I expected my week without makeup to be a full-frontal attack on my self-esteem, complete with a hovering raincloud and an omnipresent internal soundtrack of TLC’s “Unpretty.”
But somehow, I survived.
My boyfriend didn’t break up with me, I still have all my friends and I didn’t get fired from my job. For a challenge that simplifies my daily routine, it wasn’t easy.
I’m a creature of habit, so not reaching for my gold bag of glamour on Day One felt horribly wrong. To compensate for my tired eyes, pallid skin and imperfect complexion, I curled my hair to feel a little more put-together.
I sighed when I saw how small the tables were when my boyfriend and I met his family for brunch on Day One. Under the restaurant’s fluorescent lighting, I was paranoid they’d wonder what their son was doing with such a homely gal. I used my hands as a shield during conversation, trying to slyly cover as much surface space as possible to hide my unpolished face.
Just like quitting any other habit, the first few days were the hardest. Every time I encountered a mirror, my face contorted into a pained grimace.
The week wasn’t purely torture, though. Omitting makeup from my daily routine gave me more than a few extra minutes in the morning. My skin cleared up a bit, and I enjoyed hugging my friends without worrying if makeup would smear onto their shoulders. Perhaps the most important thing I gained, however, was perspective.
I didn’t hear much feedback from my female friends, but my male friends had varied reactions to my new look. A few asked if I was sick, others said I looked tired and some didn’t even notice at all. Much to my surprise, a handful said they even preferred the fresher face.
My friend Matt felt so badly that he asked if I was tired that he began to question the institution of makeup itself and how it affects not only me, but all of his female friends.
“Who they are is the draw,” Matt said to me in a text. “Not what they smear on their face in the morning.”
The question of why women are commonly accepted – and arguably, expected – to wear makeup while men are not was also raised quite a few times.
Makeup began as a unisex practice, tracing back to the ancient Egyptians. Egyptian men would apply kohl, or eyeliner, before a day’s work or a banquet, according to a history.howstuffworks.com article. Billie Joe Armstrong and other ‘guyliner’ lovers aside, it’s perplexing that modern men aren’t held to the same societal cosmetic standards that women are.
When the challenge was over and my makeup bag dusted off, I chose a far more minimalistic look. A swipe of mascara and a dab of under-eye concealer was all I felt I needed. Going forward, I plan to research products on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database to consider the risks before buying another makeup item.
While I’ve invested too much in my beauty collection to swear it off completely, my week without it has made me realize I don’t need to hide behind as much as I thought.
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jenelley.