For three decades, I actively avoided makeup. I swore it off, scoffed at it, turned my nose up at it. Now, I suddenly find myself fascinated by it and wanting to finally learn on my own. Here’s my makeup journey that no one asked for.
I’ve never been into makeup. In fact, I despised it growing up. I realized later that this stemmed from a very old, very core memory of me around age 5 of my mom caking on foundation, blush, and eyeshadow on my tiny face for ballet recitals. To this day, I can feel it irritating my skin and can smell the weird smell of the powder used. With my first foray into makeup being a less than ideal one, it’s understandable that I’d avoid it so long. When my classmates started getting into makeup in junior high, I swore it off, memories filled with terrible powder smell and a weird, itchy sensation constantly on my face. There wasn’t much peer pressure to join them, so I was able to just continue on, makeup free. But then: high school.
In high school, I had no choice but to try makeup. Not even due to peer pressure, but due to extra curricular obligation. I had joined the drill team my sophomore year and a requirement was to wear makeup for performances. We were all given identical eyeshadow palettes and lipstick. (Something I see now as not very inclusive for any darker-skinned dancers who need more pigmented colors to be able to show up, but I digress.) We were told that we really had to go hard with the makeup for football season so that it could be visible from the stands. So, I had no choice but to join in.
I basically did the bare minimum when it came to the makeup: I used the assigned makeup, some eyeliner, a little mascara, and that was it. Didn’t bother with foundation. Didn’t even know contouring was a thing yet. I was the “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” of makeup. (And as you can see from the above photo, you can’t even see the eyeshadow I did!) It doesn’t help that my very, very first experience self-applying makeup was an extremely embarrassing one. One that used to make me cringe, but now just makes me angry.
Upon joining the drill team, we went to a weeklong summer camp. The summer camp, attended by not just our team but teams from other schools, was hosted at a local college and its purpose was to teach us dances for football season as well as fundamentals like marching in line, proper kick technique, and the like. All in all, it was a very fun experience getting to stay overnight in the dorms with the other girls on the team. We also got to earn ribbons throughout the week for various reasons, and you can see that I earned quite a few, thank you very much.
The camp culminated in the final performance where all the different teams would pick one of the dances they had learned to perform for all the visiting families on the last day. It was a pretty big deal. We’d be moving out of the dorms on that same day, so we were told to get packed and get dressed. Getting dressed meant donning our football season uniforms and–you guessed it–makeup. Up until this point, I hadn’t touched the little compact I had received with the team-issued eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick. Not only that, but no one had showed me how to apply it. Not my mom. Not my coach. Not my teammates. And considering I was a very insecure teen that didn’t want to admit they needed help, I did what I had to: My best.
All things considered, I thought I did okay with the eyeshadow. It needed to be “field makeup” anyway, so it being heavy was a plus more than a negative. But my lipstick application left much to be desired. And this became obvious when my mom took one look at me when coming to gather my things and laughed in my face.
Avoidance 2: Electric Boogaloo with a Hint of Internalized Misogyny
After that harrowing additional anti-makeup core memory, it was something short of a miracle that I kept up with it in high school. My lipstick application did improve with practice, but my interest in the ritual was at an all time low. Bare minimum. “I do not enjoy this. I do not want to do this. I am only doing this because I have to.” was my mindset.
But that wasn’t my only mindset. I had taken whatever frustrations I had with makeup and conflated it. I started to see not just makeup itself as a negative but anyone who would dare use it as “shallow, vapid, and fake.” Yes, I had absolutely become a “not like other girls” girl. I cringe to remember it now.
While other girls in high school were learning how to do their makeup and do it well, I was staunchly pouting and refusing to join in. This carried into college and beyond. It took a lot of time–years–to get over these feelings and see them for what they were: internalized misogyny. This anti-makeup view and my aversion to the color pink (which is its own story) were deeply rooted in rejecting conventional femininity. I was a tomboy. At first because I preferred the clothing, but then because I deigned it better than the alternative–a “girly girl.” Again, these are views that I no longer hold, but they were absolutely part of my identity for a long while.
Cosplay Opens the Door
Sometime after college and right when I started really getting into cosplay “seriously,” makeup came back to my mind. But I was starting to see its benefits. I tried it again for my Sylveon cosplay, ordering a custom eyeshadow palette so I can try to match her fanart. I realized how much just a little eyeliner and mascara made my eyes pop in cosplay photos and started to embrace that maybe there was something to this whole makeup thing. It started with Sylveon, and then progressed with Kali. At this point, my makeup purchases were all haphazardly thrown into my cart at the grocery store.
After getting multiple (unwarranted and rude) comments on my Kali photos that I “should use purple eyeshadow,” I went to the mall and visited an old friend from junior high that worked at M.A.C. She had always been amazing at her makeup, even at that young age. I opted to visit a proper makeup store because, in those Kali photos, I had used purple eyeshadow. It wasn’t my fault that the HEB brand eyeshadow wasn’t pigmented enough for my tan skin. So, I went to M.A.C. and realized just how much I still had to learn about makeup.
My friend was gracious and patient with me, walking through the whole store to help me find the right shade of purple that would show up well on my skin. Her left hand was covered in purple marks as she tested each one against the back of her hand to check the pigment. She gave me pointers (“Blend. Blend. Blend.”) and showed me some brushes that I could use with my newly purchased eyeshadow.
Baby steps. Oh what I would’ve done to have had these gentle lessons at a much younger age. How many cosplays could I have elevated had I just learned makeup a few years sooner? Could I have avoided my feminine-hating ways entirely if someone had just been a bit kinder with my inexperience?
From 2017-2018, I attended 10 weddings (one of which was my own!). During this, I was a bridesmaid for two of them. Both times, the bride paid for all of us to have our makeup done professionally. At this point, I realized just how much professional makeup can transform you! I really liked the different looks they did for me, and wished at the time that I could just hire someone every time I wanted to do a cosplay shoot. It was at this point that I really started to embrace the benefits of makeup and how it really does help you photograph better. I opted to have my (and my bridesmaids’) makeup done professionally for my wedding as well.
With a Little Help from My Friends
Now, three years since my trip to M.A.C., I am slowly building up my makeup toolkit. I threw out all my old, expired grocery-store makeup (practically all of it), and bought new brushes, an eyeshadow palette, and eyeliner using recommendations from a group of friends on a private Discord channel. Those friends have been so supportive of my makeup journey, showering each new “I did my makeup today!” selfie with praise and love. I’ve started practicing makeup every time I do one of my monthly self-shoots and have played around with the different eyeshadow colors. I’ve even started filling in my eyebrows, which I have come to like very much! (Eventually, I’ll take the plunge and get some foundation. But, like I said, baby steps!)
Makeup has finally become a tool for me. To elevate my cosplay photos. To make me feel beautiful. To help my non-binary ass embrace what little femininity I have. It’s no longer a reminder of humiliation, a scapegoat for misogyny, or an irritable nuisance. I finally found the balance that I needed: I’m not the type to do makeup daily, but I do enjoy the ritual of putting it on for the occasional social gathering, holiday, or cosplay shoot.
Rather than be bitter enemies, I’ve now made up with makeup.