How “No-Makeup Makeup” Ruined My Self Esteem

I’ve spent the last decade perfecting my no-makeup makeup look, otherwise known as my five-minute face that I used every single day. After years of plucking, blending, and smoothing, I realized I’d only grown to despise my natural features. “No-makeup makeup” had turned into a massive security blanket that was holding me back.

I was hypercritical of my features. I looked at myself in the mirror and searched for anything that was less than perfect. I painstakingly drew in each eyebrow hair, coated each eyelash, and hid every blemish. Looking at my face so closely, I couldn’t help but wish for better features every time I did my makeup. Even one oddly shaped pore would send me over the edge.

I compared myself to other women. I watched endless videos of Instagram models showing their morning routine. I obsessed over their perfect skin and slender noses. Then, when I looked in the mirror, I lamented over what I felt my face lacked. I felt like photos of me would never be as beautiful and I could hardly bear to look at them.

I set unrealistic expectationsNo matter how much makeup I put on, I would never have a smaller nose or bigger lips—at least not without plastic surgery. And Instagram influencers always had a new product to push. I thought if I got the right highlighter or contour shade, I’d finally look like the person I wanted to be. Obviously that never happened. 

I couldn’t leave the house without makeup on. Even a simple trip to the grocery store required that I covered up my under-eye circles. If I didn’t have makeup on, I felt naked. I felt ashamed of my natural face and feared that someone would judge me for not covering it up.

I wasted my money. The makeup world is always evolving, meaning new products hit the shelves every day that promised to change my look. I believed that buying the best formulas and the newest shades would make me feel complete but they never did. I experienced buyer’s remorse every time I left the store, but I just couldn’t stop coming back.

I wasted my timeMy five-minute-makeup routine never took five minutes. It always turned 10, 20, or sometimes even an hour passed before I felt I was ready to step outside. I spent hours upon hours tweaking the tiniest parts of my face until I felt satisfied. Knowing that no one would see my face as closely as I do, I still painstakingly separated every eyelash and covered every pore.

I wanted to be perfect. The pressure to have a perfect face bled into other parts of my self-image. I felt like my body wasn’t good enough, my clothes weren’t trendy enough. I constantly stalked Instagram accounts to find the latest trend. Makeup couldn’t cover up all the flaws I saw in my body and my closet, and that made me even more depressed.

I wasn’t me without my makeup. I had to put my face on every day. I felt like my personality powered down every time I took my makeup off. I could hardly hold a conversation without thinking about how tiny my eyes must look without eyeliner, or how round my face is without contour. Makeup wasn’t just enhancing me, it was defining me.

No one else actually cared. No matter how much time I spent on my face, I looked the same to everyone else around me. My boyfriend claimed he could hardly tell the difference between my face with and without makeup. The minute features I was obsessing over didn’t matter to anyone but me and those tiny changes were hardly noticeable to the outside world.

No one noticed when I stopped wearing makeupAfter I ran out of time, money, and energy chasing the perfect face, I realized I was supremely unhappy (and a little bit broke) so I slowly dialed back my makeup obsession. First, I let go of contour. Then I quit lining my lips. Later, I gave up wearing foundation and just stuck with concealer. Mascara was probably the last thing I gave up and also the hardest. I eventually made it to my office without a touch of makeup on my face. And to my surprise, no one noticed.

I became myself without it. Going out without makeup on helped me realize that my worth didn’t lie in my looks. My friends, family, and coworkers cared more about my thoughts and feelings than my outward appearance, so I why didn’t I? I decided to spend the time and money I would normally waste on makeup on more important things. I worked out more, I cooked more, read more, and my boyfriend and I even went out on more dates. Without so much anxiety over my looks, I finally felt free.

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