When I was in elementary and middle school, I understood the people of the world as belonging to two categories. Those who have the capability to be physically beautiful and those who do not.
I considered myself a member of the latter group, and it was with this idea I brushed aside any possibility for insecurity based on my appearance. When I was younger I never spared a second thought to the clothes I wore or the way I did my hair because I assumed any effort in either department was a lost cause. I simply lacked the potential that half of the population had, I decided, and there was no point worrying about it.
And then, in seventh grade, I decided on a whim to cut off about five inches of my hair. It was a split second decision, but one I have never regretted. For the first time I looked into the mirror and liked what I saw. Around the same time my older cousin gifted a lot of her outgrown clothes to me, and I found myself actually enjoying the process of mixing and matching wardrobe pieces.
Still, something nagged at my mind. The fact that I was beginning to find joy in my appearance bothered me. I still held fast to the idea that beauty wasn’t possible for me, so taking interest in it felt shallow and vapid and ultimately pointless. Who was I even trying to impress? It was with these newly shorn locks, mismatched clothes, and confusing thoughts that I entered high school.
My Freshman year of high school was a major disaster in a lot of ways, but in hindsight, a lot of what occurred in that year was vitally important to the person I am today. Along with the many trying emotional experiences, it was this year that I began to solve my beauty conundrum as well. The solution came from a friend, Marie Hamilton, who to this day rightfully claims responsibility for teaching me the wonders of makeup but just as rightfully deserves responsibility for teaching me how to take pride in my appearance.
Marie was the sort of person I would categorize as being in the former group of people, but it was only after befriending her that I discovered that this came from her love of the process of fashion and style, not some sort of genetic predisposition. Her genuine love of doing her hair in crazy styles or digging through Goodwill for unique fashion or attaching tape to her face to get the perfect winged eyeliner inspired me to try some of these things for myself. (Yes, even the tape thing. No, I don’t recommend it.)
I found that I loved it too. Suddenly, weekends were for trying out fun new outfits and eyeshadow palettes became treasured possessions. And through the time I spent trying to achieve personal beauty, I started learning how to love myself. I already loved the things I did and the people I did it with, but I also began to love me too. Even without makeup and pretty clothes, it was through experimentation with my own appearance that I realized that the way I understood the world was wrong. If I was capable of liking the way I looked, then everyone had the capacity for beauty.
This isn’t to say that fashion and makeup is the only route to beauty. I’ve found it to be only one possible method. What it really comes down to is knowing yourself. Learning what makes you feel confident and happy is what beauty is, even if that thing is a certain hairstyle or a comfortable hoodie or a full face of makeup. Everyone deserves to love themselves in all avenues. Yes, they should love the things they do, but they should also love the way they look. I think there’s a major difference between this and vanity, which comes, I guess, in intention.
The issue comes when society both demands physical perfection and shames those who try their best to achieve it. There’s no way to win in that situation, so honestly I think the best thing to do is to do what you like. If you put on your makeup every morning because you want to do it, then there’s no problem at all.
And yes, I know that lots of people put makeup on not to appease society but rather to appease themselves. I’ve met a lot of people who consider themselves ugly and hate going out without hours of prep time before. But I don’t think that’s always the case, and it’s no reason to demonize makeup and beauty as a whole. I mean, just because you like the way you look in mascara doesn’t mean you hate the way you look without it. I wish we could destroy most societal standards for beauty, but I feel like too often this is equated with doing away with makeup entirely.
It’s a hard balance to strike, I guess. For now, I’ll just live by my own truth. I don’t put on makeup because I think I’m ugly. I put on makeup because I like the way I look.