“Oh, sometimes you look like me”, my neighbor remarked one crisp November morning while I was walking my dogs upon returning from the gym. “You know, the no make-up look”, she added.
I never really thought much about albeit ‘a natural face’ until I started occasionally going out without make-up recently. Being without make-up may seem, to some, no big deal; but I spent 99.99% of my teen and adult years creating an artistic expression worn exclusively by me and Maybelline. Or whatever brand had the coolest display when I walked into CVS and was confronted immediately with the latest seasonal make-up. If there was ever a target market for make-up, it was me. Give me a gift of Mac, Sephora, Revlon, and I’m set.
I’m not ashamed of this either. I live in Southern California where everything screams Hollywood, and the Housewives of Orange County put us on the map. If they aren’t the poster children for contouring and shadowing, I don’t know who is. This year, I may even be a make-up artist for the infamous Pageant of the Masters, living art as they say. The make-up on these volunteer actors transforms everyday people, literally, into pieces of art. But even when I grew up in the Midwest, I was still the same way with make-up so Hollywood didn’t really change me much when I moved to Southern California. As well, I have drawn and painted faces and figures since I was a little girl. So, for me, make up has been an artistic expression and, quite frankly, pure fun! It’s just part of who I am.
But, at the same time, we are talking a severe make-up addict. Once in my twenties I was in the ER with severe stomach and abdominal pains, gastroenteritis. I had a pain shot that unexpectedly lowered my blood gases to dangerous levels. My parents were called. But what I remember most was my girlfriend taking me into the ER, sitting in that cold, bright ER room telling her…”get my cover stick!”
Once, a few years later, when I was out to lunch with girlfriends from work, I expressed one of my biggest worries. “Ladies”, I said, “I wonder if you have a blemish, and you die, if that blemish is still there.” I was darn worried no one could quite cover a blemish as well as I could and, god forbid, if I laid there in my casket with blemishes exposed! My goodness, what if my foundation was all wrong too! I would be looking down on my body thinking…who did my make-up?
Anyway, before the girls could stop laughing and contemplate an answer to my bewildering question, and this is no lie, the only other patron in the restaurant just happened to be…wait for it…a mortician! I know because he overheard my conversation and answered the question for me, while stating his occupation. “Yes, it would”, he said. “The blemish would still be there.” We all laughed at the sequences of events unfolding before us but all the while I laughed, I was quite horrified my zits would still remain even as I died! We are talking about a girl who would call in sick to high school at the first sight of just one zit. And a girl who was complimented all her life by dermatologists for being an expert at hiding them. Seriously, I’m so good I could repair a damaged Michelangelo and no one would know it was ever in need of repair. I’m that good.
So, to be without make-up, after many, many years of never even considering it, occurred, quite by accident. I began to see myself differently one morning after I started taking a Saturday German language class. Most everyone in the class was of German descent. It was then, in the mirror after those classes, in which I began to notice without my eye make-up, I could see my ethnicity. My small eyes I’d layered with mascara the length of spider legs to emulate the magazines, really looked quite, well, German without make-up. I knew I’d sort of already looked like the other German classmates, but now, after being such an expert on faces all my life, I could really see my lineage. And if I was celebrating my heritage by learning its language, why on earth wasn’t I celebrating my appearance of ethnicity in that manner too. Why try to cover it or change it? What’s wrong with German eyes. Claudia Schiffer has them and she’s a top German model. I soon began to appreciate my features in a natural state more than I ever had.
As well, my full lips and button nose I’d learned to shadow like the finest makeup artist, now screamed Italian. Those nice Madonna-like eyebrows I was born with spoke to me, saying: 'Celebrate Calabria, Italy now! Celebrate You!'
But mostly, when I looked at myself in the mirror without make-up, what led to an even greater acceptance is that I started to see the little girl in the pictures from when I was young. The girl I was before I wore make-up to look older, to impress boys, to stand out, to fit in, to look prettier. The blond, tow head, natural authentic girl. And it reminded me of my authentic self. One I should be celebrating. A face I was born with and was completely fine having until puberty hit and I wanted to look like all the girls in magazines. Some mornings now I can see that cute little girl staring back at me. Other mornings, after a late night, I see the second-grade picture of the girl with pneumonia, dark circles, staring back at me. But, all the same, it’s me. (don’t get me wrong, cover stick is still my friend)
So when my neighbor sort of welcomed me to the club of a-la-natural, I began thinking about my friends and their faces. I have friends who won’t wear lipstick because their boyfriend dislikes it. I have another who will bleach her teeth so white she looks like she’s auditioning for an upcoming Hollywood movie, yet, go figure, she wears not a stitch of make-up. I often wonder why she doesn’t add a touch of mascara to her barely-there lashes or a tad of lip gloss to offset her pearly whites. I think putting on mascara is far easier than bleaching one’s teeth to a refrigerator-white color.
My other friend, with a history of breast cancer in the family, wears only organic based make-up. And still another wears the same shadow, same color, for oh, about fifteen years now. With her, I wonder why she never, ever changes the color. She found a color she likes, and like a best friend who sticks to you like glue, she never leaves it. Her loyalty is honorable. But sometimes I just wish she would experiment, a little.
One of the funniest things I’ve often found is when actresses go without make-up for a leading movie role and then they win academy awards for it. Does make-up really matter that much, and being without it proves we are somehow more talented? In Hollywood, I still don’t get it.
My neighbor may have welcomed me to the natural club, in which she is a full time member, full well knowing I am part time at best; yet, I am just not one to really define myself either way. I can’t help but love to create looks with make-up. I know that is ingrained in me and will never leave. And when I look at my neighbor, I do wonder why she doesn’t add a tad of blush or color to her aging skin tone. But, what I do know, is that while we women have the freedom to choose, we can celebrate being natural, being face-naked and authentic or we can express how we feel, who we are, or who we want to be, all with a tube and a brush.
So, this upcoming summer when I’m painting faces and transforming individuals into pieces of art, I imagine I will be in my glory, as I was when I face-painted children for a local art show several years ago. I will think about the magic and fun make-up can be for us all. And, then, when we decide and only when we decide, will we wash it all away and start fresh on a new canvas any time we choose. My friends may not hardly see me without make-up on, but when I do go without, I continue to see the many facets of my life, my heritage and what I enjoy. So, for that, I say…brush on!
Pageant of the Masters, Laguna Beach, CA 2014
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