I was greeted by the confused stare of a classmate I’d known for over a year. He, apparently, didn’t recognize me without makeup.
“Are you sick?”
In my natural state, I look ill. I am pale, and I am veiny. Somehow, my male peers can walk around without even running a comb through their hair and still be considered handsome; meanwhile, I can’t show up to school as Mother Nature had intended without being mistaken for someone of poor health. That’s not to say I like how I look with a bare face. Years of advertising and bullying led up to the current decaying state of my self-esteem, but all the same. The bruise-blue bags under my eyes may not be sightly, but they’re part of me. The veins lacing my eyelids and the acne scars that pock the surface of my cheeks are part of me. I am human.
I didn’t get why people wore makeup. That was back when I was little, of course. It seemed like so much work every morning. The only time I wore makeup was for dance recitals, and even then it was anything but heavy. I didn’t wear concealer or foundation and had a mixed relationship with lipstick. A hint of blush, eyeshadow, and mascara was enough to carry me through my performances. I remember sitting on the floor as my teacher was checking faces.
“Good. Too much blush. Good. More lipstick.”
She got to me. I was proud of my mom’s masterpiece and was excited for her to recognize the brilliance that sat before her.
“Good eyeshadow. You have small eyes, so that really makes them pop.”
Small eyes? Me? I felt my blood turn to ice as my face flushed with heat. I was so embarrassed of myself in that moment. Small eyes…the most beautiful part of the face. I left makeup for performances until sixth grade.
My mother had introduced me to the power of foundation. It was an odd liquid in a heavy glass bottle. I ripped the sponge, as I had seen special-effects artists do, and set to dabbing at my face. I was in front of that mirror for an hour. Blotting and re-blotting until I had an even layer. It was cakey, but all of my imperfections were covered. I set to work doing makeup as I would for a show. I looked…unlike myself.
The next day, I paraded my new face around happily. No comments from anyone, but I did get a few stares. At the end of the day, I reached my locker and was in my own world until a voice pulled me out.
“Did you get punched this morning?”
I did a double take. Punched?
“Your eyes are all dark. Is it a bruise?”
I felt that familiar heat rise up from my collar bones as I turned away. I washed my face thoroughly that night and didn’t revisit my makeup box until the following year.
I remember the glamour of the bands. Black Veil Brides, My Chemical Romance. They were cute guys with musical talent that spoke to my pubescent soul. I decided one night to take matters into my own hands and watched a YouTube video. How to do CLASSY Scene/Emo Makeup.
I went to the bathroom and recreated the look to the best of my untrained ability. There was a lot of black around my eyes and white across my face. It was supposed to make my eyes look bigger. I was happy with the look at the time and decided to go all-out. I parted my hair and cut my bangs, ratted it until I looked like a lion and smoothed it out. I was so cute, then. The natural parts of myself had been caked with an identity I would never fit into.
I went through a bottle of foundation and a tube of eyeliner a month.
My style changed gradually throughout the years, but I never left the house without makeup. Not until I had to go to the ER. Do you understand how f***ed up that is? Let me repeat: I didn’t leave my house without makeup until I had to go to the ER. No time for anything in that emergency. My blonde eyelashes and brows clashed horribly with my dyed red hair. I felt disgusting. I’d been so conditioned to hide myself that simply existing without alteration felt like a lie.
How many years have I wasted in front of a mirror?
“Freckles? That’s cute.”
It made me happy to know that people appreciated the brown dots I dusted across my nose each morning. I had freckles at one point. I used to get them in the summer when warm light came down to kiss my cheeks. The amount of foundation I had applied in the past few years made it impossible for that to happen. My skin hasn’t truly seen the light of day since I was eleven. I even wore makeup to band camp. The heavy noonday sun, the sweat, the oil of the sunscreen. I took an hour each morning to paste on my face, not really understanding that people didn’t actually care one way or the other. Everyone else looked like a mess. Why couldn’t I?
I didn’t recognize myself when I got home. I remember touching my face in my mirror, not used to seeing my reflection clothed while my face was naked. My hair wasn’t wet, and I didn’t have pajamas on. This was…what I looked like during the day under all that paint. My skin breathed, but I felt like I was being smothered. I focused on the blonde lashes and the pores. The purple scars that would have to be chemically peeled away. The red blush that crosses from cheekbone to cheekbone that will only get worse with age.
“So THAT’S what you really look like.”
No, I look like myself when I’ve taken the time to cover my face. That’s the person I have been shaped into. This naked face is nothing more than a phase, some in-between life. I have taken what is natural and tried to mold it to fit the unnatural images I’m assaulted with and compared to every hour of my existence. I am not an airbrushed beauty queen, and I am not a size three celebrity teen. I am angry, and I am hurt. I pay hundreds of dollars to companies who make their living off of girls trying to be perfect. They make us feel like sh*t.
I could say I have an answer, that I’ll protest, but that’s not it. I will continue to shell out money to buy products that alter my face for the peace of mind and self-acceptance I will never have. Will I?
Rin Baatz, born with the name Hannah, is a first-year Creative Writing major at Bowling Green State University. She graduated from Toledo School for the Arts in 2017 with a focus in technical theatre and specialized in theatrical lighting. She has previously been published by Khroma and Beautiful Losers and won an honorary mention in the Toledo Museum of Art’s 2017 Ekphrastic Writing Poetry Contest. Rin hopes to one day become a college professor.