On Unassisted Self-Discovery and the Pull of the M.A.C Counter

Recently, I had an argument with a friend of mine about makeup.

Amidst a great meandering conversation we were having about the African diaspora, majors in college and whether we’re pro or anti Taylor Swift, she asked me what lip colour I had on. I told her (rather lamely I realise in retrospect) that it was orange. She rolled her eyes at me and asked me if I was trying to be clever. Not realising that this was a serious question, I laughed and said no. She looked at me with a slightly bewildered expression on her face and said, “I know it’s orange. But what number? What brand?” I of course had no clue what she was talking about, because the lipstick I had on was a random one I’d added half-heartedly to my cart after purchasing half of the Forever 21 online store. She was horrified at my ineptitude and proceeded to guide me through the complex maze of high-end makeup brands – M.A.C, Bobbi Brown – and their “lesser drug store cousins”, Estée Lauder and Revlon (her words, not mine). I realised that for all my so-called learnedness, I was clueless about makeup.

This impromptu lesson got us talking about makeup itself – its evils and its benefits. The question of makeup as a consequence of not feeling naturally beautiful came up… and the conversation got heated. We went back and forth about what it “means” when someone is wearing tons of makeup, moderate makeup, little to no makeup. We looked up articles, tweets, YouTube videos… the argument went on for hours. See, my mother has an adorable little afro and wears absolutely no makeup. We’re lucky if we can convince her to wear earrings. She raised my sister and I to abhor even the idea of makeup, and the sensitive skin we inherited from her worked to her advantage. We were always taught, and not just by her, that makeup was a signifier of insecurity, that it ultimately did more harm than good, and that we were “better” women for being able to step out into the world with our “God-given” faces. Now, I know my mom and her comrades meant no harm – she’s as much a product of her times as we Twitter and Instagram babies are. She simply wanted to instill a culture of confidence in us, wanting us to rely on ourselves to feel beautiful first, and the outside world second. And her nurturing worked – my sister and I have never (well… maybe ‘never’ is too strong a word but you get the idea) been fazed by the outside world regarding our looks, because of how utterly sure our parents were that we’re beautiful (yeah yeah, it’s cheesy but it’s effective).

My sister, being in a relatively formal job now, outgrew Mom’s teachings a few years ago. But even she never strays past eyes, lips and some powder. As for me, while I do have an impressive collection of lip and eyeliner colours (albeit haphazardly put together) and will occasionally layer on the mascara, I have always been terrified to even go near the makeup counters in stores because of the number of times I’ve been lauded for being “brave” enough not to wear makeup – by female friends, male friends, cousins, aunts, even random guys on the street (gag). I literally only discovered the magic of BB cream a few weeks ago, and despite feeling a very strong pull towards the Sephora store, I’ve always ignored it. I realise now that this is because I’ve been shaping my growth according to other people’s expectations. Because of this one idea that people have of me, I’ve been resisting the urge to explore other versions of myself.

If makeup seems ridiculously superficial to you as a catalyst for self-reflection, trust me, it surprised me too. But it’s incredible how much an individual can box themselves in without realising it – too afraid to mess with what everyone else thinks of them. It’s very easy to go along with an outdated model of your own personality if it appears, on the whole, to be fairly successful. But the day you realise that you’ve outgrown it, it takes a little bit of bravery to put your own opinion above those of so many people. Maybe not for some people, but it does for those who are entirely too aware of everyone around them i.e me. So today, I walked past the M.A.C counter at the airport and I legitimately could not keep walking. I turned back and told the very nice lady that I was curious about some of their products. 20 minutes and an obscene amount of money later (please don’t tell my mother) I was the proud new owner of makeup! 😀

Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll now be seeing me with a full, contoured made up face every day from now on. For one I have no clue how to do makeup and second, I still prefer simplicity. But the point is, I stopped being scared to step outside of the box I’d delicately constructed for myself in collaboration with my loved ones. I explored a different version of myself – the M.A.C-counter-trolling version.
And it was a pretty cool feeling.

Bankruptcy aside.


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