The Mask I Don’t Hide Behind

Sofia buys (& wears) too many face masks. Living with her cat in the Midwest of the United States, she’s on medical leave from university, she’s chronically ill (boo), but using her time off as an opportunity to develop better writing, photography, & videography skills. Find here here: @sofhoney

By Sofia, February 11, 2019

Read time: 5 Mins

The Mask I Don’t Hide Behind Image

I was first introduced to makeup under the guise of it being a veil;

a way to cover up undesirable blemishes, pimples, redness, and dark circles. Makeup was for hiding, not showing. But, how wrong I was.

My relationship with makeup – and my skin – changed in my second year of university, when I was 19 years old. I had never been a big fan of face makeup: foundation, concealer, etc. – but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t put it on every single day because the society around me had conditioned me to feel ashamed of even the smallest blemish or the slightest bit of under-nose redness.

This applied to every situation – stopping at the drugstore, even for a moment? Make sure you’ve “covered up” your face before you step in. Going to a 9 a.m. class? Wear what you want, but make sure no one can see the imperfections.

Of course, no one was staring at my “imperfections” in the candy aisle of the drugstore. The guy next to me in a lecture wasn’t staring, either – he kept dozing off, because he’d been up late studying the night before. Some small part of me knew this, but I didn’t practice what my brain was already preaching to me until The Infection.

This was a period of time in which I had a staph infection on my face, causing itchy red bumps that looked like blemishes to spread from my jawline to my forehead to my cheeks – until eventually, I was applying spot treatments like crazy and furiously scrubbing my skin with “acne washes”.

That was the worst thing I could’ve done for my skin, it dried out further and created micro-abrasions in my skin, which invited bacteria in – hence, the staph infection. But I just thought that my “acne” was getting worse. Until my mother came to visit, took one look at my face and said “I’m taking you to the dermatologist.”

The dermatologist confirmed what I refused to believe. She gave me antibiotic ointment, a little pamphlet, and directions: no makeup, no face masks, no spot treatments. Wash your face with water, apply *insert unscented moisturizer of her recommendation* and gently apply the ointment to the red dots & spots on your face.

For about two weeks, I had no choice other than to go out & about with a bare, itchy, red face. At first, I was hyper self-conscious – even at the grocery store, even walking down the block, let alone in class or while talking one on one, face to face with a friend. I felt like an ostrich! I wanted to bury my head in the sand.

Eventually, my infection cleared up, and so did my skin. I was lucky I didn’t get left with any permanent scarring the way I was mistreating my skin. But I came out of it unscathed.

After that whole ordeal, I started to look at makeup differently. I invested more time in figuring out my skin type and finding a good skincare routine to follow religiously – a routine that worked for my skin type; a routine that would help make sure I never had another staph infection on my face again.

After my skincare routine was revamped I saw noticeable improvement in my skin. It looked better than ever. I started phasing out the face makeup I had. I stopped wearing concealer & BB cream to morning classes. I definitely stopped wearing it to the drugstore.

Eventually, I got to the point where I noticed that it was enough to do my skincare routine, spritz some rosewater on my face, and walk out the door – all set for the entire day.

Things had changed! The makeup wasn’t telling me when to wear it; I was telling the makeup when I wanted to wear it – if I wanted to wear it at all. I stopped getting anxious when I got a breakout. I started looking at makeup as something fun; something to calm myself down; a way to “make art,” if you will.

I started wearing a small amount of skin tint, some concealer for spot concealing and just had fun from there. Sometimes I’d wear purple glittery eyeshadow with a purple-tinted highlight to match. Sometimes I’d wear nothing but some lip gloss. Other times, I covered half my face in pinky-coral blush, blending it into my eyeshadow to match – then carefully paint my lips a bright pink, topping them off with iridescent glitter pigment.

Other things were changing as my relationship with makeup changed, too. A year and a half ago, I came out as a lesbian. That really changed the way I thought about myself. Because I was not romantically or sexually interested in men, I felt removed from a lot of the pressure I had previously felt to please them. This isn’t to say that women who aren’t lesbians don’t do makeup for themselves – they definitely do – but my sexuality played a huge part in me realizing that the insecurities I used to cover up with makeup were, in large, because of the heteronormative standards the beauty industry has.

Now, I identify as a GNC (gender nonconforming) butch lesbian – I shave my head once a week, I’ve stopped wearing dresses because I don’t feel that they suit me, but I still wear makeup. Some people have said that that’s inauthentic to my identity. I disagree! The way I wear makeup now feels more authentic than ever before.

Yes, I am GNC – which is why I cover half of my face with coral blush and pink and orange eyeshadows to make it look as though I’m a living breathing human version of a sunset. My “unconventional” or “unorthodox” use of makeup is a form of self-expression first and foremost; it’s a way for me to use makeup – a traditional stereotypical “feminine thing” – as a way to express my subversion from traditional beauty standards & my contempt for the male gaze. My weird, sometimes “alien-like” looks are me taking a traditional tool of femininity that men find attractive in some (but not all) ways and repurposing it into something that I know men will find unattractive.

Makeup shouldn’t be here to make women feel obligated to cover up their skin because they may run into a guy from school at the drugstore – no matter their sexuality. Makeup shouldn’t be here to set rules. Don’t want to wear contour or winged eyeliner? Cool! I sure don’t! I set my own rules. It’s my face and I can do what I want with it.

Just please *looks up at the heavens* don’t let me get another staph infection. I learnt many lessons from it. I’d even say I’m glad it happened. It changed how I thought about my skin and how I used makeup as a tool of self-expression. But I don’t need a second lesson. I promise. I’m good. I swear.

Return to issues