Make up: A Love Story
It’s Christmas day and we’re headed to my boyfriend’s family’s party. As an introvert, parties are never easy for me, especially parties of my boyfriend’s family. Last year, I felt like I didn’t do so well with his mom’s side of the family. I was withdrawn, I kept disappearing to the bathroom and I couldn’t handle the small talk. That day, I had a Jupiter-sized zit on my chin. It was red, painful, and clearly, I was about to get my period. I couldn’t wait to leave the party and run a hot shower with a washcloth over my throbbing chin.
At 32, I can’t believe I’m still worried about acne. In high school, I was made to believe they disappear after my teenage years, and here I am, a full-blown adult still with full-blown acne. To be fair, from ages 28–30, my skin miraculously cleared up after a cocktail of prescription antibiotics and extra-strength Retin-A. But this year, it was as if my skin was plotting revenge all along and my acne erupted worse than before. I couldn’t go back to taking my prescription, the drugs made my gums, lips, and tongue blue. Later, I was told it could permanently damage my liver. Two years of drinking poison and I was caught unaware.
So, I went to the store and bought make-up, lots of it. For two years, I subsisted on tinted moisturizer. I was never entirely comfortable with beauty rituals and having perfect skin was always the goal so I didn’t have to learn how to contour, and learn my “colors.” Going out of the house was always hard depending on how my skin looked. If I had blemishes, I’ve had to use concealer, tinted moisturizer, and then pressed powder. If I wanted to go to the gym, I went as soon as they opened so there’s less people who would notice my crappy skin. On bad weeks, I’ve had to use concealer, tinted moisturizer, foundation, and then pressed powder. I carried my pressed powder on my back pocket so I can re-apply make up every time I went to the restroom. It’s a lot of work, trying to look like I don’t have bad skin. I’m either avoiding mirrors or staring too much at my reflection, as if I could my imperfection to disappear. When I talk to people, I never look at their eyes, instead, I assess their skin, thoroughly curious if they’ve spent lost hours worried about their face.
My skin is dark reddish brown, and it looks best on jewel tones like the beautiful fabrics they use on Bollywood movies. It took me a long time to like being brown, and frankly, it took my boyfriend, a Caucasian man, for me to realize my beauty. Being brown meant blemishes and scars of all forms take weeks to fade. Make up is always hard to find because of my distinct skin color; there’s no drug store make up that can match it. I refuse to go to MAC and Sephora to get make-up, I already spend too much time and money burying my skin, I can’t see the point of paying even more money to do so.
The days when I only use tinted moisturizer are my best days, finally, I can be myself. To be safe, I always apply a layer of pressed powder. I’m never without pressed powder. If I had to do Us Weekly’s What’s in your bag? columns, pressed powder will be first on my list. Maybelline is my foundation and tinted moisturizer, and L’Oreal my pressed powder. I like the feeling of extra skin, it’s not really me you’re looking at, but a mask of my socially-acceptable self. My beauty icon is Olivia Pope on Scandal, that complex and impenetrable character. Her life might be a hot mess, but her make-up is perfection.
On last year’s holiday party, I didn’t take any pictures. I was too depressed about my skin and I didn’t want photographic evidence. This year, just in time for the holidays, my skin skipped its predisposition to pop out Jupiter-sized chin acne a week or two before my period. I was ecstatic. I took plenty of pictures with my boyfriend, various family members, and I made sure I was in every single frame. When people judge women, who put on lots of make-up, I’m secretly on the defense. The reason I don’t look like I have make up on because I worked at it, and I worked at it because I have a constellation of blemishes that I’m ashamed of. Selfies are none of my concern; it’s about me looking at people, face to face, when we’re talking.
Make-up is a litmus test for my anxiety, the more make-up I put on, the farther I want to be from the people, the place. At parties, I pile it on, it’s just too many bodies, with too many opinions on everyone and everything. With my last boyfriend, I wore blush, eyeshadow, and eyeliner. With my current boyfriend, truly, the love of my life, most days it’s just tinted moisturizer or nothing at all. My skin always knows how much barrier I need, I’m either barely there or full-on warrior face.
December this year is the first time since my teens that I didn’t have hormonal acne. I’ve been working with my doctor to get my problem skin under control. Your liver is taxed, is what my doctor, (who has radiant skin), told me when I showed up at her office, alarmed at the red, angry zits all over my chin. She said that because my liver wasn’t flushing out toxins through sweat and excretion, they made their escape in the form of acne. The years I took prescription acne medication might have put my acne to sleep, but it pummeled my liver. Add to that my high fat, sugar, caffeine diet and my body finally extracted its revenge.
So, I went on a high-fiber diet, gave up caffeine, most animal fats, and processed sugar. It took six months for my hormonal chin acne to go away, but it eventually did. My face cleared up just in time for holiday picture-taking. Studying my skin to get ready for the party, and I don’t quite know how to approach my face. If this is the new normal, do I have to say goodbye to L’Oreal and Maybelline?
After the party, I looked at pictures of myself, looking for the geography of imperfection on my skin. Everyone used flash and I worried about the harsh lighting around the house. Somehow, quite impossibly, I fell into the group with the good skin. I liked make-up, I always have, I looked at the younger girls with more make-up than me and immediately felt naked. They looked like they had make-up on, and they were proud of it. I could never be those girls.