How Not Being Allowed to Wear Makeup Growing Up Shaped My Beauty Philosophy

I should start this by saying, I love my mom — and I’m much more cognizant of this now as a grown-ass woman than I was as a child under her direct care (or thumb or what have you). My mom was always a very chic blend of vintage classics and tasteful contemporary styles (she’s worked in fashion as long as I’ve known her); whenever I express interest in something luxury or designer, she’ll laugh and say, "You’ve picked up my taste!" She wore makeup — not a ton of it, but she wasn’t afraid of bright colors. 

I, however, was not allowed to touch the stuff until… indefinitely (which turned out to be 16-ish). That she had department store quads of cobalt blue, violet, and bronze eyeshadow and coral pink lip colors enticed me even more. I would play with those colorful eyeshadows at home, washing them off before my mom got home from work. 

I still don’t really understand the reasoning behind this cosmetic embargo other than some vague notion of "because I said so" trumping "because you don’t need it." Obviously, a 12-year-old does not need makeup or hair dye. But a 12-year-old sure as hell wants it — especially when all her friends are elbow deep in brown lipstick, Sun-In, way-too-orange drugstore foundation, and acrylic French-tipped nails.

The small allowances were nail polish and lip gloss, but nothing deeper than sheer. Shaving was a no-no, even though I didn’t even have to. When I think about it now, I mostly wanted to be able to keep up with my friends who were getting boobs as we tumbled into puberty, and all I got was eczema and body odor. 

Man, what a difference a brow makes.

Friendships shifted in the transition from elementary school to junior high and high school, and while my childhood girlfriends were hitting third base with pimply dudes, I was mostly organizing my teen-magazine hoardings and stealing Wetnaps from the cafeteria on account of puberty’s odiferous hurdles (this was before natural deodorant was a thing, and I learned I was allergic to the aluminum blend in most antiperspirants on account of the nasty cystic breakouts under my arms when I tried using one). I truly believed that my un-made-up face was the reason for being "left behind" in all that coming-of-age junk — not that it would’ve mattered since I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 16 anyway. You can’t really do much as a minor with a 10 p.m. curfew. 

All of this culminated into me really enjoying spending time alone (on account of that curfew/inability to date), making collages from magazines, reading way too much YA fiction and playing computer games (this was in the dial-up days of internet, so net time was scarce). I dressed "weird" (lots of Salvation Army finds that I Frankenstein’d together) on account of that being my only means of external visual expression. I snuck some tinted lip balms sometimes, wearing them only at school, but even the sheer color looked so jarringly obvious to me because I was so accustomed to my naked face. 

Once older and makeup suddenly became no big deal (color cosmetics were fine, but complexion makeup was still very much frowned-upon for some reason), I was so behind. I had no idea how to apply concealer or foundation, so I just didn’t. The idea of having visible caked-on foundation scared me off from touching the stuff. I didn’t know what the hell to do with eyeliner or powder blush. I had only the editorial beauty spreads in my teen magazines to follow, which were slightly more bold than what the girls I went to school with were wearing. 

I made my parents buy me Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces and Face Forward books (at Costco, oddly enough) because I was so transfixed by the celebrity transformations he did. Makeup for me was always transformational, never corrective. And it’s not like I knew how to realistically "correct" anything, so I figured if I just do weird shit with makeup I’d at least look cool or interesting. 

I had a vibrant purple eyeshadow from Stila I used religiously. I used up several tubes of Maybelline’s Great Lash in blue and owned far too many pale, frosted lipstick colors. If I was finally going to wear makeup it was going to be witnessed

Just one of the many red, bold lip colors I now own. 

Fast forward a dozen years later and I still feel the same way. Part of me thinks that if I had been allowed to wear makeup when my junior-high friends started wearing makeup, it’s possible that I’d have the same conventions of how makeup should look instilled in me. Since it was forbidden for so long, I’ve made much bolder moves now (like completely inverting my hair color) just from never having those social sanctions of conformity holding me back — only the baiting of rebellion and access to all the beauty things. 

I don’t seek permission or even that much guidance to change my appearance now because after gaining the sweet long-awaited freedom to just wear a gat-damn lipstick, I hate the idea of anyone telling me what I can’t do with my face. I don’t begrudge my mom for not allowing me to wear makeup — who knows how I would’ve turned out if things went differently? But in what’s essentially my permanent beauty-Rumspringa, I definitely am all about weird, bold beauty looks in the name of freedom of self-expression. 

Maybe my mom was afraid that makeup would tarnish a young girl’s natural face, but the perception of makeup as a choice is such a louder conversation now than it was when I was growing up — which is a choice I make so much more now than with my poorly sewn-together clothes when I was teen. In fact, I dress way more boring now because to me, the makeup is always the lead.

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