I’ve always struggled with the idea of being a beauty lover because, well, I hate vanity. I truly believe that what we look like is the least important thing about us. And yet, it seems to me that we’ve gotten confused at some point and started prioritising beauty above all else. Not wanting to associate myself with this idea, or give anyone the impression that I subscribe to it, I’ve always been wary of talking openly about just how excited I get about new lip colours, or about how trying a new vitamin C serum is much more appealing to me than a night out on the town with my friends.
In recent years, I’ve really worked hard on my mental health. The first half of my twenties were very much defined by mental illness. Not only was I suffering from a slowly but surely building depression which eventually left me suicidal, on medication and in therapy 3 times a week, but I was also battling with an undiagnosed eating disorder.
My mental health conditions stemmed from a deep seated belief that I was worthless, had no value, and was destined to only ever fail at anything and everything I put my hand to. At my very worst, I truly believed that my own daughter would be better off if I wasn’t around.
Now, I know that this is a little bit deeper and more philosophical than they kind of blog post you’d normally find on a beauty blog like mine. But that’s precisely why I wanted to write it. I think that while it’s absolutely great to enjoy all of the fun and creativity that makeup offers us, it’s vital to also stay grounded and keep in touch with ourselves, our mental health, and how makeup can affect it.
You see, makeup has the ability to transform. All you have to do is admire the work of MUAs on fantasy movie sets to see the real potential that makeup has to utterly alter the human face. On a more basic, day to day level, makeup allows us to add structure, contours, definition, light and shadows where there are none. It allows us to give ourselves stronger brows, bigger lips, wider eyes and higher cheekbones. When it’s done well, makeup can completely change how we look.
And while this can be enormous fun, it can be dangerous too. I have a weird analogy here, but stick with me. You know in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone when Harry discovers the mirror in Hogwarts that shows his parents standing beside him? I kind of think makeup is a bit like that mirror. As Dumbledore said himself, if we spend too much time with it we begin to confuse what’s real and what isn’t. Clever, right?
This is why I make sure to spend at least one day each week barefaced. I don’t want to forget the reality. I don’t want to start believing that I should look contoured with a winged liner at every moment of everyday. I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground and remember that it’s ok to have thin wispy blond brows and cheekbones that, aesthetically speaking, don’t exist.
When you’re a beauty lover like I am (and I assume you are or you wouldn’t be here) it’s easy to find yourself utterly bombarded with images of stunning makeup. Algorithms ensure that we only see what we like to see online. So when we like on picture that’s tagged with certain products and trend keywords, the algorithm sends us more of the same. Some people call this the echo chamber, when social media platforms only show us what they know we’ll love. It’s great in some ways, but it can be harmful in others. And here’s why.
When we see nothing but these images, which we should remember are created by the most skilled MUAs and edited heavily using sophisticated software, we start to become almost sensitised to bare faces. We find bare, acne prone skin more shocking than we did before. We see bare faces as incomplete, or missing something. This effect has been proven in scientific studies, and it’s a problem.
This is how we lose sight of reality. After years of this, the consequences on our own body image, self esteem and mental health can be extreme. Is it any wonder that eating disorder rates are through the roof and show no sign of slowing? Or is it surprising really that girls are now contouring and winging their liner at the age of 12 (compared to my generation who didn’t know what mascara was under the age of 15)? No. It’s not.
So, as a beauty lover who has experienced and recovered from two severe, long term mental illnesses (one of which was quite literally life threatening), I’m committed to balancing my love for makeup and the fantasy that it creates with a firm devotion to loving myself as I am, in the skin I’m in.