Made Up for Me

Astha Rajvanshi on makeup and self-esteem.

When I was 13 I started wearing makeup.

It began with a shaky black line drawn with an unsteady hand across the bottom rim of my eye. I was at an all-girls school so there weren’t really any boys around to impress, though I’d like to think that I was on the receiving end of adoring gazes from strangers on buses.

One day someone pointed out that makeup isn’t allowed at school, and because I was the only one wearing it, I immediately froze in embarrassment and felt very silly. Then I went home and decided that being told what I could and couldn’t do with my body was total bullshit, so the next day I drew the same shaky lines and smacked my lips with some watermelon lip-gloss from a tiny jar from The Body Shop.   

A few years later I got a job at a makeup store and started to learn the tricks of the trade—trying on every brand of lipstick and every palette of eye shadow I could find. I refined my eyeliner technique and experimented with a few different styles—lower eyelid, upper eyelid, winged, cat. When I could apply eyeliner on a moving bus and without a mirror perfectly, I knew that I had mastered the art.

Now, makeup is a part of my daily morning routine: foundation-face powder-eye shadow-eyeliner-mascara-blush-lipstick-lip gloss. Some days I’ll put it on even if I’m not leaving my house. In my tallboy, there’s a special drawer dedicated to it—a recycled shoebox carrying all my OPI nail polish, dozens of lipstick tubes scattered in one corner, eye shadows stacked neatly on top of each other.

When I discovered feminism, I found myself in the throes of a moral quandary. It’s the age-old question only a liberal feminist can ponder, since makeup is a luxury that only said group can usually afford. Was I feeding a deep-seated insecurity, purposefully manufactured by capitalism and resolved by the cosmetic industry? Was I subservient to the desires of the male gaze?

Admittedly, the times I’ve dared to step out in public without any makeup have been rare and with good reason, but if I’ve ever run into someone whose approval I might crave, I immediately panic and think, ‘oh my god, I look like crap today’. Maybe this means that a part of me suffers from low self-esteem.

If I’m being honest though, most of the time I put makeup on because I just love it. Painting my face as if it were a blank canvas is fun and gives me a few seconds of (guilty?) pleasure. Maybe I should try to be happy with my natural self. Some feminists might tell me so.