Can we talk about make-up

Zadie Smith has revealed that she’s imposed a 15-minute rule to restrict how long her seven-year-old daughter can spend in front of the mirror each day. In response, the internet went wild.

The backlash reactions have baffled me. Under what grounds would anyone want to encourage a young girl to spend longer than 15 minutes poring over her reflection in the mirror? 15 minutes is a significant amount of time, and is certainly long enough to seek out and discover imperfections. And even worse, paying attention to these imperfections could create insecurities, influencing how that little girl views herself and her capabilities long into the future. She may become dependent on make-up products to boost her confidence and create a ‘better’ version of herself.

Surely seven-year-olds have better things to be doing, like spending time with their family and making mud pies. Well, that’s what I was up to at that age.

Not that I am against make-up. The opposite in fact: I love make-up. I started wearing make-up in my teenage years, a little while after I developed acne. Concealer and foundation helped disguise my imperfections and allow me to blend into the crowd. Before discovering these tools, I was bullied for the way I looked.

Remarks about my skin and lingering looks on my face were certainly debilitating on my self-esteem, but I had my own issues to work through too. I was disgusted, ashamed and so saddened by the sight of my own reflection. I desperately wanted a cure to make the problem vanish so I tried everything possible; religiously glugging 2 litres of water a day, prescribed topical treatments and medication, moisturisers and exfoliators. None of which worked because my aggravated skin was thanks to hormones. I was effectively advised to wait it out, in the hope that my hormones would settle themselves down over time.

Not one for giving in, I persevered with product testing and became more reliant on make-up as the most effective treatment; helping me look more normal and feel less self-conscious. In turn, that meant I was spending more time looking in the mirror, ensuring that my make-up sufficiently covered up my biggest insecurity.

While with my first few boyfriends, I would sleep in my make-up because I was frightened they’d be put off me if they saw my natural face in the harsh morning light. I’d ensure I had some coverage applied before working out. I didn’t even feel comfortable in my own skin around the people closest to me, so I’d always wake up early to smear on some foundation the morning after a girly sleepover, or before going downstairs to have breakfast with my family.

In fact, my mum became so used to seeing the made-up me that she didn’t know what was truly hiding underneath that mask. On the few occasions I was bare-faced around her, she commented on how ill I looked. No, that’s just my face.

These days, things are rather different. Admittedly, the problem hasn’t gone away completely. I am 29 years old and still get outbreaks, which I disguise using make-up. I feel uncomfortable when someone stands close to me, as I don’t want to give them opportunity to find flaws in my face.

I wouldn’t consider turning up to work without some make-up slapped on, as I genuinely think I look more polished and professional with a tidied-up face. But that daily application only takes around 15 minutes, and I agree with Dolly Alderton’s comment on The High Low podcast (released 23rd August 2017); I don’t like to rush the process as I enjoy the creativity behind it. Applying make-up feels a bit like producing a piece of art, transforming a blank canvas into something more attractive.

If I’m going to a wedding or a night out I’ll certainly spend longer on doing myself up, as I enjoy getting dressed up for a special occasion, putting some effort into my hair and giving my face more attention. I buy mid-range products, because generally speaking I’ve found that spending a little more money will get me better quality. I think of these as investments which will get a lot of use in their lifetime. As an old colleague put it after investing in a designer mac: “cost per wear”.

That all said, I have made real progress. I’ll now happily go to the gym or pop to the shops without putting any make-up on. I religiously cleanse and moisturise my face every night before bed, I don’t hide my true self from my friends or my mum anymore, and I’ve even been bare-faced around more recent boyfriends.

Best of all, I’ve grown more confident in how I look. 10 years ago I wouldn’t have dared write about my skin and dependence on make-up, or considered being in public without some disguise. In fact, I wouldn’t have gone without make-up in my own company. That’s how much I felt crippled by my acne.

But today, I accept how I look. This is who I am and there’s little I can do to change that. Instead of concentrating on how I wish I looked and worrying what others think of me, I choose the more healthy alternative of embracing what I was born with, and making the most of it.


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