How make-up helps my mental health

I never used to care about makeup. I distinctly remember the day I found out that eyebrows are a crucial part of framing your face and that you’re meant to make those up to. Up until then, I had no idea you could even buy products for your eyebrows. I knew people got them waxed, but I thought that was the complete look. I was 18 when I discovered this. I’m 22 now – so only four years ago did I realise it was even an option to fill in brows.

I watched most of my flatmates start their makeup with brows as we pre-drank and beat our faces at the same time (students are excellent time savers). They’d draw hairs and fill in the tail and outline with concealer before starting the rest of the makeup. I didn’t understand how anyone could have the time or patience to do something that takes so long. One of my flatmates said, “it just makes you feel more put together, you know?”

I never understood what she meant by that until my love for lipstick began.

I began wearing lipsticks when I was 19. Lipstick, to me, is particularly important. It’s like popping an exclamation mark on my face. It signals that I’m ready to go. My makeup is finished, my look is complete, and I can take on anything. Bright lipstick, deep reds and pigmented purples, in particular, offer no apology. I’m unapologetic and owning my choices when I wear bright lipstick. It’s a warning sign: don’t fuck with me. I’ve got red lipstick on and I will take you down. The application of lipstick itself has become ceremonial to me, a ritual I’ve come to appreciate as an integral part of my routine.

Fast forward to 2019, I’m a 22 old spending a lot of time working from my maisonette in “pyjamas” – usually made up of my partner’s old t-shirts and leggings which should have stopped fitting years ago but somehow, they’re moulded to me. I have real PJs because all women get at least three sets for Christmas, but there’s something oddly comforting to me about busted clothes. Because of how much time I spend writing, or decorating or cleaning the house, I’m in one mode or the other. I’m either beat for the gods and dressed to the nines or my hair’s in the world’s most badly constructed bun and I haven’t even seen an eyeliner pencil or a bra for days.

Sometimes, I find comfort in looking a bit shit. I love to spend at least three days out of the month just not getting dressed at all. I change PJs each night, which is a bit comical, but there’s something nice to me about reverting into ‘gross mode’ for a while – like a small retreat from home. 

I think what I love is the comeback. After a few days spent working incredibly hard, becoming exhausted, barely going outside, and sporting a natural face with scraped back hair to execute that with, there’s something beautifully cathartic about putting makeup on for the first time in a while.

It’s not about hiding or being fake like a lot of people (read: men) mistakenly believe. Applying your makeup at a slow pace in the mornings to get ready for a big day is therapeutic. It’s like being massaged while your face becomes a little more interesting! It helps your creative juices flow, with room to experiment with colour, shapes, or choosing a beloved celebrity to base your look on (mine is almost always Debbie Harry). Compared to when I was 18, makeup has become a huge part of my life. It used to be about covering a couple of spots and leaving the house, but now it feels like I’m painting on the ability to conquer the day.

Throughout the last year, I realised makeup meant even more to me. Not only was it this simple but effective process I could do before a big day to help me feel ready, but it was also an act of self-care. Applying a full face of makeup was my way of being kind to myself when I wasn’t very good at it, especially if no one was around at the time to be nice to me for me. If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll know I’ve had a complicated relationship with PTSD. It can be exhausting, and often requires more pyjama days than you’d like. When PTSD leaves me scared to leave the house and feeling week, I take care of myself. I have medication, ointments and even tools learned from therapy for that. And when I come out the other side ready to be a person again, makeup is like a celebration of me being ‘ready’.

Beth Ashley
Beth Ashley

Writer/wronger. Provides words about mental health and feminism and runs this very blog. Copywriter for Godaddy and editor of Paperfox Literary Magazine.

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