A Note on Natural Beauty
Note: This post is not directed at other women who choose to wear make-up. All women should be able to do exactly what they want - I’m just questioning how far we are able to do that.
In 2014 I switched to a new contraceptive pill that caused my skin to breakout into teenage levels of acne. The doctor said it had knocked my hormone balance off-kilter, so that even when I came off the pill altogether it refused to budge. Three years after it started, I was given a nine-month course of antibiotics and the bastards finally disappeared. I was hormone-free, antibiotic-free, acne-free, and as my skin started to heal itself I decided to start treating it more kindly. As the breakouts began to fade I grew to love my natural skin, the same skin that I had been covering with make-up for almost fifteen years.
One evening I was due to deliver a talk to a local wildlife group, and I had automatically put make-up on. I no longer had to worry about hiding my spots, but I was so conditioned into tweaking my appearance that I still applied primer, foundation, eyeliner, mascara, a touch of bronze. It was good quality stuff, too. My stepsister works for a luxury make-up brand and gets me all kinds of lovely things I would never be able to afford. I climbed into the car and turned to adjust my rear view mirror - and it was then that I realised. I hardly recognised my own face. I could see my make-up lying on my skin like a mask, and all I wanted to do was take it off. That night, after a wonderful evening talking about making our mark on the world, I decided that I no longer wanted to wear make-up.
I had never enjoyed applying it - it was something I felt was necessary because everybody else wore make up, and for a while I was frustrated with my acne. But that night I decided I had a limited time on earth with so many things I wanted to achieve and enjoy, and I didn’t want to spend my time on things I didn’t love. More importantly, I actually - dare I say this? - I like my face. I have a button nose and my eyebrows will always be out of control, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I look at my face and I’m really happy with it. After years of exposure to photoshopped models, magazines and Instagram influencers, when I, like every other girl my age, have felt like I was on an endless mission to improve my appearance, I finally felt free of the nonsensical way we are encouraged to treat ourselves and each other.
When I talk about make-up, I don’t mean it as an art form. Make-up can be a creative outlet just like baking, writing or making pottery, and when I talk about it negatively I don’t mean those who just love experimenting with it. But how many women wear make-up because they like to get creative with it, and how many wear it due to social pressure? Many of us convince ourselves we just like to wear make-up, but consider how you would feel about leaving the house without it. If you feel incomplete, like forgetting to wear your favourite necklace, that’s one thing. But I suspect many people would feel like I did - a lesser version of myself, of what my tweaked and preened appearance could be.
One of the huge problems, of course, is the insanely unfair society we have created that means women have to wear make-up to be deemed ‘attractive’, while men do not. It seems to me that having to wear make-up to ‘fit in’ with everyone else is just another way women are held back, another obstacle, however minor, we have to overcome. I’m not blaming this on anyone in particular - social changes happen slowly over time, and in shaving my legs, straightening my hair and plucking my eyebrows I’m sure some would call me a hypocrite. And men wear make-up, too. But I can’t justify putting make-up on each morning when the men in my life don’t. And I wouldn’t want them to - because that is essentially the problem. We are all born a certain way, and rather than focusing on what we can cover up and alter, we could learn to be happy with who we are.
As somebody pursuing a simpler, happier and healthier lifestyle, make-up no longer fits in with my values. I stare at the rows and rows of products in Superdrug - cosmetics for every tiny thing you could ever imagine. And they may work wonders - but at what cost? What strange chemicals and ingredients are we smothering on our skin? How much environmental pollution has it contributed to? How many underpaid, poorly treated workers were hired to make it? How many animals were killed or tortured in the testing process? In trying to be a better consumer - which always comes down to consuming less - I just can’t find a place for it my life. Instead, I’ve simplified to natural oils and ethical brands. I use organic jojoba oil on my face, which mimics the sebum naturally produced by the skin and stops it producing more. I use Hæckels pumpkin seed oil to condition my hair, made in Margate using seaweed gathered under license, where they also donate profits back to sea conservation. In the shower I use a block of Trichomania solid shampoo from Lush, and a slab of their soap - all zero waste, ethically produced and with ingredients I recognise. I smell eternally lovely.
Giving up make-up might be difficult at times, especially when I occasionally get spots right in the middle of my chin, but it already feels great. My skin can breathe. I can feel the sun warming my face and know that it’s just my skin connecting with the air - nothing artificial in between. I don’t have to worry about sweating or getting rained on. I also cry when I laugh (inherited from my mum) and it’s really liberating not having to worry about my mascara running because I’m too bloody happy.
My biggest decision has been not to wear make-up at my wedding next August. I want to feel completely myself when I get married, wearing a beautiful dress, my natural curls and flowers in my hair. I want to dance and cry, and be fully present on the best day of my life - not hurrying to the bathroom to make sure my coverage is even.
For every 5-10 minutes I used to spend on make-up, I can make coffee, watch the birds outside our window, or just hit the snooze button one more time. I’ll always care about my clothes and run the straighteners through my hair - I’ve never been into my natural Hagrid look - but I want to wake up and leave the house without having to ‘improve’ my face, and I want to change the world with my words and actions - not my eyelashes.