How Make Up Made Me Change My Definition Of Empowerment

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I wore a full face of makeup one night I was out clubbing. I was sweating profusely after dancing for hours in heels (one of my many superpowers), when a guy started a conversation with me at the bar. He let me know that I was sweating (thanks, how sweet?), and then preceded to grab a napkin and gesture that I should wipe my face. I stopped him right there.

“HELLO? Don’t you see I’m wearing makeup, you doof? You can’t just wipe it!,” I almost said. But it came out like “Whoa, I’ll do it.” And in a condescending voice he replied, “Oh… you’re wearing makeup…” as if my perfectly contoured cheeks and clumped eyelashes didn’t indicate that obvious fact.

This drove me to think—wait—was he trying to make me feel a type of way about painting my face? And did he really just take it upon himself to reveal my natural skin, wrinkled napkin in hand?! The antagonist of my story had no idea I spend every other day flaunting my chocolate-chip-speckled skin, but was willing to offer his opinion of my cake-face anyway.

“If the grass were dusted in highlight, I would drop face-flat”

Makeup, to me, is like the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory for your face. As a teenager, I Augustus Glooped myself through beauty supply stores excited to explore products I never knew existed. Foundation comes in puffy mousse and drippy liquids. Eyeshadow comes in creamy or dry textures, shiny or matte shades. Basically, if the grass were dusted in highlight, I would drop face-flat.

I never had a reason to wear makeup before then, since I kept myself busy with amateur artwork, staring at the B2K poster on my bedroom wall, and TYPiiNG LYK3 DiiS. So it wasn’t until I got my contacts at thirteen-years-old, that I noticed the way nodules interrupted my sideburns and whiteheads constellated upon my forehead. I asked my mom if I could buy makeup to cover it and the day she said yes, we purchased my first crutch together—a true match foundation powder in the wrong colour.

As time went on, I bought foundation in the right shade, budget-friendly concealers, and tons of bold lipstick that matched my colourful outfits. I wore cheap eyeshadow that sprinkled my bare lashes when I applied it, and tweezed my eyebrows so laughably thin, I refuse to post #TBT photos of me to this day.

Yes, makeup serves as a fantastic blemish cover-up. Its ability to brighten under eye bags and correct hyperpigmentation is what drew me to it. The fun ways you can experiment with it, however, is what made me stay. In an interview in Time Magazine, Rihanna said that, “depending on her mood, look, or the occasion, her makeup can go from very subtle to a complete transformation, and that’s the fun in it.”

image: fenty beauty editorial

image: fenty beauty editorial

I love the way a red lip can spice up any outfit, and how I can sport a fiercely contoured cheek one day, and a rosy one the next. Plus, do you know how many fun nudes there are to play with?! But don’t get me wrong—I’m just as much an advocate for skincare as I am for cosmetics. As much as I used to rely on makeup, I depend on my SPF oil mattifiers even more. What a relief it is to just get up, get dressed, and go! To brush my hair into a bun and not worry about smearing latte-coloured liquid on my edges. I look forward to the buzz of the spin brush that never disappoints and the homemade turmeric-honey masks, too.

The beauty industry, as a whole, continues to remain relevant and profitable by exploiting the insecurities of its consumers. This is not a fact that’s just going to go away overnight, but it’s also not completely out of our control. My Saturday night glam juxtaposed with my organic Monday morning face are proof that somewhere along the line, I stopped feeling like I had to wear makeup and continued to wear it simply because I wanted to. Makeup, which began as a representation of how I wanted to look, slowly morphed itself into how I wanted to see.

To put it bluntly, there’s nothing wrong with wearing makeup, and there’s nothing wrong with not. For one, makeup contributes to conversation around racial discrimination: “The beauty industry has historically failed to represent people of colour in ads and with products,” says Marissa G. Muller in her W magazine article.

Patrice Grell Yursik, founder of the activist blog Afrobella.com, also adds that “For many years the beauty and hair space has treated women of colour and [their] specific beauty needs as an afterthought and a special case to be handled when it suits the needs for sales.”

“Until we’ve successfully deconstructed the commercial oppression that dehumanizes people of colour, we’re not done having this conversation”

Until we’ve successfully deconstructed the commercial oppression that dehumanizes people of colour, we’re not done having this conversation. If it takes more beauty product launches and a long line around a block to get that done, then I’m here for all of it.

The beauty industry, which in addition to cosmetics includes skincare, haircare, and perfume, also furthers conversation around gender representation. In her Huffington post article, Princess-India Alexander mentions that, “Using wigs and gowns and makeup, [is] slowly undoing rigid concepts inherent to the gender binary, and bringing complicated conversations about gender theory and performance to mainstream audiences.”

There are full-blown careers out there that depend on makeup! Some people would be job- and drive-less without the makeup shows, formulas, and tutorials they’ve thought up. And I don’t know about you, but until I find the exact skincare products that will clear my stubborn acne, you better believe I’m going to dip L.A. Girl Pro-conceal all over these dots.

I believe that you should work on whatever parts of yourself you want to improve, hence my skincare appreciation. But I also believe you should live in the now because the present is your future. If makeup is what you use to feel present, then do your thing! What do you want to look like right now? How do you want to feel at the moment? What’s stopping you?

Whatever you need to do to be your best self, do it. And until I have Alicia Keys money, makeup is the vehicle I’ll use to live my own best life.

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1 Comment

  1. Giessica
    July 17, 2018 / 9:13 pm

    I love this Steph, keep it up. You are beautiful inside and out.

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